In the previous chapter, I introduced the essential concept of “the body” by considering different aspects and using as evidence how I perceive, experience, and embody my body; how other people sense and think of the body; and how Merleau-Ponty inspires and extends my thinking about how the body engages in space and time. This chapter will continue this exploration through a quote by Étienne-Jules Marey: “The human body seems like an animate machine.” This notion throws new light on the topic of the body, offering many new questions. Thus, in this chapter, I will examine how I perceive the relationship between the human body and machines. For example, the similarities between the mechanisms in both humans and machines are revealing of how human beings understand themselves. I divide the topic into smaller stories that relate to the machine, the human, and myself. Like the first chapter, I will write about my artistic practice and how the project I am doing now develops and reflects the topic: the body and Man as a machine. Additionally, I present more visuals of the concepts, experiments, and my artistic endeavors in this chapter.
The human is a machine
"The human body is a machine which winds its springs. It is the living image of perpetual movement." - Julien de la Mettrie, French physician and philosopher.
Indeed, there are many similarities between humans and machines. Actions we do, such as picking up a glass or walking across a room, can be achieved by some robots as well. The movement of machines, their motion mechanisms, consist of joints, gears, motors, and a hard drive that helps the whole construction of the skeleton implement simple movements. A machine can be designed with a delicate structure and several mechanisms to do complex tasks; however, I think the human body is a more optimized and complex version of the machine; when humans operate actions, the body generates and operationalizes complex mechanisms to coordinate each part. The body combines several different parts of joints and muscles to achieve motion. Furthermore, the human body has the capacity of body schema that memorizes each micromotion in muscle tissues and skin systems, which links each part of the body fluently for future motion. Technically, we, the human body, can be considered as organic machines. The human body is given by Mother Nature; the robot is composed of synthetic substances. Our Mother Naturein fuses spiritual energy and souls into the organic machine.; these spiritual powers are non-material, at the perceptional level, it is something ‘behind’ the physical body, far from our fresh body can reach or perceive, echoing what Merleau-Ponty interpreted of "the body" at the first chapter; our organic shell is imbued with such living energy. This is being a human, yet the robot wears a skeleton, consisting of artificial organs and systems and an engine producing living power charges for moving its mechanical shell. Robots are encoded by humans with delicate programs, codes, and commands for building a robotic conception of the world; in a way, these encodings are like the robot’s soul. This complex comparison reflects what German physician Fritz Kahn said, “the human body is the most competent machine in the world1". He illustrated internal machinery as if it were a human body by using metaphors through his graphics; he interpolates human biological systems into industrial systems: Our organs are different factories that work all day and night with different shifts. The concept of Fritz is a really fascinating approach, which helps us recognize and explore our inner body as small machinery worlds.
Graphics from Fritz Kahn
When it comes to profoundly understanding the aesthetic in art with machinery and the human body, the artworks and thoughts of German visual artist, Rebecca Horn provide penetrating interprets. She ingeniously uses visual metaphors to allow us to gaze at the subtle relationship between the human body and metal machines. She replaces the human body with kinetic sculptures and expresses feelings through the use of objects that perform as both extensions and constrictions of the body. Not only does she engage with body-extensions, but she also is an enlightening teacher that broadened my ideas about body sculpture, kinetic machinery installation, and performance art, especially how she uses body-extensions to explore the relationship between body and space. For example, "White Body Fan" is one of her works that highly inspires me. This work uses two large semi-circular fabric sheets and supported by metal and wood. The giant fans are part of the bodily extension that stretch into the space, and I feel that it signifies Horns feelings of protection, isolation, and loneliness. "White Body Fan" shows contrast between pull in firm construction and soft tension in between. Also, it illustrates the contrasting picture of the sturdy form of machines and the fragility of human body. Witnessing the stimulation of Horn's art pieces, I see many new possibilities and fresh ideas to employ mechanics as elements for creating kinetic machines and wearable sculptures. So, I would like to connect this concept as a joint to connect with this whole chapter, an occasion to initiate the research of kinetic mechanisms and movements, such as the experiments of Automata, pull and string.
Artworks from Rebecca Horn
From Fritz Kahn's view, we learn how the human body works similar to industrial and machinery entities, describing the relevance between the human and machine based on the interior of the body; However, Rebecca Horn uses the angle of humanity to see the relation between the human body and the machine. She once mentioned that "for me, all of these machines have a soul because they act, shake, tremble, faint, almost fall apart, and then come back to life again. They are not perfect machines2." I think that it is a beautiful metaphor of the notion of "man as machine, machines as man." The human body is not perfect; we will break and decay just like any machine. However, we rarely look straight into our decay and speak out about the imperfect parts of ourselves or express these feelings of existential we have out loud. I think imperfectness is part of the beauty of life, like how I used to see my body’s form in a restricting way, examining myself to create a perfect body for others, while now I have transformed to embrace and accept myself in all my imperfections.
1.Wikipedia, “Fritiz Kahn”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_Kahn
2.Rebecca Horn, Quotes, https://www.theartstory.org/artist/horn-rebecca/