Humans are unique on this planet in their zest for transformation. Most animals are content to live out their lives as they happen, letting their instincts guide them through whatever fate deals them. Humans, however, have always been into transforming themselves and/or their environment. Most animals change slowly over centuries - a process of gradual evolution. Humankind is more impatient - constantly upheaving things in a state of revolution.
Since prehistoric times people have decorated their bodies, adorning themselves with clothes, paints and jewellery which go beyond the practical into the ornamental.
Then there are transformations of the self which are more permanent - such physical changes as scarification, tattooing and body alterations (such as the lip-stretching plates of the Amazons and the neck-stretching bands of some African tribes).
Irrefutable changes such as these are likely to affect the consciousness of those who undergo them. The physical realm affects and reflects the mental and spiritual realms. Often we will undergo an outer transformation to signify externally, changes within; the reverse also occurs - if we change our bodies dramatically, our minds and souls are likely to follow suit, adapting to the new forms they are encompassed in.
In modern western society there is a huge drive towards mass conformity. Obnoxious mass media advertising and the availability of mass-produced goods (clothes, etc) has many indoctrinated into all looking alike and living standard sub/urban lifestyles.
In reaction many of those who differ from the norm do so to the extreme. Those who do not wish to be identified with the conforming masses make an effort to individualise their appearance as much as possible.
Over the decades there have been many different subcultural styles. Now these are all being mixed and merged and mismatched into new mutated forms. The modern mutant draws from many eras, places, cultures and subcultures, bending and blending them together, distorting and contorting them into the future.
Mutation is not of course a solely external process. Many people are constantly transforming themselves through yoga, meditation, music, drugs and magic. These things are, like the different styles of adornment which may outwardly symbolise them, in a constant state of flux, drawing from the vast array of sources available this century and mutating them into new forms.
And of course not all those who metamorphosise powerfully on an inner level want to show it on the outside, for various social or personal reasons; even as some freaky looking people somehow manage to remain unexceptional on other levels.
Tattooing is an ages-old artform that is finally being recognised as such. Some modern tattooists are at last breaking away from the confines of 'pop' art, cartoon imagery and realism, now incorporating tribal designs from many cultures. Some tattooists are beginning to take body form into account - instead of just 'stamping' flat pictures onto the skin, images are being twisted and twined around the form of the body. This added dimension and the new range of colours and tones available are beginning to take tattooing beyond mere surface drawing and into the realms of painting and even sculpture.
If muscle-flexing and other movements are considered, tattoos can come to life; drawings of figures can become animated puppets, images of faces and forms can ripple and change.
Things can be sewn into the skin for added texture, etc. Many parts of the body can be stretched and reshaped over time.
We are not so bound to the forms we were born with as it may at first seem - our bodies are toys to be played with
(see The Mutation En-cyclops-edia). Likewise our minds and spirits can experience revolution through magic and medicine. We can open doorways to other realms of possibility. Even science is beginning to admit that 'consensus reality's not the only reality.
What scares many about tattoos and other body alterations is that they are irrevocable. This is true, and for this reason the effects, inner and outer, of such changes should be considered carefully before one begins; but the fact that most people tend to neglect is that there is always the possibility of further change. If you don't like something you've changed on/in yourself, keep changing until you do. There is no going back, granted, but you can always go further forward. The possibilities are endless. Don't be afraid to change. Stagnation is our enemy.
MUTATION MANIFESTO PART II :
MUTATION & TECHNOLOGY -THE POST-HUMAN
In the last few years since I first wrote Part I of the Mutation Manifesto, the potential for mutation of the human species has increased rapidly. Modern technologies, in additon to giving us access to information world wide, have been applied practically to the human body. Advances in computers, prosthetics and robotics have begun to blur the boundaries between human and machine.
Body artists such as Orlan and Stelarc have experimented with using new technologies as tools for physical transformation, offering social comment on future directions via performance art.
Orlan's operations, performed theatrically yet very real, demonstrate an extremity of physical mutation via plastic surgery Modern medicine sculpts her face progressively into a combination of different features modelled on figures from famous artworks. She has the chin of Botticelli's Venus, the mouth of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, and so forth... As social comment on the western world's obsession with image and physical perfection, Orlan's art is obviously rather tongue-in-cheek (no not permanently -she hasn't gone that far); yet she is committed enough to it to undergo dramatic changes to her form. Perhaps ultimately her message is that physical form is becoming less relevant, that it is becoming mere putty for modern technologies to knead and model?
Stelarc's cybernetic extra arm, operated by far-off minds via the internet, demonstrated the frightening potential of virtual/actual interactions. Earlier performances with multi-piercing suspensions began his experimentation with manipulation of the human form. New technologies offer vaster potentials for mutation, and Stelarc is facing the challenge. He claims that the human form is becoming obsolete -we are merely data in the information age.
Theories abound as to future of the human species and our relationship with cyberspace. It is being suggested that humans will eventually be able to upload themselves into cyberspace, to become freeform in realms of information; able to be downloaded back into robots or other forms.
Despite their extremity these theories are nevertheless possibilities. However, one would hope that in our zealous hurtling into dimensions of hyperspace we do not abandon the physical. There is a beauty in nature, in the forms of plants and animals (including ourselves), which we may never hope to replace. Fantastic alternatives and enhancers may be manifested, surely, but simultaneously these should remind us of the sacredness of the flesh, and of the Earth. Let us use technology for transformation and even escapism, but not to the exclusion of our outer biosphere. Can we go far enough into inner-space to escape the throes of a dying planet-being? Or can cyber and organic fuse harmoniously, technology and biosphere nurturing each other for mutual growth?
Perhaps Stelarc is beginning to real-ize this, if reports that he is beginning experimentation with grafting of living plant matter to the human form are true.
Mutation of the physical form can actually be a powerful affirmation of / communication with the physical, re-establishing sensation with the body in an-increasingly virtual world. Is the escalating subculture/culture of piercing and tattooing a sensation-affirming reaction to cyberspace? Or is it an acceptance of cybernetic futures, this implanting of metal within the flesh? Or both??
My own mutations have been primarily organic in nature. By suturing on parts of animals, such as snakeskins to the arms and eagle-wings into the shoulderblades (see MUTATION EN-CYCLOPS-EDIA), I re-connect with my bestial nature, while also aligning myself with the spirit of the animal integrated and it's magical powers. For me, physical mutation is a glorious celebration of the malleability of the physical form. Modern technology is a wonderful way to enhance the potential of this - I would love to make some of my more extreme mutations more permanent -will the technology become available to me to permanently attach eaglewings or snakeskins to myself? (Can anyone help me with this? - email me: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Art has been subverted in modern western culture for centuries, since 'the age of reason' began it's dominion of science and technology. But now -along with the masculine and the feminine- science and art / technology and magic are beginning to re-balance in our society. My mutations are reclamations of natural art, of aesthetics in a world dominated by sterile practicality. Let us use our technology to enhance and complement our physical environment and our physical selves, but not abandon them to it.
Transhumanism, Digital Aesthetics
Orryelle's "Mutation Manifesto Part I & II" meditates on our capacity to mutate. The manifesto focuses specifically on our ability to incorporate other parts of nature and new technologies into our lives and bodies.
Digital Aesthetics, Transhumanism