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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Is There A Transhumanoid Art Movement Apart From Prevailing Corporate-Military PR Practices?

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot to this post, in a discussion that had begun to ridicule exponents of the transhumanoid "art movement" like the terminally awful Natasha Vita-More, reader JimF (no fan of the Robot Cultists, by any stretch of the imagination) put in this generous word:
To be fair, there is some halfway-decent "transhumanist" art out there. E.g. Anders Sandberg does it well enough to be on book covers (at least Damien Broderick's book covers). syd Mead he's not, but...
Not one to let even a momentary generous impulse mis-directed toward futurological fraudsters go unpunished (I keed! I keed!), I reply:

I dunno, there have been many great science fiction cover illustrators, you know. Even granting Sandberg's competence (not to mention Mead's genius, no transhumanoid he), which I am happy to do, I would think that for someone to do more or less the very same thing non-transhumanoid illustrators have long done well but then claim that this is now somehow "transhumanist art" seems to me rather of a piece with the way transhumanoids like to appropriate centuries-old notions of culture or education or scientific method (usually going on to debauch them, natch) and pretend these are uniquely "transhumanist concepts" as a way of sanewashing the more actually distinctive and definitive (eg, batshit crazy) True Beliefs of the Robot Cult -- you know, dreams of wallowing in nanobotic treasure caves in shiny robot bodies with slinky sexbots until the Robot God uploads their "data-selves" into Holodeck Heaven after the Singularity, blah blah blah.

There have been many sfnal illustrators who could evoke urban and space-based mega-engineering sensawunda imagery historically, just as there are many actual artists who grapple in very serious and inspiring ways with actual technodevelopmental quandaries (needless to say, many of my own marvelous students at SFAI fit this description, though their work tends to provide more critiques and even lampoons of facile transhumanoid conceits, if anything), but the Robot Cultists don't seem to me to have much to do with any of that, or to have done anything original in the least. As in so much else, they seem to me mostly frauds and dupes, and often both (which makes them nice symptoms of the neoliberal epoch of global capital, actually).

By the way, DOES Sandberg actually claim to be doing something distinctively "transhumanist" in his illustration the way Vita-More laughably claims to do in her... er... practice? I mean, a Roman Catholic can be painter without being a Roman Catholic painter, as it were, and so, too, presumably, a Robot Cultist can be an illustrator, even an sf illustrator, without fancying themselves an avatar of some vital "transhumanist art movement," surely? Disagree with him though I do on many issues, Sandberg has always struck me as a rather affable and modest sort of person.

Anyway, I have said that superlative futurology is an extreme amplification of prevailing corporate-military marketing and promotional discourse in which the hyperbole and the deception and the greed actually take on the cadences of outright religiosity. It isn't hard to see the stamp of marketing forms in the work of Natasha Vita-More: Indeed, she slavishly copies them. If there really were something like a self-conscious and/or symptomatic futurological art movement apart from the gross reality of prevailing corporate-military PR practices in general, she seems a very fine exemplar of what it would be, her "work" is something like a cross between an online dating profile peddling herself to anyone and everyone at once and a consumer's valentine to the forever unrequited "Future" of a million advertizing promises of youthful skin, satisfying sex, flextime freedom, cool gadgets, and an end to psychic alienation via utter world alienation.

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