LECTURE BY AZIZ + CUCHER AS PART OF THE SERIES WISSENSKüNSTE AT THE HAMBURGER BANHOF MUSEUM FüR GEGENWART , BERLIN. NOVEMBER 2001

Aziz + Cucher

In this presentation we don't want to give the facts or a chronology of our work, we would rather present it along with a text that runs parallel to the images , that reflects   the  ideas that go into the work. We want to elucidate the images without explaining them, just as they intuitively emerge out of our collaborative thought process.

Is Homo Sapiens exclusive?

Perhaps our work is already a reply to that question     through its ambiguity and inherent contradictions- Perhaps the question can only be answered by formulating     more questions. How can one answer  with any kind of certainty to such a question  in these times when even our notion of what is human is constantly shifitng?

Are humans becoming more other, is the "other" becoming more human - or do such distinctions dissolve like dew in the digital stream that equalizes all matter?
There is no "other" there.

In ancient times we seemed to have lived comfortably with the notion of metamorphosis. As Roberto Calasso has written in relation to Greek mythology:
"Forms would become manifest insofar as they underwent metamorphosis. Each form had its own perfect sharpness, so long as it retained that form, but everybody knew that a moment later it might become something else. At the time of Europa and Io, the veil of epiphany was     still operating. The bellowing bull, the crazed cow, would once again appear as god and girl. But as generation followed generation, metamorphosis became more difficult, and the fatal nature of reality, its irreversibility, all the more evident."

The first line in Ovid's Metamorphosis reads:
"My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kind."
It seems that now, as we accept and celebrate the advances in computer,nano,and bio technologies, we have returned to a world that seems entirely mutable. But we need to create a new understanding of the possibilities of metamorphosis: While Ovid's creatures transformed themselves from one known form into     another known form, we are poised to be transformed from known forms into unknown forms.

For the architect and theorist Marcos Novak, Cyberspace represents this new place beyond the "fatal nature of reality".
In " Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace" he writes:
"Cyberspace is a habitat of the imagination, a habitat for the imagination. Cyberspace is the place where conscious dreaming meets subconscious dreaming, a landscape of rational magic, of mystical reason...".

His concept defines a new understanding of reality,     where what we take to be contradictions can coexist without conflict. It reminds us of what Breton wrote in     the First Surrealist Manifesto:  "I believe in the future resolution of these two states - apparently so contradictory - that are dream and reality in a sort of     absolute reality, surreality."
Perhaps it has been our technological evolution that has brought us finally to Breton's surreality.

By now it has become clear that cyberspace is much more than the images that we know from popular     culture,from endless advertising for dot-coms and a     cheapened and generalized sense that technology will bring us into a better world, closer to Utopia.


Cyberspace is the place where we become information, a stream of data that can be manipulated and changed at will.  As the possibilities of digitalization  at every level of matter become more and more actual, cyberspace becomes our world, no longer a distant and alien fantasy.
We are now part of it, body and mind, in endless transformation and reconfiguration. What we have to accept is that the outcome of such metamorphosis cannot be always predicted or controlled.

The question of tonight's theme begs to be broken into two:
First,is the human body exclusive?
Second, is consciousness exclusive?

In answer to the first question, as long as we maintain a common agreement as to what "human" is, we would have to say yes. The moment a human body is no longer recognizable as such, or it becomes a fragment in the make up of  some other being, it ceases to be human. It becomes "other" and a new category is needed to define it.
In "The Origin of Species" Darwin writes the following about Natural Selection: "We see nothing of these slow     changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapses of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into long past geological ages, that we only see that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were. "

The hand of time is moving much faster today as we are able to tinker and intervene in what was once the sole province of "Nature". And with this not only new forms
emerge,  but a new language to describe them as well.
We have no problem understanding today the idea of a Transgenic organism. It is probably true that our     capacity to cut and paste the bits that make up reality will move deeper and deeper into the basic make-up of matter. Will we speak one day of Transmolecular or even Transatomic beings? What will be the duration of such identities? How fleeting their sense of being one and one thing only?

As for the second question, the idea that human consciousness is not exclusive, however,  seems to be the motor behind our quest for artificial intelligence, and also for the ubiquitous science-fiction theme of  alien civilizations who have attained - for better or for worse - an idealized higher degree of a consciousness very much like our own.
In the popular TV series Star Trek, for example, one of the enemies to be feared is The Borg, a disembodied intelligence in search of bodies to inhabit and control.     The Borg is the ultimate enemy of a fixed physicality, a way of understanding humanity as a state of being only possible in the conjunction of body and mind. A disembodied intelligence can only be divine or at least superhuman, and in this case monstrous.

We are still guided by the dream of endowing the world with our consciousness. Animist religions do that as a way of forging a link between man and the world around it, populating it with spirits and demons that act and think much like we do.
Today we imagine consciousness as downloadable, as an object that can be transferred into other objects.
E.M. Cioran, in an attempt to characterize our own existential unhappiness writes about the "holy sleep of objects", a state negated to us, consumed by consciousness.
Will objects still be peaceful if and when they acquire an "I"? Will they still be objects? Will they have instinctual urges and existential voids? Will they have to resort to the invention of religions? -

What form will take the god of conscious objects?
Like all figures of doubles, consciousness comes paired with the unconscious. What dreams will sentient objects have, what demons ready for exorcism, what poems?
At the risk of sounding hopelessly romantic, we have to bring a third element into the equation between body and mind, that elusive presence that seems to arise     precisely from the conjunction between body and mind and which we call Soul, for lack of a better word:  Once both the body and the mind have been digitized to the last atom and the last bit of memory, will we be the inhabitants of a space of pure reason? Will there be     room for a soul in the interstice between hardware and software? We want to believe that there will be, perhaps a tiny space that resists all reason and remains stubbornly irrational.


In these Post-Darwinian times, as we acquire the means to re-create the world upon at will, we cannot endow it with pure reason only, we must also endow it with emotion and a sense of all that which is inscrutable and can only remain mysterious. A world without mystery will certainly be more convenient, but perhaps without beauty as we now know it.
It is clear now that the questions involving this unnatural selection are not whether or if it will happen but how. Which combinations will prove successful , and how will success be determined and defined? Is it a question solely of survival, or does there also have to be a purpose, be it economic, ecological , or purely esthetic?

Sometimes we are frightened by these thoughts and     imagine that becoming hybrid means a loss of humanity -whatever that might mean.
We see nothing but monsters in an endless struggle between man and machines and other organisms that has been going on since the beginning of civilization, repeated anew in the speed of digital data and hyper-efficiency. We feel that the only possible outcome     is loss. But perhaps we should understand this process not so much as losing who we are but instead as realizing the full potential of what we can be.
Like the Unicorn in Rilke's Sonnet to Orpheus, we must be nourished "With the mere possibility of being"
Perhaps the clue is in not to think of this transformation as alienating or othering  but as "liquid" as Marcos Novak has so insightfully stated:
"Cyberspace involves a reversal of the current mode of interaction with computerized information. At present such information is external to us. The idea of     cyberspace subverts that relation; we are now  within information. In order to do so we ourselves must be reduced to bits, represented in the system, and in the process become information anew".

In an electronic, global culture dominated by the need for an efficient distribution of information, there is a gradual obsolescence of the body as the Natural becomes subservient to the Technological .
When talking about our own artistic collaboration, we sometimes joke that we have become each other, or sometimes, that a third entity has been born between us     and is ultimately responsible for the work itself. We become more. It is no accident that we have chosen to write our artistic names using the + sign.
Aziz + Cucher equals a third. A hybrid. An invisible chimera.

Not only is our collaboration with each other, but it is also with the tools we use to create a vision of a parallel reality. A comprehensive understanding of how computer software functions has driven our  imagination into parts of the unconscious previously left untapped.
In his article  "The Virtual Unconscious in Post-Photography", Kevin Robbins writes:
"Through the new image and vision technologies our powers of seeing have been dramatically expanded, and so it seems that rational knowledge and control have     made a great leap forward in their inevitable     progress.[...] But rational utopias have always been marred by a fear of the technological power that makes them possible, by a profound anxiety about what that power can create and at what cost.
Walter Benjamin believed that another nature spoke to the camera than to the eye: other in the sense that a space informed by human consciousness gave way to a space informed by the unconscious. He described it as the optical unconscious. We can perhaps develop this metaphor. We can consider what has happened to this unconscious now that optics has given way to virtual seeing.
And we can also suggest how this virtual unconscious relates to the instinctual unconscious. In our culture it has seemed that vision is associated with the project of reason and the logic of power and control. But vision also mobilizes unconscious forces, primitive and prerational desires, anxieties and fantasies."


We have often stated that with our work we are in search of a poetics of cyber and techno culture, and, like we say above, endow it with that which must remain inscrutable     and mysterious.

Once again we quote Marcos Novak:
"The root of this fascination [with Cyberspace] is the promise of control over the world by the power of the will. In other words, it is the ancient dream of magic that finally nears awakening into some kind of reality. But since it is technology that promises to deliver this dream, the question of "how" must be     confronted. Simply stated, the question is, what is the technology of magic? For the answer we must turn not only to     computer science but to the most ancient of arts, perhaps the only art: poetry. It is in poetry that we find a developed understanding of the workings of magic..."

    
If, as Novak says "Poetry is liquid language", then what is the art of liquid being?

For us, it is in the acceptance of metamorphosis, in recognizing the disappearance of boundaries between the body and its environment.
It is an uncanny place, where the familiar has been turned inside-out and the normal parameters of containment reversed. We turn inwards to find infinity within. We look outwards to find the world engulfed by our own selves. Objects and spaces become alive, animated by our own longing for transcendence. We become intimate with the workings of our consciousness and start understanding the world as an intimate place. We leave behind the sense of separation and become one with the universe, but in the process we are forever changed.