Expanded Cinema and the posthuman

pattern chaos

Research towards the posthuman is a rapidly expanding field. One of the early publications is How we Became Posthuman by Katherine Hayles (1999). She focuses on the emergence of cybernetics, questioning the idea that artificial intelligence will render our bodies obsolete. In a final chapter she writes: "the posthuman does not really mean the end of humanity. It signals instead the end of a certain conception of the human, a conception that may have applied, at best, to that fraction of humanity who had the wealth, power and leisure to conceptualize themselves as autonomous beings exercising their will through individual agency and choice."

Rosi Braidotti picks up the thread in The Posthuman (2013). Her thesis revolves around the changing connection that humanity is forging with the global (climate change), the animal (oncomouse) and the machine (drones) and calls for a new posthuman ethics to be implemented. Eduardo Kohn extends the field into anthropology in his publication How Forests Think (2013). Through extensive fieldwork amidst the Runa (Amazonia) he builds a framework for an 'ecology of selves', in which there is place for a multitude of species who share language and politics. Anat Pick and Guinevere Narraway expand the posthuman to filmstudies in Screening Nature, Cinema beyond the human (2013). In the introduction Anat Pick writes "The ambivalence of the screen and the act of screening, whether as projecting and exhibiting or as filtering and veiling, comes to define film's relationship to its own materiality: its locations, onscreen lives, mise-en scène, narrative structures, exhibition spaces, its carbon footprint and chemical building blocks, from celluloid to silicon. All of these are part of cinema's diverse ecologies". In a series of chapters contributed by various authors the publication unravels the cinematographic representation of landscape, animals, animal politics and environmental philosophy.

In connection to my practice as an expanded cinema artist, I have a particular interest in the 'chemical building blocks' of film and how these could carry an image that emerges through an alternative process, away from the dominance of human-centric optical and sonic representation that cinema usually offers.

Going back to Katherine Hayles an interesting starting point is offered. In her conclusion she sums up a basic principle that underlies late-twentieth century thought concerning human perception: "If pattern is the realization of a certain set of possibilities, randomness is the much, much larger set of everything else, from phenomena that cannot be rendered coherent by a given system's organization to those the system cannot perceive at all". From there onwards, a posthuman worldview incorporates not only a global sensitivity, an acknowledgement of other species, and a new machine ethics, it also needs to realise the potential of randomness and find ways to decipher information that is beyond the human.

Some of these ideas are put into action in my performance Pattern/Chaos. I used a strategy of failure, surprise, adaptation and curation aided by organic process, recycled film-stock and found objects. Besides making a work with a low carbon footprint, I am aiming to negotiate between the unpredictability of organic processes and the regularity of frames, optics and motors. In doing so I aspire to make patterns visible that are normally hidden just beyond our field of vision, that much larger set of everything else, beyond the human.


LCC - Documentary Research Forum, London