What’s the Boundary that Divides Human Beings from Animals and from Robots?

Emilio Vavarella — Okt 24, 2016

Akademie Schloss Solitude - What’s the Boundary that Divides Human Beings from Animals and from Robots?

Portfolio: vavarella-portfolio-apr2016

What’s the boundary that divides human beings from animals and from robots? And which line, if any, separates the animal from the machinic? Is it the use of tools? Consciousness? The ability to work? What then about robots and animals that learn to use tools better than us? What about artificial intelligences that could develop forms of consciousness precluded to us – and also steal our jobs? Is it time to think of a world in which we don’t occupy a central position anymore? How can we imagine and conceptualize the incredibly complex relationship that we have with the natural and artificial world, at once?

Benjamin Bratton, in his recent book The Stack (MIT Press), tries to redefine planetary-scale computation and geopolitical realities in different forms and at different scales all at once—from energy and mineral sourcing and subterranean cloud infrastructure to urban software and massive universal addressing systems; from interfaces drawn by the augmentation of the hand and eye to users identified by self. In order to do so he proposes that these different things—smart grids, cloud platforms, mobile apps, smart cities—can be seen not as so many species evolving on their own, but as forming a coherent whole: an accidental megastructure called The Stack that is both a computational apparatus and a new governing architecture.

My artwork will use a similar conceptual approach: we’re now the result of an accidental but coherent whole: we, as humans, are the anthropostack. The Anthropostack put at its center not our global infrastructure but ourselves, as we are not independent from the machines and the nature that surrounds us, and it is not possible anymore to try an analyze each group (humans, animals, robots) independently from each other. We’re therefore part of a stack, an anthropostack in which robots and animals both influence and are influenced by us. Inspired by this idea, I’ve collected images, GIFs, online articles and videos that compose a fragmented picture. What emerges from this collection, presented as a nine-channels video, is the image of a stack with three centers: men, animals and robots, and infinite overlapping areas.

Emilio Vavarella is a first-year PhD candidate in Harvard’s Film and Visual Studies program. He holds an M.A. cum laude in Visual Arts from Iuav University of Venice, with study abroad fellowships at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Tel Aviv and Istanbul Bilgi University, and received a B.A. cum laude in Visual, Cultural, and Media Studies (DAMS) from the University of Bologna. His work merges interdisciplinary art practice and theoretical research and is centered around the study of the relationship between humans and technological power. His art practice presents a combination of using new technologies with alternative (non-productive, poetic, dysfunctional) goals in mind, imagining technology’s future effects through the use of speculative fiction, and decontextualizing and misusing technology to reveal its hidden mechanisms.

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