From Emilio Vavarella: Identity between Biological and Digital Codes, Sabine Himmelsbach, δημοσίευση στο Mousse Magazine
In his series of works The Other Shape of Things (2017–ongoing), the Italian artist Emilio Vavarella examines the different states that objects can have, based on data transmission or translation errors through a variety of techniques and technologies, from 3D scanning and 3D printing to data manipulation. Our relationship to technology and its effects on people and society are constant subjects in Vavarella’s artistic practice. In earlier works he addressed how technologies influence and control our behavior, how we communicate with and through machines, how our consumer behavior is controlled by the suggestions of bots, and how our realities are increasingly shaped by the outputs of algorithms and artificial intelligence. Computation has made our world quantifiable. Everything today is based on data. Data permeates all social and economic structures—even when it may not appear so at first glance.
Vavarella’s new project rs548049170_1_69869_TT (The Other Shapes of Me) (2020) takes up the theme of various states and diverse representations of data sets. For this he made two transfers. The project is based on the genotyping of the artist’s DNA, which he carried out using the services of a commercial company.His biological code was translated into a binary code, and he then used a Jacquard loom to convert this data into an analog textile. The textile produced has an impressive length of more than seventy meters, but it would have been much longer if he had not pushed the machine to its absolute limit by compressing the code (and the woven textile) as much as possible—to the maximum display of information that can possibly be handled by a historical Jacquard loom. Here, Vavarella draws on an old technology that is considered a model for the early calculating machine—a mechanical loom that can be programmed by punched cards. From the Jacquard loom onward, we can trace a series of technological developments that led straight to the modern electronic computer. The artist deliberately reverted to an old technology that is commonly described as the beginning of the age of computing, but at the same time, by using DNA analysis, he refers to biotechnologies—the most advanced technologies of our time, the development of which is advancing rapidly and will continue, increasingly, to shape our future lives.
“The DNA image is the most culturally authoritative artifact of our era. In the court room it is known as the ‘gold standard’ of criminal identification,” writes the US biomedia artist Paul Vanouse.1 Compared to the high costs of a few years ago, DNA tests are now affordable and used privately by millions of ordinary people who expect these analyses to provide their own selves.2 It can be said that in the collective imaginary, DNA is seen as the ultimate proof of identity and storage of our genetic material. How are artists addressing biotechnologies as the new frontier of science and society? How are they using DNA for their artistic practices? And how is artistic practice relating to what science can verify?
Groundbreaking developments in the life sciences have led to the gradual dissolution of supposed boundaries between natural and artificial life. Today life itself can be artificially shaped. These rapid developments in biotechnology are the central challenge of our age, as they allow us to actively shape our selves and our evolutionary process. They have also brought about a radical change in the understanding of the self, as life has become designable. Developments in genetic engineering have contributed to an increasing tendency to attribute individualistic characteristics of identity to DNA, as writer Markus Jansen says in his 2015 book Digitale Herrschaft (Digital Domination).3 The reflections on identity have been given a biological dimension. Can DNA, the building block of life, be seen as our biological essence?
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