The Plant-Human Hybrid Is the Cyborg of Our Moment, Yota Batsaki, δημοσίευση στο HyperallergicMarilena Pateraki
Plants are invading the space of humans in art, at a time when human activity is invading every corner of nature.
Artist Hugh Hayden’s work “Nude” (2021), featured in his solo exhibition “Boogey Men” at ICA Miami earlier this year, is the cyborg of our moment. The philosopher Donna Haraway proposed the cyborg in the 1980s as an answer to the capitalist, technocratic, and patriarchal subjugation of nature. If the solution to what Haraway described in her 1985 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto” as the “border war” between nature and culture born out of “the traditions of ‘Western’ science and politics” could then be imagined as a fusion of organism and machine, today it is urgently conceived as a plant-human. If technology seemed the greatest threat and promise four decades ago, the environmental crisis is center stage now.
“Nude” is a headless skeletal figure made of bald cypress, sitting in a resigned or meditative posture with branches sprouting down its spine and along its limbs. Both personal and global in its fusion of wood with bone, the work taps into the artist’s family tree and that deep environmental current in contemporary art that wrestles with our forgotten embeddedness in the natural world. Plants are invading the space of humans in art while human activity is invading every corner of nature, threatening two-fifths of the world’s plants with extinction, even as we depend on their photosynthetic alchemy for the planetary life systems that sustain us.
Hayden’s plant-human is memorable but not solitary, rubbing shoulders with those of artists such as Barthélémy Toguo, Wangechi Mutu, and Firelei Báez. It is no accident that plant-human hybrids sprout in the work of artists from Africa and the African Diaspora, especially. Theirs are the global communities where the subjugation of plants in the plantation system accompanied the suffering of humans. If in Ovid’s Metamorphosis Daphne is transformed into a plant to avoid Apollo’s sexual violence, today’s plant-humans commemorate the kidnapping and brutality inflicted on millions of people and the human and environmental harm that resulted.
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