Anna Groninger '24
You know what cyborgs are, right? Beings made of both organic and cybernetic parts, capable of doing superhuman things. You may have seen them in your favorite American TV shows and comics: Darth Vader, Victor Stone, and Iron Man. They are advanced thanks to their cybernetic parts. However, their cybernetic parts aren’t merely attachments to their bodies, they are a part of their identities. Cyborgs wouldn’t be cyborgs without their artificial body parts. You see these characters and you might think, “it would be cool to be able to do what they can do!” Yet deep inside, you know you would probably never take the step to become one with a machine. It's impossible! Or so you think, until a group of technologically enhanced artists entered the picture in 2013.
I was lucky to watch a live interview at the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Museum during the FUTURES exhibition, with members of the talent agency, Cyborg Arts Foundation led by cyborgs Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas. Cyborg Arts offers “key notes, online talks, performances, workshops and commissioned artwork,” to spread their very own cyborg movement, promoting and supporting those who aspire to become cyborgs. It sounded exaggerated, if not unreal. The audience and I were bewildered when seeing the cyborgs at first. Who on earth would voluntarily merge their human body with technology? What purpose does doing so have? But bear with me for a little longer, let me tell you more about what these artists do:
Neil Harbisson is the world’s first government-recognized cyborg. Born with achromatopsia, Neil’s vision was like a black and white movie. He made the seemingly impossible decision to have an antenna implanted within his skull that allows him to perceive color in a unique way: he can hear colors, both visible and invisible (infrared and ultraviolet light) to the human eye. The antenna sends signals to his brain by picking up vibrations from color waves; in his own special way Neil can see color. As a contemporary artist, Neil shares his super-human sense in many creative ways. For instance, he creates sound portraits of people’s faces so they can discover what their faces sound like. When Neil attained this new sense, his mind began to merge with the technology, and he was soon able to associate sounds with colors. He began to create paintings of music as well as people’s voices. A notable piece by Neil Harbisson is a couple of paintings placed adjacent to one another - one is of Hitler’s voice, and the other of Martin Luther King’s.
Moon Ribas is another important member of the Cyborg Arts Foundation. She is best known for her powerful “seismic sense” which enables her to feel seismic activity in the Earth. Implanted within her feet, these seismographs create a feeling of having two heartbeats—“my heartbeat and the earth-beat”— as well as a much stronger connection to the planet. But that’s not all, she is able to perceive moonquakes: seismic activity on the moon. A dancer in college, Moon was inspired to become a cyborg after an instructor assigned her to choreograph a performance incorporating technology. For her performance, she danced only when the earth vibrated. Still to this day, Moon uses her “seismic sense” in art, and has received much attention for her dance and percussion performances.
Many more members of the Cyborg Art Foundation have been able to creatively extend their senses in ways that we could never imagine. Although developing a new sense can be a very uncomfortable transition, once the human body fully embraces the technology, it could create something spectacular. So now I’ll ask you, would you ever join the Cyborg Arts Foundation and become a superhuman?
Cyborg Arts Foundation: a group of self-identified cyborgs who have cybernetic body parts; see https://www.cyborgarts.com
Neil Harbison Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygRNoieAnzI
Moon Ribas Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXONLxaTLFU