Fate of the body – stating a presence in the electronic and cyber era
(Fragmented translation from an essay originally written in Bahasa Malaysia and published in “Pameran Seni Elektronik Pertama” - 1st. Electronic Art Show”, National Art Gallery of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, 1997)
Hasnul J Saidon
London in the 18th century. Mass printing technology, gave birth to several innovations in ‘print making’ art amongst ‘fine artist’. Oral tradition began to be forgotten as Edison with his phonograph and Berliner with his gramophone began to invade human civilization. Alaxender Graham Bell and his telephone, displaced human voice and extended it beyond audible local distance. Muybridge, Lumiere, Marey, Eastman, Kodak and Edison extended the dream of displacing humans into an artificial stage. They became modern ‘dalangs’ (puppeteers), who opened up the path of using 'light' and film surface as a new stage for human civilization. They completed and perfected early experiments by Platteau through his ‘phenatiskiscope’ and Daguerre through his ‘daguerrotype’ in transferring human drama from reality to ‘virtual reality’. Through such virtual reality, humans began to encounter an ‘out of the body’ experience, to be ‘presence’ as ‘light’ on a flat screen. Film and cubism – began to provide multiple views in relation to Einstein's theory of relativity. They signify a shift from centralized view to ‘based on the viewer or camera’ quantum view. Wright brothers shifted the limit of human perception and perspective from middle distance landscape to a bird’s eyes view, different from views painted by Turner, Constable, Ingres, Monet and friends. Satellite images and electron microscope also shifted human perspective – allowing humans to peek into the double helix structure of DNA or galaxies or a woman bathing in Kremlin! Scientific and technological inventions extended the biological body. We simply can’t leave the fate of the body to chance anymore. We have to shift and adapt to a new world created by a techno-centric view, or risk being colonized by a ‘fate’ dictated by such view. Macluhan’s notion of global village also connotes transmigration, yet we should also ask, what about virtual or online transmigration? With the hyper-connectivity of online space, we can’t deny the implication towards cross-cultural encounters. We have to encounter new cultural agents – Ken, Saleem, Dunhill, Malboro, all the global brands. We have to encounter what Baudrillard has termed as simulacra. We have to acquire a virtual presence, to become an avatar. ‘Terminator’, ‘Blade Runner’ used to remind us of technological catastrophe. We need to re-visit the meaning of ‘melayar’ (sailing or to be hip, surfing) – to be a fluent sailor, or now a hip surfer on the net wave. Are we performing it with wisdom? We should question scientific rationality and value that are propelled without human values. We have fuse wisdom from both the East and West, and take notes on the fates of previous civilizations. What have we learnt?