November 12, 2022 – February 10, 2023
Lauren Lee McCarthy
Curated by Katie Peyton Hofstadter
LIFELIKE explores the work of seven artists logging biological, genetic, and behavioral information on a digital ledger, invoking a conversation about how to take back body sovereignty in Web3. Inspired by Hofstadter’s text “Bodies on the Blockchain” for Right Click Save, EPOCH has placed the work of seven artists inside a virtual representation of BIOSPHERE 2, a failed twentieth-century experiment in self-sustaining post-ecocollapse living.
Technology is moving into our bodies, and our bodies are moving into technology. The stakes are high: Will we double our healthspans or create a techno-dystopian Gilead? The artists in this exhibition are interested in what it will mean, and how it will feel, to have a body in a future where wetware (living tissue) serves as a foundation for technology, where medical implants monitor our hearts and minds, and where decisions are made by programs none of us fully understand.
Today, phones harvest information about our bodies and behaviors as a default setting. How does it feel to seek digital connection when our every swipe, movement, and private message is under surveillance? Since the publication of the above text, Eva Galperin from the Electronic Frontier Foundation has sounded alarms on the “unprecedented digital surveillance” on the bodies abortion seekers in the U.S., and the E.U. has proposed mandatory government scanning of private messages, photos and videos. Body sovereignty has always been a privilege and the history of predatory surveillance is deeply tied to systemic racism; while the aspirational mythology of Web3 promises individuals more control, it does not distribute that power equally, perpetuating technocapitalism’s colonial legacy.
Activists and leaders around the globe are demanding legislation to encode equitable human rights for all bodies, which must evolve and keep pace with the technology they use.
The artists in LIFELIKE bring a creative lens to the conversation: probing the ways information flows between our biological and virtual identities, expanding our vocabulary through imaginative scenarios, and using their own bodies to propel the conversation about the role – and rights – of all bodies in a hybrid world. By stress-testing so-called Web3’s effect on their own bodies, these seven artists also invite the possibility that the lab rats might now take back control.
LIFELIKE presents nine projects by seven artists, installed within the five biomes, the agricultural mesocosm, and two lungs of a virtual Biosphere.
Lauren Lee McCarthy physically embodies familiar messaging technology in uncanny scenarios, underscoring the emergent tensions between physical bodies and digital intimacy. Nicole Wilson’s long-term research-based work creates a symbolic link between the preserved skin of a Bronze Age wet mummy, exposed by the melting of ice in the Ötztal Alps, and the local and distributed corpus of the living artist. Sputniko! prompts inquiry into the optimization of romantic identity by minting a supercharged silkworm genetically modified with the “love hormone”; the resulting speculative narrative smudges distinctions between biohacking, science, and cultural mythology.
Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova offers her blood to collectors, drawing visceral attention to the incarceration system and the brutal Putin regime. Lans King uses a cutting-edge brain-computer interface device to generate sculptures using his own brain data, as he meditates on the phrase “be like water”: new monuments, perhaps, to the sovereignty of our minds. Cassils highlights trans visibility and the pressure of surveillance on othered lives. In a series of inquiries on the genetic myth of personhood and community, Xin Liu visualizes her sequenced genetic code as an expansive digital sculpture, both a flower and a root system, signifying fertility in a hostile environment.
McCarthy, Wilson, and Sputniko!, perhaps, also subvert the biohacker “optimization” ethos of ever more powerful bodies and minds, prompting a meditation on vulnerability, connection, and hybrid intimacy. Pussy Riot, Cassils, King and Liu test constraints and potentially, embody some form of escape. Taken together, these projects all open intimate space for us, the audience, to explore the tension in our own lives between digital identity, body sovereignty, and the datafication of our networked selves.
– Katie Peyton Hofstadter
On November 19th, the entire LIFELIKE exhibition will be offered on the Algorand blockchain in an edition of 3. Proceeds will be distributed among the artists and contributors.