Image: Rebekah Ubuntu courtesy of Angela Dennis Photography
In March 2019 Culture& announced ‘Cyborgs’, our Friday Late Spectacular curated in collaboration with the Wellcome Collection.
Visitors joined us for an evening of irreverent performance, conversation and cocktails where we rethought the perceived boundaries between human and non-human, or between races, genders or classes.
Visitors heard from artists, designers and engineers who are challenging assumptions about how we classify things as animal, human or machine, and asking whose voices we listen to when designing the future.
Date: Friday 15th March 2019
Venue: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London, Nw1 2BE.
Discussion: ‘Return of the Cyborg’
Visitors heard from Joanna Zylinska about why the cyborg has returned at a time when there’s a boom in AI, research into immortality and an unfolding ecological crisis. The talk included a screening of Zylinska’s short photo-film ‘Exit Man’, which explores the problem of human extinction and proposes ‘a feminist counter-apocalypse’ as an alternative cyborg scenario.
Discussion: ‘Cyborg Reading Groups’
Visitors took part in a reading group to discover and discuss writing by Octavia Butler, Donna Haraway and Samuel R Delany and others.
Workshop: ‘Flesh and Machine’
A workshop hosted by designers and engineers from UCL who are creating devices to extend our bodies’ capabilities. Visitors tried out a third thumb designed by Dani Clode, learned about how new limbs could affect our brains and saw prototypes of future technologies in surgery.
VR and Discussion: ‘NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism’
In this VR experience by Hyphen-Labs visitors saw a neurocosmetology lab where black women are pioneering techniques of brain optimization and cognitive enhancement. Hearing from the creators, Carmen Aguilar y Wedge, Romy Gad el Rab and Ece Tankal as they spoke about their work in speculative product design, emerging technologies, cognitive research and transhumanism.
Refreshments: ‘Cyborgian Cocktails’
Visitors enjoyed a range of cocktails specially created by mixologist Mairi Nolan. The drinks, named ‘Stars at Night’, ‘Human and Machine’ and ‘Asclepius’ referenced Cyborgian themes of space travel, the body and machine and the Greek god of medicine.
Workshop: ‘In the Kingdom of Impossible Life’
Visitors joined a participatory workshop run by Zia Álmos Joshua X and explored classification and how it relates to the cyborg. Activities focussed on the legacy of Carl Linnaeus (who created the system of naming organisms that we still use today), modern ideas about symbiosis and interspecies relationships, and on the political and ethical power of technology.
Short Film Programme: ‘Cinematically Posthuman’
From pre-robotic automata as imagined by the European modernist avant garde to the dawn of the computer age and the advent of AfroFuturism, moving image artists explored the potential of the body in relation to technologies of the eras in which they were working.
Performance: ‘Long Straight Pubic Hair’
Visitors watched a newly commissioned and irreverent performance by artist Mamoru Iriguchi about a humble enhancement to his body that would change his life forever.
Performance: ‘Are You There?’
Visitors were treated to artist Rebekah Ubuntu and their Afrofuturist sound, video and performance work exploring unbelonging, questing and intersectional utopianism through the speculative gaze of an artificially intelligent cyborg.
Performance: ‘A Shoal of Lovers Leads Me Home’
Visitors experienced alternative Black queer liberations with speculative writer, artist and pleasure activist Ama Josephine Budge. Ama explored possible climate-changed futures via her speculative fabulation ‘A Shoal of Lovers Leads Me Home’.
Screening: ‘The Last Angel of History’
Visitors watched a screening of ‘The Last Angel of History’, a film by Black Audio Film Collective. This film follows the journey of a data thief and uses Afrofuturism as a metaphor for cultural displacement, presenting a new way to understand the relationship between Black identity and the body.
Performance: ‘Disco Cosmonaut’
Le Gateau Chocolat provided a dramatic finale to the evening by singing two numbers that spoke to his own struggles with identity as well as those of LGBTQIAP+ people everywhere: Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I am what I am’ and Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’.