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The term cyborg was coined in 1960 in an article that appeared in Astronautics, wrestling with the limitations our biology placed on our ability to explore space. "Biologically, what are the changes necessary to allow man to live adequately in the space environment?" asked the authors of Cyborgs and Space, Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline. (Clynes was a neuroscientist, computer scientist, inventor, and professional musician; Kline was a psychiatrist, pioneering psychopharmacologist and Clynes's boss at the Rockland Psychiatric Center.) "Artificial atmospheres encapsulated in some sort of enclosure constitute only temporizing, and dangerous temporizing at that, since we place ourselves in the same position as a fish taking a small quantity of water along with him to live on land," they continue. "The bubble all too easily bursts."
And just like that landlubbing fish facing an everpresent danger of its water supply being cut off, so we would face insurmountable problems venturing for extended periods into deep space, our accustomed environment in tow. "If man in space, in addition to flying his vehicle, must continually be checking on things and making adjustments merely in order to keep himself alive, he becomes a slave to the machine," the authors conjecture. "One proposed solution for the not too distant future is relatively simple: Don't breathe!"
Meaning that the solution is not to come up with elaborate ways to cater to the internal systems we have that make our survival possible...and thereby turning us into slaves to our machines. Rather, our machines or devices should be integrated into the autonomic nervous system and endocrine glands that operate without us consciously controlling them. By controlling and altering our various life-sustaining mechanisms without us having to think about them, we could not only live but thrive in otherwise hostile environments as if we had been born there, qua natura.
Notice that this definition of cyborg, to extend our self-regulatory control functions to adapt us to new environments, bears little resemblance to the Terminator, which is 100% machine parts and therefore just an intimidating robot in a suit. The cyborg, on the other hand, has a different purpose entirely: to provide an organizational system that unconsciously and automatically solves our internal, robot-like homeostatic mechanisms, "leaving man free to explore, to create, to think, and to feel."
With emphasis on the last, to feel. Feeling, after all, at the heart of what makes us human: our emotions. "The emotional and material connections we construct and apply to situations and spaces, experiences and memories, are all aspects of interaction and existence that I am attempting to imbue within this collection of Artefacts," explains Kate Langrish-Smith about her 2014 MA Fashion Artefact graduation collection at the London College of Fashion. More than simply a collection of artsy-looking, sculptural accessories for the body to fit into - or onto - she was attempting something much more interesting: getting the wearer to "want to interact with the pieces with an experiential and synthesised memory of the objects to be retained."
Exploring how to conform the body to new contexts and in turn, conforming the contexts to us, struck me as extremely cyborgy thinking of the sort described by Clynes and Kline. "The process of mark making and how to capture imprint; to abstract the notion of imprint and function into a solid and tangible object, simultaneously suggesting and illustrating the negative space formed around a human body," continues Langrish-Smith. "This is intended as a response to the ever-shifting boundaries and nature of both fashion and art."
And, I would add, us.
- Lesley Scott
Podcast music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com