© 2018 Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin, Matthieu Gafsou, and authors [and translators] ISBN 978-3-86828-843-8
The Body’s Obsolescence, Technology’s Incandescence, by David Le Breton
Matthieu Gafsou’s beautiful, disturbing images portray the dissolution of technologies and people, the erasure of former ontological boundaries. Sometimes, even, sensitive humanity, with the unavoidability of its face-giving body, seems intrusive in view of the objects’ aesthetic perfection, their impeccable design. These weightless objects prefigure a world where the human seems superfluous, irrelevant. And from page to page, the work unfolds the mystery of these technical and scientific advances that are disrupting social ties, especially since information technology became banal. Matthieu Gafsou creates no sharp contrasts, but his photographs’ frozen look, their absence of shadow, to be precise, induces an unease that is occasionally intensified by the captions that accompany them.
As the photographs’ subject attests, the body’s status has changed profoundly since the end of the 1980s and the progressive growth of automation. It is no longer the irreducible site of the person, but merely one of its components, a proposition to be tackled and no longer the individual’s identity-building root. It has mutated into a raw material; its value is no longer ontological, but rather circumstantial. Customisation of the body, its shaping – performed no longer through a discipline that involves patience and self-knowledge, but rather through a more immediate action – manifests itself in dietary regimes, supplements, or dietetics in general, as a way of modelling oneself from inside, so to speak. A host of exterior procedures exists to change external appearance in an instant: tattoos, piercings, implants, cosmetic surgery, body-building, etc. In the context of individualism and globalization, an impressive body-design market is evolving. Marketing campaigns by countless body-transformation workshops urge customers to visit time and time again, on the quest for the moment’s top formula. In changing his body, the individual seeks to change his existence, that is to say, to rework a feeling of identity that has, itself, grown obsolescent. Flexibility is an imperative, a fundamental fact of the contemporary age, be it about work or a feeling of self. In today’s world, which is open to an unprecedentedly broad spectrum of desires concerning oneself and the world, where technologies are continuously enhancing individuals’ potency to act in the real or the imaginary, the body is becoming too confined, it is closing in on itself rather than opening up to all these possibilities around it. The individual takes it into hand in order to change its shape, its appearance, and to come closer, for the time being, to his desire.
As Matthieu Gafsou emphasizes, scientists construct a dramaturgy of events when it comes to presenting a product, a “premier”, or a research program’s latest status. The divine is now draped in the discourse of scientists or engineers, laboratories are places of worship, and laymen offer up their adoration to the new priests. As the gods vanish, the new priests are renewing religious discourse by promising imminent immortality, absolute health, eternal youth, a new next world generously handed out to everyone. Transhumanism embodies this new mythology in its full force. With scientists vociferously promising salvation thanks to their dedication and discovery – fantasizing that they are supplying all of humanity, of course – it is no longer about waiting for a messiah now.
Illness, tiredness, ageing, fragility, and death will be done away with, and the brain will see its capabilities stretched to infinity thanks to computer memories that grant instant knowledge of languages, techniques, enormous sensorial potentials, etc. In the eyes of transhumanism’s followers, the unfinished nature of the human condition is intolerable, and this new religiosity calls on technologies to respond in order to rectify these defects and promote a modified humanity. Technologies are going to free humanity from physical constraints, be these biological or cultural. They are no longer solely perceived as being external to the body but also as coming to form a substitute for it, transform it into a more effective instrument, eliminate all useless functions, etc. Transhumanism sets its sights on the convergence of modern technologies so that the body – presented as an anachronism and a hindrance – can be eliminated, and the human condition can be liberated towards a post-humanity.