On ViewMary S. Byrd Gallery Of Art, Augusta University
September 19 – December 13, 2019
The future looks good in Bojana Ginn’s Phygital Muse. Nature and technology co-exist throughout Ginn’s interdisciplinary exhibition. She explores transhumanism, a school of thought dedicated to the notion that technology will radically enhance human life. Curated by Shannon Morris, Phygital Muse is on view at the Mary S. Byrd Gallery of Art, at Augusta University, in Augusta, Georgia, through December 13.
Now based in Atlanta, Ginn was born in the former Yugoslavia. She holds an M.D. from the University of Belgrade and moved to the United States in 2002 to work in Emory University’s Biology Department. She eventually became a full-time artist, earning an M.F.A. from the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Atlanta campus, though her background in science and medicine factors prominently into her work.
Ginn’s largest work in Phygital Muse is SOLAR VEINS (2019). It’s an expanse of fuzzy wool that stretches up the wall and across the floor like an earthbound cloud. Illuminated internally by LED lights, it glows in patches of pink, blue, green, and white in the dimmed interior. Soft and acquiescent to gravity, SOLAR VEINS owes a debt to anti-form sculpture of the late 1960s in its resistance to three-dimensional conventions. It reconfigures the gallery, drawing attention downward. SOLAR VEINS reads as both animal and ethereal, or in Ginn’s parlance, it’s phygital—a merger of physical and digital. Throughout Phygital Muse, such binaries are in constant negotiation.
Breaking with the rectilinear conventions of wall work, Digital Synesthesia 1 (2019) and (2019), consist of asymmetrical arrangements of wool, mesh cylinders, and looping videos. The animation shows patterns of dots and complex webs of filaments. These shift and rotate; sometimes, they imbue fleeting illusory depth on the physical assemblage, blurring the lines between media just as synesthesia confuses sensory input. The abstract imagery calls to mind internal networks of nerves, which produce such multisensory experiences. Most compellingly, synesthesia suggests mutability, transformation, and the potential of the body to transcend constraints—concepts inherent to transhumanism.
Plastic Genes/Stereognostic Monologues (2019) consists of two white poles supporting monitors looping videos. They both stand at roughly human height, and the shorter one overlaps the taller as if to assert its objectness (put otherwise, we are reminded that it is not a disembodied digital plane). Each screen shows similar, morphing digital animations against a pink and white background. Slow-moving patterns combine organic and geometric shapes, conjuring notions of growth: bacteria, fungi, or in utero embryonic development. Ginn’s two-part title conjures both mutable genetic material and tactile perception. Though it lacks the diaphanous sensuality of the other work in Phygital Muse, Plastic Genes/Stereognostic Monologues is the most anthropomorphic and generative, pointing directly to transhumanist discourse.
The sometimes contentious field of transhumanism draws from many disciplines and proponents throughout the twentieth century. Professor and author Robert Ettinger advocated for cryopreservation in the 1960s and soon after the first body was frozen. Futurist Ray Kurzweil famously predicted the significance of the internet in a 1990 book and currently imagines that the singularity, a sort of deus ex machina that entails the eclipse of human intelligence by AI, will occur by 2045. Though she does may not neatly fit the transhumanist label, Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (1985) introduced the cyborg as an icon of feminist concerns and paved the way for her later considerations of human and technological intermingling.
While Haraway’s embrace of hybridity certainly applies to Ginn’s work, the fluctuating animations and gnarled masses of wool throughout Phygital Muse also evoke the string figure. It’s a prominent motif in Haraway’s more recent Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016) and is one of the many meanings of her manifold acronym SF (others include science fiction and speculative feminism). The string figure, a model for Haraway’s “tentacular thinking,” resonates with Ginn’s project to harmoniously merge the traditionally separate physical and digital. This potentially transcends the human-centered transhumanist cause and suggests synthesized possibilities that accommodate multispecies life.
While Ginn’s exhibition seems to propose a utopian future in which old borders elide to make way for the new, Ginn’s work, like good science fiction, ultimately reflects the concerns of the present. One of the most powerful lessons of Phygital Muse is its depiction of our already entangled state: a reminder to viewers of the inextricability of the physical and digital, that technology already enhances our bodies. And though Ginn deals primarily in the aesthetics of transhumanism, ethical quandaries remain—silent on the periphery perhaps, but present.
Phygital Muse is partially supported by the Ellsworth Kelly Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, New York. Ginn’s work is also on view through April 12, 2020, at the Museum of Arts and Design’s 2019 Burke Prize Finalist exhibition.