When we look at One of Them Is Human we stare the future in the face. And it’s a future which is with us now. This is why Maija Tammi’s four photographic portraits of three androids and one possible human are so unsettling. They make us face the idea that maybe humanity is on the verge of extinction. We are forced to look squarely at the posthuman predicament that we are replaceable by technology. After all the portrait series shows us this: a technological entity has entered into the human domain of life portraiture – and has even won international prizes for being the subject of it. Namely two awards in the world’s largest photographic portrait prize competition hosted by the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Portraiture is traditionally dedicated to capturing and celebrating the living in one moment of their existence: a snapshot in time – a human still life. It is steeped in the idea of capturing the 'ghost in the shell' as the photography curator Robert Sobieszek called it - the soul or essence of a person evoked through their facial expressions or the ways in which the photographic portrait is composed. One of Them is Human turns the convention of portraiture on its head – as all great art does – by making us question ourselves and the convention itself. What can one really see if the subject is maybe not human? Does this matter? And what happens to the idea of portraiture if the subject is immortal?
Erica and her friends defy the corporeality of being human. They are not daughters or sons of any species which have been biologically created. They are instead timeless-forever-synthetic beings – except for maybe one of them. Their very existence shatters the linearity of time, whilst simultaneously they evoke kinship by their uncanny physical similarity to us. The android in each portrait has become the mirror of the human viewer’s own soul: the space where we project our hopes, our fears, our desires and dreams.
In a curious process of double-reverse, it is the viewer who becomes a self-composing portrait and portraitist in the very act of looking, feeling and reflecting on these portraits of the maybe-androids before us - our technological other. An intangible self-portrait is composed on the invisible canvas of our own consciousness which the android cannot reach and which is the very essence of what it is to be human. Or so we think.
According to the historian Yuval Noah Harrari, the author of the bestselling Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow , human consciousness is the ability to feel things such as pain, joy, love and anger. He says in the future artificial intelligence will be able to acquire emotional intelligence and to understand human emotions better than we can. In addition, he predicts that intelligence, and not consciousness, will become the ultimate ruler of a new world order in which technology, data and the algorithm rule. Humankind will be dethroned from his/her view of being at the centre of existence due to the power of consciousness which will no longer be the self-defining measure of life and existence. The anthroprocene will be well and truly dead.
However there are other theories about humankind and technology which are also changing the way we define what it is to be human. These visions are more inclusive and do not put technology and the human in a battle for supremacy, but instead suggest an intra-connection. Bruno Latour says ‘our sin is not that we created technologies, but that we failed to love and care for them.’1 Technology is after all created by humankind and is therefore an extension of consciousness – which is another explanation as to why looking at Maija Tammi’s photographs feels so uncanny and unsettling. The androids are human after all – in a sense – because they are an extension of us.
The theorist Rosi Braidotti goes one step further. She suggests with fellow theorists Karen Barad and Donna Haraway instead a transversal belonging between everything which exists. We are all after all the same – whether rock, stone, human, or tree. The sentient and insentient, the alive and the dead, the technological and the human are all intra-related by the very fact that we can be seen and are composed of matter. We are all made of stars – that moment 10.7 billion years ago when matter came into existence. The androids are our kin after all. And we, theirs. All that exists is us.
Text: Ariane Koek
Creative Producer and Curator in Arts, Science and Technology
Curator of Entangle: Physics and the Artistic Imagination Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden
1. Bruno Latour ‘Love Your Monsters’ in The Breakthrough Journal Spring 2012