The dichotomy between machine and a sentient being has especially been examined by artists since Mary Shelley’s Romantic novel Frankenstein envisioned scientific technology having the power to resurrect life. One of the haunting underlying philosophical points in Frankenstein is that nature can ultimately be broken down and organized scientifically with the ultimate potential of putting the pieces back together and registering consciousness, thus negating the concept of a miracle. This further attacks the notion that matter is impregnated by a spiritual force. From a spiritualist perspective “being” is spirit within a material body. Of course, this is a general spiritualist perspective, as even within particular religious traditions there are varying perspectives on this matter. But for the most part a spiritualist would say that they are a spiritual being having a material experience. The scientific perspective is that we are matter, energy, that is constantly transforming. What haunts many spiritualists is that if the latter were true, then what meaning is there to be found in this flesh? If we cannot transcend the flesh then what is propelling us to exceed human limitations?
What Victor Frankenstein and a spiritualist kind of share in common is that the human body is technology. For a spiritualist the body is a temporary vehicle in which to enact one’s true will. Dr. Frankenstein similarly treats the body as a machine, something that can be fixed, put together, disassembled and reassembled. Whether coming from a scientific or spiritualist angle there is an occurring effect resulted from this concept of the human body as technology.
The positive result of disassociating with the human body is that one can rise above it, so to speak. Rather than be controlled by fleeting physical sensations one can make decisions based upon higher intellectual, even spiritual values that keep body, mind, and emotions in line. The negative result of disassociating with the body is being disassociated from the body- that is, being disconnected to the very instrument that one perceives and projects their identity. The extreme condition of this is a sociopath. The unhealthy benefits of disassociating with the body is that it allows one to forgo responsibility of actions or admit the impressions the physical has on one’s mind. It is living in denial of the feelings one actually identifies with experiencing by displacing such feelings with the machine, not the so-called true self, thus freeing the self from the responsibility to engage pain.
Taking the spiritualist principle that the human form is a reflection of a spiritual person, the human person further projects itself into physical space, namely society. Society is composed of individuals, all who are projecting their identity into the conglomeration of their local community. However, just as a person can disassociate with their body, a person can disassociate from society to deny responsibility of the actions and mentality of that society. It’s quite easy for a person today to disconnect from social norms by rejecting policies or even literally moving out of their community. It’s not as easy for a person to leave their body or deny its nature.
Society is a machine created by a community of sentient beings and that social machine is as much living as its members. Societies are born, grow, expand, and ultimately as history has shown, decline, and eventually disappear. As the human body goes through circles of life and death so does a society.
The irony of Frankenstein is that the Creature turned out not to be the monster. The real monster in the story was the townspeople. Victor Frankenstein resurrected life from dead flesh. In essence, this is the Phoenix bird rising from its ashes. This is alchemy turning lead into gold! This is an essential goal of religions across the board concerning transmutation. The Christian mass transmutes material bread into the spiritual body of Christ. Hindus offer food or bhoga to their deity to transform it into blessed prasadam. And yet a society that lives without this understanding of a great spiritual mystery will be appalled at the sight of it. A Christian who has not realized the essence of mass might condemn the rituals of a Hindu that, although reach the same spiritual goal, has a different physical form. It is this lack of understanding of the nature within form that causes social diseases such as racism and discrimination. A person or society that disassociates or creates a dichotomy between consciousness/identity and form will reject the natural function of the relationship between consciousness and form, which is transmutation. And transmutation encompasses the complete cycle of birth, expansion, and death, and it is especially the death aspect that frightens people.
Kris Kuksi explores the relationship between society and machine in his upcoming showing at Mark Moore Gallery, New Rome, July 9th-August 20th 2016. The title itself supports the point discussed concerning society functioning in cycles. Over several centuries the Roman Empire expanded throughout Europe to eventually decline and fall. One thing never dies and that is the essence of a form. That is the “spiritual” principle that remains a constant. There are essences or constants that we will always find throughout history. There will always be greed. There will always be politics. There will always be law. There will always be rituals. The forms are ultimately irrelevant, but it’s the principle that migrates from form to form reincarnating itself in bodies, societies, and institutions. The ideals of the Roman Empire did not die with the form of the Empire, rather they took on new forms in new empires and other individuals that to a great degree acknowledged that essence by attributing the fashion of their empire to Roman style; e.g. Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Frankenstein’s Creature was considered an abomination because it was a human without a soul, simply animated flesh. In modern society we have governments and institutions that are like animated flesh without souls. They are machines disassociated from the human spirit, and the result is that the humans that compose the society and institutions are suffering. Humanity has created a monster and that monster is coming back to haunt us.
In Kuksi’s Bank Tank we get a striking visual of an institution that profits by society’s debts. Banks earn disturbing profits from wars and individual debt. And yet the banking institution has become so integrated into modern culture that it has become fundamental to our economy. It acts as a currency for our energy in the form of money, like veins circulating blood.
Church tank Type 14 with Double Standard Cannon and Surveillance Drone is another example of an institution that supposedly is beneficiary but has been fundamental in creating division within society. The irony of some religious institutions is that they conduct rituals that reveal the mysteries of transmutations while their politics enhance disconnecting the spirit from society. These two war machines have expanded the Western Empire.
As we have seen throughout history, the beginning of the fall of an empire is the division between the leaders and the general populace. When the social elite oppress the laymen not only is there a seed of revolution that gets planted, but the imbalance created by the indulgence of the upper-class makes them top-heavy and causes them to eventually fall along with their institutions.
Currently modern society worldwide is divided between the rich and the poor and the results are devastating. As the elite post their indulgences on internet social media, the lower caste mine minerals to be used for the elite’s cellphones and laptops.
Kuksi’s ostentatious sculptures with Classical replica statuettes fixed on platforms that appear to float on against the wall tell narratives of that sweetest moment before the fall. It is that orgasmic ecstasy right before the silent emptiness.