João Biscainho – Body Terminals at Chauffeur, Sydney

When Freud announced in 1929 that man has become a “prosthetic god” it was sounded with an air of astonishment or reproach. Now it is a truism. We are inured to the concept of transplants and synthetic body parts, cosmetic surgery is no longer stigmatised, and smartphones are seamless agents of our personalities and interactions with others. Joao Biscainho’s exhibition, Body Terminals speaks to this condition in which body parts are casually perceived as detachable, bodily conditions modifiable, and somatic states a by-product of technological intervention. “Terminals” in the title points to both places of transition (“airport terminal”) or simply of ends: in the age of the Anthropocene, we quite feasibly face a rebirth. But it is one where we are always facing an otherness in ourselves.

What all the sculptural objects in this exhibition have in common is that they are partial objects, much as prostheses are. Detached from their core, they enact a state or potentiality that suggests that they either have some proximity to a future deployment or else have been brutally detached from their core.

This is certainly the case with L’Origine du Monde, an object of burned, melted and contorted car part formed into a shape unmistakably vaginal, calling to mind Judy Chicago’s Banquet or Gustave Courbet’s Origin of the World, the latter a fetish piece commissioned by a Turkish diplomat that to this day remains one of the most requested works for loan. In scale and sheer rawness Biscainho’s version is shorn of any eroticism and is ready to come to life.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a white, to-scale rubber cast of the artist’s thumb against a green chroma key set atop a plinth. Another fetish divested of any libidinal energy, the green refers to the green screens used routinely in CGI, a technique inimical to the filmic purist but which has indelibly made feature film more about fantastical, unrealistic visual effects than human interaction. The thumb, then, acts as a cipher or avatar of the body-object transported into a fake and manipulated context. It is the polar opposite to the religious artefact or relic in which a whole history and faith are concentrated, rather it is simply a dispensable stand-in for the sake of a context-to-come.

This sense of prolepsis, that something is soon to evolve or happen is everywhere in Biscainho’s exhibition, which is very much part of the futuristic ethic of the twenty-first century. Even when there is residue from the past it exists for the sake of further transformation and refashioning. For instance, in Glazing Gaze, a polished stainless-steel ball in a ledge is accompanied by deliquescent white sludge that has spilt from somewhere into a pool on the floor. Except for the inscrutable finality of the ball, one is tempted to associate the white substance with semen (it is in fact sticky liquefied sugar). The ball is a symbol of the kinds of systems and machines that simulate bodily functions but whose shape and substance is all but human. And for what purpose this machine is made remains obscure, suspended.

In the works on paper, Collapsed Bubbles consist of irregular configurations of circles. These echo the large ball-bearing insofar as the circular forms relate to human systems and processes that have been reduced to algorithmic structures. They deal with the way in which humans have been reified into data that exists for surveillance and manipulation, units for a much more indefinable schemas of power.

As a foil to Biscainho’s fragmented narratives of technological transubstantiation is Corner Batch, a mass of raw Alpaca wool heaped in one of the gallery’s corners. As an unmediated material it sits as an uneasy reminder of nature and the natural. It is material in wait for transformation of a much different kind from the other works, inasmuch as any raw material can be as such, but which quickly lapses into being bland matter. Its simplicity is such as to remind us that the “nature”, such as it is, is indeed a human creation used as the conceptual counterweight to anything named or intervened upon. Nature is a myth.

Biscainho’s Body Terminals is essentially about the ways in which myth has been reconfigured in the hyper-technologised age. Whereas ancient myths were correctives to human foibles or tales of virtue, we have surrounded ourselves with so many aspects of non-reality, we have subjected ourselves to so many alterations, and we console ourselves that further modifications are on the horizon, that we have all but internalised non-reality. We increasingly embody myth because the new real is that of actualised fiction. Biscainho sounds this note without judgment.

Like the computer alert that gives you only one option but to press the “OK” button, Biscainho reminds us that we are architects of our own acquiescence.

Body Terminals is at Chauffeur Gallery until November 5th.

The article was written by Adam Geczy.

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