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  • Wang Yidi

Post-Birth: Redefining Embodiment and Extending the Boundaries of Humanity

Updated: Apr 30


Post-humanism encompasses more than just the human tendency to separate consciousness from the body. It requires a wider lens that acknowledges the embodiment of all living beings, extending beyond humanity. Exploring the possibility of granting the right to embodiment to all entities, from animals to androids, computers, stones, and even bacteria, is crucial. Yet, it also brings into question our ability to acknowledge and bestow these rights to non-human beings. 




 

The Narrative Body


Post-Birth is a performance art piece that utilizes multimedia installations and a narrative structure to explore the concept of non-human organisms being considered an extension of human life. As the creator and subject of the piece, I assume the role of the "mother" alongside the bacteria from my body's surface, in an ongoing body experiment that simulates the relationship between mother and child.  

   

To achieve this, I cultivate the bacteria on my hair, nails, and skin, using an external uterus suspended on my abdomen. Throughout the performance, I engage in daily activities that imitate the physical process of pregnancy, including prenatal yoga, education, and daily care. The interactions are recorded.

 


Post-Birth: The Pregnancy



As both the artist and the primary subject of this deeply contemplative exhibition, I undertake the role of the 'maternal' figure, intimately bonded with the diverse microcosms of bacteria that inhabit my hair, nails, and skin. This sustained experiment unfolds within the framework of an external uterine apparatus, symbolizing the intricate tapestry of interdependence between progenitor and progeny. In this academic and professional endeavor, I meticulously examine the intricate concept of embodiment, transcending conventional human-centric confines and delving into the profound connection between human existence and non-human organisms. 


Post-human ethics is concerned with how we treat all beings, including non-human and extraterrestrial ones. It emphasizes the extension of human rights to all species, virtual entities, and even honeycomb-like stem cells. Post-humanism seeks to reconstruct the notion of "human nature" that defines what it means to be human and challenges the rigid binary oppositions between humans and non-humans, nature and culture. By doing so, it questions the special status of humans as the "primate of all things" and instead repositions humans as one of the many things in the world. The core intention of post-humanism is the "decentering of humanity." Through my imitation of pregnancy and care for the bacteria, I ask whether non-human organisms can also have the right of embodiment and whether we have broken the boundary between human and non-human organisms.  




 

I Would Rather Be A Cyborg Than Goddess *



As an female Asian artist, my cultural and social upbringing has infused my work with significant elements of feminism. Within the context of post-humanism, concepts like cyborgs and the separation of consciousness from the physical body represent a utopian world that closely aligns with feminist ideals.


N. Katherine Hayles, in her work "How We Became Post-human," suggests that post-humanism should not solely revolve around separating consciousness from human desires but should also extend our understanding of embodiment to include all forms of life beyond humans. This raises questions about whether all "bodies" should have the right to embodiment, including non-human entities. **



From my perspective, granting embodiment rights to all "bodies" would lead to the elimination of distinctions based on skin color, gender, and race, fostering a broader sense of decolonization. In my artistic endeavors, I aim to explore the concept of bestowing embodiment rights upon non-human beings by examining whether they can be considered as continuations of human life. My starting point is the concept of motherhood. When the power dynamic between myself and non-human entities shifts from experimenter and experimental material to mother and child, do I confer embodiment rights upon non-human beings? Within this research context, I have chosen bacteria to represent non-human entities. 





 

Parturition


The climactic moment of the performance arrives with the simulated birth, during which the bacteria are carefully extracted from the external uterus and placed within an infant incubator. The external uterus itself undergoes preservation as a specimen, being submerged in formalin. This metamorphosis of the external uterus into an artifact symbolizes its transformation into an extension of my body, inseparable from my being. Contemplating their development inside me, their birth, and their subsequent placement in incubators, I pondered the fluctuating power dynamics between us, questioning whether they were mere parasites or whether I, in fact, existed as a laboratory subject. 



Post-Birth has been exhibited in Chicago, Wausau and New York, USA.

  

Post-Birth transcends the familiar realm of post-humanity portrayed in science fiction, which often revolves around the fusion of humans and machines or the integration of bionic elements. Instead, this exhibition delves deeper, exploring the potential extension of our understanding of embodiment to encompass all organisms, including those that are non-human. This raises an essential inquiry: can we grant the right to embodiment to all "bodies," whether they be bionic humans, computers, stones, animals, or even bacteria? 



Post-Birth: The Lab, Yidi Wang, 2023



Post-Birth: The Womb, Yidi Wang, 2023



 

*Haraway, Donna J.. Manifestly Haraway, University of Minnesota Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/warw/detail.action?docID=4392065.

** N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics,

Chicago : The University of Chicago Press, 1999, p.24.

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