From the autonomous, humanist subject towards an environmental agency

The shift in thinking the human as an autonomous being towards an interface, as connected with its environment and the myriad entities that mutually condition these relations, can be fruitful in defining agency in the Anthropocene anew. The term of the open machine by Gilbert Simondon is helpful here to understand, how technologically provided intra-actions can lead to a different kind of human agency, self-identity, feeling of self. Machines after Simondon give us the opportunity to realize / raise up another world. In order to meet this potential, a machine has to be open, ready to connect, and communicate (Gilbert Simondon: On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects. Paris: Aubier, 1958). The machine develops, it has a genesis and is depending on its environment, simultaneously it invents the environment.

Technologies, that display or make tangible relations to other elements within the shared environment can create a phenomenal experience space, that invites for acting upon these new relations. One parameter that enables new experiences of environmental agency is scaling: The project BIO[lum] SKIN ( is a speculation of a future scenario takingfinale-683x1024 into account the changing oxygen levels in the world’s oceans, we record today. The work speculates the human as an altered state of organisms, in a symbiotic or parasitic relationship together with sea creatures, that lost their natural habitat due to the lack of oxygen. The human in this figuration develops a new organ, that hosts these creatures and provides oxygen responsive skin. Here, the symbiotic relationships that the human being is already in are made visible and transferred onto a larger scale, connecting the human with a different, formerly separate sphere, the hydrosphere. The human body, or, what we think as the human body, is shown as an open machine, that interconnects with other species, that would otherwise die. Together they form a new kind of agency within shared events of crisis.


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4 Comments on "From the autonomous, humanist subject towards an environmental agency"

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Florian Auerochs
Florian Auerochs
Hi Desiree! The art-project you chose and your posthuman reflection on it is exciting, as ‘environmental agency’ is a vital topic in posthuman discourse. The merger of seacreatures, (bio-)plastic and human flesh reminds me of Stacy Alaimos remarks on trans-corporeality, as she notes “[t]rans-corporeality is a new materialist and posthumanist sense of the human as perpetually interconnected with the flows of substances and the agencies of environments”, what BIO[um]SKin clearly renders visible in its ‘trans-corporeal’ symbiosis of diverse environmental actants. The “shared environment” you mentioned also reminds me of Judith Butlers thoughts on a shared “precariousness”, which calls for new… Read more »
Mads Søndergaard

Very interesting topic. 🙂

However, I do think it’s interesting to also consider when we’d cross the line between a purely symbiotic relationship, to an actual posthuman condition. Would it, as the project you linked described, require that the relationship be involuntary or out of necessity, or simply that it was more visually imposing?

Otherwise, one could argue that probiotic food products, or the voluntary consumption of tapeworm eggs as a dieting method in the early 20th century, or even our feline and canine companions were, in some sense, posthuman, and an act of environmental agency.