Reading Cary Wolfe’s seminal work “What is Posthumanism?”, a term you might come across on more than a couple handful of occasions is “decentering”— pretty much without fault of “the human” in relation to X (evolution, technology, language etc.). Wolfe builds his take of the posthumanist stance most markedly on the shoulders of post-structuralism (most explicitly Derrida, but Foucault and Lacan also figure to a large degree) and system’s theory (here almost exclusively second order system’s theory as advocated by German sociologist Niklas Luhmann)—so it’s with these kind of co-ordinates that this decentering be understood.
“… On-Demand French Alp flavour, topical opiods…
… Pools of infinity, loops on repeat, dark ecology gang bang…
… Reacting on X…
… Have a taste.”
– “Announcer”, The Weather is too Predictable
Visiting the exhibition The Weather is too Predictable by the Aarhus based “exhibitions-phenomenon” (their own term) Piscine, one gradually becomes aware of a certain, perhaps slightly un-nerving, absence. The neat rows of office water dispensers stacked on made-to-order metal shelves, the luxury coated media gloss announcements that permeate the space—even the very water on offer; all little by little give an air of a welcome which is ambivalent, to say the least. The shelves do in fact tower above you, well out of reach of the most generously built of us. The voice that glides about the room (mediated through surface transducers by the dispensers and their liquid contents) not only raises questions as to its origins (who is speaking? About what, exactly? Is she/he a man or a woman? Is it even an “actual person”? Who/what is the transmitter of these disjointed pseudo-commercial messages?), parts of it literally fracture and scatter about the space between sentences, synthetic shadows of itself that trail and coil about the otherwise sanguine announcements. “Have a taste!” the voice exclaims, emanating from seemingly every corner of the room. Follow these directions and you’ll realize that the water carries a foul, markedly medicinal aftertaste— and thus you’re left to wonder just what chemical compound you’ve just let into your body, and quite generally how to locate yourself in relation to, well, most everything about you.
Keys to the work’s disconcerting effect is in my mind first, that although it at first impression offers itself up with abandon, you slowly but surely realize that what you’re reading in the end is not so much content of the work, but rather absences. What at first seems wholly directed towards you, The Visitor, with time appears rather to be directed untoward some Other. Second, in leaving this shift of perception in the ears and eyes of the beholder, the work doesn’t lend itself to be reduced to a mere symbol of systems (and doesn’t thus place the observer in some transcendental position from which nothing is hidden, from which the work sprawls out before you just waiting to be deciphered). To borrow a train of thought from Luhmann, it insists on not unfolding only as communication, but irritates, if you will, the relation between perception and that communication (Luhmann, 2000). The visitor is allowed gradually to decenter herself, in a process which ultimately renders the familiar (perhaps even, the self) as perplexingly strange and other.
Cary Wolfe, What is Posthumanism?, University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
Niklas Luhmann, Art as a Social System, trans. Eva M. Knodt, Stanford University Press, 2010.
http://piscine.dk/theweatheristoopredictable/ (Accessed on October 7th, 2016)