Wednesday, March 30, 2016


My Future Posthuman Gouache and watercolour on paper 42 x 30 cm 2016

Regular readers will have noticed that I am having fun with the posthuman!

In my mind the posthuman is something that may happen in the future, the far distant future. I don't believe we are already posthuman. However, some people do. They believe that due to technology's mediation of minds and bodies we are no longer human and therefore we are posthuman. 

Maybe we are transhuman? Some think the process of becoming posthuman is an evolutionary one and that becoming transhuman is a stage through which evolution must pass. There are arguments that treatments and/or enhancements such as mind altering drugs, prosthetics and implants represent transhumanist change or alteration. Contemporary transhumanists such as Zoltan Istvan, Aubrey de Grey and Nick Bostrom suggest that humanity is compromised by its biology. They propose that technological intervention could 'cure' biological vulnerabilities that cause aging, death and sickness. There's political agency in this proposition! Indeed, Zoltan Istvan is a current US presidential candidate for the Transhumanist Party These types of transhumanists see technological intervention and alteration of the human as enhancing the human experience. Whereas, other transhumanists [or those who think about transhumanism] particularly from the arts/humanities see transhumanism as a way to re-create or re-invent the self.  

But, let's get back to the posthuman. 
I think the major difference between the transhuman and the posthuman is that the former is more about enhancing the human, but the latter is more about replacing the human. I enjoy thinking about what a posthuman might be like and what kind of 'existence' a posthuman might experience. So, I imagine an era where no humans remain, due to extinction caused be either our own hands or natural means, such as the sun's tumultuous demise. In the place of humans are machines that appear to have garnered the ability to mimic human modes of being. However, these modes are greatly augmented - so much so that abilities far exceed human ones - to the point where human-ness is almost indiscernible. These machines 'exist' on a far away exo-planet, having escaped Earth - or maybe humans sent them off to investigate alternative planetary homes, but not in time to actually save humanity? 

BUT, maybe there are no tangible presences? Instead only an awareness of downloaded minds, harvested from humans, even those stored in cryogenic facilities for centuries. These downloaded minds trip around the universe on light beams aided by algorithms that replicate and continually enhance. 

My Future Posthuman
In my new painting above I imagined me [or my mind] as a posthuman. But, I also decided that I could paint an imaginary friend, my posthuman imaginary friend. Indeed, perhaps I've unwittingly painted the posthuman being who is operating me as a simulation? Yep, you read right! This idea stems from Nick Bostrom's simulation argument. Please read Are You Living In A Computer Simulation?   This certainly turns the whole idea of the posthuman upside down, because Bostrom suggests that if we are living in a computer simulation, it is being run by posthumans. Does that mean we are already posthuman, even if we are only simulated? 

So - in My Future Posthuman I've painted a figure with tree-like appendages, a multicoloured heart and a head shaped like a question mark - but the question mark is formed from two rows of binary code 'instructing' the word 'Human'. Hence, the question mark! I love the tree-like wings that spring from the figure's shoulders. They and the tree-like appendages connect the figure to the outer reaches of the universe, of time and space. Regular readers will identify the trees as my visual re-interpretation of the age/old transcultural/religious tree-of-life symbol. I don't think this symbol's potency has been exhausted. That's why I gain a contrary enjoyment in juxtapositioning it with binary code. Both 'codes' have instructional qualities, although they may suggest alternative paths, which may or may not cross. 

Worth looking into though!


Thursday, March 24, 2016


 Line drawing  pen and ink 1974 

1974 - 1976
In 1974 - 76 when I was in my mid teens I drew these two drawings. I can remember drawing them. The bottom one even ended up being framed. So, someone decided it was a good work and warranted special treatment.

The top drawing was inspired by a sideboard my parents had in the dining room of the house I grew up in. An old lamp was placed on top of it. I've embellished the arrangement of items with additional vases and a 'garden' of small branches and flowers. 

The drawing below is from my imagination. Yet, the practice of drawing from nature and my immediate environment is evident. I used to do a lot of drawing of things I saw. The stylised trees or branches are not dissimilar to those in the drawing above. The juxtapositoning of these organic forms with geometric ones is something I used to love to do. It was great to play with patterns  - working out how various elements best 'fit' together as I proceeded with the drawing process. 

Yes, there was some trial and error. I cannot tell you where the errors were made, but I know they were - and I covered them up or changed tack to turn them into parts of the pattern. Yet, I was also thinking ahead about how I might fit the image into the size of paper, how I might render the outer edges to create some kind of visual framing and so on. 

Drawing, and painting too, are processes where both proactionary and precautionary principles work in tandem. Proactionary means trial and error, learning as you go, solving problems as they appear and welcoming the accident as an opportunity. Precautionary means firstly, ascertaining risk factors and secondly, working out ways to avoid and mitigate these risks.  Actions like making sure you have enough space to draw where nothing can be knocked over to spill on the paper is a precautionary action. The artist works out what risks are not worth taking. But, events like ink pooling in a glob at the end of your nib just as you touch the paper creates instances where error can be turned into something positive, thus an example of proactionary principles. A glob of ink can be  manipulated to create a darkened section of the drawing, a shadow, or anything else that 'speaks' to the image. By embracing 'errors' I have found that changes of tack or approach produce unexpected, but often fantastic outcomes. Problem solving, amongst many other processes, is very much part of creativity. Yet, I would suggest that there is something about the tension between proactionary and precautionary concerns that heightens creative impulses, like a push me/pull you energy.
I still love drawing. I love the immediacy of making a mark. But, I also love the trepidation I feel when my hand might wobble, when I can see ink dripping towards the nib, when I notice an insect fly into a wet mark, when I accidently pick up the wrong pen or brush and make a mark before realising...there's a myriad of things that could be classed as errors! 

In fact, as regular readers know I deliberately introduce accidents, especially when I paint. I let the paint drip, pool and coalesce. I may let it dry completely before applying more paint. Or, I might throw more turps onto the canvas, or partially wipe away some paint. I watch what happens as the paint does its own thing. I make decisions about when to intervene. All of this scrutiny and action takes place in the immediate environment of my studio, within the attention of my sensibilities, over a period of time that I can measure, predict and manage. 

I can intervene...and I don't need to have the power on or the batteries charged!

Line drawing pen and ink 1974 - 76


Thursday, March 17, 2016


Dad Acrylic on canvas 51 x 41 cm late 70s. 

I've previously mentioned that my Dad, while a farmer [grain grower], was also a HAM amateur radio enthusiast. His passion started at the age of 12, and was life-long. Over time his interests extended into computers, and other contemporary digital and electronic technologies. 

I have often written about how the technology Dad introduced into our everyday lives has influenced my life well beyond childhood; how I grew up in the 60s and 70s with gadgets and gizmos, made my first crystal set at about age 12, and how I was given movie cameras when Dad bought newer versions. I've previously described how our vehicles [cars, trucks] carried some kind of communication device. I have also mentioned that our family often heard world news before it appeared in mainstream news outlets. This was long before the Internet. I have also written about how the flat horizon of my parent's farm was punctured by Dad's tall aerials [photo below]. Before I was born, Dad, aged only 20, was one of the HAMs conscripted by the US Jet Propulsion Unit  to track Sputnik 1 [1957]. Indeed HAMs in the US were the first to detect and monitor the satellite's signal. Dad made our first TV on the dining room table in the early 60s. AND, then there were the record players and other gadgets he made, bought, modified and installed. 

Well, an era has come to an end. My Dad died at home in his sleep last week. He went to bed and simply did not wake up. He still had work on his HAM shack bench [bottom photo]. After spending over half his life lurching from one medical crisis to another his death came peacefully. 

Various aerials that My Dad used to send and receive. His HAM shack is the small white building. 
This is at the farm at Pirrinuan outside Dalby, Queensland, Australia.

I painted the two paintings [top and below] here in this post when I was about 16-18 years old. They are of my Dad, sitting. I talked about them at the private family funeral we held for him.

Dad had his favourite places to sit - in the lounge watching the news, on his HAM shack stool or in his office at one of his computers. Indeed, as these paintings illustrate [by virtue of their age] even back on the farm Dad's favourite places to sit were the lounge - to watch the news, read a book or eat a meal. Or, he'd be in his HAM shack. Yes, he also farmed, but when that was done, he was back in his shack! Keep in mind too, that farming also involved sitting on a tractor, in a truck or in a harvester. Once tractors and harvesters were built with cabins, air conditioning etc Dad installed communication equipment in them too. This is way before mobile phones! After retirement in the mid 80s and the arrival of the PC [and later the laptop], Dad added the office to his favoured sites to sit for long periods of time.  

Figure in a Chair - Dad Acrylic on canvas 142 x 99 mid 70s, 

Both of my paintings are abstracts...or abstracted. I look at them now [I've had them stored for years] and realise that while they do not literally look like Dad, they convey a lot about his character. He was a man of parts ie: interests, moods, passions, that were often difficult to match together or understand. He was well-read [particularly Australian history or war history]. He loved classical and jazz music, but would never want to go to a concert or performance, preferring to listen to his high quality recordings on devices he'd either made or modified, to amplify and improve the sound. He liked being alone and shied away from social events, especially where there were largish groups of people. He simply preferred spending time operating and making technology, reading, tinkering with machinery, restoring things etc. As a man of technology and science, his interests extended to the way he farmed. He responded very quickly to advances in farming methods and technologies, and in retirement kept a close interest in agricultural matters.

When I look at the top painting Dad I now see it also as an aerial view over farmland. Or, as my Mum has suggested, an overview of a house and outbuildings. And, as one of my nephews pointed out at the funeral, it also has a computer-like or circuitry-board appearance [see photo below for comparison]. Thus, with hindsight I realise that as a teenager I picked up on something that could not be explained with words or even 'seen' at the time - and I'd like to point out - it was manifested with paint and brushes, not a camera or other device!

During my childhood, shared with my two younger brothers, art and cultural activities were actively encouraged by our Mum, who continues to paint and write. I believe that my lifelong exposure to technology, and the characters associated with it, coupled with my Mother's creative influences, has provided me with a unique balance, and a depth of understanding that still manifests in images created through the freedom that painting enables. I've often experienced insights about my paintings many years after completing them and these two paintings provide further examples of how potent, informative, even prophetic, and timeless a painting can be. 

                                                           My Dad's Ham shack bench 

                                                    VK4ZWB signed off 9th March 2016


Friday, March 04, 2016


Is this a Posthuman? Gouache and watercolour on paper 42 x 30 cm 2016

Like my previous post and painting Vascular System for Posthumansthis new painting is inspired by the reading I am undertaking for my university higher degree research studies. These studies are not focused on posthumanism, but they certainly intersect with the possibility of posthuman futures. 


So, let's ask some questions. Will we humans become posthuman by some kind of augmentation or will we assist in the creation of posthuman entities, like we create cars, ships, needles and coffee cups? If it is the latter will these entities be 'inscribed' with access to descriptions of humanity's mode of being in order to ensure some kind of 'human' future history? Is the term posthuman actually a helpful one? If there is no 'human' component, except the possibility of the entity being able to access programmed descriptions of being human, maybe it is a bit misleading? I mean, when we humans access information about stones, stars, history in the library or online [or wherever] we don't 'become' the stone, the star nor the history. So, if a posthuman has no human-ness maybe the 'human' part of 'posthuman' lulls us into thinking we humans actually have a future. Even if the term was 'posthumanlife' or 'postlife' maybe we'd think differently about how we negotiate the prospect of posthuman futures? 

However, if we are augmented and enhanced in ways that retain some kind of human-ness, even if it is only our own individual memories which include our cultural, environmental, historical and familial connections, then the 'human' with the prefix 'post' is possibly more appropriate. This kind of downloading could be input into an 'embodied' being or be entered into a non-bodied system. Do we need a body to be 'human' or retain human-ness? If the entity is an embodied one and has some retention of human-ness what physical attributes could be retained...fingernails? But, maybe we can develop ways to develop extremophile capacities that enable us to retain bodies of organic matter, but super-charged and enhanced organic matter? The other alternative is that there are no 'bodies' just downloaded minds. So if we download human minds and there is no body for the mind to be embedded into, then it is fascinating to think that being human in the so-called posthuman future could be just about mind. 

It is such fun thinking about various posthuman scenarios. I suggest that posthuman or posthumanlife modes of being are inevitable. When you think about it, even if we are completely annihilated it's axiomatic that it would trigger the posthuman. After all, the 'post' prefix does not mean that something has to replace the human. There might be just nothing, no intelligent beings. The thing that humans find sad, maddening, depressing is that without an intelligent consciousness the nothingness could not be observed. 

Is this a Posthuman?

As with Vascular System for Posthumans? I have painted an x-ray-like or scanned 'body'. The 'head' is a tree...yes my much loved transcultural/religious tree-of-life. The tree signifies a few things about life, repeating patterns, possibility. The tree is also represented in the leg-like appendages, taking on a root-like appearance. The trees, to me, seem to signify a process of transformation. However, exactly what kind of transformation is not necessarily apparent. It could be a transformation into a merged human and machine, which is represented by the binary code 'instructing' the word Human. Or, the tree could represent a 'good bye' to humans...a signal that humanity's time to return to the stars as star dust is near. This would mean that a posthuman future is one where there is nothing intelligent or conscious left. Although...there is the tantalising possibility of intelligent aliens who may, for one reason or another, detect that some kind of other intelligent entity once existed.

Looking at the painting, I am very happy with how the 'posthuman's' heart also takes on a kind of head-like appearance. Heart/head/mind connections are important ones to think about. No more so than NOW. By asking questions and thinking about human futures, we may be able to ensure that whatever future occurs, it is the best of many possible outcomes.

Other recent Posthuman Paintings


I was interviewed on Radio Adelaide a day after speaking on a four person panel 'Space and Popular Culture'. The event was hosted by the Southern hemisphere Space Studies program, run by the International Space University [Strasbourge] and teh University of South Australia.  You can listen to it HERE