Primal machines: The cybernetics of Salvador Marino

Argentina-born Salvador Marino, whose art focuses on prosthetics, discusses post-humanist bio-politics.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Apr 13, 2021

Post-humanism is a broad umbrella of philosophical theories that challenge beliefs regarding traditional facets of humanity and human identity. While it has inspired many scientific advancements, its value as a theoretical framework is equally prescient and critical with regards to the artistic enquiries it has sparked. Among the many creative practitioners who explore post-humanist thought within their works, Salvador Marino stands out as quite possibly the most anarchic and visionary. What makes the artist’s work especially fascinating is that it does not so much plant each leg in each pertinent category; these being art and science, but rather, seeks to obliterate them entirely, fusing their salient thematic preoccupations into a new, third entity. 

Untitled by Salvador Marino | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Salvador Marino

Marino was born in a small town in Argentina, which the artist describes as “flat, boring and without any trees”. The artist has a background in evolutionary biology with a strong interest in bio-political research, and creates fascinating cybernetic prosthetics that, in a sense, ask “why not?“ instead of “why?“ Marino tells STIR, “The classical conception of prosthetics, which comes mainly from medicine, is skewed by a productive conception of the body. It is a concept that seeks to give productive viability to a body that is no longer useful to society because it has lost the ability to walk, to grab, to talk, to see, and so on”. The artist challenges this conception of the human body and its capital-driven purpose, and isolates our approach to nature as a core issue within relevant discourse. Marino explains, “This perception needs a stable framework in order to develop, and this framework is the concept of nature. The prosthesis appears as an artificial (non-natural) device to be used to repair the error of loss, to complete, to rebuild natural ability. What is the plan behind this? Designing carefully crafted cities for people who have two legs, two arms, and are able to talk and see, to then adapt the bodies that don't fit the natural environment? We should not adapt bodies to a natural productive environment, what kind of madness is that? We aren't just meat stocked in the system”. The artist prefers to relegate ideas of what is physically correct, believing these to be grounded deeply within religious and philosophical dogma, and instead chooses to ground his prosthetic explorations firmly within a search for corporality outside the institutionalisation of productive and natural bodies.

Animalistic configurations by Salvador Marino | STIRworld
Animalistic configurations Image: Thomas Puschmann

Marino works with contemporary dancer Joesfina Maro, and their overarching research project is called the Post-Organic Bauplan Project. He says, “This project is a transdisciplinary collective work from a post-humanist perspective, based on the development of non-organic devices, to transgress the practices that condition our bodily perception”. The artist designs the prosthetics used in the project, a skill that Marino has been honing for two years after developing a fascination for robotics. This has been a challenging endeavour, with initial prototypes failing entirely. Despite fledgling setbacks however, Marino was eventually able to develop a functioning prototype. The Bauplan project approaches prosthetic configurations as being separate from humanity, and the artist elaborates, “I always imagine that the prosthetics that I develop are an external organism that could evolve, through co-evolutionary dependence, a mutualistic or parasitic relation with humanity, and both organisms must now deal with each other. When you are connected to the prosthesis, you have to learn how it moves, and the prosthesis, in turn, is using you as an extension and has to learn how to wear your body to survive”. Marino’s constructions tend to resemble horns and spines; animal and insect-like weapons that may be utilised for both, attack and defence, and radically alter the wearer’s physical form. It is interesting to regard the deep level of involvement the artist possesses with nature despite being highly critical of it is general perception and treatment, evoking a strange and visceral response from the audience; perhaps best described as the perpetuation of a shared sense of admiration for the physiclaities of natural life.  

Simulating amputation by Salvador Marino | STIRworld
Simulating amputation Image: Courtesy of Post-Organic Bauplan

The project’s work is currently articulated by the visual trilogy Autotomie, which Marino explains denotes the defensive strategy and behaviour of certain animals that centres around their ability to voluntarily detach certain parts of themselves in order to escape. The artist quotes the well-known example of lizard tails, but mentions that there are thousands of other such examples. Marino continues, “Using this idea of autotomy, or voluntary amputation of any part of a body, we play with the concept of self-amputation and extension of the body using prostheses at the same level. Under this concept, cutting, breaking and adding are aspects of the same choice to transform the body with a single objective: to empower the decision about the body we want; a body that belongs to us; to disarticulate and visualise the bio-political constructions that act in our bodily conception”. The project, then, radically reimagines the human form outside the vocabulary of production and consumption, and stands as a strikingly radical critique of the physical status quo, which has historically been accepted prima facie.

Untitled | Salvador Marino | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Thomas Puschmann

Marino has little to say about how the COVID  quarantine has affected personal endeavours, yet much to say about the quarantine itself. “I think that we are at the forefront of too big of a problem at the international level. Many securities are being restructured, many control systems have been imposed and many of them were accepted, and remain unseen as possible mechanisms of oppression and fear,” he says. Marino goes on to describe his emotional reaction to the present paradigm as a “feeling that we were the last generation to experience freedom. Today more than ever, we must be aware of the consequences of bio-politics. The concepts of body, life, freedom, public space, dispersion and work space, are changing at such an accelerated speed that it causes terror and fright in me”. This is perhaps a very prescient statement, and it would be unfortunate, and yet, unsurprising if Marino’s anxieties are proven true. In any case, we may only wait and see how the global paradigm develops. In the meantime, we have art such as this, which offers us shining visions of what might yet be.

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