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Human Redefined in the Screen Age | UABB EXHIBITS Vol. 12

2020.05.01

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The 2019 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzhen) (hereinafter referred to as “UABB”) themed “Urban Interactions” was officially opened on December 22nd at the two main venues at Futian High Speed Railway Station and the Museum of Contemporary Art & Planning Exhibition (MOCAPE). The exhibition consisted of two sections, namely “Eyes of the City” and “Ascending City”. Nine sub-venues in the different districts of the city well interacted with the two main venues, completing an organically interactive network throughout the city. On August 19, 2020, the 8th Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzhen) officially closed online.


More than 140 exhibits presented by over 280 participants from 24 countries and regions explored the evolving relationship between future lives, technological innovation and urban cities. This volume of UABB EXHIBITS brings you an introduction of Manufacturing Human, an exhibit from section “Ascending City”, which is also one of the four excellent works that were awarded the Academic Committee Award of 2019 UABB.


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Manufacturing Human

WANG Zigeng

Venue: Shenzhen Museum of Contemporary Art and Urban Planning

Section: Ascending City

Sub Section: Urban Alchemists

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Wang Zigeng, the principal architect of Pills-Bills Studio and lecturer of School of Architecture, Central Academy of Fine Arts, earned his master degree in architecture from Princeton University. He used to be a lecturer of School of Fine Art, Beijing Film Academy and tutor of the open course initiated by School of Architecture, Tsinghua University. Wang is a member of American Institute of Architects (AIA) and China Film Art Direction Academy (CFADA). He was once awarded the full enrollment scholarship of Princeton University, the first prize of FAIRYTALES 2015 International Architecture Competition, and the 2019 UABB Academic Committee Award, etc. Wang has served as adviser of architecture history of Jiang Wen’s film Hidden Man. His works have been displayed during major domestic and international exhibitions such as the Venice Architecture Biennale, When Architecture Tells a Story exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington DC, and Bi-City Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism/ Architecture (Shenzhen) (UABB). He curated Steel Home Still exhibition on urban regeneration achievements of Shougang Industrial Park in Venice, authored many books and published articles and works on local and international journals and media.


“Humans finally become the surfaces they created.”


Phones, tablets, and the wireless internet have become inseparable extensions of our lives. Humans have nothing but a surface. The work “Manufacturing Human” uses methods for crafting a human model to shape a new type of human. Screens and the digital world degenerate the physical and mental worlds of humans to a unified level. This model denies the standards of aesthetics, and the world behind it is void of sensation. Due to overlapping pieces of information, humans lose their shape and finally become the surfaces they created.


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Project: Manufacturing Human

Exhibitor: WANG Zigeng

Team Members: ZHOU Fangda, WEN Junyu, WENG Jia, LU Bin, CHEN Yijie

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Manufacturing Human, 2019 UABB ©Pills


It is cliché, but also urgent, to question what it means to be human. Perhaps being human means being aware of both our physical capabilities and our actual environments. Due to the development of digitalization, human beings need to re-think both of these things. Screen culture and the digital sphere inevitably influence the stability of the human body, social ethics, and the perception of the world. Human beings no longer face the all-encompassing nature of physical space, but the complexity of mega-data processing.


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Isometric view of “Manufacturing Human” exhibition design ©Pills Studio


A female puppet, accurately subdivided and assembled by computer, is crouching on the luminous glass floor of the exhibition hall. Wrapped in PVC blister film, she is trying to free herself from the restraint with one hand and holding an apple missing one bite with the other. Each of her joints is a productized link, which symbolizes that she is featured with the standard form of human body. The coiled pipelines of her body connect the internal and external environment, just like the process of being nurturing in a womb. The interwoven pipelines seem to inject vigor and energy into the puppet, while constraining her movement. The puppet lies in a dark room, with the luminous glass floor as the only light source. Such artificial darkness and light imperiously distinguish the puppet’s world from the natural world. She is being nurtured by the entirely artificial womb, and it seems that she is about to wake up in this paradise lost.


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3D Printing segmentation model of puppet ©Pills Studio

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Research of puppet head model ©Pills Studio


Compared with other creatures in the world, humans have neither sharp claws nor cold-proof fur. Their flesh can only allow them to move in a limited area on Earth and any disaster or climate change could be devastating for them. According to the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, as Epimetheus had distributed all positive traits to other animals without having any left to give to man, Prometheus had to give mankind the civilizing arts and fire stolen from Greek gods and goddesses.


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Three-view drawing of the puppet model ©Pills Studio


In Stiegler’s view, this implies the human destiny is flaw existence and resides in the technical and prosthetic character of human existence. Unlike other creatures, human evolution is not about life itself. It has its origins in exteriorization, and is completed in a world of technology. In other words, both the Ontology and the History of human beings are interwoven with the tools they produced. When humans create tools, they also reshape themselves.


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Manufacturing Human, 2019 UABB ©Pills


Andre Leroi-Gourhan believed that human evolution is a complete exteriorization of themselves, while that of other life forms interior species adaption. Since the age of Neanderthals, humankind has been developing into Cyborg in terms of biological features, and become dependent on external technology. The evolutionary history of Homo sapiens witnesses the degradation of animal characteristics and strengthening of external technologies. Technology is produced by human beings, and in turn makes them what they are today.


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Orthograph of the puppet and plastic packaged puppe ©Pills Studio


Now that the biological features of human beings have been irreversibly coupled with the non-biological context, it is difficult for us to draw a line between human nature and the reshaping effect of history. In terms of human body, the senses of human have been greatly influenced by external environment since the Internet became the most direct source of information for the majority. The French philosopher Georges Canguilhem once wrote in his book The Normal and the Pathological that “If the environment is not properly considered, health would be an empty word”. As technological media are ubiquitous between the nature and human body, the internal balance of humans is defined not only by nature but also by technology. It also means that the so-called normality just exists in artificial environment and the normality supported by artificial energy.


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Sections of submarine optical fiber cable


The cloud-based Internet of Things (IOT) has become a new living environment for human beings. The media theorist Marshall McLuhan insists that electronic media is an extension of humankind. On the other hand, media may also be regarded as “amputation” of human parts, while the prevalent IOT has become a new prosthesis for humans. Humans obsessed with smartphones and tablets are so used to searching for and getting whatever information they need at any time that both their flesh and soul are being redefined. People use death to describe batteries running out of power. In this sense, wires and fiber-optic cables are not only the lifeline of IOT but also a life-and-death matter for humans.


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Manufacturing Human, 2019 UABB ©Pills


Michel Foucault, one of Canguilhem’s students, ratcheted the latter’s research on biology up to the level of “soul”. Everything beyond the human body is constantly being redefined by psychology, technology and tools. Through the evolution of tools and technologies, humans have been creating a non-biological mirror image of themselves. They make tools, and tools also redefine human beings in turn.


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Manufacturing Human, 2019 UABB ©Pills

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Adam and Eve (Partial) (1528) by Lucas Cranach


There were two trees in the Garden of Eden, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The LORD God said to Adam and Eve, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.” This is the only commandment of God. Yet the serpent deceived Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The dilemma that Eve faced is a choice superficially between obedience and disobedience, yet actually between knowledge and life. Eve chose knowledge, which meant that she put her life in danger, and was doomed to suffer for her limited life. Apple becomes the symbol of the forbidden fruit. 


Since the rise of cyber culture, it has served as a totem of modern technology. It seems that the apple missing a bite has become the symbol of all intelligent electronic devices. Furthermore, the death of Alan Turing further makes the poisonous apple a metaphor for technology as a totem for religion.


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The Book of Genesis (Partial) (1508) by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Sistine Chapel


On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is the best-known scene from the Book of Genesis, where Adam tries to touch the forefinger of God. Here an Eve lying on the ground feebly stretches out her hand as if to touch the visitors and have them to make her conscious. Such gesture of the puppet undoubtedly makes visitors the Creator. Meanwhile, the visitors may also see themselves in the puppet. In the grey area between man and tool, the old question about what a man is and who is the Creator may resurface.


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Manufacturing Human, 2019 UABB ©Pills

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Steel Home Still 

exhibition on urban regeneration achievements of Shougang Industrial Park


Location: Venice

Installation Area: 300㎡

Design Time: 2018

Exhibition Time: 2018



Leviathan


Location: Shenzhen

Exhibition: 2017 UABB

Design Time: 2017

Exhibition Time: 2017

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2019 BI-CITY BIENNALE OF URBANISM\ARCHITECTURE (SHENZHEN)


THEME | Urban Interactions

MAIN VENUE | Futian Railway Station & Shenzhen Museum of Contemporary Art and Urban Planning

SUB-VENUE | Sha Tau Kok Bonded Zone of Yantian District, Bao'an International Art Exhibition Center, Qiaotou Community of Bao’ao District, Ban Xue Gang Hi-Tech Zone of Longgang District, Guanlan Ancient Market of Longgang District, Guangming Cloud Valley, Dapeng Fortress of Dapeng New District, Xichong of Dapeng New District, and Qianhai Cooperation Zone

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