Since we first took mastery over fire, mankind has steadily been shaping his world around him.
It may have taken us a few thousand years to get from building walls, pyramids and roads to the microchip and spaceships, but the colossal innovation of the last 100 years shows just how quickly we have accelerated our development.
Now the Wellcome Collection is celebrating how humanity has developed - and specifically, how we have been able to alter our own bodies, with a summer exhibition to coincide with the Olympics.
Visitors are first introduced to Icarus, the Greek myth of a mortal who symbolises the exhibition with his fabled attempt to overcome his own weakness through technology and fly - although, with disastrous results.
‘Superhuman’ brings together over 100 artworks, artefacts, videos, photographs, comics and medical objects which record our seemingly limitless desire to be more than ourselves.
From an ancient Egyptian prosthetic toe to the superheroes of sci-fi imagination and the futuristic promises of nano- and biotechnology, the exhibition takes a long view of physical and chemical enhancement and explores the science, myths and cultural reception of body extension.
Rebecca Horn’s delicately menacing appendages in ‘Scratching both walls at once’ (1974-5) examine the body’s occupation of space, and video works by Charlotte Jarvis, Regina José Galindo and Floris Kaayk explore the cultural effects of cosmetic surgery on our psyches and the extremities of potential and actual physical intervention.
Meanwhile Revital Cohen takes the replacement of body parts to an endpoint in ‘The Immortal’ (2011), an arrangement of connected life-support machines that continue their biological functions despite the absence of a human body to sustain.
Emily Sargent, Curator of Superhuman, said: ’Human enhancement is one of the most exciting and feared areas of modern science, where sci-fi imaginings seemingly come alive. But it is not the exclusive preserve of the contemporary technologist, as our desire to enhance ourselves and our ingenuity to do so is in evidence throughout our history.’
A prosthetic hand is exhibited: Another way man has been able to overcome Nature.
Now we can fix ourselves: A prosthetic leg is exhibited at the exhibition, which focuses on the many ways mankind have sought to improve, adapt or enhance their body’s performance
Undercover: A prosthetic penis, which was used to help cheat at drugs test, joins the very modern Viagra pill.
"Whole Brain Emulation is going to create synthetic humans, if the functionalist point of view is right, by implementing their thought processes in forthcoming hardware, and software systems, which could arrive as early as the middle of this century. What are the rights of these uploads? How will their existence impact our economy, and the society as a whole? Anders Sandberg of the Future Of Humanity Institute of the University of Oxford talks about these issues"
Ray Bradbury - Icarus Montgolfier Wright - Format Films 1962
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