Artificiality, Artwork, Artifice
Artifício, Artefato, Artimanha [Artificiality, Artwork/ Artifact, Artifice] is the title of a series of lectures given in Brazil by Vilém Flusser at the 18th International São Paulo Biennial in 1985, which consisted of three lectures: “O Homem enquanto Artifício” [Man as Artificial Being]; “A Vida enquanto Artefato” [Life as Artifact]; “A Artimanha da Vida Humana” [The Artifice of Human Life]. The series has a dialectical structure, with the third lecture as the synthesis of the other two lectures. This trilogy is filled with indirect references – never explicit and always open to interpretation – to Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and possibly Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the latter’s thought reinterpreted by Flusser in a radical way that highlights the antithetical and negative character of his thought.
The three concepts together describe anthropology: the human being as an animal that modifies objects so he/she can change himself or herself. The human being finds resistance in every object, and thus is forced into a never-ending cycle of using a different technique: the technique changes the object, the changed object changes the technique, the changed technique changes the subject, and the changed subject changes the technique, and so on. Thus far, this is classic Critical Theory, which Max Horkheimer had already formulated incisively in his Eclipse of Reason (1947). In Flusser’s work, however, the cycle as a whole is continually transformed, because the changes in the subject are not mere adaptations to technology. On this basis, he criticizes the Judeo-Christian reification of human subjectivity, and redefines it as an endless process of nihilism.
Flusser continues with a critique of bourgeois ontology, with its historical origins in crafts, the statement that it needs to be left behind, and the assumption that this process is already happening in biotechnological manipulation (re-information) of living matter. According to Flusser we are heading towards a total “artificialization” of life, where life and the living become art: art not in the sense of producing an “artwork,” but understood as a strategy of human freedom to evolve through manipulation of information – as a prototype this can be found in contemporary antiart, for instance, in the poiesis of the hacker.