The human organism is neither wholly human, as a person, nor just an organism.
It is an abstract machine, radically immanent, which captures, transforms and produces.
— Rosi Braidotti, 2009
Transgenesis, much like evolution or the human organism, is an abstract machine. It comprises the intermingling of specific genes, an exchange between mutually exogenous, intensive bodies. The transfer can be deliberate or spontaneous, taking place between different species and through organic substances of plasma, bacteria and tissue. Still at every level it is swarming with machines—mechanisms for capture and modulation, connections established and severed in torrential frenzy. The abstract machine of any organism, as Rosi Braidotti notes, is that which does not sacralize as a given but that posits life as a “process, interactive and open-ended.” It is the cutting edge, the point of deterritorialization, of any given assemblage or interactive system. My body—like yours, or that of any ecosystem, animal, plant, gene or cell—is an example of this assemblage, a biogenetic factory that “captures, transforms and produces”—plugged into and extracting from the great reproductive and circulatory system of the world. A system powered and held together by the original amniotic fluid that first gave birth to life: water.
Through water we can be hacked or enhanced, coupled with further machines or prohibited by them. It is the vital fluid, the oily stimulus of our machinic flows. TRANSGENESIS is a site-specific installation by Agnes? that infiltrates the canals of this great aquatic mainframe. It asserts that humanity—far from the climax of our evolutionary tale—is nothing but another precipitation of watery and molecular exchange, an abstract machine for continuous transformation. Installed in an abandoned leisure and swimming facility, the architecture of the site now assumes the form of a submerged and experimental laboratory, a reverse-periscope into the engineering of a posthuman amphibian species. At its centre is the artist’s body, enmeshed in the tentacular flows of a shared gene pool. The undulations of this exchange are presented across three interconnected environments in which the artist-organism cultivates its young through embryogenesis. A process of watery becoming, to which Gilles Deleuze writes, “the abstract machine does not function to represent, even something real, but rather constructs a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality.”
The reality underscored in TRANSGENESIS is a model of profound symbiosis. It is ecological and queer, critical of binary oppositions and assertive of the powers of water to precipitate new and adaptive lifeforms attuned to the desperate state of our ecological crisis. The figure of the octopus—coextensive with artist and space—is a demurral to the “fetishes of blood, earth and origin” that Braidotti observes in patriarchal capitalist society. In their place, Agnes? argues for a dissipated, eroticized and flowing interaction between human and habitat, an alien presence that we can neither assimilate nor expel.
Driven by the sonorous and fluvial molecules of this alien body, an ensemble of dancers—choreographed in collaboration with Magnus Westwell—articulates the metamorphosis between larva and nymph in anticipation of Agnes?’s core durational performance. The laboratory itself displays a multitude of transitional states—embryonic, cryogenic, transgressive—filled with couplings and conduits, a feedback loop between genetic algorithms and their ecological confines that affirms the radical transformation of our self-conception of the human.
TRANSGENESIS is a performance for collective survival. Evolution, here, does not express the cumulative result of hereditary descent. It is not the biological progression of one organism toward an optimal design or an environment toward its dominant species. It is continuous and variable, unfurling through complex gestational technologies, genes and biomass, all of which are modulated through water: gushes of milk sucked from the breast, flows of red blood cells modulating the placenta, jets of sperm sucked in by the womb. It is an articulation of the dark deep ocean; an image of the human stripped of the fetters of individualism and autonomy, at the threshold of a new kind of existence. Deep in the sea is where real symbiosis lies. What we take as our individual selves is but the glistening surface of foam that sparkles on its fracturing surface. To evolve, we must rediscover our shared origins, that great reservoir of potentiality and transformation, the transgenic machine that connects and empowers all life.
For as Deleuze does not forget to underline, “Evolution does not take place in the open air.”
— Charlie Mills, London 2021
30 April – 23 May
curated by Arturo Passacantando, Tommaso de Benedictis and Charlie Mills
Choreography Magnus Westwell
Costumes Erica Curci
Sound Design: Portamento Musica
at Underground Flower: Belsize Park Gardens
in partnership with Harlesden High Street
The future is here, and it is mesmerizing: TRANSGENESIS for Sleek Magazine
23 days of being a fish: TRANSGENESIS in Metal magazine
Time Out London: Is this London's most extreme art performance right now?
OFLUXO: a new series of experiments by Agnes? at Underground Flower: Offspace