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WHO'S IN YOUR GENES »

Pamela Anderson
Janet Jackson

In 1992, artist Jeffrey Deitch orchestrated an exhibition titled PostHuman which focused on the accelerated mutations of the human body through surgery, cosmetics, drugs and other artificial measures. The exhibition referenced a New York Times article, which reads as follows:

On most people's beauty scale, Stacey Stetler would be a 10. A blond, blue-eyed, 5-foot-11 New York model, she has confidently sashayed down the runway for Yves Saint Laurent in Paris and has graced the covers of fashion magazines. But until recently, when Ms. Stetler looked in the mirror she saw less perfection and more flaws. "I was flat-chested," Ms. StetIer said. "You couldn't tell if I was coming or going. My back protruded almost as much as my front..." Ms. Stetler enhanced her boyish figure by having breast implants. She is not alone.

PostHumanism and the CyberFuture was a hot topic in the 90s. Advancements in science and gadgetry made a distant future seem not quite so distant. The next expected leaps in science were promised to be no more than five years away. Ten at the most. Ten years later, most of these leaps turned out to be short skips and the anticipation for clones and cybernetic bodies has since died down. However, the habit of altering our bodies to perfection has not.

Like Stacey Stetler, the quest for the ideal augmented human body continues to accelerate. So much so that "all-natural" human beings constitute a minority in modernized society. Hair quality and color is changed. muscles are enhanced. breasts are enlarged. tummies are tucked and faces are cut and lasered back into their ideal state. The ubiquity of such modifications has made it so commonplace that neither the media nor the passing pedestrian stops to question it.

Transforming your body has become a way of adapting
to modern society.

Taking the baton of Deitch's PostHuman exhibition is Wang Du, a Chinese artist who remains one of the few active observers and commentators on our augmented existence. In 1997, five years after Posthuman, Du featured his own exhibition comprised of nude statues that constituted the people of the future, which is to say people who have the l uxury of redesigning their bodies through biotechnology. Far from being a mere objective observation of our alterations, Wang's recreated human bodies are a wholesale distortion of space and form. Appendages are disproportionately enlarged, forcing us to reconsider the ubiquitous augmentations that we have learned to overlook.

Such metamorphosis is found in his late 90s sculpture set Family. The piece showcases a TransFamily where every member has been revamped with somatic addendums that are not far away from flesh alterations in celebrity culture. "Transforming your body has become a way of adapting to modern society." Du has commented.

Du’s

ART MIGHT QUALIFY AS SURREALISM IF NOT FOR HOW ACCURATELY HIS IMAGES REFLECT REALITY.

OVER TEN YEARS LATER DU CONTINUES TWEAKING THE PROPORTIONS OF THE HUMAN BODY.

...AND SO DOES MEDIA AND SOCIETY.

Or maybe "surreal" is the correct term since his work so accurately reflects the surreality of media images. The gap between nonfiction and the demi-nonfictional representations in mass media remains one of Du's constant targets. His 2001 sculpture, No Comment, is an over-sized waste basket filled with discarded media, including a still active television set. Du feels that the images of mass media contribute as much to our hyper-bodies as the plastic surgeons knife.

Indeed, it is in mass media where we witness a minute-by-minute parade of hyper-sexual, hyper-artificial human beings. Exaggerated almost to the point of parody, the over-scaled masculinity of men and seductive appeal of women walk up to the line of becoming epicene caricatures. Du steps in to push these images past that line, creating overt sexual and sexless forms that reveal mass media to be a dark parody of itself. Note his 1997 sculpture that features a blonde with her hands proudly exhibiting her enhanced breasts. The statue echoes the notorious 1993 Rolling Stone cover that showcased the cupped altered breasts of Janet Jackson. Though Du's sculpture is not a reaction to that specific image, it is a calculated response to what such imagery has engendered.

The question of Wang's importance as a "savage critic of society" is no question at all. Few will deny either the issues of self-image or the images that drives it. However, even fewer are prepared to admit that any of this might actually be a problem. The means to shoe-horning our bodies into agreement with our ideal image is so accessible that the reasons for doing so are self-validating. It's difficult to see Wang's work holding up to a North American audience whose narcissistic consumer attitude is so common that its existence need not be defended. This, of course, is what makes Wang's work so important; he forbids that we take the altered human as granted, or allow the artificial to pass for the natural. Consequently, Wang Du is a reality-check, which thankfully we don't have to rely on mass-media to receive.