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Steve Klee

Dr Steve Klee is an artist and theorist who explores the philosophical relationship between aesthetics, politics, and natural science. The through-line here is the question of human agency: how do biological and socio-historically constrained subjects act upon their world? What are their potentials and limitations? He is a lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Lincoln. Exhibitions include a solo show Between a Rock and a Hard Place for Five Years gallery, London (2015) and involvement in Concrete Plastic, LAM Gallery, Los Angeles (2016) as well as Perpetual Liquidity at No.1 Smithery, Kent (2016). He has published on Jacques Rancière, and myriad contemporary artists, and is currently developing articles that focus on the overlaps between science, philosophy, and aesthetics. His most recent text, written in collaboration Dr Kirsten McKenzie, is a book chapter for Posthuman in Practice (Bloomsbury, forthcoming) edited by Matthew Hayler and Christine Daigle. The piece is titled Alien Embodiment and Nomadic Subjectivity: A Speculative Report and contextualises an ongoing art-science research project conducted with McKenzie using the resources of critical posthumanism.


Institute for Predictive Images (IPI) is the title of a video that is currently emerging from an ongoing collaborative art-science project called Alien Bodies and How to Wear Them (ABHWT), conducted at the University of Lincoln. IPI will reposition the actual research collaboration within the realm of science fiction. Lincoln University’s campus will be reimagined as belonging to a future institute capable of sending an expedition into space to record life on far-flung planets. In IPI the expeditionists travel using digital avatars, which are then embodied via virtual reality; but the attempt to gain knowledge of alien worlds is rendered complex, the aliens meld with the avatars, reversing the expeditionists’ journey and – in so doing – create forms of posthuman life back on earth. IPI will approximate an ‘essay film’ format, with actual footage of campus locations, and research meetings recontextualised via a narrated script and collaged with animations created in Blender and Unreal Engine, incorporating 3D body scanning techniques along the way. I would like to be an artist resident on your programme and develop IPI in a rigorous and generative intellectual environment. To describe the video further, I need to explain the broader research project.

ABHWT has just completed its pilot phase, in which we (Dr Kirsten McKenzie [Psychology], Dr Steve Klee [Fine Art]) developed an experiment featuring depictions of alien bodies. These images were part of a world-building exercise in which alien planets and their inhabitants were imagined. The creatures were creative hybrids of terrestrial non-human animals, and each creature-set (one set per planet) was composed of several figures on a continuum starting with a recognisably human character to a more fantastical one. Those who participated in the experiment were provided with information about the planets, along with drawings of the aliens. The participants were then asked a series of questions, one being: “if you lived on this planet, which body would you choose to inhabit?”. As per our hypothesis we found there to be a correlation between a participant’s existing body image, and the choices they make regarding the aliens, with those possessing a negative body image (raised body concern and low self-esteem) being less likely to identify with the most alien creatures.

According to contemporary psychology body image is one of a suite of different body representations: ‘images’, or ‘maps’ that synthesise multiple strands of sensory data into self-perceptions. This understanding has recently been supplemented by a powerful descriptive framework, known as Predictive Processing (PP). From this perspective body representations are perceptual wagers, and, as such, they are both wayward and flexible. For instance, these representations although utilised for the ‘control’ of an ‘anatomical-body’, are not always correctly in alignment with a person’s flesh perimeter. Also, body representations can be redrawn, coaxed into different configurations. This redrawing can even induce ‘body swap illusions’, wherein Virtual Reality simulations are used to trick a participant into feeling that they are inhabiting a body different to their own. In relation to our own experiment, we believe the reluctance of some participants to choose extremely alien figures is evidence that their body dissatisfaction is constraining the inherent flexibility of their body image. We aim to extend ABHWT by using VR embodiment in our next experiment, enabling a participant to ‘swap into’ an alien character. We believe that this step might facilitate therapies. What if time spent inhabiting an alien body reverse engineers the mechanism responsible for constraint thereby reducing dissatisfaction vis a vis a person’s existing body image?

IPI is an aesthetic investigation of some of the broader philosophical issues embedded within the ABHWT project. For instance, and most centrally, if the ‘physical’ boundaries of the human are governed by best-bet body representations then this would seem to add empirical evidence to support philosophical claims about the ‘essentially’ prosthetic nature of humankind. And, of course, this notion of prosthesis is at the heart of the debates about the posthuman: where does ‘the human’ begin, and end; when was ‘the human’, and when will 'it' be surpassed? IPI will use fiction, animation, metaphoric-inflation, and humour, to collide neuropsychological resources with posthuman theory so as to animate these ideas, and – hopefully – generate some new perspectives upon them.

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