(some images in response)
by Aarti Sunder
(fiction by Shubashree Desikan)
A tiny dark shape scampered across the portico. Mesa glanced up, briefly pulled out of his reverie. ‘A squirrel’, he registered, his mind still floating restlessly here and there.
The last of the guests had left and Mesa was indulging the familiar empty feeling that comes after a huge party. What a special birthday it had been. ‘That may well be the last time I meet all of those friends together,’ he registered, sombrely.
It all went back to his meeting with Doctor Isai, a month ago.
Doctor Isai had greeted him at the doorstep, a very unusual casualness, ‘Hi there, Mesa! Come in and make yourself comfortable.’ He led Mesa into a plush consultation room.
Dressed in a pale pista-green shirt, his trousers hugging his slim form, Doctor Isai seemed to be exuding confidence, except for that shadow of concern in his hazel eyes. He put his arm around the older man’s shoulder almost hugging him and ushered him into a comfortable lounging chair.
The doctor’s warm and attentive behaviour was not new to Mesa. At 250 years of age, this was something he attributed to his seniority and to being the oldest patient under his doctor’s care. But this time, Isai’s face looked just a little too grim for it to be good news.
‘What’s the matter Doc? Am I a goner?’ Mesa asked abruptly.
Isai liked Mesa. He was an old charmer and that made what he had to tell him that much more difficult. After some preamble, he broached the issue. ‘You know, don’t you, that 65 percent of your brain has been replaced by synthetic neural tissue. That’s not all. Your body is almost fully automated. You have been pulling on with this and now face permanent damage to the remaining 35 percent of your brain. To put it bluntly, your brain has reached the end of its lifetime as far as we can tell’.
It was worse than what Mesa had feared. Now he knew the reason for his fatigue and breathless spells. He had at most three months to live with that brain.
Mesa meditated on this for a moment, and then he said with a little smile, ‘So that will be the end?’
‘No! Mesa I am not done yet.’ said Isai. ‘There is one way out. We could complete the process you have been already undergoing – replacement of your natural brain with substitute brain tissue grown from your own cells… but…’
So there was a way out, thought Mesa, why was Isai hesitating?
‘But what?’ he asked eagerly.
‘Here it is! Replacing the core of your brain fully will mean that you will lose every memory of your own life, every face, every single action, everything will be erased from your mind. You will lose yourself. What is more, you will lose every notion of ‘self’. Yet, you can continue to live and function in a different sphere.
‘You mean I will be a… a self-less organism, a robot?’
‘Something like that’, the doctor affirmed. ‘You will lose your consciousness of self. You can no longer live among your friends and family as you used to. It has been done before. You will be removed to National Space Services. You can work for outer space explorations. You can still serve humanity.’
Waves of emotion swept over Mesa – Pain, Desperation, a desperate helplessness. ‘Oh let me die,’ he exclaimed.
‘Not so fast’, said the doctor, somehow managing to smile. There was something strange in his voice, even sly, as he added. ‘You have trusted in the future so far. Each of the replacements done to your body was a blind step into the future. You can take such a step again. You could have the surgery, and place your trust in the future. Perhaps one day a reversal or improvement of your condition would become possible…’
Mesa promised to think over the situation and left the consultation room.
One month passed quickly. He summoned all his friends to ask should he opt for it or no, but he still had too many questions and the appointment was nearing.
Should he opt for surgery and just accept that the lease ends in three months? What is better – immortality or death, self or life? What would he be without a self? But then, he could at least be. Had he come this far to perish like every other ordinary being?
The last cigarette was lying in his case. Should he smoke it or not? He picked it up as if to light it. Right when it reached his lips, he drew it across his nostrils and took a deep deep breath. In that moment, his decision was made.
At peace now, Mesa un-hurriedly flicked open the mobile communicator embedded in his left palm to call Doctor Isai…
The author is based in Chennai, India. She has a PhD in physics and currently focuses on journalism and literary writing. Visit her blog to read her work in various magazines and newspapers.
Artwork: Heads and Brains / S Vowles/ Satire on George IV in support of Queen Caroline, his estranged wife. The new king spent much of the lead up to his coronation trying to get rid of her/ 1820 / The National Archives/ Flickr The Commons
In 2003, in Istanbul, Doris Salcedo made an installation on an unremarkable street comprising 1,600 wooden chairs stacked precariously in the space between two buildings. This work functions as political and mental archaeology, using domestic materials charged with significance and suffused with meanings accumulated over years of use in everyday life. More than just a pile of chairs this work is more like sculptures that take on the resonance of something lost, broken or mended. Salcedo uses both gallery spaces and outside locations to create vertiginous environments charged with politics and history. . Be it the antique invention – a chair that everyone uses everyday or a crack on the floor (see the image below), the work makes one take a second look at what one has neglected for long. This work below, entitled Shibboleth 2007, runs the full 167 metres of the cavernous hall on London’s South Bank. It begins as a crack then widens and deepens as it snakes across the room symbolising racial hatred and division in society. Salcedo claims the work took her over a year to make, and apparently spent the past five weeks installing it in the Tate. But she refused to reveal how it was achieved! It has taken five weeks of work here with very considerable disruption to the hall. It’s not an illusion – it’s there, it’s real.
Source: http://whitecube.com/artists/doris_salcedo/, http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ArtistWorks?cgroupid=999999961&artistid=2695&tabview=bio
The sculpture “What You see Might Not Be Real,” by Chen Wenling, was displayed at a Beijing gallery Sunday. A bull ramming the biggest con man of all time, Bernie Madoff, into a wall. The huge cloud coming out of the bull’s rear symbolizes the danger of virtual bubbles in international financial markets. In a society based on desire and money, some people choose to create many false impressions, while others sadly fall for them.
Chen Wenling’s sculptures are the manifestations of extreme humanity and immaterial images in a consumption society. This recent series blurs the directness of the social metaphor in an interesting way. The reality of ‘Consumer Society’ is so indeed. The consumer culture brought by the development of Chinese economy and the resulting material abundance exerts profound influence on them both in terms of visual perception and cultural context.
His self extreme condition begins from the series of “Red Boy”. It is neither realism nor vanguard sculpture, but the self expression of Chen Wenling himself to the critical state of life. For example, dread, gladness, game and fancy are thebasic main motivations of his sculpture. This series of the “Red Boy” conveyshis experience in an autobiographic form. One is the allegorical sculpture forms and the other is the manifestations of extreme humanity.
source: chenling.com, odetoart.com
The previous post was a sand creature passing on messages in a bottle to snow creature. This is another interesting stop motion animation called Sweet Dreams by Kirsten Lepore again (yes, we like him) where a cup cake travels to vegetable land, builds houses, becomes a muffin, meets a sweet squash potato, becomes a nudist and travels back to his desert land.
9 mins, 57 s, animation, 2008