by Noëlle BuAbbud // Dec. 8, 2020
‘Absent Touch’—Pakui Hardware‘s installation currently on view at carlier | gebauer—gives one the sense of having stepped into a futuristic surgical environment: antiseptic, sterile and cold. The collaborative duo Neringa Cerniauskaite and Ugnius Gelguda, based in Berlin and Vilnius, have been investigating the experience of the body in relation to technology, materiality and the economy. The illuminated sculptures in ‘Absent Touch’ appear as if bodies have been abandoned mid-dissection, fragile glass organs resting precariously on the membrane that would be their container. What does it mean to experience a post-natural body? How does this meaning take shape in relation to different bodies?
These translucent forms—layers of plastic, glass, fabric—emit light from within, hollowed out and floating above the stainless steel legs of an operating table. Upon closer inspection of these forms, a fluid, organic substrate (a gel comprised of silicon soil and chia seeds) pools between the plastic shell and delicate fabric layer. Two large diptychs are framed on adjacent walls, the photographs signifying an absence, a hand holding forceps, an extractive procedure that has already come to pass, the remnant forms left in suspension. Three steel arms reach down from the ceiling, at each end is a glass lens, mimicking a surgical light in an operating room. Looking at the space through one of these colored lenses creates further distortion and abstraction.
There are no conclusions to be made with ‘Absent Touch’, only needling questions that arise like a lingering dream in a waking state. Pakui Hardware’s sculptural installation foregrounds a kind of ambiguous yet sinister negotiation between systems of technological extraction, healthcare and the body as an alienated commodity of bio-capital. One doesn’t have to look too far to see how this plays out: for those who have experienced a tele-health visit in the time of lockdown, supposedly encrypted and HIPAA-compliant software turns the patient-doctor relationship into a commodified data set. Soon after, a flow of marketing and targeted advertisements appear in feeds across platforms.
Is our physical body merely a shell, moving through the environment in a catatonic state of consumption while doubly being consumed? The static environment of ‘Absent Touch’ offers a moment to reflect on sensorial and (ironically) tactile awareness—an awareness that has been dulled and further encoded to better serve extractive economies. Pakui Hardware’s material process and experimentation is an attempt at delineating a virtual and physical experience of the body, while resisting any singular view of technology. And yet, it is possible to argue that the production of this technology within the system of capital and necropolitics is disproportionately meant to preserve and prolong some bodies while at the same time using others as expendable subjects. Care has been and is still unevenly distributed. The emancipatory potential of a being with a “virtual body” has been limited by technology produced under current power structures.
It will be interesting to see how Pakui Hardware’s practice evolves in relation to the recent developments of care technology as surveillance during the pandemic. Is there space for warmth in a future materiality of bodies, and if so, what shape will it take? Perhaps physical experience will further venture into an abstracted, distorted form, as if constantly peering through a mediating lens. For now, to have a body without organs means having a disembodied experience of organization within conflated, hierarchical structures of control and enslavement.