Topics

Redefining Humanity Through “Transformation Art?”

While on the subject of the ethics of cosmetic surgery, look back with me to an art exhibit held earlier this year at the New York Academy of Sciences in Manhattan. “Face Value: Personal Surgery & Transformation Art” was on exhibit back in the spring of 2005. Consider these excepts from the exhibit’s catalogue:
The first paragraph: Transforming one’s identity in the early 21st century offers an unprecedented array of options–from surgical manipulations to regenerative medicine, from the fashion world to the pharmacy. Health and disease, beauty and the monstrous resonate as end points on a continuum of what we largely consider “normal.” To this mix add the media hype that airbrushes its images in the illusionary world of the Photoshop fix. How far shall one go in altering one’s appearance or personality? What is a true self? What dynamics are at play between inner psyche and outward guise? While some intervention is linked to medical necessity, other instances of body transformation reside in social conformity, biometric disguise, rites of passage, or even neurosis. Others use their corporeal selves as sites of investigation concerning ownership and control of their own bodies.
The final paragraph: Plastic surgery, botox injections, face peels and the like have hit the market with a salient boom. As new materials such as artificial skin, biomedical textiles and tissue engineering continue to develop their applications in remaking the body, will it be possible to transform our bodies even further. Will pluripotent stem cells deliver to us the capabilities of growing new organs? Will we blend with animals or will we become composites? Will our self-image be reconfigured once again to fit the fashion of the coming day, or will these alternative transformation processes homogenize and sanitize difference, making us all look the same? We are reminded here that integrating new technologies into the social order carries with it profound and sometimes disturbing responsibilities. And in a consumer-driven society, where image is everything, are we up to the task?