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Interview with Shane Hope, Transhumanist Artist
Hank Pellissier   Dec 1, 2011   Ethical Technology  

“As an artist, I can appreciate precedent representation and objecthood crises at the cite and sight of artistic collage and assemblage. As a transhumanist, however, I’m cognizant that artistic collage and assemblage will look like mere speed bumps when compared to the transubstrationality to be encountered near a singularity spike.”

Shane Hope is currently presenting H+ artwork in a solo exhibition entitled “Transubstrational: As a Smartmatter of Nanofacture” at the Winkleman Gallery in New York.


Here are some excerpts of an email interview I recently did with him…

Hank Pellissier: Hi Shane. Where are you from? Can you provide us with some background?

Shane Hope: I’m from my mom… well, or the Big Bang rather. Seriously though, I’m from the L.A. area in California. I studied at San Diego State, the San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco State, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, received an MFA in 2002 from UC San Diego, and thereafter joined UCLA’s Department of Art as a research assistant in New Genres. While my professional training has been predominately visual arts related, I’ve always gravitated toward research institutions to remain affiliated with and committed to the hard sciences as well. Overall, it’s never been uncommon for me to invite for instance a molecular biologist or mathematician to participate on my academic review committees. Anyway, at some point in La Jolla during grad school I met someone writing molecular modeling software for a biotech company and that obliquely led me to research things nanofactural (CRN, IMM, Foresight), plus pursue Transhumanist, H+, and Singularitarian ideas too.

HP: In your opinion, should we be extremely cautious about nanotechnology? Due to fear of grey goo? Should we ban nano research altogether?

SH: My position in brief pastiche follows from texts largely forged by the usual nano-savvy suspects; Accelerating progress in nanometer-scale science and technology ever expands the toolkit with which we can develop atomically-precise manufacturing or molecular manufacturing. The ability to assemble things from-the-molecule-up could give rise to borderline costless systems for controlling the structure of matter itself. And so backlashes fear-mongering tall tales of us all being disassembled for spare parts by self-replicating nanobot gray goo et al. Such disasterbatory dramatic drivel is grossly lazy precautioneering at best and ignorantly or irresponsibly species-threatening at worst. I’m aware that it’s due time instead to be proactionary. The existential risks of advanced nanotechnology must alternatively be more affectively mitigated by collective preparation beginning only once its prospects are better understood and taken seriously by broad sectors of society. I hope my artwork positively answers this call for broader collective comprehension and consequent preparedness. That said, my own insider-joking response to whether we ought to fear a grey goo scenario is: Yes, but grey goo will be our children.

HP: Can you explain to us your principal theme, in the current show?

SH: I want viewers to see how hacking matter happens. With the current DIY open-source 3D printer zeitgeist we witness designs born of an agenda to achieve autopoiesis for the printers themselves. Meanwhile there also exist designs perhaps better described as anythingy-o-matical kit-ification commodities. The primary purpose of my current show is to playbor-out how and where 3D printing meets nanofacture. Nanofacture will undoubtedly threaten representation and objecthood as we know it. As an artist, I can appreciate precedent representation and objecthood crises at the cite and sight of artistic collage and assemblage. As a transhumanist however, I’m cognizant that artistic collage and assemblage will look like mere speed bumps when compared to the transubstrationality to be encountered near a singularity spike.


HP: Can you tell me what software you use in your art? I don’t know anything about this “open source” stuff —can you tell me, and IEET readers, what it is specifically—can it be downloaded off the Internet? What are the urls? Where can it be found?

SH: I’m glad you asked. Perhaps out of future-shock, viewers sometimes simply shortcut to an assumption that I use only one tool (and they don’t mean my mind)! From molecular modeling to 3D printing, my software toolchain is considerably lengthy. Additionally, I’ve assembled all my own hardware to build several workstations each tri-booting. An artist’s palette has changed, to say the least. Weirder still is when folks willingly evade engagement with artwork “made on a computer” (not “with” mind you) as if that’s alone hands-down proof of artless automation only. To that, I typically retort: Everything nowadays is made with computers. Anywhen, here’s a shortlist of open-source linux-friendly software, most of which is written with Python and scriptable, I frequently use:

HP: The Singularity… what do you think art will look like after the Singularity?

SH: Analogous to the crisis recognized by sci-fi authors that a singularity-based far future cannot be narrativized, the same holds true for attempts at visual depictions. Since by definition I understandably can’t directly picture near-singularity possible futures, I instead investigate indirect imaging methods specific to representing the means toward those unimaginable ends. I seek to shove viewers’ noses into (images of) the grey goo, so to speak.

HP: If you had an unlimited budget, what other materials would you use? What grand projects would you do?  

SH: Well, here’s what I’d like later to be using: deathcubes, qulinks, mappacode, impeds, transubstantio-spatializers, E-particles, Qusps, farlies, hicked-hacked ‘zyme rhymes, biot-blorgs, structured plasmas, ocular implants, cephaline implants, tailored microbes, nanofabbers, smart-gels, curiol matrices, computronium, Bose–Einstein condensate, lifecasts, symbiotes, supersymmetric M-branes, vemes, isotope commodities, bright matter, anti-money, biochips, nanodermics, blebs, volition-bugs, swarmcams, bioceramics gargadisks, sunstrokers, nanozooans, xeripolution, programmable matter, noocyte clusters, bioscapes, recreational diseases, remotional control, genome/proteome complexes and immortagens. With an unlimited budget, I’d make art that’d also indefinitely impede the heat death of the universe.

HP: Can you explain to me the work at your show, in the first series, that you call, “Post-Scarcity Percept-Pus Portraiture”?

SH: Plainly put, Post-Scarcity Percept-Pus Portraits are painterly lenticular-3D prints depicting, in holographic-like relief-sculptural depth, tens of thousands of organic, inorganic, synthesizable, theoretically feasible and nano-nonsensical molecules, each of which I modified, manipulated or designed in customized user-sponsored open-source nanomolecular design software. Put another way far off, Post-Scarcity Percept-Pus Portraits are plans for playborground ball pits of pure operationality, all about an atomic access-privs picturesque. Precision placement of atoms is poised to become the new pen with which we may soon draft dot-to-dot dimensional descriptions with lines of code like runaway run-on sentences that will write the rest. If the model is the message that when infoviz meets infomorphs, then images become recursively self-improving infovors.

HP: Great… what about the second series, called “Qubit-Built-Quilted Scriptable-Species-Being on Graphene.” What’s that about?

SH: For “Qubit-Built-Quilted Scriptable-Species-Being on Graphene” I built by hand open-source / open-hardware 3D printers (RepRaps) with intent to literally convert bits back into atoms. In RepRap tradition, I printed with my first ‘parent’ 3D printer parts for subsequent ‘child’ printers; essentially printing printers. Named “Foglet-Fabber-Fidel, Percept-Pus-Pandora, Qubit-Quacker-Quinn and Borganic-Blobjecthoodlum-Beulah,” my family-printer-farm has helped materialize my huge cache of modded molecular models. From the resultant fodder, I’ve agglomerated and arranged arrays of 3D-prints particularly highlighting representations of graphene, the post-silicon candidate upon which we could compute next. Noteworthy about graphene from a visual art perspective, typical pencil drawings are traditionally referred to as “graphite on paper”. My works involving the molecular model of graphene (a specialized form of graphite) upend this ‘on’-ness to represent instead the inverse, “stuff on graphene”. Related to artistic agency, I’ll also approvingly report that the poor man’s jerry-built quality of low-cost non-kit 3D printing systems leads to lifelike behavior. Like the mindchildren that they are, they totally throw tantrums!

HP: Can you describe a perfect day for you in an H+ world in 30 years?

SH: Once upon an end time(s), there will be phuture-pharmosomally flocused femtofactured-fluidentifried-fleshionistas scribbling scriptable-species-beings who/what quacker-cast computronium-clouds of kilo-IQ’d collablobject-oriented-co-op-corporeal-commons-clusters playboring with post-scarcity percept-pus and prescient-peek-a-boo public-panopticon-powdered plunderware-portraiture on date-stampeding lifefile::paths towards mass2sapient-ratiocracies transnaturalizing timeshearing technoprogressively data-debased perv’d-gooplexus-thunkuppetrees qubit-built-quilting algorithmicracked-out junk-DNAnarch-keys to un-nanoblockonomic-lock fine-joule’s-bots-that-gots-lots-o-watts to juice backbloodstreamslumming-it hick-hackenstantial chmodder-fodder for enzyme-rhyming noocyte scenariopolists wreckonomically spinformation-supporting environmentally-challenged infomorphic-biorouters switch-pointing at dustorm-debt-market-tested mass-mod-mood-meds running on you running on hyper-necker-deathcubes quture-sporecasting syncthetic smartificial-darkgraymatter-exprisoned empathological-connectivitis-infacteous cognitariats called upon to camouflage the protocol-onization of everythinginess upwhen.

HP: What is your worst dystopian fear?

SH: That we’ll forever be sold back to ourselves only as as-is models.

HP: Do you have any other general concerns regarding what the future will be like?

SH: I wonder if we’ll launch a reality race. If consciousness is the appearance of a world as a low-dimensional projected model of the inconceivably richer physical reality sustaining us, then jacking consciousness in conjunction with hacking matter will utmost necessarily empower ever-higher dimensional projections manifest to meet the demands of outright accelerated adjustments to materiality.


HP: Back to the show title… what’s with that “Transubstrational” part?

SH: Not sure if I’ve coined the term “transubstrational”, though I am certain I concocted it independently of any other instance of which I have yet to discover. I have encountered the phrase “substrate independent” in the context of Transhumanist post-meatbody uploady meta-mental musings yet always considered it a tad too dualistic. Arguably, there is no mind sans substrate. And what of more subtle or slower states of transition / traversal / transgression? To more effectively emphasize embodiment, mindkindness, plus objecthood for that matter, as untetherable from a fixed singular substrate, while also promoting the possiblity of platform-diverse being across any and many substrates, I propose “transubstrational” be so used. Also, sounds sort of seductively similar to “transubstantiation”.

HP: When do you realize that one of your compositions is finally complete?

SH: Mostly, my pieces are finished when even I myself almost can’t look away.

The Winkleman Gallery is located at 621 West 27th Street in New York City. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 11-6; the show runs until December 23rd. Shane Hope’s work can also be viewed at his website.

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.

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