Cyber surgery

A talk with Pakui Hardware collective.

What is the story behind your collective’s name and how did the project start?

Pakui Hardware was born in 2014 together with our project The Metaphysics of the Runner. This piece span around the forms of transcending limitations of physical human body, in which extreme fitness cult or more radical and very technocratic ideas of such transhumanists as Ray Kurzweil were a couple examples of that. It was a critical inquiry into the neoliberal pressure to be efficient, rapidly adopting and overly technological body and personality. Thus the installation – both at 321 Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, and Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius – resembled an abstracted gym environment, in which the training devices were stripped from their original function and became more of ‘ghosts’ of the real objects, they functioned as pedestals for other pieces to be presented on. This is when we decided to come up with a name for our practice as it shifted quite radically from what we did previously, mostly working with 16 mm film and archival material, and so we felt like we need to articulate this transformation both to ourselves and to others. We asked a fellow curator, Alex Ross, to come up with some possible ideas and he returned to us with Pakui Hardware. It sounded a little weird for us (it still does), but it kind of stuck immediately, mostly because of the energy loaded in. Pakui is a Hawaiian mythological character, a runner that is able to circle an Oahu island six times a day, so it refers to speed and a more mythical, semiotic part of the real, while Hardware is, of course, the matter, the body, hardware as such. It’s always this friction taking place between these two dimensions – one strives for velocity, while the other obstructs it, yet at the same time is the resource for that velocity.

I have read that your work is based on movement of capital through bodies, technology, materials and contemporary medicine, could you explain further?

This focus is kind of programmed in the name itself. When we explore certain case or field, we always strive to see that phenomenon in a wider system rather an autonomous thing on its own. Basically all contemporary science and medicine are firstly driven by profit-seeking and profit-generation. Mostly it could be a result of a lack of public money investment and privatisation of these fields starting in the early eighties with the neoliberal era. Currently it’s not even questioned, it’s just a status quo, like those Covid vaccines for which governments are paying enormous money for the bio-tech companies. So if we dig into diverse forms of contemporary medicine, such as regenerative medicine or bariatric surgeries, we look into how these fields participate in the larger capitalist scheme, how the effort of rejuvenation of bodies and cells is directly related to contemporary requirement for efficiency. Just like the synthetic biology, which we researched around 2015 – 2017, is both an exciting field to think about erasure of such fundamental categories as natural or artificial, to image what forms of life we could design if humans could create life from scratch, but at the same time this field is mostly driven by the idea of reprogramming and rewiring nature for very specific tasks, so that there is less accidental production, but production directed for human needs. Thus capital penetrates even the smallest forms of life and matter.

Remembering your solo show “The Return of Sweetness” at Tenderpixel gallery, London (2018). Can you talk about its concept and the materials you have used.

This was a starting piece that turned our focus towards modern medicine, and its invasive and monitoring relationship with organisms. In ‘The Return of Sweetness’, we turned to metabolism both as a metaphor for an economic approach to nature, as well as a physical process. Since metabolism is thought of as more or less individual (each of us has a different metabolic rate), today it is another case of being monitored and controlled by large power structures. While we are encouraged to boost our metabolism, at the same time we are entangled in socio-economic structures that determine our diets and habits. Most people with lower income are forced to ‘choose’ unhealthy lifestyle and nutrition, because it’s most affordable for them and because it’s something one can grab while running from one work shift to another. At the same time, hyper-networked society is shaming such ‘lifestyle choices’ this way delegating all the responsibility towards the individuals, not the system as such. Therefore, we looked into various kinds of gastric bypass surgery, and how modern medicine basically sculpts organs, like stomachs, in order to control the amount of food that enters the body. For the installation, we created a group of sort of externalised organisms, open for inspection by viewers. In this project we employed glass for the first time, which we use in our installations till today. It’s an incredible material, as it contains softness and solidity at the same time, it’s very organic and stubborn material.

How do you see the post pandemic new world, what are the consequences and what is the future to come?

It’s going to be a world full of depressed, frightened and exhausted people who are afraid to touch and hang around. It sounds like some sort of irony, but it is going to be very much of uncertainty and paranoia in the air for many, many years to come, and it is already clear that the divide among people who trust science and people who trust conspiracy theories is growing wider everyday. What used to be like a joke is becoming a real threat as conspiracy theories give birth to fear, hate and violence. It’s something that needs to be considered seriously rather than dismissed as a harmless joke.

What are you currently working on?

The closest even in our artistic life is a book and a large-scale solo show coming up at Leopold-Hoesch-Museum in Düren, Germany, in which we will present an overview of our work of the last three years. The book that we’re preparing with the museum and Günther-Peill-Foundation will be encompass pieces made over the last five years and will include texts written specially on this occasion by Yuk Hui, Hannah Landecker, and Alvin Li, which was a true joy for us. For the upcoming fall, we’re preparing for a solo show that will open in Milan, a fairly new space called East Contemporary, and also working on a commission for Kaunas Biennial (Lithuania) this year curated by a Canadian curator Josée Drouin-Brisebois. One of the venues of the biennial is going to be in an old and unique zoological museum, in which we hope to make a site-specific piece that would be in dialogue with the history of the museum and with the particular atmosphere of dead nature spread within its halls.

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