It is hard enough to envisage the future when everything seems possible; harder still in conditions that threaten to foreclose on bodily integrity, or one’s very survival. Such is the history of queer representation which, in deference to juridical realities, long relied on coded representations for self-representation.
This shifted slightly in the late 1980s as artists witnessing the ravages of AIDS turned to climate change as metaphor for extinction, giving tell to the lie that the fates of those hit hardest by AIDS were distinct from that of the rest of the planet. Work in this vein is as remarkable for the analogy drawn as it is for absences of embodied subjectivity. If the normative is that which need not be spoken—we name non-male genders, non-white races, non-het sexualities, and non-cis genders—this lack of bodies, while prototypically postmodern, nevertheless suggests a default to normative subjectivity that is gay, but not necessarily queer. And, in its repeated meditations on extinction, such work is also, arguably, anathema to futurity.
Recently, artists have returned to the Anthropocene to posit what lies ahead for a cultures with evidently problematic relationships to the environment, and one another. To survive, they suggest that one must represent not disembodied extinction, but rather a future that turns on non-normative corporeality—bodies of color, sutured together from disparate, found, non-human components from uncertain or unstable geneses—to explore alternative temporalities, desires, and relationships to death.
Felipe Baeza’s posthumous post-human escapes the constraints of normative subjectivity where the corpse-like gives way to new, uncanny plant life. In Tú, Que Brotas En la Noche (2018), grey patchwork legs anchor branches sprouting tight buds from which threaded, palpably dimensional locks that hang weightily down against a gouache background in which the reddish-brown of the land and the purple-blue of the night sky serve reverse roles.
To bloom is to transform from one state to another, often by the light of day, while bodies and desires with queer relations to the norm are often relegated to distinctly liminal spatio-temporalities. In suturing life and death, plant and human, sub- and supra-terranean, Baeza stages the concurrent representation of otherwise discrete parts to position the human not as the continued ideal, but rather as a point of departure for the growth of new forms of life—especially among, between, and through racial or sexual others.
If, as Sylvia Wynter suggests, the very notion of the human is contingent upon a European “figure of man,” where all other others are subsumed into one, largely undifferentiated category, perhaps we must consider leaving behind the supremacy of the human.1 In 3 Warriors: Kung Fu Kelvin, Samurai Seitu, and King Kunta Kinte (2019) Wardell Milan composes subjects from collaged photographs of nude Black men with paste and paint, fabricating bodies that at once contain and exceed the collected individualities, their beachy context as heterogeneous as their constitutive parts. The resulting embodiment exceeds the spectacle of Black otherness—what Fred Moten refers to as being a “single being”—and presents, through recombination, a new and spectacular Black subjectivity that is at once immanently futurist and ineluctably embodied.
Sin Sol, an XR experience by Micha Cárdenas (fig. 5), looks even further toward the post-human. A dog, Roja, leads users through a post-crisis landscape as Aura, a trans Latinx AI hologram, narrates through a poetics that elucidates the mechanisms by which trans folx and people of color are always disproportionately affected by catastrophes. Through Aura, Cárdenas explicates the climate crisis and positionality of trans people of color together, while simultaneously positing a future that is certainly attainable—so long as the white and cis no longer reigns.
Perhaps not only the human as concept, but also the human as form might need also be eschewed to reach a future. Since 2016, Anne Duk Hee Jordan has reanimated shells with electronics and built sea creatures out of plastic waste in the ongoing project Artificial Stupidity. Often, these creatures (Water Crab, Clapping Clams, Coral Sponge) are installed alongside queerly copulating or gender bending underwater flora and fauna (fig. 6). The only element of a human present acculturated into Jordan’s future imaginary are instruments that emit atonal abstractions that Jordan imagines to be “the sounds of a deep future yet unknown to humanity.”
Sutures “give form,” in the words of Okwui Enwezor, to the “aporias of trauma and testimony”2 by staging futures whose instantiation is contingent upon on racial, gender, and/or sexual others. Increasingly in evidence, however, is that this newly constituted other is no longer the repository technological anxiety (as was the case with Frankenstein’s monster) but instead stands for new regimes—of spectation, signification, and relation—conditioned on the transcendence of colonial, supremacist, and even identitarian structures. These future imaginaries ultimately turn on the amplification of difference, and the synchronous elevation of subjectivities that are queer, as Alexis Pauline Gumbs suggests, in the simple fact of their persistence.
- Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,” pp. 257-337 in The New Centennial Review 3:3 (Fall 2003).
- Okwui Enwezor, “The Black Box,” pp.42-54 in Documenta XI (Ostfildern-Rut, Germany: Hatje Kantz, 2002), 51.