David Forbes looks at the history of the grinder/DIY transhumanist movement, tracing its origins from the experiments of Kevin Warwick and Lepht Anonym to Warren Ellis’ Doktor Sleepless comic to the Grinding.be website to Grindhouse Wetware:
Usually, a subculture starts in a particular societal splinter just far enough off the beaten path to find breathing room. Its members begin talking to one another, and eventually someone puts a name on it that sticks. The group hits a nerve or a style, and in time a journalist tells a bit of their story. Often, the writers who deal with subcultures act more as archaeologists than engineers, dredging up what’s already been rather than creating what is to be.
Grinders — who are dedicated to bringing a cyberpunk tomorrow into reality today through DIY body modification — are different. They started with a name in the literary world and migrated seemingly backwards into reality. In 2007, comic writer Warren Ellis launched Doktor Sleepless, a series about the eponymous mad scientist and his apocalyptic plots. It’s a stew of wild ideas — occult magic, implants, urban breakdown — set in a just-past-tomorrow era. The series, which lasted more than a year, is a bit hit or miss but with some truly fascinating moments and a heaping hodgepodge of speculative ideas. Central to Doktor Sleepless are grinders — the term originating from video games, where players “grind” their character through repetitive actions to reach a higher level of power. While identity overhaul has been a selling point of alternative cultures back to prehistory, Ellis’s grinders emphasized identity as a character sheet, with each capability up for modification, for upgrade.
Shannon Larratt, founder of BMEzine and a pioneer of extreme body modification, is dead. Based on a posthumous blog post, it sounds like suicide. Larratt had suffered for years from an unspecified degenerative disease he described as genetic, and had been detailing his struggles with chronic pain on his blog in recent months.
His death follows the passing last year of two other body modification legends: ManWoman and StalkingCat
From Larratt’s farewell letter:
Thank you to everyone who made my life wonderful. I love you all. I wish there had been more of it, and I wish I had more to give. I’m sorry there is so much unfinished, so much left to do, but I am glad to know many wonderful people who will complete it. Last minute reflections and bits of advice… seize every opportunity that’s in front of you and live life to the fullest. Even with everything I’ve done, there is so much more I wish I’d squeezed in. Don’t let a single day (well, maybe a single day) be idle. Have every adventure you can, and explore every street — although treat the one-way streets with caution. Don’t fritter you life away into television, random browsing, and pointless substance abuse (I have at times been guilty of all of these) — although remember there are valid uses for them, both for growth and entertainment. Have passion about the future, and in the present. Especially if you’re young, push your education and your skills to their limits on every level. Don’t just graduate highschool, get a degree, get a doctorate if you can. I know these things aren’t for everyone, they they are for most, and they also open doors to some of the most special adventures. Even if you can’t afford proper schooling there are many, many ways to learn, free courses to volunteering, and so on. Value your health, and the health of our planet, and strive beyond its borders. We have such a glorious future, but never forget that your part in that future could end at any moment, so live a life that you can be pround of. And of course love and treat each other well.
In “real me” world, I had a big doctor’s appointment earlier in the week, the sort where I got to wear one of those barebacked robes that shows off my butt while a couple doctors prodded and examined me in various ways. It was good because it escalated me further up the various “expert” or “specialist” ladders — exactly the sort of people I need to be talking to in the hope that someone will come up with some long-shot therapy or treatment that helps treat the myopathy, or at least reduces the pain. Didn’t go that way though, which I’m used to as it never does. Every doctor that gets added to the mix simply confirms the diagnosis, agrees that it can’t be treated (but that they’ll “think about it” and consider who else we can discuss it with), and often throws another problem into the mix as well. This week it we first confirmed the progression of the nerve damage from my “tumor” (a benign bone growth the size of a tangerine, not cancerous so tumor isn’t really the right word I think) biopsy and removal, as that neuropathy came back after changing pain treatments a month or two ago, and that I have abnormal reflex response in my legs. None of that is particularly surprising to me, but I was surprised to find out that my spinal cord is degenerating, which is causing additional problems in mobility and generally being able to control my body in addition to the muscle decay itself. I am guessing that this nerve degeneration is part of what’s causing complications with my heart and breathing.
Wired has a profile of performance artist Stelarc, whose extreme body modifications predate the modern grinder movement by several years. He’s probably most famous for the third ear that he has on his arm, which is partly surgically constructed and partly cell-grown.
“At present it’s only a relief of an ear,” Stelarc said. “When the ear becomes a more 3-D structure we’ll reinsert the small microphone that connects to a wireless transmitter.” In any Wi-Fi hotspot, he said, it will become internet-enabled. “So if you’re in San Francisco and I’m in London, you’ll be able to listen in to what my ear is hearing, wherever you are and wherever I am.” […]
William Gibson, a friend of Stelarc’s, once wrote: “Stelarc’s art never seemed futuristic to me. If it were, I doubt I would respond to it. Rather, I experience it in a context that includes circuses, freak shows, medical museums, the passions of solitary inventors. I associate it with da Vinci’s ornithopter, eccentric nineteenth-century velocipedes, and Victorian schemes for electroplating the dead — though not retrograde in any way. Instead, it seems timeless, as though each performance constitutes a moment equivalent to those collected in Humphrey Jennings’ Pandaemonium: The Coming of the Man-Machine in the Industrial Revolution — moments of the purest technologically induced cognitive disjunction.”
Meanwhile, doctors have grown an ear on a woman’s arm. I was a little confused by the story, but I think what they’re doing is growing the ear on her arm with intention of moving it to her head later.
BME founder Shannon Larratt was interviewed by io9 about the grinder/biohack movement:
Making a wristwatch implant would actually be quite simple. The electronics need to be as small as possible of course. Even though implants can be quite large (a single double-D breast implant has more volume than many laptop computers at this point), if the implant is kept thin it will be inconspicuous, perhaps even undetectable without touching it. So the wristwatch would be built with surface mount components in a tight package. The LEDs would easily be visible through the skin — it’s quite possible that some small backlit panels could be visible through the skin but simple round or bar-shaped LEDs would be my choice for a watch.
One could do a numeric display, a geeky binary display, or even just use a single light and flash the time with morse code. You’re probably not going to leave the light on all the time in order to preserve the battery, but triggering could be accomplished in many ways. An accelerometer could be used to trigger it with a specific arm motion, a pressure switch could respond to touch, or in my case, or a magnetic switch could respond to me waving my finger over it — there are many options, but whatever is chosen would have to be versatile enough to also allow the time to be set.
Finally — and this is the biggest issue — there’s power. You could have yourself cut open have the battery replaced — but there’s no need for that. Inductive charging is easy to build, and wireless chargers are commonplace these days — personally I would include such a circuit.
The Verge did a short documentary, and a piece of long form, participatory journalism, on the DIY transhumanist/bodyhacker/grinder/whatever movement:
The boys from Grindhouse Wetwares both sucked down Parliament menthols the whole time we talked. There was no irony for them in dreaming of the possibilities for one’s body and willfully destroying it. “For me, the end game is my brain and spinal column in a jar, and a robot body out in the world doing my bidding,” said Sarver. “I would really prefer not to have to rely on an inefficient four-valve pump that sends liquid through these fragile hoses. Fuck cheetahs. I want to punch through walls.”
Flesh and blood are easily shed in grinder circles, at least theoretically speaking. “People recoil from the idea of tampering inside the body,” said Tim. “I am lost when it comes to people’s unhealthy connections to your body. This is just a decaying lump of flesh that gets old, it’s leaking fluid all the time, it’s obscene to think this is me. I am my ideas and the sum of my experiences.” As far as the biohackers are concerned, we are the best argument against intelligent design.
Neither man has any illusions about how fringe biohacking is now. But technology marches on. “People say nobody is going to want to get surgery for this stuff,” admits Cannon. But he believes that will change. “They will or they will be left behind. They have no choice. It’s going to be weird and uncomfortable and scary. But you can do that, or you can become obsolete.”
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is a documentary in post-production on the lives of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge.
The filmmaker is raising money on Kickstarter, though it looks like they’ve already met their goal.
(via Esoteric Heritage)
Radar has a great long article Genesis P. Orridge up:
He and Breyer wouldn’t actually get to talk to each other until the next evening, when they accompanied Sellers to a party at the S&M club Paddles, jabbering away like kids while Jackie ground the heel of her motorcycle boot into some guy’s testicles. On the morning in question, though, there wasn’t time. Jackie had to go to work, and Gen was on his way out. He hadn’t really come to Terence’s dungeon for punishment, anyway; he’d already had more than enough of that in his life.
Aaron Gell: Strange Love (PDF, Google Docs account required)
(via Tomorrow Museum)
Update: I had only read the first 3/4s of this article last night. The last 1/4 is even more amazing. It contains the first public statements I know of by Gen since Lady Jaye’s death.
This is the best piece of writing I’ve read in a long time.
Speaking of Genesis P. Orridge, here’s a new interview with him:
I had an epiphany about the nature of the words themselves. Each word behaves in ways that attest to the idea that in a very particular way it, THE WORD is alive and can even have its own agenda as a result of repetition and transmission in ever more compressed layers over linear time whilst apparently serving the message of the being using the word. I believe words are alive then in a very literal sense, and because each word is alive it?s another hologram, another iceberg. Everyone who has ever said that particular word has invested it with their story and anyone who hears that word puts the context of their life around that word. So each word is a memory box and a prophecy box simultaneously. They’re very precious, powerful particles of thought and energy.
(via New World Disorder)
Bev Tang’s done a nice round-up of body implant art links.
A young engineer has created a robot tattoo artist:
Freddy’s computerised brain has a complicated programme for creating the designs that are constantly being improved and redesigned before being etched forever and for free on the bodies of volunteers at the trade fair.
(via Warren Ellis)