Cyborg — Archive
Cornell University B.Arch thesis
Advisor :: Danica Selem + John Zissovici
with assistance from :: Ihwa Choi + Rachael Biggane
site :: New York, NY
The thesis project utilizes the Cyborg Manifesto (Donna Haraway, 1984) as a theory and tool for constructing alternative, feminist futures through spatial design. The concept of "cyborg" includes notions of fragmentary identities, trans-bodies, the in-between (i.e. human/machine), the other, and the monstrous/mythical. Perhaps these characteristics share affinities to ways in which female, minority, disabled, trans and queer identities have been portrayed and disempowered. Simultaneously, the theory of cyborg is intended as a tool of power against binary-oppositions (i.e. male/female, natural/artificial), towards a future where all identities are fluid, fragmentary, and in-between.
Haraway writes "liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness" , suggesting that the "construct" of knowledge is situated within existing structures of [patriarchal, capitalist, colonial] power. The concept of construct is significant since the cyborg itself is a construction of different parts, both human and technology. Even the iPhone today acts as a digital prosthetic of the human, allowing consciousness to extend infinitely into the virtual realm. Immediate access to Google maps, Instagram, Facebook, iMessage, etc. is reconfiguring not only our social relations, but also a more intimate relation between our mind to knowledge, and our bodies within space.
At the core of Cyborg Manifesto is an utopian impulse towards alternative futures. Architecture shares this impulse. While cyborgs are usually mediated [and often mis-appropriated] through film, literature, and art, the Cyborg — Archive as architecture functions as another media to enact ideology or theory. Of course, the role of architecture as "media" is also vulnerable to abuse, mis-appropriation, and mis-interpretation. Yet the utopian impulse of Cyborg — Archive envisions an architecture counter to monumental, Modernist forms of design. Rather than adhering to Modernist strategies of new, transparent, glass towers, Cyborg — Archive is subterranean, dark, semi-opaque, and re-appropriates an existing architecture of the subway station.
Other critical qualities of Cyborg — Archive are "technology as prosthetic", and the "in-between as ontology". First, the spatial interventions are designed as prosthetics to the subway system. The interventions act as visual devices, transforming the subway into a cinematic machine. The films projected in the devices becomes a tactic for projecting feminist, queer, non-binary cinema into daily, public consciousness. The mundane ritual of the commute is transfigured toward a space of myths and alternative visions. Second, the in-between ontology is realized as a spatial condition through design of a program that is in-between subway/cinema, site/vehicle, archive/exhibition, and digital/physical.
To expand further on the dialectics of digital and physical, the tension between these conditions holds the most potential, and the greatest challenge of the thesis project. The program of "archive" within Cyborg — Archive examines both archive as a tool of institutions to construct history and preserve power [inaccessible and finite], and new definitions of archive within the context of the Internet as a space [which is in theory, accessible and infinite]. The theory that digital archives are an alternative mode of accumulating [thereby challenging] histories is powerful, but perhaps naive. In recent years, the privatization and homogenization of various realms of Internet expresses a decline in its utopian impulse as a liberating and democratic space. While feminist, black lives matter, lgbtq+ activist groups have been empowered through Internet, so have other forms of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and hate.
Perhaps the concept of "archive" initially seems like a misnomer for a project about continuous transformations, and an ontology of the in-between. Archive denotes a static body of work, preserved in a fixed state-of-being. Yet a virtual archive is the inverse of a institutional archive: immaterial, accessible, in-flux. In this situation, an translation from physical to digital subverts the meaning and ideology of the archive.
Consequently, Cyborg — Archive is a provocation to re-examine existing architectural ideologies, beginning with the archive and expanding to Modernism and the city. Cyborg — Archive suggest alternative tactics of spatial practice, utilizing a translation in-between digital and physical, to subvert meanings and re-constitute consciousness. The following maps and drawings of Cyborg — Archive envision a potential spatial design that enacts the theories of the Cyborg Manifesto through transformations of an architectural body.