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Do you have complete autonomy over your own body? Are you truly free in your physicality? Leipzig-based duo Post-Organic Bauplan aim to explore what possibilities exist when we begin active and conscious participation in our own bodily plan, diluting the constant need to belong to a supposed human nature which itself is a social construction. Originally from Argentina, artists Josefina Maro and Salvador Marino create non-organic devices (prostheses) with the aim of developing their own corporal plan and inhabiting an undefined body.

Ideals and restrictions regarding the body have been enforced on us by oppressive systems such as capitalism and patriarchy, which have led to both unspoken rules and enforced regulations over our bodies influencing our interactions and experiences. Post-Organic Bauplan works from a transdisciplinary perspective. Interacting with their robotic prostheses to research an expanded corporeality through dance, they aim to disseminate the social construction of the body as natural, given and unmodifiable.

The pair have recently debuted the last instalment of their performance trilogy, Autotomie. Autotomie centres the creation of a fictional landscape where humans are already used to co-extending their corporealities with non-organic organisms, combining elements of science fiction, posthumanism, biological sciences, dance and robotics. In the wake of this success, we caught up with Maro and Marino to learn more about their concepts, devices and cyborg corporealities.

Can you tell us a little bit more about yourselves and your collaborative project Post-Organic Bauplan?
The concept of bauplan comes from developmental biology and defines the conservative features that are typical to determine the body of one species. This concept is closely related to the idea of an architectural plan or design that pre-exists the body itself. By putting it together with the word post-organic, we try to fracture the original concept and create an alternative meaning, where bauplan is the design the body might build through its actions, instead of something predetermined. Through experimentation with robotic prostheses, we want to embody a Post-organic Bauplan that could enable us to escape from a system that tries to homogenise us.
Josefina: My background is in contemporary dance. I worked in an independent dance company in Argentina. It’s a very specific contemporary dance background, but from this, I began working from a more interdisciplinary perspective. Through my work with Post Organic Bauplan and WISP Collective, I can explore collaboration with artists working in a variety of mediums. I like to think about movement and the body as a landscape, a materiality that can move in a very broad spectrum.
Salvador: I studied Biology and did a PhD in Evolution, with a focus on sexual selection and the interaction between plants and insects. When I was very young, I started to study painting, but my interest switched quickly to music, exploring sound design with unconventional instruments. My interest lies in creating environments through sound, so I began making experimental music and taught myself programming to produce interactive sound installations.
What were the initial inspirations behind beginning your work with robotic prostheses?
Josefina: We started collaborating in 2017 when we were living in Córdoba (Argentina). We wanted to work together and began to think about what interests connected us. We started thinking about the body, and I mentioned to Salva that I was once told by a choreographer that every time you work on a new piece, you must create a new body for it. That idea really stuck with me, I found this really inspiring. We started with this idea.
Salvador: At this moment, Josefina was researching performance and I was doing more installation and sound projects whilst working on my PhD. It was a nice although the somewhat challenging question about how we could collaborate. Projects under the same concept, developing robotic prostheses for the voluntary intervention of the body, were not really happening in the art scene. So it was a super inspiring question for us: how to create another corporeality or multiple in performance? I had the idea to begin working with motors, and we thought it would be nice to make a robot and connect it to the body – so we did it! Making a robot is difficult so we weren’t great at the beginning.
Josefina: We were fantasising like: “Yes sure, let’s make a robot!” but neither of us had ever made one or had any previous knowledge. It was nice to do this process together from scratch, but of course, it was a challenge! Through researching concepts like biopolitics, we arrived at the idea of working with prostheses, because we see them as elements we can interact with to make these structures evident.
On your website, you write “we understand practices exerted by institutions as attempts to preserve the idea of the body as a natural creation, where religion, capitalism, science, patriarchy, are pressures that constantly shape and impose limits on our own constructions and experiences as corporealities.” Can you expand on these thoughts about the institutionalised body and how your work helps distance from this?
Josefina: Our work deals with the constructions that are imposed on the body. At different points in history, there have been different frameworks for the body. What is natural, normal – how that is achieved and how that shapes our experiences. Things outside of these structures do not fit and are therefore oppressed. This is what we mean when we talk about the institutionalised body. We wanted to focus mainly on questioning the idea of nature itself. Because what is natural for a body, actually? We examine how this idea is built up and how it is in reality a construction itself. Our intention is to make this mechanism evident, to bring it to light and bring questions. I think that is all we can do!
Salvador: If you are talking about the body, you are talking about politics as well, biopolitics. When we started the project, this was another common interest we shared, questioning what the body is and the meaning of ‘having’ or ‘belonging to’ or ‘being’ a body. In different ages, there have been different concepts about the body and different political technologies to build and oppress it.
There are philosophers who point to the conundrum surrounding the concept of the prosthesis. It proposes that something related to the body, that can expand the body, is at the same time external. They also bring into question the differences between organic and inorganic, artificial and natural, external and internal. The concept of the prosthetic has been used to problematise the structures and definitions in place. We wanted to keep the name ‘prosthetic’ for our creations because of these theories. In our work, we seek to dilute the idea of the natural and the natural body. We want to follow this idea – we are not creating something completely out of the frame, we are accompanying the dilution of the rigid definitions that are imposed on bodies. We want to show this in a physical way and through our performance research.
Josefina: In this way, we are developing the project from movement-based training and research because we consider it extremely important to do so to break the automatism of the body and experience the body in other levels of perception. Exploring how one can connect with DIY devices outside of the social framework to create experiences for our bodies that collaboratively dilute the idea of what is natural and what is not.

You have been working as a duo for 5 years now. How has your practice developed over time?
Salvador: Firstly, we took a lot of time to develop our concept. Everything we are talking about today took a long time to theorise. In the beginning, we made everything together. The music, the video, the prostheses, the bodily research – everything. When we continued, Josefina began taking charge of the bodily research, writing and all related tasks. I took charge of the technicalities like making and designing the prostheses. From here we had a much better connection, and the feedback was more organic between us. We continually develop through every person who works with us, especially the performers, as everyone interacts with the prosthesis differently.
Josefina: We had to learn everything from the beginning – how to print, all the programmes – it was really step-by-step. It was the same with the movement, learning how to dance with something which is completely new to the body. There are some things you can’t do – jump, run, turn fast – this creates an interesting corporeality because it relies on this relationship. We have gone deeper and deeper and deeper, visualising our research along the way through experimentation and performance. We needed to start doing everything together to allow us to discover what worked best through trial and error. Our first-ever prostheses were made from motors we found on the street in Argentina. Now we work with a robotics company in the United States who are developing motors. Everything has been an evolution. We also made the first robotic skeleton by hand; it was really difficult as everything must be completely precise. Now our designs are 3D printed.
Salvador: Something that has been really important to our development has been knowing Vesper. We met at a party 3 years ago and immediately asked her to work with us! She has been really inspiring, we give a lot to each other.
Josefina: We are honoured and forever grateful to have met Vesper and to fantasise together about the cyborg dystopia we want to live in. We developed the first part of our Autotomie trilogy with her, and she was also involved in the second. LOFFT Theatre in Leipzig has also been a great support and offered us not just space but also support in every area needed to produce our work.
The creation of such devices must take a lot of research. Can you tell us a bit more about the research process?
Josefine: We start by taking a concept from Biology – for example, autotomy, bauplan, symbiosis – we take a scientific starting point and then transfer that into the relationship between body and prosthesis. The whole process is an evolution between the body and the prosthesis. Our first prosthesis was quite primitive somehow, but for the next work, we began to toy with the idea that the prosthesis is also using us to extend themselves. Our concepts are always developing. Although our outcomes are different, our research is a long, ongoing process.
Salvador: We understand the prostheses as independent organisms. They have autonomy, they can survive without humans. They use bodies: we show them with humans, but this is only one example – they have the ability to extend their bodies and create different corporeality. The humans are hoping to do the same with the prosthesis. In this world, the environment is other, and the concept of the body is other. For this reason, we are exploring it through performance. In the research process for the development of the robots, I am using biological concepts like evolution to develop the prosthesis, as they want to extend the body, but they must also be able to survive and protect themselves. This is why they are designed sharp and spiky, making them more difficult to interact with.
You have previously organised Digital Guts Laboratory. These workshops focused on researching the interconnectivity between bodies and digital devices. How were your experiences running this programme and collaborating with like-minded creatives?
Josefina: Our intention for the laboratory was to open our area of interest – connecting the body with digital devices – and all the possibilities that exist within this. There are so many ways to connect the two, so we invited those interested in this concept to come and explore it in a manner of their choosing. They brought ideas of what devices they wanted, or what connection they wanted to create – it was very open – and then we found a way to make it all together. Participants covered programming and technicalities with Salva and then explored physical experimentation with me.
Salvador: We approached the workshop from these two angles but were super flexible depending on the collaborators.
Josefina: Yes – the first time we organised a laboratory, some people brought their own devices. There was lots of variety and we adapted and developed. This particular laboratory was ideal as it lasted a week, so we had time to experiment. We have also done 3-hour laboratories, and because we didn't have the time to do this process together with the participants, we developed the devices ourselves beforehand and focused more on the physical interaction with them.

Your series of performances – Autotomie trilogy – has recently concluded with its final instalment. Reflecting on this series, how has your work developed with each performance?
Josefina: There are many layers to this trilogy. We initially chose to work with this concept of autotomy (autotomie in German), which is an ability some animals have, allowing them to amputate a part of their body, which will later grow back, to escape predators. We utilised this concept to reflect on the construction of the human body, and why it is so difficult for us as a species living in societies to experience these kinds of transformations. How our bodies are socially regulated, and how some transformations like cosmetic surgery are totally accepted, and others – like an amputation – are not.
Salvador: In Greek autotomy means ‘self-amputation.’ This picture of self-amputation is very prominent when you look at our society today. Removing or breaking a bone in your face for aesthetic reasons is relatively easy to access, but if you want to cut a limb for the same reasons it is not so easily accessible or accepted. There are political motivations for this as if you remove a limb or something similar you may not be able to work and produce in the way society expects of you. There are some parts of the body that belong to you, and some parts which belong to society.
Josefina: What control do you have over your own body? Where is the limit? We developed this trilogy exploring this concept at different levels. We also built fantasy and narrative inside of this, although it is a very open narrative. It follows a cyborg community, centring around three performers, who are on a journey of exploring their relationship with the prosthesis and the concept of autotomy.
I had the pleasure of watching the latest instalment myself and was enthralled by the performance and the scene you constructed around your devices. Can you tell us a little bit more about this performance and the world it took place in?
Josefina: In the story, we had been building throughout the trilogy, we showed the evolution of the relationship between humans and the prosthesis. In this final stage, they are already familiarised, allowing us to expand their environment and draw the focus away from solely their interactions. That’s why we also began working with digital bodies, seeing this as another performer and another dimension of the same world.
Salvador: In this environment, we are imagining that humans have the ability to connect with the prosthesis and explore another corporeality freely. We were thinking about a society that has a more diluted, flexible understanding of the body than our society does today, so the environment also needed to be other. If you are redefining the body, you must redefine what the environment is, so the connection between environment and body is more fluid. What they are doing is open for speculation; why they are using their bodies to connect and what their relationship to the digital entity is. We don’t want to answer this – we have our own perception, but we want to leave room for questioning bodily interaction through the narrative.
Josefina: It’s very open. Although a trilogy suggests chronological order, the realities could be existing all at the same time, or in different realities. There are so many possibilities, all of which are present. A bit confusing sometimes, but flexible and intriguing!
Your final instalment included many collaborations with different artists: performers, digital and costume designers etc. How was your experience working with this team to create your vision?
Salvador: We learn a lot from the performers. When we begin working with a performer, we lay the prosthetics out and ask them to select one and place it where they feel comfortable, where they want to explore, extend or cut. We like to build a post-organic relationship between the two.
Josefina: From this, we build up choreographic situations where they explore different possibilities as a body that is moving and interacting with other bodies. We don't have a predetermined, fixed vision of what we want to create with each performer – it’s more like research, we are interested in the process and the connection between each person. It’s a very personal process. We have our own relationship with the prostheses, there are some things we can transfer but there are some that cannot be described in words. It’s interesting to see how the relationship is built up by each person as it is always unique.
Our process is always very collaborative among the whole team. We share with them our concepts, but there is plenty of space for them to interpret. We create a dialogue together.

You have said that your devices are a “source of expansion.” What are your hopes for the future of similar prostheses?
Salvador: We are aware that there are a lot of different prostheses around: medical prostheses, cosmetic devices, sexual devices, aesthetic devices, and so on. We hope these robots will inspire more people to question what is natural and to continue their own personal pleasures and dreams in relationship with their bodies. The 3D printing world is becoming more accessible; printers are getting cheaper and cheaper and most of the programmes are open source. At some point, after further development, we will also upload our models and software for free, so if people have access they can simply download and have the same prosthetics as we do to go to the supermarket or fuck, or whatever!
Josefina: We are aware that even with 3D printers getting cheaper and programming tools becoming open source, this is still not so accessible for many people. We hope we can at least share what we have learned and inspire others to find their own ways of exploring and creating devices as well.
What’s next for Post Organic Bauplan?
Josefina: We will be exploring the prosthesis more as a duo, and creating more of a noisy environment, playing with the data from the gyroscope sensors which are implanted with the prosthesis to create an experimental sound design.
Salvador: We have an upcoming residency and performance with Portuguese artist Odete the Slayer. We also have exhibitions in Istanbul and Zürich.
Josefina: From September we have another residency in Akademie für Theatre und Digitalität in Dortmund. There we want to continue to develop our understanding and use of holographic fabric, which we used in the final part of Autotomie. We want to experiment more with different designers, and different collaborators who want to be involved in our projects and with these holographic environments. So this will be very research-based.

Isobel Gorman-Buckley
Paul Altmann
Thomas Puschmann

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