(Identification, Embodiment and Being: Nina Arsenault’s Self-portraits is a talk that was given at McGill University, March 20 2012, by queer performance scholar J. Paul Halferty. It is a repeat of a talk given at the National Gallery of Canada, June 2011, which coincided with the Magnetic North Theatre Festival’s production of my one woman play The Silicone Diaries.)
“[Arsenault] referred to herself as having a kind of cyborg body, which, of course, references the imaginary creature from the genre of science fiction, but is also an appeal to an very important essay written in the mid-1980s by Donna Haraway, called “The Cyborg Manifesto’ In this essay Haraway powerfully and famously argued that by the late twentieth century “we are cyborgs.”
She contends that formerly distinct divisions between human and nonhuman animals, between organisms and machines, and between the physical and non-physical have become very imprecise for us. Examples of each are: animal-to-human organ transplants and gene splicing, laser-eye surgeries, pacemakers, and the Internet as a virtual space for digital avatars as well as other forms of social networking and communication technologies. [also cosmetic procedures, pharmaceutical drugs which affect brain functioning, human growth hormone, body building aids, hair extensions, anti-aging supplements, genetically modified diets and processed food, to name a few more. --Nina]
Like Haraway’s theory of the cyborg, Arsenault’s body as self-portrait repeatedly demonstrates the interrelatedness of culture, imagination and material reality in her life, and, by inference, in all of our lives.
For these and other reasons, I considered Arsenault to be a transgender heiress to Haraway’s conception of a cyborg feminist: a self-conscious construction achieved through technological intervention; she is a living representation of femininity, inspired by fantasy, Barbie dolls, and pornography. Or as she puts it “an imitation of an imitation of an idea of a woman. An image which has never existed in nature.” All of Arsenault’s self-portraits are, in a sense, ‘cyborg portraits’ because they are rooted in the embodiment of what are considered unreal, imagined, and mutable femininities.”
(reprinted with permission of the author.)