Characters of a Liminal Space: Story-telling through Figure Photography
Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Toy photography as a genre has the potential to exist in a post-human space by blurring the space between binaries. By portraying the presence of a dinosaur toy in nature recreates ancient prehistory, dissolving temporal boundaries but the object (toy) seems to depict an ancient scene where the dinosaur (subject) views its surroundings. The scene becomes a meta-narration and the dinosaur toy, in its dual role as representation and represented, seems to blur the boundary between the subject and the object, or the “living” and the “non-living”. Interesting to note here is that this scene can also dissolve the nature-culture or nature-technology boundary and portray these aspects conventionally contradictory aspects in a continuum, in that the dinosaur toy was created out of natural elements which were given a shape through a cultural lens, manufactured through technology to be what it is. Further, it’s imaginative placing, using it to bring to us a sense of the prehistoric wonder, usage of the camera and natural light which juxtaposes to bring the scene before us, in which the dinosaur toys gains a significance of both dinosaur and toy but something more in the relationality between both is distinctly post-human. Furthermore, their being portrayed on the web page reminds us of Ursula K Heise’s notion of cybernetic life forms(‘From Extinction to Electronics: Dead Frogs, Live Dinosaurs, and Electric Sheep’) which transcend their functionality as a representation of life, to become life in their own right.
I aim to portray such liminality through the use of comics made via the use of toy photographs, from my page on Instagram as well as by other creators who use this medium to tell stories. The post-human desire to explore the Self through relocation of subjectivity - as formulated by Dr Francesca Ferrando (Philosophical Posthumanism) can be explored through the use of these photographs made using figurines, which exist in a microcosmic universe of their own, thereby enabling a gaze into the relational between creator and creation. I hope to accomplish this through the use of some photo-realistic webcomics where the depicted subjects question the nature of their being toys and the idea of sentience itself, albeit in a humorous way.
Last but not least, the portrayal of the anthropocentric Self may be highlighted through such figure photography, in as much as toys - since ancient times - have been built to express human desires, expressions and ideas. Do the tiny Lego buildings in their perpetual deconstruction and reconstruction – are we experimenting with the houses of actual beings (the tiny Lego people) who live in them, but whom we do not ascribe life to in terms of the normative sense? We can raise questions as to whether the toys which we and our children play with exist in their own right, or merely to serve the utilitarian purpose of their creators – an idea highlighted through the steady progress of the Toy Story franchise.
My work on toy photography can be found at https://www.instagram.com/dinotoy.comics/
Toys are a symbol of the Anthropocene, as I delved into at https://www.thespace.gallery/post/toys-a-marker-of-the-anthropocene but may also emerge to defy said anthropocentrism in a space of post-human liminality (https://www.thespace.gallery/post/toys-and-their-symbolic-significance-have-we-always-been-post-human).
As materials embedded in a, well, material reality, the relationship of the very composition of toys and their environment is an issue that makes increasing sense for a sustainable future, as I have shown at https://www.thespace.gallery/post/toys-animals-and-nature-an-eco-critical-gaze-into-the-world-of-play
Finally, here I attempt an analysis of my work in conjunction with post-humanism.
Source: A screenshot of the 'Mirio' board where I had found a way to link my exhibition with that of other wonderful artists of LIMITROPHY
A Post-human Gaze into Figure Photography
The Platonic idea of objects being inferior copies of ideas had formed an important ontological concept in Western Humanist philosophy. The recreation of such ideas by human hands would be further apart – twice-removed – from the original. According to such an idea, virtual images of toys created by the means of a camera would be far distant from the original, and in most cases, deemed to be fake entities that rarely match the idea of the original.
A Styracosaurus witnessing the extinction, a toy based on it, and use of the toy in a realistic semi-recreated environment.
Such an essentialist dualistic hierarchy, if viewed through the lens of post-humanism (as opposed to prescriptive notions of the human) deconstructs the privileged position of originality over the copy, by adopting a post-dualistic world view of relationality. Ideas of post-humanism, as envisioned by Rosi Braidotti, Francesca Ferrando, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway and Cary Wolfe, questions the very privileged notion of the human in Western (and other forms of Humanistic) epistemology.
According to the post-human ideology espoused by Doctor Francesca Ferrando – which advocates for a post-dualistic subversion of common binarism – the copy is an entity that exists in its own right, and both as representation and represented, adopts a place of equal importance to that of the original. A dinosaur toy placed in a miniature environment recreates ancient prehistory which human eyes have never been privy to. It also creates a form of prehistory which we, through our own understanding of the fossil record and our knowledge of the natural world, are able to comprehend. Toy photography addresses the liminal space through a post-human lens – pun intended – to offer a form of storytelling that negotiates the human in the realm of the post-human by navigating across different media. As such, the hashtags #toyphotography, #toycomics and #lego on Instagram garner have over fifteen million followers. Furthermore, creators often place their characters in photo-realistic environments in order to tell such a story, while also attempting an eco-critical gaze.
I had taken to this form before having consciously adopted a post-human praxis for my art. My art in the early days took the form of comics and memes created through the use of dinosaur figures – collecting which had been a hobby since I was five – placed in my own room. The placement in my own room often shattered the presence of dramatic illusion, and I took to learning Adobe Photoshop in order to virtually crop images of these figures and place them in realistic environments.
Such a degree of control may hint at an anthropocentric strain of thought but is also distinctly post-human in its transition across media. These dinosaur toys are often anthropomorphized in my work, setting them in an uncanny region of post-human, where images of plastic on the Internet seem to speak through the use of speech bubbles bestowed on them by the creators. the following image makes use of a figure of the Edmontosaurus, a 'grass carpet' made of plastic, a prehistoric scene on a computer screen on which light is made to fall at an angle and a mobile camera to recreate the semblance of an ancient scene in a virtual space. As such, the union of disparate elements in a single space marks a distinctly post-human framework in relation.
As such, I often have my characters break the fourth wall to address my presence as well as their surroundings, often for the sake of humour.
I hope to look at my medium as a post-human form of storytelling, but one negotiates with the known in different ways. In the very video provided below, a pair of dinosaurs wonder about the space they are meant to live in, raising questions about the physical and psychological domains which are often without our reach. Here, the “cage” is a symbolic metaphor that has features in various kinds of literature since time immemorial as opposition to freedom – a post-human view of the world would rethink such a notion, labelling freedom as a constant state of being-towards one needs to strive for rather than an absolute, accomplished escape.
Through the above video, I also hope to address layers of existence, with ours occupying the central, the toys in-universe offering a vessel for our thoughts, and one above us which we are constantly aiming to discover through empirical knowledge, meta-narrative means or other measures. Our design for understanding as well as curiosity to understand emerge to be strongly humanistic, but also post-human, especially as the latter, in Professor Ferrando’s words, envelopes and addresses the former rather than placing an opposition.
Characters appear in my stories, each a particular toy, and often I attempt to adopt the guises of these characters – their own voices, which, is limited by the fact that they are formulated by me – to begin a conversation with my characters. Such seems to be a trans-humanist form of hyper-real cosplay, as I become the characters themselves to talk to my followers, the aspect of whose selves are mediated through their questions.
Some of the characters have names, others re-appear, others make puns and yet others create memes. The very idea of a meme as formulated by Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), albeit in a different context, seeks to locate a meme as a unit, idea, style or behaviour which spreads through the use of imitation within a culture via use of a specific theme. In popular parlance, memes refer to a kind of media, distinctly trans-human through its origins on the Internet, to locate a vessel for shared humour often based on common knowledge or “understanding references”. A character in my universe of ‘talking toys’ – Memey the Minmi – takes this post-human symbol to enact it on a meta-narrative scale, as envisioned through the memes below.
I myself become a character in such a story – through the means of cameo or subtle appearances. The anecdote pertaining to the image below was borne of a desire to transcend the mortality of close ones, such that I am the “friend” that the dinosaur in the image mentions. Death had always scared me. William Shakespeare’s desire to immortalize W. H. on-page and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s penning down of a memorandum for his friend are only two of the instances which made me create a fractured aspect of my own self in a liminal space, in a truly post-human way that relocates the subjectivity of the ‘Self’ into the universe of the ‘Other’ (the object). However, such a desire to envision a self-sustainable aspect of myself that I can manipulate into existing in its own universe in the form of a symbolic cameo also speaks of the humanist desire to transcend separation. Such a placement of myself is not always intentional, as my thoughts and emotions in this plane of reality find a way to impact the form and content of my work, resulting in a form of subjective detachment rather than a complete and successful Keatsian negative capability.
Source: My favourite among all my works at https://www.instagram.com/p/B57--_QAL_p/?utm_medium=copy_link
I like to envision the characters in my webcomics as neither objects, nor dinosaurs, nor entities on screen but a combination of all the above which exist in a liminal space along with my own self. Some of my earliest works featured stories pertaining to endangered creatures, creating a strong eco-critical narrative through toy comics.
Source: An old post from https://www.instagram.com/dinotoy.comics/
Toy photography features this strong eco-critical theme simply through its use of animal figurines in nature. The layers of post-humanism overlap in this space, as it situates the virtual self of the creator in a network of relationality with other folks with the same interest. Through the use of “follows”, “follow backs”, “likes”, “comments”, “shares” and “direct messages”, creators get to swap ideas, engage in collaborative ventures which embrace their every individual potential, tying in with the theme of pluralistic monism that philosophical post-humanism attempts to embrace. The amount of support I have obtained myself, leading me to pen this very blog today, is staggering. I have found friends on the Internet despite the popular adage that seems to suggest otherwise – friends who had approached me for a “shout-out”, friends who had initially urged me to create photo-realistic comics by making use of their in-game graphics, friends who had offered to buy up my quote-scrawled merchandise and friends who had simply offered to thank me for teaching them and their children facts about dinosaurs in inventive ways. Despite often having considered it, I never swapped such photo-realistic comics with ones that are hand-drawn because of my nostalgic bias for the ‘toy’ aesthetic that seeks to unite past interests, present ideas and future designs in a sort of post-human timelessness.
Once again, here is an image of a model nest with an actual one created by a weaver bird (a dinosaur in its own right!) to microcosmically portray what I do through my storytelling at https://www.instagram.com/dinotoy.comics/