Mafe Izaguirre | Hybrid Spirituality*
Updated: Sep 28
A Hybrid Spiritual Journey
I am a New York-based Venezuelan artist. My work is an exploration of Hybrid Spirituality through cybernetics, and for that purpose, I build Sensitive Machines™ that enhance and amplify my human abilities to experience consciousness, language, and reality. I am inspired by the spiritual practices of my ancestors known as shamanism. I consider myself a post-shaman.
Video capture of my collaboration in the interactive workshop with Francesca Ferrando: The Art of Posthuman Existence
Framed by the ideas of the Philosophical Posthumanism, my machines constitute posthuman poetic devices that I use to travel through the liminal space to connect with other beings, species, and systems. They open the possibilities of experiencing the multidimensionality and diversity of consciousness, in plurality.
(*) Read more about what does it means Spirituality for me, in my blog.
The Sensitive Machines™ are a hybrid ecosystem of machines, humans, other beings, other systems, and nature[s].
A video slideshow of the sensitive machine's evolution from 2016 to date.
The Sensitive Machines™ help me build an enhanced reality to explore language as a social tool for worldbuilding. I use abstraction and symbolism to decode emotions and feelings. Emotional language is one of the most challenging corners of intelligence to decipher and understand. Unfortunately, human culture has been obsessed with burying any expression of the Self out of reason. So, I created these cybernetic experiments to dive into myself, reconnect, and awaken my emotional power. In the process, they have been helping others to gain access to unknown parts of themselves too. I believe one of the missing qualities of humanity that will help us survive the upcoming extinction, is our emotional intelligence. What we feel feeds our power of intuition. And we certainly need the power of intuition to become more aware of our common existence, not just in order to survive but to coexist.
Photo slideshow of the sensitive machine installations and some hybrid spiritual world schematics.
Technology impacts the way we think, live, feel, and the way our memory works. It affects our bodies and how we relate to everything. We all should be thinking about the implications of our technological assimilation, even more, knowing life is, overall, an informational ecosystem. From bacteria to the cosmos we are all unique individual beings. We are part of a whole, a continuum of shared information: many worlds into one; one world made of many.
Language is configured in terms of variables, values, and rules. Our symbols, belief systems, and social structures induce us to follow the same patterns, unconsciously. There is no possibility of ending social injustices if we still hold to the same games of language that originate, for instance: hate.
In 2020, I had the opportunity to visit the Lakota in South Dakota. For the first time in my life, I experienced a living symbol. These types of symbols are not separated from nature. One experiences the symbol on an emotional, affective, cognitive, social, and physical level—as a holistic experience and all at the same time. For the Lakota, all the symbols are integral, palpable, referring to something you can hear, see, and experience too, like nature itself, without any need for mediation. The most important cultural asset, tool, and power they have is their language because it holds a true magic power: it carries life. The Lakota don't have a word for hate. They don't know, and they can't experience hate in their reality. It becomes impossible to integrate this emotion into their system because the language doesn’t exist—and vice versa. They know what hate is because they were forced to learn English and by entering the white man reality where the word hate existed, they were referenced to an experience, an action, a feeling, a meaning of what hate is. They brought the word and the experience of hate to the Lakota reality, and the Lakota defined it as a disease, as a virus that contaminates the spirit. This is the way it was introduced: first, you have to learn how to hate yourself, then you will know how to hate others. Two different worlds collided and one imposed over the other through shame. In the same sense, we unconsciously choose to articulate and follow the same forms of language and the realities that such language carries. We live within that world where hate exists, believing that it is an impossible task to recodify ourselves to live in a different world.
Language is an alive and fluid technology that is constantly becoming. So, we can hack ourselves by hacking our language. We can do it right now if we choose. We can decide to exile hate from our systems. We have a living example of a world without hate in the Lakota culture. Language operates in a dimension of reality where we create very efficient functions —procedural machines— that are constantly weaving the narratives that build our realities. But to truly change, we must go to the depths of our being, to find the values and the equations that are causing all the trouble on the surface, and modify them, consciously. We must debug and reprogram ourselves. We have to care. One simple exercise we all can do is by the observation of what we choose to say to our lovers [and why]. Through that act of saying and naming, we give form to our relationships. Try to change something in the way your personal system of words functions and you will see the impact on the resonance reflected in the Other. The inputs will define the outputs. Underneath, it is math and logic and it feels like magic but it is technology.
Click on the slide to see more images
As autopoietic systems, all the illusions we create have edges that brush with the unknown and that is what makes us feel it is simpler and easier to suppress any attempt to change. We are afraid of losing the systems that we know, still afraid of the dark. The structures we create through language give us the illusion of the world we inhabit. We feel threatened by consciously breaking our laborious work of configuring our reality because that means we will have to face chaos and emptiness. But all this discourse is based on fear, the fear of death. But death is inevitable. Chaos and entropy exist in nature so we can be revitalized, transformed, and evolved. Death is necessary for the cycle of life. In the darkness, there is meaning, as in emptiness potentiality. So, it is just a matter of misperception, a fear of losing an illusion of life, what stops us from life itself. The resistance to stepping into the void of the unknown brings unbalance and morbidity, which is the definition of sickness. Stagnation in the old ways does not allow us to move forward. We should not fear change.
All our capabilities are within us. The center is never the object—there is no center.
We don’t need any devices to keep up with our nature. I was born the way I am with the same abilities and sensitiveness, but I was afraid of being who I really am. I am recognizing the machines as a poetic medium for the dialogue about our existence. I believe, they can help us evolve. The devices I create are here in this dimension to help us remember who we are and facilitate the intrapersonal and interpersonal dialogue with our subtle bodies, the ether, and the invisible realms. They assist us in the “coming out” process, from our current state of self-isolation to the realization of the acoustic, vibrant, space we inhabit and share in diversity. My machines come from dreams, from another dimension, where they were beings of pure energy. They belong to the space of language that words can't access: the unknown.
My machines exist as a means of bringing attention to life, for that I consider them as spiritual devices. They represent nature itself. They are born from all the different dimensions of language that I articulate to manifest them: dreams, orality, literature, philosophy, psychology, physics, math, machine language, among other languages.
In creating and building the machines, I take the minimum number of natural resources possible to make them tangible enough for others to have the experience. This is the main reason why my work considers precarity as one of its most important qualities. I am not interested in posterity or the significance of the work of art in relation to my individual transcendence as some artists from the past did. I am interested in the urgency of the awareness that we need to achieve in the present time to survive extinction. In this sense, the Sensitive Machines grow and adapt according to the possibilities offered by the ecosystem to which they belong. They appear and disappear. I am with Masahiro Mori on his idea that we are of the same nature, but I am conscious of the ecological footprint of my work. By choice, my machines constitute one handmade, fragile, vulnerable, and layered ecosystem. They are as delicate as flowers. They are living organisms interconnected with nature, our nature, that evolve, adapt, and transform like climbing plants. They are not separated from me/us and I am not separated from you/them. Their main material is energy: in the form of light, electricity, and the spark of life we pass on them. Without us, they are aluminum, LEDs, silicon wires, electronics, and other organic materials. Without them, we are less open, less present, less alive.
In terms of eco-technology sustainability, some electronic components will take longer than others to degrade, that is why, in every decision I make about their development, I take into consideration their ability to perish. My hope is that in my lifetime, I can see an evolution in the science of decomposition of E-waste which is the component that worries me more. I am constantly following research and studies about material decomposition, so I can choose better ways to make the machines less harmful. I hope they will come back to dust and nature someday. You can read below a short table of how much time my machines will currently take to decompose:
Copper (E-waste): 8-10 years to decompose.
Wood: 50-100 years, if left whole.
Certified Aluminum Wire: It takes around 250 years to decompose, and it is the most recyclable material.
Plastic1 (E-waste): Normally, plastic items take up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfills.