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Wednesday
Mar132013

Summary: A Strange Body

This is the story of a cyborg, known as Mear. Built in 1999 to perform at an art show in Berlin, he meets a body artist going by the name of O., who persuades him to break free of the endless repetitive cycles of his exhibition programing and set out on new adventures. Anything is possible, because Mear is not just a standard cyborg. He was built with the ability to transform himself into anybody he wants, teleporting himself to any place and time of his choice, able to understand and express himself through any form of communication. These extraordinary skills are intended to help the cyborg become independent and to grow and develop in the human world, leading to a generation of more capable beings.

Mear is tall, strong and is attractive by human standards, although his silicone skin is slightly bluish. He has an implanted human brain, but he doesn’t know or doesn’t remember to whom it belonged. 

Mear´s dramatic adventures begin when he discovers that the intentions of his creators have changed.  They are negotiating his sale to a Japanese company as a prototype for a new generation of cyborgs. As the negotiations with the Japanese advance, Mear and O. plan a trip for him to learn about the history of the body in the arts and media.  He sets out on the voyage of discovery or, more accurately, runs away.

Just as this story  of a cyborg is unusual, so too is the action in the first chapter, which relates the story of a party hosted by a Mr Star, where there is an upheaval in time. His unusual guests, simulations of those entities that Mear has met in his travels, come together to meet the real Mear for the first time or to renew his acquaintance. However, the guest of honour does not turn up and the party starts to get out of control as the guests discuss possible reasons  for his no-show, each of them advancing arguments anchored in their own contexts, times and beliefs. Faced with the developing chaos, the host decides to take resolute action and heads to the controlling computer to press some buttons....................

But it is Mear’s adventures into the world of the body as it is represented in art and media that move the plot along, as he learns and changes through his experiences with the characters he meets. He begins his trip in Austria, more precisely at the Vienna Museum of Natural History.  There he meets the tiny, chubby statue of Venus of Willendorf, who complains about her unhappy life at the museum, telling him about the powerful magic she wove in the tribe to which she belongs. The two then travel back in time to the Willendorf of more than 25,000 years ago, where the cyborg experiences life in paleolithic times.   

After further adventures with Venus, Mear heads for modern Berlin and decides to see what it is like to be female, transforming himself into a woman. Mear-woman is fascinated with her lightness and the way her body sways and moves. 'She' is in the year 2003 to visit the bust of Queen Nefertiti, as this is the year when a British Egyptologist announced to the world that she had found her mummy. This discovery could revolutionise our knowledge of the history of the famous 18th dynasty Egyptian queen.  Imprisoned within her limestone bust, the spirit of Nefertiti tells Mear that she doesn’t know how she met her end, if she had been mummified or not and where she had been entombed. She asks Mear to seek out her mummy, so that she can reincarnate and live for eternity. Mear travels back to the year 1300 BC and tells the queen what he discovers. ‘She’ visits Amarna, the city built by the queen and her king and then enters their tomb in search of the mummy.

Having had enough of mummies and their burial chambers, Mear travels to Olympia, the city of the ancient Olympic Games.  He makes friends with the god Hermes and studies his statue, which portrays him with the little Dionysus on his lap, an example of Grecian beauty by the artist Praxisteles. Hermes asks Mears to help him find the wine for the closing party of the Games. Dressed as a bacchante, Mears joins in the drunken merrymaking with Dionysus, who plies him with wine.  Mear ends up joining the gods in their feasting, but when he gets up to leave, Hermes plays a trick on him, stopping him from leaving on his next adventure. How will the cyborg get out of this?  

But Mear manages to escape. He travels through time and space to Cologne at the time of the Middle Ages – 1400 AD. Changing his appearance to a Benedictine monk, he visits the Abbey of Sta. Cecilia where he finds the painting “Madonna with Violets” by the German painter Stefen Lochner. Speaking to Abbess Elizabeth von Reichenstein, patron of the painting, he learns about the religious crisis at the Abbey: the Church and the Emperor want to transform the secular Abbey into a religious convent. Mear participates in the conflict and together with the priests and the abbess he is arrested for disrespecting the Emperor and the Pope. This crisis does not end the way cyborg expects and he heads for Italy.

In Renaissance Milan Mear meets the artist Leonardo da Vinci, already famous and working for the Duke Sforza. Through the artist’s servant, the cyborg learns about his daily life and habits. Leonardo explains to him about his paintings and inventions while Mear introduces him to the computer and the Internet. With the assistance of Luca, a super-computer, Leonardo mends Mear. 

Changed, and now in Delft, in Holland, Mear encounters the scene from the painting “The Milkmaid” by Johannes Vermeer being acted out in real life: it is Tanneke preparing the morning porridge. He becomes curious to know if Vermeer used a camera obscura when painting his luminous paintings. He introduces himself as a specialist in the camera obscura and soon finds himself part of a project which is being kept secret as the use of lenses or cameras would undermine the livelihood of artists of the period.

An unexpected aspect of the story is that the cyborg turns out to have feelings and falls in love with the body artist O. In some ways they are similar and Mear feels attracted to her. They speak on Skype, exchange e-mails and there is a moment of passion between them during an escape by Mear to O.'s apartment in Paris. He is concerned about O.'s human condition. and is determined to stop her ageing, decline and death.  How can he manage this?  Who can he ask for help? 

Back to the story!

After a secretive period spent with Vermeer, Mear arrives in 1832 at the Quinta do Sordo, close to Madrid, where he meets 77 year old Francisco de Goya, who is ailing and deaf. Goya is finishing the strange “Black Paintings” and tells Mear that he painted them as a criticism of the conservative Spanish society, of war and of the atrocities he has been witness to. The artist is tormented by dreams and terrifying visions and he portrays them. He relates the story of the fresco “Saturn devouring his son”, which impresses Mear, who also has strange dreams and visions during his nights at the Quinta.     

Still dazed by Goya´s frescos, the cyborg travels to Montmartre, in the Paris of 1876. The party atmosphere of the “Dance at the Moulin de la Galette” brings together the proletariat with the artists on a summer Sunday, where Mear encounters Auguste Renoir and his friends. Dressed as a girl, the cyborg moves closer to them and hears of the negative criticisms in the newspapers of the last impressionist exhibition. In the middle of the afternoon, Renoir's friend Lamy encourages him to paint the dance. After taking some convincing, Renoir agrees to paint the scene, including his friends as the main characters in the scene. He describes how an impressionist scene is composed and the girl-Mear ends up getting much closer than he imagined to the process of the artist’s work.

After modelling for Renoir, Mear arrives at Dessau on a cold night in 1926. In the guise of a young student he examines the daring Bauhaus buildings. He sits in on a class being given by the Swiss artist Paul Klee and is entranced by a canvas: Senecio, a geometric head. He looks like the cyborg!  Gazing at his, Mear sees the figure whispering and turning her eyes. Equipping Senecio with rods for legs and brushes for arms, the two leap up and down and roll in the grass, the cyborg happily enjoying the fun. But then they are interrupted in their play by a threat.  Mear becomes involved in much trouble and confusion in order to recover Senecio and return the painting to Klee.     

After the adventure with Senecio, Mear is in Paris of 1943. It is autumn and drizzling. In Picasso´ s apartment he hears a woman crying, but finds the artist in a bar surrounded by friends - the center of attention. Mear witnesses a jealous argument between the painter and his girlfriend Dora Maar, the photographer, about the attention the womanizer Picasso is giving to a student. When he finds the cubist painting “Woman with Artichoke”, of 1941, Mear is perturbed. Is Picasso at his happiest when painting or under the shadow of war? Mears wants to find out more about the cubist and seeks out Dora. She shows him the photographic documentation behind “Guernika” and introduces him to Picasso personally. 

Still thinking of the brilliant Picasso, Mear sets off on another adventure, but this time in New York of 1972, in the guise of a young hippie. A spooky picture of the silhouette of the artist Joseph Cornell by the photographer Miguel Duna captures his interest. Arriving at Cornell's door, Mear-hippie persuades the photographer to let him participate in the project. When Cornell opens the door, Mear, Duna and 2 more assistants see that the house has been broken into by robbers. In the artist’s room, Duna takes the photo of  J.Cornell. The assistants and Mear help Cornell fix little boxes, the little boxes that he has made and which have been broken during the robbery. Then they discover that the box ‘Vermeer’s Secret’ has been stolen.  The police investigate and interrogate them: they are the main suspects.

Escaping from the misunderstanding, Mear arrives in 2000 at Wellington in New Zealand, to meet the digitally actor Gollum in the trilogy “The Lord of the Rings”. Maquerading as an assistant producer, he enters the film set and watches scenes being shot of the actor Andy Serkis, who gives Gollum his voice and movement. In the projection room, Mear starts the projection of Gollum´s last scenes and transports himself into the movie. He talks with Gollum about his digitized body, thin and consumed by the power of the Ring. Exiting the movie, Mear feels different, as if he were at the frontier between the reality of the movie and the real world.

Returning to his own identity, Mears watches a presentation by the multimedia artist Star, in Paris in 2011. He asks for Star´s help with transforming O. into a cyborg, so that the two can find their place in the universe and live their extended hybrid lives. Star takes on the project as his. Mear declares his love for O. and makes the proposal to transform her into a cyborg.  O. asks for time to consider the proposal while Mear and Star go to the artist´s laboratory in Melbourne, Australia where they begin to create a cyborg prototype. While they work, Mear is not convinced if O. will appear. Are Star and his team able to complete the cyborg project? Does Mear’s dream come true?