Beyond Beverly Hills Body Modification
The freedom to design yourself.
Manel Muñoz is a Barcelona-based cyborg artist and transpecies activist. In 2017, he co- founded the Transpecies Society, an association that aims to elevate the voices of those with nonhuman identities and to raise awareness of the challenges they face. Here, Muñoz chats with Irregular Report about transpecies identities, technology, and the freedom to design yourself.
LULA OSOSKI: The first thing that I wanted to ask was what do you think a transpecies or cyborg identity involves, and why do you identify with this?
MANUEL MUÑOZ: I define as transpecies because I feel that
I am my own species, and my art is the creation of my own species biology. So my body can become a reflection of my identity. This concept of fluidity is also very present in my work. Many people think that fluidity is just related to gender, but I feel that in my case it’s related to this species concept. For example, the way that I feel transpecies doesn’t mean that I don’t feel other identities too.
MOLLY LOGAN: We’re so happy when somebody understands that fluidity is not just gender. A lot of Gen Zs have multiple micro-identities that are always shifting and in a constant state of negotiation. When you think about transpecies, is that between two things? Because we’re set up in a world where trans typically, means a “transition” between two things.
MM: It actually doesn’t come from “transition,” in this case “tran”’ comes from transcending. Because I’m not transitioning between human and my species, I am born being my own species. I have the human biology, but I don’t feel human. I am transcending my supposed identity that I have to have.
LO: That is so interesting. So your physical art, the technology or “cyborg” element, is it becoming an extension of your body. Currently, there is increasing fluidity between a person’s digital life and their physical life, which has become very accepted. Do you think this is similar to what you are doing? Do you think this behavior means people will be more likely to follow what you are doing in the future?
MM: I think that there’s a different future for every one of us. And I think we’ll see people becoming less afraid of merging with technology, because we are already feeling that it is part of us. We’ve started speaking about technology in the first person now, for example we say that “we are running out of battery,” when talking about our phones. But I also think that there will be people who will never merge with technology, it will be different for all of us. I hope that everyone will have the freedom to design themselves if they want, and to decide what they want for their lives.
LO: Is the transpecies element of it more of a mindset opposed to actually changing you in a physical way?
MM: It comes from a feeling. I think we’re in a time where everyone is fighting for their own identity. There’s a lot of demonstrations now for gender, people wanting to express who they are. I think that we will see more people identifying with their own species in the near future. Additionally, there’s people now within the Transpecies Society that identify themselves with another species that already exists, for example dogs or cats. I think we are preparing for a future where the variety has nothing to do with our options now, because everyone wants to become free to express themselves. There’s less repression than before with the internet for example, it gives us this freedom to express ourselves and become our own. In the same way that our species has evolved, I want to give to my own species the ability of evolution during my lifetime. In that way, I feel that my identity is a fluid.
ML: What’s so amazing is having all of these people with their own very unique way of identifying under one umbrella, but that can also present a challenge in that you now have many different priorities and interests. As Transpecies Society grows, how do you accommodate that, to stay a unified group of differences?
MM: I think this is the magic. The bigger and more diverse means the opportunity of learning different things. Similarly, people ask me if I feel alone for being the only one in my species, but no. It just means that you have something that you can teach to another, who doesn’t perceive the world like you. If the other species of animals could speak for example, they would tell you about their lives and how they perceive the world. If my dog could speak, I would love to speak with my dog. So I think this is the magic of everyone deciding who they want to be and how they want to explore the world. This doesn’t make you be alone, and we also have no vertical hierarchy. We see that all species are the same. If you have more senses or are more modified for example, that doesn’t mean that you are better, we see everyone in the same horizontal line.
LO: In working on the report, we keep discussing this idea that if everything is fluid and meaning is never fixed, how do we create structure since nothing can be accomplished if we are just squishing and spilling around. In a perfect world, how do you imagine identity? Is it completely fluid or do we need some kind of structure or containers to give us form and definition?
MM: I’m not sure it would work if we have no containers at all. Maybe we will pass from one to another, or there are transitions where you’re not in any at all or multiple at the same time. I think we’ll always identify with some containers, but that doesn’t mean you have to be in just one. In the lifetime of a river for example, it passes through different ways. I think we are like water; we decide what is the shape that we want, but we have the ability of becoming something else. Our bodies are physical, but our mind is a real fluid. The structure will be respect for others I think, because when that is present, everyone can be what they want.
LO: So our physical body is important and an expression of who we are or want to be, correct? And we see people all over the world doing things like piercing, tattoo, implants and so on for aesthetics. Just look at the Kardashians or Bella Hadid. But then why do you think people find it more difficult to understand what you are doing with the Transpecies Society or Cyborg Foundation?
MM: If you have a new sensory organ that looks cybernetic, maybe now that seems cool, because “cyborgs” now seem fashionable. But when I speak about the fact that I don’t feel human, this is the thing that shocks people. The difficulty is when it comes from something more profound. A lot of people tattoo themselves now, and I like to use this as an example; adding new perceptions is like tattooing your mind. I used to compare this so people could understand me, relating it to something that seems natural to them. Similarly, I used to relate it to being transgender. I wasn’t born with the body that I feel inside, so my task in a way, is to create my own biology for that.
ML: To Lula’s point, here in the States, people alter their bodies with plastic surgery every day. But generally, this is surface modification versus something more fundamental like identity, which seems to be what you are talking about.
MM: Yeah, I think at the same time that maybe when we change or redesign ourselves, we change because there is something inside of us that makes us
do it. I’m not sure if everyone feels like this, but when people get tattoos, they do it to feel more themselves. In a way, I don’t know if there is a lot of difference between that and what we do.
ML: In your opinion, is there one perfect manifestation of your identity? Or do you think that it’s something that will continue to evolve and shift?
MM: I think that it could continue to shift. In the same way that the human species has evolved, I want to give to my own species the ability to evolve during my lifetime. In that way, I feel that my identity is fluid.