If the prosthesis is traditionally conceived to artificially replace a missing limb, the detachable body parts in Yein Lee’s sculptures play with the possibility to modify, rejuvenate, and enhance one’s body with biotech extensions. Encapsulated in egg-shaped plastic membranes – as if they were still-growing organs or commodities wrapped in cellophane – these metallic black prostheses can be ordered at the kiosk display and mounted to the body. As such, they become figurations of a shifting conception of the human body as a permeable and open system, where the boundaries of the biological body are pushed by prosthetic augmentation.
The body parts on display are assemblages of heterogeneous elements: 3D-printed shoulder blades, vertebras, and arm bones merge with cables, plastic waste, and obsolete tech devices. Loosely hanging wires and cables are just waiting to be connected to organic veins and nerves. Here, where science fiction turns into reality, self-reparation or self-enhancement are no longer medical issues, but simply a matter of mechanical engineering. Still, it’s not only about improving or transcending the body’s functional capacities. The silver piercing on the hipbone and the handless arms – which look like cyberpunk weapons – flirt with the idea of prostheses as ornaments or accessories.
Nevertheless, the emancipatory promise of cyborg-like self-modification is in conflict with the dystopian scenario in which prostheses are turned into merchandise. Just like email spam, the suspiciously odd yet triggering wording of the title of the show – Rejuvenate Body Order Now – mimics the imperatives of self-optimization industries. By playing on our fear of never being good enough or of aging (and ultimately dying), they impel us to consume. Lee explores how the biotech body is entangled in a neoliberal logic in which we would have to pay for our bodies in order to manage and improve our human capital. Instead of liberating us from constraining categories, the dream of biotech augmentation has been caught up in a sticky web of market interests that places the posthuman subject in the role of a consumer.
— Johanna Thorell, February 2021