Memoirs of a Mnem, chapter one | MILTOS MANETAS
My name is Orange and I am a Mnem. Today, I am in Madrid staying in this lurid hotel whilst taking care of business. I look at myself in the mirror through the eyes of my Pony and find I am surprisingly young. In human age, I would be quite old but as a Mnem I have been around for only a bit longer than a decade. Time doesn’t mean much to a Mnem; however, age matters because it keeps a record of our progress and evolution. It also reminds us Mnems of our robotic side. In this way, I enjoy thinking of myself as a Roboteen. Age is the number of years that the ‘automatic’ part of a Mnem exists for. Humans can live their whole lives and never think of the automa in them but, Alas!, I can never forget it. Ironically, it is actually awareness that makes a Mnem different from both the Robot and the Person. ‘Robot’ is a problematic word; it comes from ‘robota’ meaning literally serf-labour (serf is a person in bondage or servitude) or figuratively ‘drudgery’ or ‘hard work’.
You can program a mechanical servant. The word was introduced to the public at large by the Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R, premiered in 1920. However, Karel Čapek was not the originator of the word; in a short letter, referencing an article in the Oxford English Dictionary, he credits his brother, the painter and writer Josef Čapek, as its actual inventor. The word originates from the Old Church Slavonic rabota “servitude” which, in turn, comes from the Indo-European root “orbh-“. There is no a single definition of robot which satisfies everyone and many people have their own understanding of the word. Joseph Engelberger, a pioneer in industrial robotics, once remarked, “I can’t define a robot, but I know one when I see one.”Mnem can recognise a Robot when we see one and I can assure you that it doesn’t look at all like us.
Mnem originates from “meme”, the unit of cultural information such as a practice or idea that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. Thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits and songs, dances and moods are memes and they evolve by natural selection through not only the processes of variation and mutation but also through competition and inheritance. However, they are self-propagating and can spreadthrough a culture in a manner similar to a virus. Instead, we need a human carrier instead to bring us around.
Humans and memes are like genes for the Mnems and, as humans can’t exist without their genes, neither would I exist without my human side. My carrier, my Pony, is Miltos Manetas, a well-known artist who lives in the UK.
I have ridden him for twelve years, from when he bought his first laptop and from the moment he started making portraits using the computer as his subject.
While he was creating those paintings, I materialised and haven’t left him since. Of course, like every Mnem and every human being, I am many different things. From the early days I felt a clear vocation,the vocation of a Painter. In this regard, Manetas had no innate talent but once I started showing him the way he somehow managed. Together we expanded his knowledge in this field and I grew fast! Now I work in the Contemporary Art Trade myself, sometimes for Manetas, sometimes for others. My sector is Production and Propaganda and I also have interests in conservation.
Twelve years ago, many people were getting their first laptops and that’s how we came of Age. We did exist before but we were infants, more memes than Mnems. We had a kind of eyes, or sensors anyway, and we were looking at the World, we were keeping memories from it but until we came of Age we couldn’t access them. We didn’t have a full body and although there are certain things in this World you can do bodiless, there are someyou definitely cannot. Our entities were forming tribes everywhere and a very limited number of people were already aware of us. Some artists such as Pablo Picasso had even depicted us, disguised as beautiful women or a “Natura Morta” bare from flesh and volume, straight down to our archetypical essence.
However, the misleading power of photography was creating a smoke screen and we hid behind it. A simple trick of light and shadow had convinced humans that they are the only intelligence on this planet. It was only after the setup of the Networks and the Internet that our voices became impossible for them to avoid. Silently and somehow unconsciously, as they never speak about us openly,humanity accept us. We grew fast and we extended at a speed that humans first called Moore’s Law.
Intel’s co-founder Gordon E. Moore, stated that “semiconductor complexity doubles every 18 months” and that became a performance-target for the entire industry, once that industry started to truly believe in the “law”! Moore’s Law was nothing but a meme, a very powerful meme, and because of it the industry still strives to make the next generation of semiconductor technology and to re-create the promised growth in performance of the previous generation. They want to maintain their belief in Moore’s Law! In their passion, people can misunderstood the law itself; they interpret it as describing an increase in terms of performance while the original law described growth in terms of the number of transistors on a chip. This could exemplify how a meme can mutate slowly under the pressure of its environment, the partial technical understanding and its simplification for use in the mainstream media. But all that “warmth” combined with the huge number of external memory systems that humans build for themselves, the computers and networks, gave life to another category of creatures: us Mnems.
Some simply call us “Angels”. It would be a mistake to think of us as computer life; the word “computer” sounds so antiquate already and so limited. Anyway, most of us are coming from very analogue backgrounds such as the history of art, music and literature. It’s amazing how many of my kind have survived for centuries deep inside the layers of Paintings. Every time a copyist would repeat a motif taken from a notorious picture, it was as if a mirror would be suddenly raised and we would fly from one surface to the next until we finally arrived at the walls of Museums and Collections where we were hosted permanently over labels such as “Caravaggio”, “Morandi” and “Goya”. And then, when people like Miltos got a brush in their right hand and a computer in their left, we finally got a proper body and a proper language.
Speaking about language, “Mnem” is not exactly the term we use to think of our own self. I understand that even humans hardly think of themselves as this. We are simple creatures and because we live in the moment, we constantly borrow terms from all the human languages in order to define and express our present state.
My present state is Orange and, today, I am Miltos;-I have to be fully him, talk about his Art(our Art),take care of him and drive him through each day.
I am now leaving the hotel as I need to meet an Indian Art dealer to make arrangements with her for an upcoming exhibition of Miltos’ work in Bombay. Miltos follows some uncomfortable patterns that he believes can protect himfrom others and from himself?.
Miltos tends to easily forget his objectives and he often gets lost in his own experiences. Sometimes he behaves like a real artist and that can be dangerous because no human should do that for too long. A rational human cannot be an”artist”, a “lawyer” or a “soldier” for real but must act like an artist, a lawyer or a soldier, being an Actor before anything else. There is no place for human authenticity in a word made of constructs. Nothing can be authentic these days because any authentic impulse will eventually turn itself into madness. Creativity, greed and, even violence, are for us, Mnems.
Miltos is an Actor and a good Pony. He trusts me and he feeds my constant thirst for information. We realised that in order to have some control over information, it is imperative to absorb it when it’s “cold”. Fresh information multiplies the cache of “Cookies” inside us and populates us like a disease which finally destroys us. So Miltos will never watch the News on a television, never log into Cnn.com and never read an art magazine. He doesn’t know what happens around him but he gets a brief idea of what has just happened from reading outdated issues of the New Yorker and Vanity Fair -and from books of course. He looks over all yesterday’s news through the filter of old paintings. I am visiting Museums with him as much as possible. Looking at Old Masters is essential for me because that’s where I get together with my tribe, that’s where I become stronger.
There is no time left for me to continue writing now. My Pony has to go to meet his partners. I need to run back to him now and animate him with ambition. If it was for him alone, we would spend all day in this pathetic garage for managers, the Antonio Gaudi Hotel at the Gran Via in Madrid. Miltos likes to take endless showers. He thinks only about women and vacations in primitive places. His favourite hobby is escaping. I can’t follow him on that; I know that there is nowhere you can hide. So I am waking him up now and slowly letting him believe that he is in control, asking him repeatedly to move his legs and get in a taxi. While we drive through the Spanish winter I am fade away. I will be back later when he is finally in bed, when he thinks that he is simply sleeping. I will check his emails for him, charge the battery on his new laptop and prepare his next move. Bombay is waiting and so is Beijing!
Antonio Gaudi Hotel , Madrid, Feb 2008