Immortality: Between Power and Art

Dreaming about Immortality has a long history, and the various attempts to achieve are astonishing and fall in several categories.
The first is to take some kind of “magic pill” – be it the fountain of youth, the elixir of life, the holy grail, till modern medicine of genetic engineering. We have summed-up all these Formulas for Immortality:

After the magic “pills” proved to be a failure, the second attempt was more symbolic: artists were called in, to conquer immortality. But, during all these quests, “party-spoilers” always asked the same one thing: why to be Immortal?

We will review the second attempt toward immortality with the help of creativity, such as Ancient sculptures or Renaissance paintings.
Artistic Avant-garde including Futurism but also Bio-Cosmists that dreamed to resurrect the death and transport them to other planets, till contemporary attempts for Digital/ Virtual Immortality or transhumanists approaches.
Question is who will become Immortal in the Metaverse writing the next chapter of Humanity’s Cultural Archive?

From Ancient Times, people wanted to be immortal, and to guide the soul toward immortality, so carefully crafted and secret rituals were kept.

In ancient Egypt, the Pharaohs were buried in which today are considered veritable art.

The first real portraits that appeared in Egypt at the beginning of the 4th millennium BC were associated with the cult of the dead – the mummy of the pharaoh was immersed in a sarcophagus resembling a hollow figure carved from stone with a portrait painted on it. Moreover, the similarity with the original was necessary so that the soul would not confuse the bodies when returning. And then, the fear of the portrait likeness of a person began to arise. After all, despite the fact that the mask was removed from the pharaoh during his lifetime, they were afraid to draw the eyes until the moment of death. Through them, according to Egyptian ideas, the soul inhabits the body.

Later, prohibitions were introduced among the Jews, who strictly observed one of the biblical commandments: “Do not make yourself an idol and no image of what is in heaven above, and what is on the earth below, and what is in the water below the earth.” Therefore, they were allowed to depict faces only on tarot cards and draw ornaments. 

Also, Arabs draw only ornaments. According to their faith, the whole world was created by Allah and a person should not enter into competition with him, creating images not only of people, but also of animals. A person, according to their religion, is a person’s personal identity. And the one who “takes” a face takes his soul as well.

Since the end of the 5th century BC, the ancient Greek portrait has been increasingly individualized, eventually gravitating towards the dramatization of the image. 

From Greece, the Art of Portraits passed to the Romans, who added a new kind of bust to the former kinds of portrait images, the statue. 

The Roman portrait evolved from the death masks, which were taken off from the dead and stored at the home altar (lararium) together with the figures of lars and penates. They were made of wax and were called imagines. 

The period of the Republic brings the idea of Laudation – true mass processions – which also started the trend to raise the statues of political officials or military commanders in public places.  Sculptures were built to immortalize rulers, warriors, sages or wise men that contributed to society – a ritual that is also today applied. 

It is true that sometimes, rulers to boost their influence would make statues of themselves to mark their presence or would order statues of their relatives to make them immortal.

Drusilla & Caligula

It was the case of Caligula who commissioned a golden statue of himself that was dressed daily in whatever he happened to be wearing. 

Caligula also commissioned a statue for his sister-lover Drusilla and asked Roman to venerate it. 

However, history proved that these self-ordered statues were short-lived. A change in regime, a new ruler and the statue is gone! The Colossus of Nero, upon the death of its patron, was turned into a statue of the sun god Sol by the emperor Vespasian.
As, sometimes, statues fall quite easily, some thought let time to decide if someone deserves or not a statue. 
The Roman statesman Cato the Elder also known as Cato the Censor, who preceded Nero by 200 years, said:

Renaissance trends: Art that might shape historical narratives?

The Roman period seems to have been a pretty fruitful time for artists with crafts to model sculptures, but not for a long time. After the crash of Imperium, statue raising was abandoned. In the next millennium, Europe will not provide high-quality portrait samples. 

The medieval artists were limited by strict church canons, rarely turned to portraits. 

The long road to a realistic portrait begins with images of the patron, donor, etc.  And with the birth of the coin image around 1420, it means the beginning of the transition to the image of a specific person.  And its link to power. Soon, again the power shifts and smiles on artists. And the winds of change come from Florence. 

Starting with the Italian Renaissance, wealthy, powerful people patronized the art. 

The very act of commissioning an artist to design a building, sculpture, or painting signified the patron’s taste, erudition, financial status, ambition and mark into history. This practice definitely shifted the status of artists in society. 
If, in the Middle Ages, artists were regarded as craftsmen and manual laborers, gradually, they earned respect and higher fees. 
And since then, this model was maintained as such, up to this day, the lucky artists have powerful patrons, while the rest… become mortal. 

In the Renaissance, powerful families used art as propaganda to show their influence in society.
The Medici Family, that revolutionized banking, is perhaps considered the greatest private patrons of the Renaissance, and in the history of art.
But Borgia and Sforza family were both recognized as hiring artisans to construct statuary and buildings in their honor. It is well documented how Cosimo De Medici used art to strengthen his authority. 

Through politics and patronage of the arts, he strengthened Florence’s position as the great capital of the Renaissance, in the center of which stood his family.  When Cosimo came to power in 1537, he was determined to restore the glory of the Medici name. Quick-witted and cunning, he took advantage of the most popular media channel of the time: art.

All the reforms, the projects, the dreams, the achievements of Cosimo are painted. The tradition of sending portraits to foreign partners becomes not only a habit of possible family alliances, but also the possibility to show greatness to ambassadors from other countries.

The way rich patrons were to be remembered was most often showing their power, paintings of that period show bold attitude, fashion of the era and its fine embroidery appear, and jewelry (https://artsandculture.google.com/usergallery/displays-of-wealth/IgKCnQKdMi7ULg) Sometimes, part of the public image to hold in order to influence,  traits such as churchy-piety were shown.

Richard Stemp’s book, The Secret Language of the Renaissance: Decoding the Hidden Symbolism of Italian Art, deconstructs Benozzo Gozzoli’s Procession of the Magi, a fresco that extends across three chapel walls in Florence’s Palazzo Medici.

 In the Fresco, Gozzoli painted himself, and Medici family members, the head of the family, Cosimo, riding on a donkey, resembling the gesture of Jesus.

 ’The Medici had reputations to uphold and a city-state to control: equating their patriarch with the Catholic world’s ultimate moral authority was a power move.  Like most of the Medici commissions, the work suggested family piety while also functioning as a vanity project, remarks Stemp. 

Benozzo Gozzoli, Journey of the Magi, 1459–62

Beside portraits, the most expensive endeavors were architectural works – the building or monasteries, religious houses. 

Usually, taxes were collected from all over Europe, which annoyed gave rise to protestant’s ire. Through such unpopular taxation methods, Michelangelo’s works and the Sistine Chapel were built. Or later, similar methods were used by kings of Europe to build their Castles, such an example was the Palace of Versailles – the opulence and its grandeur, in contrast with the poverty of people, led to a revolt. 

Sculptures, painting or architecture to show the legacy, were the old-instruments through which kings and popes wanted to be remembered. And history remembered them – it is true that not with the reverend attitude they wished for. But with the critical historical eyes, when time can judge facts, without the Coin-power influence that would buy the Pen, the way it bought Craftsmanship once. 

BioCosmists and Immortality

Russian philosopher Nikolai Fedorov started to rethink death in the 19th-century. Death is not natural, but something to be overcome by technological and scientific means. Humanity’s ethical obligation to care for the sick should extend to the curing of death.

Portrait of Nikolay Fyodorov by Leonid Pasternak

The dead must be brought back to life—not as souls in heaven, but in material form, in this world, with all their memories and knowledge. As such, he called for a total reorientation of social relations, productive forces, economy, and politics toward the singular goal of achieving physical immortality and material resurrection. 

For futurists such as Kazimir Malevich or Mikhail Matyushin, technology was a force of chaos – pushing forward progress, the future was the enemy of both past and present.

Even the sun can burn, leaving behind chaos – symbolized by the black square that was drawn by Malevich (as part of the futurist mystery-opera ‘Victory Over the Sun’). The opera was intended to underline parallels between literary text, musical score, and the art of painting, and featured a cast of such extravagant characters as Nero and Caligula in the Same PersonTraveller through All the AgesTelephone TalkerThe New Ones, etc.

The original 1980 English translation of the opera by poet Larissa Shmailo was performed for the celebrated reconstruction of the First Futurist Opera at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as well as the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Choreography and movement direction by Rebecca Rice

Victory over the Sun is a Russian Futurist opera premiered in 1913

But if Futurists saw in technology the force that would destroy the “old world”, Cosmism represented by Fedorov wanted a true synthesis of past and future that could only mean the material resurrection of all the dead. He argued that we should look at technology used by art museums that are at odds with progress.

The museum is a machine for making things last, making them immortal. As death’s limits must be overcome, bio-power must become total. And this totality is achieved by equating art and politics, life and technology, state and museum.  You can read about Fedorov “The Religion of Common Resurrection: The Philosophy of the Common Task by N. F. Federov,” an unpublished manuscript which was written in 1915 by Russian philosopher N.A Berdyaev, translated in 2002 by Fr. S. Janos

Fedorov’s idea resonated with scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who was convinced about theories to resurrect death and transport them to other planets. So, he started to design technology.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky is considered an early pioneer of rocket science and astronautic theory. His ideas were seen as impractical at that time, but he inspired researchers across Europe and his contribution was recognized by inducting him into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame. 

In their first manifesto (1922), representatives of the Biocosmists- Immortalists, a political party that had its roots in Russian anarchism, wrote: “We take the essential and real rights of man to be the right to exist (immortality, resurrection, rejuvenation) and the freedom to move in cosmic space (and not the supposed rights announced when the bourgeois revolution was declared in 1789).”

Bio-Cosmists believed so much in their theories that they even wanted to freeze Lenin’s body, but because of the thaw, they did not have time to bring equipment from Germany. But the leader’s brain was cut into layers, and a research institute was established to dissect it.  

Cosmist-Artists also invented an imaginary world for the future. In the utopian poem with drawings “The Land of Anarchy” (1919), the Gordin Brothers (Aba and Volf) describe an entirely invented pan-technical world: there is nothing given, nothing natural, nothing born in it — it is located on five mountains, it is illuminated by five suns and washed by five seas (and all these are not natural, but technical objects).

The suns have symbolic representations: Youth, Beauty, Workers, ITerritoriality, and The One, and if you offend one of them, they will ‘die’.

The techno-poetics of this utopia is “that the country of Anarchy is open, created by the word and held by it”. And all these sounds very familiar with the metaverse and discussion around web3 that art today. 

And, a new world also needs a new language. As such, for the  “The Land of Anarchy“, Wolf Gordin,, also known as (Beoby/Beobi) invents an entirely artificial AO language, which embodies this logic of techno-request: it does not have an imperative mood, it is open to pre- and re-invention, it is conceived as a double-edged instrument of DE-fetishization (it has only “verbal” nouns indicating its own inventiveness) and technization. 

The name AO, according to Sergei N. Kuznetsov, literally just means “invention”: the phoneme A signifies the verb, “to invent”, and the “O” forms a suffix used for substantives. As such, it forms part of a “philosophy of invention”, of “pan-inventism” or “All-Invention”. In Grammatika logicheskogo yazyka AO (The Grammar of the Logical Language AO), Wolf Gordin writes that

[t]he first and primary basis of modern economics and ideology, technology and culture, is invention. It is not the noun, found ready-made, that drives civilization, but the verb, the invention realized in tools and machines. The verb itself, in AO, is therefore no longer a verb, but an invention… “A” is therefore symbolized by the sign ‘✕,’ since invention alone multiplies social wealth

In the ’60s, astronomer Nikolai Kardashev will touch on Immortality when he develop a scale to measure civilization’s level. We are momentarily at 0.7. And to reach immortality, we must achieve type II civilization. Kardashev theories about the 4 types of civilization were developed further by contemporary physicists. Read more about it at TechvangArt  

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However strange Biocosmist theories may sound, they gave rise to dreams unimaginable before such as discovering the Space. 

Boris Groys considers that ‘’For Biocosmists, outer space would remain the territory of immortal life and infinite resources, especially considering that all resurrected generations of humans, animals, and all other previously living substances on Earth would quickly exceed the capacities of our planet. This created an immediate need to explore space travel, and it can be argued that these fantastic ideas of immortal life in cosmic space gave rise to the origins of the Soviet space program’’. 

Digital/Virtual Immortality 

Society matured enough to realize that portraits will not make anyone immortal, and the truth about one’s deed will one way or another be exposed by the Critical eyes of History. Technology helped also to abandon portrait-making because once photography became cheaper, basically everyone could leave its trace. And nowadays with the internet, as we have our images and private lives uploaded on social media, we are all immortal. It is just that we don’t believe anymore in such immortality.

But, as our digital traces will definitely remain, discussions shift in the direction of the ‘right for mortality’/ ‘right to be forgotten’ – because what if one doesn’t want to leave all our traces, would it be possible? 

Digital immortality is a debated topic. What happens if one wants or not to download digital memories into a computer. Already algorithms know a lot of our activities and thoughts.

But what if in the future some can really download and upload our brain to the (new) internet?

In order to be able to upload an entire human brain – thoughts, feelings, memories, – and run it on a computer we still need scanning, processing power and memory, and environment. Actually science is heading in that direction, and also questions of what this would mean are asked. 

Michio Kaku talked about this digital mind-uploading, suggesting that certain personalities might just be like that. We would be able to talk with Einstein, or with our great-great-great-..- ancestors to find our family history. 

What it would mean to society, we don’t know, but the drama series “Years and Years” – created and written by Russell T Davies- suggested that it might create some parent-kid conflicts, as the new generation might want to become more and more enhanced. 

Obviously, this is raising some questions, as Kaku would put it: If our mind can be digitized, then is the soul just information? If we can put all the neural circuits and memories of the brain onto a disk and then upload it into a supercomputer, will the uploaded brain function and act as the real brain? Will it be indistinguishable from the real thing? 

So, what might this look like? Will it look like Black Mirror episode “San Junipero”? In that episode, Yorkie and Kelly meet and fall in love in a virtual afterlife, where possibilities are endless: wear what they want, live in different times, etc. But, is this the real self? 

The Metaverse is here, and all virtual-spices and fashion are here as well, alongside Avatar-builders. So, probably the New Rich will have fancy Avatars not just digitally, but AI-enhanced that will leave forever in the Metaverse.

While future generations will tell which Avatar/Virtual Being will deserve the honor to enter the library and become Immortal, and which will remain Immortal in Ego-Maniac-MetaLand thinking they made a contribution to society, when in fact they did not.

Who will be the Immortal Neros and Caligulas of our Metaverse-Future and who will be the Aristotel? 

But, not everybody thinks we should become Immortal. As with every discussion, opinions are diverse and there is a crowd that questions: Why should we even want to become Immortal? Are we advanced enough? But, about the party-spoilers, in a future article. 

TO BE CONTINUED

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