The uneasy relationship between the body, mind, and technology takes centre stage at the artist’s first solo Tokyo exhibition
Practically all technological progress comes with a cost, and nowhere is this more obvious, in 2023, than online. Face filters and digital avatars free us from the shackles of our worldly bodies; at the same time, they cause widespread body dysmorphia and the eerie sense that we’re all turning into digital clones. Social media promises new forms of democracy and global consciousness; at the same time, it polarises our discourse and obliterates our attention spans. Now anyone can become a celebrity; now anyone can become a celebrity.
Spanish-Croatian artist Filip Ćustić is acutely aware of these dichotomies embedded in our phone cameras, photo editing software, and social media feeds. His interdisciplinary artworks – which span sculpture, photography, video, and performance – are littered with internet iconography, prodding at the relationships between the body, mind, and technology, and how all three come together to shape our personal identity.
“For quite some time now, my work has been very much inspired by the immediate present and the short-term future,” Ćustić tells Dazed, as his first solo show in Tokyo, human product, opens at PARCO Museum. “While researching, I realised that the only differentiating factor between our era and that of a hundred years ago is technology, the internet.” His work, then, is an effort to track this change, and how it informs “who we are, the structures we create to define ourselves”.
You might not be surprised to hear that the resulting artworks have a dystopian edge. Humans are turned into plastic dolls with a variety of warped faces to wear – part of a broader comment on how capitalist culture commodifies the human body – while others hunch inside a nest of wires, a bank of computer screens vying for their attention.
For Ćustić, this is a trend that is only likely to continue. “I think we will suddenly look super bionic in the future, full of technology, and we will say, ‘When did all this happen?’” he suggests. “But I think it is going to be a very organic process, step by step and little by little. I observe this evolution, seeing that I am part of it, and I portray it artistically because as an artist I seek to document and portray my present or my near future.”
It’s not all bad, either – once again, technology is a double-edged sword. As they tilt toward transhumanism, Ćustić’s characters also develop new, complex systems to relate to one another and bring meaning to their lives. On a personal level, they use new technology to reinvent themselves, something Ćustić compares to performing an operating system update. “Technology is inspired by the human being,” he explains, noting that its development is inextricably tied to the concept of human evolution. “Through technology, I think we can evolve faster, or we can decide what kind of evolution we want to do.”
The intertwining of technology with human identity isn’t just depicted in human product, but physically manifested via wearable artworks that modify wearers’ facial features with digital projections, and engravings that literally envision “bodies as canvases for a dialogue with the viewer”. Visitors can also alter their worldview via AR filters designed by Ćustić, such as the Fibonacci filter, which aims to recreate a moment of realisation in the artist’s life. “I discovered that the golden ratio is everything, it is beautiful by itself and fits everyone,” he says. “Without sounding frivolous, I understood that beauty has very diverse expressions.” With that in mind, the filter is like a “technological totem” that aims to open our eyes to the beauty that surrounds us.
“I use my creativity to learn the most positive way to use these kinds of new applications,” says Ćustić, noting the harm they can cause if used incorrectly. By his own admission, he’s still figuring out how to break free of existing cultural frameworks and beauty canons himself, and each of his artworks can be seen as a kind of “playful” and “open-minded” experiment, exploring how technology can be used to shape human evolution for better, and not for worse.
“In my exhibitions and performances I would like the visitors to experience something new, something never experienced before, and to open an inner dialogue,” he concludes. “I just basically want people to experience new paradigms, new situations, so we can think out[side] of ‘human programming’.”
Filip Ćustić’s human product is on view at PARCO Museum, Tokyo, until April 24.