Jarrett Heckbert’s Metamorphadox is a wordless novel in which wood engravings tell a story of the perils of technological mediation to the ever-evolving human existence.
In a small corner of what was once known as North America, in the not-too-distant future, Neo-Toronto emerges as a prosperous island enclave after decades of war and unrest. In this world, knowledge is downloaded, learning is obsolete, cybernetic communication is the norm and even time travel is within reach. Citizens wholeheartedly embrace a doctrine of immortality, hoping to achieve Singularity—a state of autonomy so complete that human contact is rendered unnecessary.
Jarrett Heckbert’s Metamorphadox presents a cautionary tale of a society that loses touch with physical reality. This suite of 81 wood engravings chronicles the chilling journey toward posthumanity in a dystopian future-world in which experience is always mediated and reality is undeniably, inescapably virtual.
Introduction or preface
Jarrett Heckbert’s Post Human Visual Narrative
One question that is always asked about a book of images is: What are the images illustrating? Jarrett Heckbert’s wood engravings are not illustrations in the traditional sense of the word. The word ‘illustration’ implies that the image adds information to an existing text. This is not the case with these images. These serve as an exploration of ‘picture reading’ that allows the reader to construct narrative through the interpretation of the visual allegory and symbols that are in the images. Although the images can be appreciated individually that is not how they were imagined. They are collectively a singularity, a single story told in pictures. American comics advocate Art Spiegelman once said, "Wordless novels are filled with language, it just resides in the reader’s head rather than on the page."
One easily notices the influence of popular culture within Heckbert’s work. He paradoxically engraves out of wood a story of an ethereal future existence using the media of print on paper. Perhaps in the future there will not be a world where knowledge is passed on with the aide of paper? The future world comprised in this book is constructed entirely through the development of the protagonist’s subjectivity in which it becomes post-human. Instead of focusing on a linear determinism, Heckbert thinks in terms of determination, in which this "metamorphadox" occurs within the complex web of reality. Tangible aspects of reality begin to dissolve within this experience as if the fate of a post-human subjectivity were to be dream induced, as a game or perhaps, as faux memory. Is this a message for the future that we should engage in the physical world or lose touch with it?
McLuhan said that ’the medium is the message’ but here—the medium is a systematic re-programing of our cultural sphere. Reading pictures without the support of words is counter-intuitive for many people. We’ve lost the ability to ‘read’ our natural world and have become lost in simulations. The massive subliminal erosion of our culture through the indoctrination by TV (in all its forms), video games, computer programs and all electric media gives salience to the notion that these media are changing our brains and our thinking patterns. Our technologies have become extensions of ourselves to the extent that we are inversely becoming extensions of our technologies.
George A. Walker AOCA, BEd, MA, RCA
Associate Professor, Faculty of Art
Ontario College of Art & Design University
Born in Toronto in 1994, Jarrett Heckbert is a dynamic young printmaker and student at OCAD University. His hybridized artistic practice includes philosophical theory in the production of visual art. Metamorphadox is his first book of wood engravings.