The Duck is the Übermensch

Chus Martínez will lecture on art, metamorphosis, and exploring experience to enhance a different political imagination.

Event Details


ACT Cube
MIT campus, E15 - 001, Cambridge, 02139 United States


December 05, 2016 from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm


Free and open to the public

Banner image credit: screenshot from Gagaga – snivel. Feliksas Viskantas Ensemble of girls, 1969.
Duck head illustration image credit: Nicolas Consuegra.

raw duck image for Chus

Chus Martínez will give her lecture “The Duck is the Übermensch,” which closes out the lecture series “Tinker User Tracer Human,” put on by ACT (MIT’s program for Art, Culture, and Technology). Martínez, a philosopher and art historian, is Head of the Art Institute of the FHNW Academy of Arts and Design in Basel, Switzerland.

About the Lecture

It’s just been scientifically proven that ducks have abstract thinking. The discovery neither alters nor surprises ducks, since they’ve known this fact, since they are ducks. The discovery just reveals that we, non-ducks, are deeply fascinated by sharing traits that are relevant to our idea of rationality with ducks. If taken really seriously, the discovery is a revolution, marking, in a very nice, duckish way, the impossibility of taking the premises of humanism and humanists seriously. And following this argument, only those who still believe in humanism—and the controlling, man-taming humanists with their corresponding animalistic and technological representations of the world—are going to see this as a minor discovery. Those who are unable to let go of the false contest between culture—simplified to literacy—and the beast—the ignorant—will be unable to embrace these ducks as the true coming of the Übermensch. But don’t dare consider ducks’ abstract thinking as less important than our own! On the contrary, this revelation only shows that animals, to use Nietzsche’s perspective, may be able to perform a maximization of all that is very human. Think about animals—and plants—as beings who bring to light the dangers of the humanistic horizons of sitting and reading and breeding and taming and training. The duck is the Übermensch, who takes into consideration the intimate constraints of our humanistic hopes and opens up a spacious new arena that, in light of the previous long millennia, offers us a (sufficiently) radical suggestion: the encouragement to reflect anew on the need, more than ever, for philosophy. True, this turning-into-others, into animals, this continuous expansion of gender, this impossibility to return to the concept of man as a rational animal, at first unleashes a feeling of decline in awareness as presented by hermeneutical criticality. The fear produces the claim that statements like, “the duck is the Übermensch,” may just be a new twist of a premeditated anthropotechnology in disguise. But if one wants to speak anthropologically, one could say that humans of the historical period were animals, while the animals of today suggest possibilities for future humans.


About Chus Martínez

Chus Headshot 2

Born in Spain, Chus Martínez has a background in philosophy and art history. Currently she is the Head of the Art Institute of the FHNW Academy of Arts and Design in Basel, Switzerland.

Martínez has been the Chief Curator at El Museo Del Barrio, New York; she was dOCUMENTA (13) Head of Department, and Member of Core Agent Group. Previously she was Chief Curator at MACBA, Barcelona (2008 to 2011), Director of the Frankfurter Kunstverein (2005–08) and Artistic Director of Sala Rekalde, Bilbao (2002–05). For the 56th Biennale di Venezia (20015), Martínez curated a film installation by Albert Serra for the Catalan Pavillion and for the 51st edition she did the National Pavilion of Cyprus.

Her most recent projects are The Metabolic Age, September 2015 at MALBA, Buenos Aires; Undisturbed Solitude, February 19–April 10, 2016; Idiosyncrasy: Anchovies Dream of An Olive Mausoleum. April 29, 2016–April 9, 2017 at the Visual Arts Center Helga de Alvear Foundation, Spain. She is currently preparing a project for the Stiftung Skulpturen Park in Köln and an exhibition for Castello di Rivoli both for 2017.

Martínez lectures and writes regularly including numerous catalogue texts and critical essays, and is a regular contributor to Mousse and Artforum among other international journals.


Tinker User Tracer Human is a lecture series presented by ACT, MIT’s program in art, culture, and technology. The series invites artists, designers, and philosophers to help us speculate on the future of art, learning, and action in a rapidly intensifying age of software aesthetics, persuasive computing, intangible infrastructures, nonorganic vitalities, an ubiquitous sensing. Check out the event poster here.

ACT’s fall 2016 lecture series is conceived by Gediminas Urbonas, ACT director, and developed and coordinated by Ashley Rizzo Moss, ACT Senior Communications & Public Programs Assistant and Lucas Freeman, ACT Writer in Residence, in conversation with ACT graduate students.

Event Photos