Sunday, 24 March 2013

Marilene Oliver Talk at the opening of "Confusao" in Edinburgh

Marilene Oliver   Scan sculpture of "real person"

Marilene Oliver   A Melanix sculpture??

In her talk Marilene Oliver spoke mainly about the pieces on show, with emphasis on the MRI technology.  I would like to have heard her speak more about her general interest in digital technology and its relations to us.  In the catalogue she says that her original aim was to reclaim the body from the “medical and digital gaze” and retain human and embodied relationships.  At that stage she was working with clear and transparent materials, using screen printing and laser cutting.  The scans were of real people that she knew (her family) - “to offer a life-size, real- time encounter with digital copies of human body”.

In  2007 she started to work with a programme called Melanix.  This digital programme represents an anonymous body, in this case (like the artist) a woman, white, female, under forty.  It is a kind of  mri scan which could be “reformed and rematerialised  to suit Oliver’s changing ideas and impressions”.  Flesh can be virtually removed to expose bone and vein. She uses the term “Virtual leakage” – mixing the digital and the real in her sculptural objects, all created on the computer. 

Street scene in Brazil (google images)

But as an artist “who works to challenge Post Humanism”, Oliver embellished her sculptures with embodied techniques such as beading and weaving to “embody” the materialisations of Melanix. She has recently been living in Brazil, and spoke about the way of life there.  There is so much material there available as decoration (the carnival culture), so much focus on using the body for display and as means of expression. There are scanning shops on every corner in Rio, for example, and readily available plastic surgery to improve image and shape.

Now living in Angola, Oliver is rethinking the significance and symbolism of the scanning technology, as this  is rarely available in sub-Saharan Africa.  She is now using the Melanix model in the cultural context of Angolan values., Her work for the Edinburgh exhibition is a series of etchings showing the Melanix figure wearing elaborate hair braids or being  bitten by a giant mosquito, for example.

Marilene Oliver   Melanix and the mosquito

I found  the  work at this exhibition quite disturbing.  In spite of the rational technology, Oliver explores dark and primitive holes of mind and body, the most basic level of our existence and identity.  But at the same time (perhaps this is not a contradiction)  she is exploring very contemporary and artificial media, using digital technology to explore the human body, and to how we relate to new media.  She quotes Hans Moravec   on how we need to “download our consciousness to the datascape in order to survive”.   Her work opens up many interesting questions and links to the subject of our relationship to the digital.

Some references:

Steve Nichols   Post Human Manifesto
Pepperell's The Posthuman Condition
Hayles's How We Became Posthuman
IsabelleVan Grimde   
Blog written by Oliver's sister/collaborator

Monday, 11 March 2013

Diana Hand drawing at Sandown Park racecourse

Diana Hand  Turning horse

This image has been used in the publicity and brand image for the launch of a major new entertainment  facility at Sandown Park racecourse, near to London The Equus restaurant opened on 8th March.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Ice Age Art exhibition at British Museum

Ivory carved pieces from the Ice Age exhibition

This exhibition, "Ice Age Art -   arrival of the modern mind" at the British Museum, London,  is a most  exciting and satisfying event .  Most of the pieces on display are very small, probably made to be easily portable in the nomadic times (20,000 to 40,000 years ago) when they were made.  They are mainly carvings from or incising in mammoth tusk.  Many of them are now partially destroyed and the original  smoothness of the tusk has cracked into a yellow and textured appearance, which gives them a rugged yet delicate look.  For such small sculptures these works have amazing power. 

The exhibition has been very well curated and themed.  One of the main points made was the similarity between ourselves and our ancestors from those times, who obviously also had the ability to transcend their lives through imagination and art.  In fact I experienced a great sense of recognition in the simplicity and strength of the work.  Many of the pieces reflect the importance of prey animals in the lives of Ice Age peoples, not only as a means of sustenance, but as a link to the spiritual world.  The pieces would symbolize this link, and like so many works in the British Museum, they retain an immense charisma.

Many of the statuettes were symbolic figures of women, with exaggerated breasts, stomachs and genitalia.  It is even suggested that, from the angle of the carving, they could have been self portraits. The function of these statuettes can only be guessed at.  One small model is obviously the portrait of an individual woman, with a damaged or blind eye.  Over many thousands of years  the female statuettes gradually became much more abstract, just a slender silhouette with a hint of breasts and buttocks. 

Several pieces (purpose unknown?) are decorated with abstract patterns.  Rather than these patterns having aesthetic or formal value, it is suggested that they have a social and spiritual meaning.  We are so blinded by formalism that it is refreshing to think of pattern in this way.

A reference to neuroscientist, Semir Zeki, indicates s that visual perception is a much more ancient sense than the use of language.  Zeki's experiments famously show that  a particular area of the brain lights up (and we therefore experience pleasure) when we see something beautiful.  I think my brain must have been fizzling all the way around this exhibition!   Wonderful.  

Here is a link to an article about a visit to the exhibition by  Kathleen Jamie

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Igor Benca Slovakian printmaker

Igor Benca and translator at Edinburgh Print Studio  2nd March 2013

Artist Talk by Karol Felix and Monoprint demonstration by Igor Benca
Edinburgh Print Studio    2nd March  2013

Today I had the privilege of hearing a group of Slovakian printmakers from Bratislava speak about their work and their thoughts. I was particularly impressed by their thoughtful and careful approach and by their extreme skill, as well as their different experiences.  One remark by Karol Felix that stays in my mind concerned his influence on his students.  He said that good students are independent and thrive in the environment of the art school, whereas the weaker students are less sure of themselves and become overly influenced by their teachers.  I would not have described "good" and "bad" students in this way, it is a little harsh.  The weaker ones are just less confident and at a different stage of their learning.  But it was interesting to hear the professor's comments.

The picture shows Igor Benca in the process of demonstrating his monoprinting technique in the studio at Edinburgh Printmakers.  He had cut an elaborate shape from a plastic material, he then inked this in two colours, and took an offset print of this - meaning that the shape transferred exactly onto the big roller and when rolled onto the paper the shape emerged.