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

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