After much stress over trying to find an exhibition space in order to showcase the work from my Final Project I finally found St Mary’s Guildhall on Lincoln High Street, after getting in touch with them they let me know the space was available on the dates I wanted (6-8 October) and would cost £100 for the three days. I went to look round the space and the lower hall is a good possible space that has a large space in the centre of the room and interesting walls that can be projected onto. Also by using the lower hall it creates an effective flow through from the entrance and makes it easier to keep an eye on this during the opening times of the exhibition. As they entrust the keys with you the space can be open when you want it, allowing me to have an opening event on Thursday 6 October and then just open in the days on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 October.
The next steps are to confirm the booking of the venue and then promote it, I will need to decide on a name and branding for the show and then send invites out on social media and perhaps the creation of a small brochure to accompany it.
On Wednesday 10 August I also went along to Jonathan Trayte’s Polyculture exhibition at The Tetley in Leeds, this exhibition was a pleasant surprise and consisted of garish and visceral sculptures inspired by food and the horrors of the food industry. The initial room of the exhibition immediately hit you with this horror, presenting here a mammoth cucumber sculpture covered with with a thick outer layer like it had been polyfillered in multiple layers before painted in an insipid green. Next to this stood a giant inflatable column, the material of which looked slight like sweet potato but misshapen and discoloured. Littered in between were many concrete sculptures of squash, void of colour and appearing as if decomposing. All of these provided an excellent start to the remainder of the exhibition housed in various adjoining rooms off this. Within these you got the sense more of the inspiration of the horrors of the food industry, where food items are made to look the most pleasing to the eye and seemingly engineered to be pretty over actually tasting nice. One of the rooms I found particularly interesting included what looked like sausages hanging from a round frame, but instead of what we would normally expect these appeared candy pink and encased in a translucent pink latex casting and elongated in form. The effect of these ‘sausages’ was similar to that which I am hoping to achieve with the tentacle output of my project, to appear beautiful yet horrific and give the viewer a supremely visceral and fleshy encounter with the ‘body’.
On Wednesday 10 August I visited The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics exhibition at Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, this was a relatively small exhibition that centred on how humans have sought to extend and supplement the body through various devices. This included prostheses in the scientific sense, showing examples from history and how bodies which were fragmented through things such as war and reconfigured. Presenting these medical prosthetics as sculptures in their own right transforms how you view them and you begin to see them existing as beautiful objects outside of the horrors of their intended use. The overall layout of the exhibition consisted of three rooms that led on from one another, but this did leave you expecting more and the spaces themselves were quite densely packed together. The flow from historical medical prostheses to contemporary interpretations of extending the body beyond its biological limits was interesting. The change of space and lighting added to this to give the sense of a transition through a way of thinking, the middle room which contained pieces where new materials and new ideas of the body were presented appeared much brighter. The works in this space were the most interesting to me, Louise Bourgeois’ ‘Henriette’ (1985) dominated the room suspended in the middle and firmly the epicentre. Surrounding this were pieces where materiality was the main focus including Rebecca Horn’s ‘Moveable Shoulder Extensions’ (1971) and ‘Finger Gloves’ (1974), these used sculpture in terms of clothing extensions to the body to exaggerate an isolated area in order to evolve its function. These both show the pushing of the body to improve upon an action already possible and also as a tongue-in-cheek comment on our search for these improvements.
The main piece I was drawn to was Matthew Barney’s ‘The Cabinet of Bessie Gilmore’ (1999), this sculpture used materials to evoke the macabre. Salt, nylon, Vivak, prosthetic plastic and epoxy resin in a nylon and acrylic vitrine were used to create the sculpture that consists of a curved clear plastic corset, a rock of salt over which plastic tubing is draped and finally ends in plastic flats for feet. The glass cabinet that houses it gives the effect of an open casket coffin and we’re the voyeur having a good look. These elements all come together to appear equally erotic and horrific as well as medical, cold and clinical. The visual, while giving the sense of the body, didn’t keep the form of it in its tradition sense. The body was disassembled and reassembled to only show the parts it needed to for the mind to fill in the rest. This exclusion of elements and the re-interpretation of their form mimics what I am attempting to achieve in my project, the extension of the body through a new moulded plasticity that is horrific in its revelations of the human body.
I went to the Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick Exhibition at Somerset House on 26/07/2016, this was less for my final project research and more as a personal love of Stanley Kubrick’s imagery and intensity in his filmmaking but the pieces on show threw up sources for inspiration I hadn’t considered. The exhibition as a whole was intense, the pieces were housed in rooms off a gloomy corridor with an overwhelming orange glow aided by the geometric floor pattern created by Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin to evoke the carpets in The Shining. The opening confronts you with PYRE, a mountain of fireplaces by Stuart Haygarth that not only looks intimidating but also blasts out heat to further amp up the confrontation found in Kubrick’s films. For me this confrontation with intensity was the best part of the exhibition, the way it made you feel slightly claustrophobic and forced you into a journey through the different pieces. Again contrasting this with beautiful lighting, including Haroon Mirza & Anish Kapoor’s ‘Bitbang Mirror’ that bathed the room in a ultraviolet esq blue light intensified by the sound of a motor reflecting off a curved mirror surface. Also James Lavelle and John Isaacs ft Aziz Glasser’s use of red neon words gave the space of the room a violent feel, again intensified by oversized teddy bears depicting Lolita (with her heart sunglasses and red lollipop) and Alex from A Clockwork Orange (complete with mask, cane and cod piece). The light piece Mr Kubrick is Looking by Chris Levine situated at the end of a corridor vibrated with energy until it showed you a ghostly image of Kubrick in your peripheral vision.
Two of the pieces I responded to most were housed in The Maze, this was a room filled with different pieces and while the setting of these left something to be desired (they felt more like a student exhibition with standard screens and plain lighting) Pink Twin’s video piece and Polly Morgan’s Metanoia stood out. Pink Twin’s piece depicts a stately room with ornate furniture and wood cladding created as a 3D render and textured in vivid colours again evoking an ultraviolet glow. The video goes through the room floating, distorting, falling apart, coming back together again and finally a tidal wave of red gushing from the fireplace to cover the room. The use of 3D imagery here is very effective and whilst appearing visually stunning, holds a vast amount of tension in the distortions and feeling as if at any moment the whole thing will break down. Contrasting to this Polly Morgan’s work is a taxidermy sculpture showing a twisted, fleshy snake crammed into a concrete triangle inspired by both Alex’s pet in A Clockwork Orange and the cod pieces they wear to enact violence. The materiality of this (Jesmonite, Burmese Python skin and polyurethane) have a beautiful finish with the skin of the snake having a almost varnished effect, yet contrast the violent constriction and intense energy of its positioning. This again contrasted the fleshy snake with the rigid concrete to further show the conflict between the two.
On 26/07/2016 I visited the This Is A Voice exhibition at Wellcome Collection in London, this takes the theme of the voice and explores it through the voice as instrument, melodic contours, strains of the voice, egophony and located and un-located voices. The exhibition itself was sectioned into these themes and allowed you to move through from the human voice at the beginning to the synthetic voice by the end. This sectioning was done using screens rather than separate rooms, allowing the exhibition to still feel one whole space but to not feel overwhelmed by different pieces fighting for attention. The main aspect of the exhibition that worked well was the use of sounds to sculpt the space, you were able to hear sounds from previous pieces as you moved through it. This created a sonic landscape that worked outside of the pieces on show, the sectioning by way of screens complemented this as sounds began to merge together and played off each other. The birdsong of Marcus Coates Dawn Chorus (2007) merged beautifully with Meredith Monk’s Dolmen Music (1981), which again played off Imogen Stidworthy’s Castrato (2012-16). At times I felt that this over-arching soundscape was more interesting than the individual pieces, especially towards the end of the exhibition where it relied too heavily on items in glass cases rather than something you could interact with. The use of sound inspired staging elements made the exhibition feel whole, in the beginning sound proofing material is used to pad the walls and ceiling and throughout listeners are used as a contrast to headphones to listen to individual sound/ video pieces. Again these listeners allowed you to still tune into the soundscape of the space, whilst also focusing in on individual work.
The pieces I responded to in regards to my current project were Anna Barham’s Liquid Consonant (2012), a video loop featuring a 3D render of a face that rotates to reveal a mouth interior that is cold and mechanical rather than warm and fleshy. This was further enhanced by the face speaking, not in words, but in blocks of sound synthetic and mechanical in nature. This made you question the role of the synthetic in the voice and highlighted the contrast in the sounds you would expect the human to make and those produced by this computer generated version.
The work of Marcus Coates’ Dawn Chorus (2007) and Imogen Stidworthy’s Castrato (2012-16) were particularly inspiring more in their staging than the theme of the work, both works are video based but use of multi video and the positioning of them immersed you into the vocal experiments on show. In Coates’ work this was in the form of six screens placed in a circle at varying heights in a black space, allowing you to be in the centre and hear the birdsong being played at you from different sources. With Stidworthy’s work this was placed in a round space covered with a fine mesh screen, the three videos were then projected onto this again placing you at the centre and encasing you in the vocal sounds produced to create the castrato vocal range.
Another piece I found interesting for the imagery produced was Thomas Godart’s three pieces Respiratory Passages from a Case of Croup (1862), Head and Neck of a Man, Showing a Fistulous Opening which Exposes the Epiglottis, Resulting from a Throat Cut (1883) and Papilloma Spring from the Neighbourhood of the Left Vocal Cord (1883). These are medical watercolour illustrations showing vocal pathologies, in particular the piece Respiratory Passages shows the biology of the voice as a horrific and graphic image whilst also being supremely beautiful. Godart’s work in general has a contrast being beautifully illustrated images and the horror of what he is depicting, these evoke a parasite quality that shows the strain of pathology on the human body. To expand this wider the images show the intensity of the voice and the intensity of actions that restrict or cut off the voice.
Finally, the piece Conversations with Eliza (2011) by Steven Cottingham was fascinating in its simplicity. It features a conversation by the artist with a computer program that emulates a Rogerian psychotherapist that restructures answers into questions. The work is a simple video of white text on a black screen of the conversation playing out, then headphones are used to allow you to hear the back and forth between the artist and machine. The conversation centres around fears of becoming an inadequate artist and is humorous in the machines way of continually asking questions that delve further and further into the artist psyche. This simple back and forth is an interesting way to explore the voice of both the inner monologue of the human and the possibility for machine sentience, establishing an interaction between both that makes you question your own conversations with synthetic voices.
In his chapter Humans taken from Jeffrey Jerome Cohens’ Inhuman Nature (2014), Alan Montrose discusses the intensity of sound as a form of parasite. Here he uses Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale in order to explore a song as a parasitic creature, as a static noise that alters the state of things by interrupting trajectories and reorienting relationships. We can also read this from the point of view of the voice, of the intensity of the voice on the body working as a parasite in relation to it. The voice holds the body captive and uses it to reproduce itself and give a sonic output, the body is an instrument of the voice and is manipulated in various ways in order to continue that reproduction.
‘Once infected, the Prioress’s child unwittingly becomes a captive of music’s indelible need to manifest and reproduce its own being… The Prioress’s boy is simultaneously an instrument for the production of music and a host from which the Alma Redemptoris continues to replicate. Song much rely on the host/ instrument to give shape to its accidental properties.’ (Montrose, 47, 2014).
Chaucer’s story follows a young Christian boy who is ‘infected’ by the hymn Alma Refemptoris Mater, he is then murdered and dumped in a privy by Jews for singing this. But despite being murdered the boy’s body continues to sing post-mortem. Montrose’s reading of this from a sonic viewpoint is interesting and he brings out the notions of intensity to turn the violence away from the human and onto the sound itself. He goes on to discuss the song (or the voice) being in the position of power, able to use its intensity to erupt from the body of the boy in order to be in the world. This intensity is only evidence when the song/ voice is within the host, without the body it is just a crippled object unable to transmit its information. ‘The Alma Redemptoris is the crippled object, relying on the organic body’s mobility in order to transmit its information… The song is the position of power, erupting unexpectedly and controlling the vehicle in order to perpetuate its own beingness in the world.’ (Montrose, 47-48, 2014). This violence within this eruption of the voice from the body is further explored to consider that every sonic event/ voice event can create a physical assault on the body, this can be thought of as a physical representation of the violence of sound. The voice can be viewed as a conflict within the body made up of varying sounds and manifestations competing to force themselves out into the environment. This act itself has an intensity we don’t perceive, but when written down you see the full horror of a process enacted constantly to put the body under conflict. ‘It is the noises themselves that square off as the inherent violence of their withdrawn essences confront each other on the aesthetic plane. It is a battle of wills between two sonic events, with little regard being paid to the status, effects or outcomes their battle will have on the human hosts.’ (Montrose, 53, 2014).
In the end the idea that the song/ voice will continue to proliferate as long as the host body can produce sound, even if that host body is dead, transforms the body in a tool for the song/ voice. Transforming the body into ‘a creature at once part human and part music’ (Montrose, 55. 2014). The body becomes purely sonorous and the body and song transform from something that was only embodied to the two becoming enmeshed together. Again this intensity to proliferate after death can be seen not only in a physical sense of the body, but in our communications and devices. The voice is within our extended network and will continue to be so without the human body there to transmit it. Ultimately this idea of the intensity of the voice and a violent act erupting from the body is interesting to consider alongside my current experiments in the creation of a synthetic voice, exposing this intensity on the body to highlight the processes already at play. Perhaps this coupled with our extensions into technology and the machinic we can begin to expose the true horror of the voice.
Breaking the notion of the creation of devices/ prosthetics to extend the voice beyond sound down into layers of biology that can then be built up again through the synthetic. Thinking of this in terms of three structures; the face, the torso and the hand, and then breaking this down further into hard, soft and muscle aspects. Each layer can be focused upon and then brought together in collaboration and a merging between these synthetic devices and the human body.
Initially these concepts focus on the face, exploring from Brandon LaBelle’s writing the philosophical concept of the voice and in turn the mouth.
As part of the explorations to create a prosthetic device that extends the human and questions how the human voice can communicate without sound, the following aspects needs to be considered as taken from Brandon LeBelle’s Lexicon of the Mouth:
Depth of the body > surface of the skin
Forces outwards – stretches (cord like)
Resonating cavity – echoes with vibrations
Environment leaves deep depressions on the voice – on the surface of the tongue
Exploring the notion of synthetic/ artificial prosthetics further I watched the documentary Bodyhack: Metal Gear Man, this goes through the story of James Young who answered a call put out by Konami (makes of Metal Gear Solid) to take part in an experiment to create a bionic arm as a marketing campaign for the game. The documentary itself focuses more on James’ story than on the actual journey and any underlining views of experimental prosthetics. The more interesting parts come when we actually do see the machinic arm, in all its non-working glory. From this the notion of body hacking and the merging of the body with technology stood out for me, some (well most) of this still feels extremely gimmicky but there are parts of the documentary that make useful comments on the phenomena. Particularly when prostheses don’t work and the initial arm that is produced is cumbersome and heavy, easily breakable and having the sense of an afterthought add on to the human body. Rather than being something that is merged with and working in collaboration, when the prosthetic malfunctions it appears alien and evokes a feeling of otherness in his own body.
This idea of body hacking in relation to the idea of prosthetics and the extension of the human through that which is artificial has some interesting application in art practice. One of the most notable of these is Stelarc who has experimented in various ways of extending the human body beyond its limits. The implanting of an ear into his arm is one of the most interesting through the use of re-contextualising the biological make-up of the human, he has since experimented with implanting a microphone and the possibility of making it wi-fi enabled. Again while the pushing of the body beyond it’s biological limits, this is still very much grounded in its biological make-up. Although as a device that utilises the processes of the body merged with the machinic results in something that forms a fused connection. You being to lose where the organic ends and the machine begins, which transports you into the realm of the cyborg.
Along a different line of thought but still utilising bodily processes in order to extend it, Naomi Kithner’s project Energy Addicts explored the production of devices that harvests the human bodies’ energy and converting this into power. The objects themselves while beautiful and jewellery like, have a harsh reality to them in the invasive nature they are implanted into the skin. The need to be inserted by the user directly into he skin in various places depending on the area of the body you want to harness plays on the idea of medical needles and the horror of body modification. The use of a device that puts the body on intimate terms with the synthetic whilst simultaneously extending it to be of use is very interesting to consider in connection with my project. Would it be possible to create devices that can allow the human voice to communicate without the use of sound? Could the mouth be extended to utilise the process of the voice and transform this into a commodifiable thing?
Taking forward this idea of the transformation of the synthetic human, whereby the prosthetic elements have a developed functionality that can either be positive or detrimental. I researched into the expansion of biology through engineering and came across an article on Motherboard called ‘A Bioethicist Argues for Engineering Babies That Will Have an Easy Life‘ by Richard Wordsworth. This centres around an argument by Professor of Practical Ethics Julien Savulescu that parents should be allowed to undertake a process of ‘procreative beneficence’, which essentially is the idea in reproductive ethics that asks the question what can we do to ensure each child has the best chance in life? In doing so parents would be able to select the genetic traits that would ensure this, i.e. intelligence, gender, level of impulse control. The article quite rightly returns the question what would happen to diversity? Within the content of the article interesting ideas are brought up that can be related to my project themes, particularly the engineering of the human in order to improve it. Along this line the article brings up the idea of the ‘inhumanity of posthumanity’ and the fact this process of procreative beneficence could create humans that only exist as emotionless drones and decent into a series of doppelgängers. This level of inhumanity is interesting to explore and to confront people with this in order to make them consider the ethics of our continued merging with both the machinic and the synthetic. Also the idea of the doppelgänger fits into the form of my project, with the synthetic human I have been creating so far derived from myself. Perhaps the project could then centre around the engineering of the self?
When applied in an art context the ideas above can produce very contrasting results, one example of this I found particularly interesting in their exploration and realisation of this is Ohlsson/ Dit-Cilinn’s exhibition Tadpole at Cinnamon gallery in Rotterdam. Here the artists explore the synthetic body as being a continuation of nature and not separate, through this they showcase the human body evolution as a space for the potential of transformation and the metamorphosis of self-realisation. The objects themselves, here called sculptures in the classical sense, are essentially existing objects that have been re-built and re-arranged in such a way that they have lost their original function. The objects take on a transformed function that exists more in the realm of biology and the living, showing a confrontation of the flesh with the artificial materials used to create the objects. One of the notions that stood out for me was the discussion of metanarratives that underpin their work, here they take the idea of transcendence of the mind by means of mediation and confront it with the separation of the body by means of the skin. The objects themselves have a vacuum like quality to them, appearing as if suspended in the transformation process. However I don’t feel they go far enough and at times appear more like tools that have been given a biological function, rather than biological functioning that has been transformed into tools.
Again along a similar line of enquiry Bjork’s continued exploration of new technology in combination with her music has produced an experiment in multi-material 3D printing in collaboration with artist Neri Oxman. Here Bjork and Oxman have created Rottlace, its name derived from the Icelandic for skinless. This is a mask that has been designed to reflect the complex human musculoskeletal system based on Bjork’s own facial structure. The production of the mask has such utilised a development in 3D printing that allows you to print different materials at once, this as such allowed Bjork and Oxman to mimic the contrasting materials of the face including soft tissue, muscle and rigid bone to create a synthetic whole without parts. Not only does the mask work on an aesthetic level to produce a sense of otherness that comes with the synthetic, but it exposes and employs a process of the complex layering of structures that would be found in the human biological make-up. These layers are then fused together and work in collaboration to give form to something entirely different. The human here is extended beyond itself with the merging together with the synthetic, where the human is still rooted in the biology that formed it but goes further to enhance its limited capabilities. Ultimately the mask may be useless, but this transformation of function at least opens up the discussion on the topic.
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