When flesh and bone are rendered as scientific data—molecular diagrams, chemical formulae and genetic codes—what translates is almost entirely estranged from the vitality of the human body. Embodied existence becomes static data. Works in the group show Inner Other collectively explore such externalisations of the body’s workings as data and image, troubling the boundary between subject and object. Visitors are confronted with unsettling transitions from animacy to inertia, where eerie traces of the body are all that remain.
Katy Connor’s sculptures, ‘Untitled_Force: Fragment Number 2, 3, 4’ (2013), bear an uncanny resemblance to splintered bone. The peculiar ivory-coloured objects were created through a kind of synthetic ossification. Connor examined her blood under an atomic force microscope, analysing variations in matter on a nanoscale. Using a 3D printer, the artist then reproduced the data in white nylon, generating a complex network of spikes, like peaks and troughs on a graph. Matt Gee’s sculpture ‘Accumulation of Additives’ (2017) conjures a peculiar presence of the human frame. A polyurethane pillar, painted silver and constructed from thin squares, appears to be a tower of microscope slides. While the sculpture is somewhat anthropomorphic in its dimensions, it ultimately reiterates the weirdness of the bodies that science exposes.
Data is completely abstract from the way we perceive our bodies’ interior; it is, as the exhibition title implies, an unfamiliar territory. Biotechnological devices are able to record stimuli well beyond the reach of our limited senses. To decode such data requires highly specialised knowledge; the untrained eye is left wholly disorientated. Two of the screen-based works exhibited in Inner Other heighten the feeling of dislocation by intercutting shots of disparate body parts produced by vastly different technological instruments. In Byrke Lou’s ‘ctu_cr_’ (2009-2015), a slideshow presented on three wall-mounted monitors, abstract analogue photographs, similar to photograms taken by Man Ray in the 1920s, appear in parallel to the dotted patterns of sub-atomic diffraction, captured with a transmission electron microscope. Robbie Thomson’s projection ‘Phi Creature’(2017) features a rapid, somewhat violent, montage of teeth—most likely photographed using an intraoral camera—followed by a microscope recording of the artist’s wriggling sperm, presenting a baffling, chimerical map of the body’s interior.
In the centre of the gallery, ‘Skin Dance vol. II’ (2017), a collaborative project by Natalia Janula, Richard Müller and David Williams, presents an equally weird sculptural depiction of the human form. A selection of body parts and organs are mounted on a cuboid aluminium frame, two metres high and one metre across: an artificial skeleton for a piecemeal body. A synthetic eye, made from the central rotary component from a CD player and a fake eyelash, dangles from a wire extended from the top of the frame. A coiled, fluorescent pink long intestine is printed across a ten foot PVC canvas on one side; beneath it is a cast of Janula’s own hand, made from a clear jelly-like polymer ordinarily used to fabricate prosthetic eyes. A red LED sits inside the mould of the hand, providing a gaudy illusion of glowing blood and animacy. Most unsettling of all, a collection of flesh-coloured latex t-shirts and blouses rest on hangers. They seem like human hides hung up to cure, invoking the horror of being skinned and disembodied.
‘Skin Dance vol. II’ offers a tangible, twisted representation of flesh and bone but, like human bodies, it also provides a metaphysical frame for distinguishing interior and exterior, between the body as lived materiality and as it appears to outward eyes. When, however, the body’s innards are externalised as data and image, the boundary between object and subject collapses. The most disturbing confrontation with this disjunction comes with Katy Connor’s ‘Punctum’ (2017): the shiny black acrylic disc, no smaller than a car’s wheel, produces a frightening reflection of the viewer in a black void, the vibrancy of the body reduced to a spectre.
Henry is a writer based in London, interested in technology and the slippage between objecthood and subjecthood