Marilene Oliver’s sculptures blur the boundaries between our physical and digital selves.
POSTmatter: Why do you tend to focus on the body in your work?
Marilene Oliver: I was very influenced by Hans Moravec's Mind Children, where he posits that for humans to survive in the future, they will have to download their consciousness into the Datascape. This raises endless questions. What becomes of the bodies left behind? Would they wither and die? Would we become brains in jars? My work often uses medical imagery, not because it is medical, but because it creates a digital copy of the body.
PM: What’s your working process?
MO: If I take Family Portrait as an example, then this involved MRI scanning my mother, father and sister. Once the scans were done they had to be digitally translated so that they could be screen-printed onto acrylic, which I did myself using solvent-based inks (which is a long, exhausting and intoxicating process). This was a very physical project, but in other projects I use freeware called Osirix: a DICOM viewer for Macs that has sample datasets of bodies. One of these datasets is called Melanix, and I was so happy when I found her because she’s a complete body, of more or less my age, female, married (you can see an indent on her ring finger). I soon adopted her as my avatar, and have made numerous materialisations of her.
When I first started working with Osirix and learnt how to manipulate the data myself, I became very engrossed with the digital processing, spending much more time working on the computer than I did physically making the work. I realised that I was becoming that which I hoped my work warned against; I was becoming post human! I therefore decided to at least match the amount of time and energy I spend manipulating scans with the amount of time I spend making the work, in order to invest the object with the physical body.
PM: What materials are you attracted to using, and why?
MO: I often use clean, sterile looking materials such as acrylic and steel. Transparency is very important with my work, and as glass was too heavy for large stacks I found myself working with clear acrylic. I wanted to make my bodies look as they did in the computer: perfect, weightless, dustless.
PM: How has your background and training affected the work you make today?
MO: I was very fortunate to do a Fine Art Print and Photomedia course at Central Saint Martins in London when it still had its full suite of printmaking rooms. I was taught techniques of etching, screen-printing and lithography by traditional printmakers. We were also taught the magic of the build up; in printmaking there is so much preparation that you can work on a plate for weeks before you get to see what you print is going to look like. I recognise that still in the way I work today.
I wanted to make my bodies look as they did in the computer: perfect, weightless, dustless.
PM: The body has become the battleground of the digital age in many ways; constantly being observed, altered and augmented. How do you think our relationship to the body is changing?
MO: I actually don't think that our relationship with our bodies has changed as much for the worse as I feared it would when I first came across Hans Moravec's Post-Human texts. We have not withered away into pasty, floppy, lumps of flesh! We obviously have more tools to monitor our bodies now, and are constantly presenting them to people in idealised ways: in the real world, but especially online. Our reflection on the Internet is now just as important, if not more important, than the one we see in the bathroom mirror. We are all narcissists and hypochondriacs. Bodies are to be tamed, controlled and displayed… but then again, they always have been. We just have more tools to do so now.
Marliene Oliver’s work is on show at the Winter Exhibition, Beaux Arts London, 14th Dec - 24th January 2015. For more information, click here.