Isabel Tejeda
Flesh
“Carne. Marina Núñez”, catálogo Sala Verónicas. Murcia 2001.

 

While standing under one of the “Disasters of war”, Francisco Goya felt inspired to write, “I saw it”. It is important to bear in mind that before the invention of photography, it was the job of paintings and engravings to reflect historical details and provide documentary evidence. Perhaps it was the horror that these paintings portrayed, a horror that so approximated Goya’s own explorations within the realm of irrational deliria and fantasy that inspired him to provide a written declaration. Perhaps he was conscious then one of the contradictory issues of his times – that reason and imagination mutually thrived one on the other 1.

Sometimes reality is capable of reaching such extremes that it exceeds any imagina­ble experience, however, fiction, as Goya managed to transmit in his particular clairvoyant fashion, feeds on common experience, on quotidian fear and desire. With a precedent in El Bosco, the painting of La Quinta del Sordo and a whole century later, Redon’s, Rop’s or Kubin’s representations of dreamlike worlds nurtured on the waters of popular culture, the tales of flying witches, vile ogres and fables that Illustration had vainly tries to eradicate. On another scale, fictional literature, from romanticism, Shelley’s Frankenstein, to Wilde’s Dorian Gray or Kafka’s Samsa, has narrated tales of monsters which, as portrayal and metaphor of Society’s fears and desires, proved to be the other side the human. The other which lives in all of us,

In this transition from one millennium to another, a type of poetry is emerging holding a strong relationship with visionary ancestors 2 and which postulates the analysis of the concept of Alterity and on the human body as realm of all speculation, a realm in which questions, changes and suspicions arise. If the artists of the XIX century aided discoveries in medicine by portraying disease in a demonic fashion -illnesses personified in the form of feminine anatomies or, and not by mere coincidence, in the form of skulls; if the epidermis of the psyche was penetrated and the secrets of the mind uncovered only to reveal horrifying scenes going beyond all possible real­ity, it may be of interest to note that it is the human body- a human body whose vacillating centre is constantly changing in place and form- again which this emerging poetry has set its sights on. A body which somehow maintains its physical appearance, yet transgresses its material state.

The incredible change that the development of new technologies, robotics and the appearance of a virtual world of Internet has caused on our experience, has, for the past twenty years, been fostering the flight of incredibly imaginative and unprejudiced minds, minds from the most diverse spheres which approach -sometimes in a fantastic fashion and others in such a way so as connect with a more immediate reality- a rich variety of possibilities as far as our future is concerned. One issue which has provoked a large amount of critical literature in this respect is the potential dissolution of the paradigmatic western individual- formed over the centuries by culture, in anatomy, purity and homogeneity, essence and invariability – owing to the appearance of the proposed cyborg 3 a posthumous reconfiguration possessed of a nomadic subjectivity.

While it is essential to point out that both philosophy and thought in general have both dealt with the question of the cybernetic body, the fact is that it has been litera­ture and science fiction, followed closely by that form of the visual arts which portrays images of what is to come, which have managed to leave a lasting impression on the imagination. These creations merge scientific research with the free-fall flight of fiction. From the replicates in Blade Runner (1982), reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926) where superior androids so resembled humans they proved willing to fight and die for their past, to the human mind processed as information and kept in the Flatline Network as software in Gibson’s 4 Neuromante, cinema and literature have analyzed the advantages and disadvantages of this union between humans and ma­chines called cyborg. In some cases The Net is taken as a space of unbridled liberty where, at last, the human being can rid itself of the weight and the chains of the body. In other cases, for instance, in The Matrix, unexpected turn of events leads us to realize that being turned into software can also mean a prison for the victim 5.

In addition to this enthusiastic dialogue between avid supporters and ominous critics of cyberspace and cyber culture in general (something which at first seems quite distant to us given that it is developed in a fictional world) the fact is that more and more authors. are pointing out that we are actuality constantly associating ourselves with the impurity and hybridism and constant change of cyber-bodies in just the same way as these technical 6 cyborgs that populate our cinema screens. Think of the amount of operations our film stars undergo or of the miraculous solutions provided by medicinal research for all our various aches and pains – from artificial or­gans to chips which enable a paralysed person to communicate with a computer or even a computer becoming an extension of the individual’s own body. This cyborg era also enters our own bodies in the form of dietetic foods and pharmaceutical Chemicals.

 

Marina Nuñez’s (Palencia 1966) latest works, in line with these theories, explore this blend of human and machine from a point of view situated halfway between the enthusiasts and the critics.

Marina Nuñez’s last series of works in the 90s portrayed a teratology of mad women, which interlaced with the social pathology of feminine hysteria constructed by Charcot en la Salpêtrière. This theory followed the Foucaltian line of thought which stated that definitions of madness varied according to varying cultural moments in history 7. It was on these images of lost gazes, and erotically twisted bodies in the voyeuristic eyes of this nineteenth century psychiatrist that Marina Núñez superimposed her female figures. Extremely physical figure who, with a paradoxically elegant gore, mingled in a fictional world and exceeded all human limitations due to being incapable of feeling the limited pain that that the human conscious can bear. Figures that passed through all possible internal visions of madness, to the other I whose gaze turns inwards. Extravagant characters that levitated upwards, drawn by an exte­rior force, and who while floating in mid-air tore their skin off to reveal their muscles as if to show they could make plaits with them, as if desirous of bringing children’s games to the most terrible of extremes. Bodies that housed alienated women who with their terrible yet painless actions dissolved the idea of frontiers between the interior and the exterior.

With her latest work Ciencia ficción (Science Fiction) Marina Núñez presents a new teratology: that of a of a state of mental disorder and a metamorphic body that self destroys to form a new body that feels equally strange. The characters, though a slow continuous process of transformation, gradually lose their physical appearance and attributes displaying, under their skin the existence of non-human energies that form new channels to connect the organs and members; bodies that have mutated and that are no longer human, yet cannot be called machines.

!n 1998, Marina Núñez presented a series of paintings in La Gallera in Valencia called Sin Título (Monstruas) (Untitled [Monsters]) which were a blend of issues dealt with in Madness and Science Fiction. The series portrayed outwardly human characters opening their thorax to show an interior devoid of organs and blood. Insides consisting of strange metallic elements with red and blue connections. Indeed, as Mari­na Núñez herself has stated, these three series are not to be taken as separate works, but a continuum, as a development of the same issues that analyse the situation of “abnormal bodies, grotesque bodies, other bodies”. A new teratology of different beings which she had previously developed in her works in Zona F 8 (F Zone), in the individuals portrayed in the Salvador Dalí and Thomas March Galleries and in her last exhibition in the Sala Roser in Lérida commissioned by Gloria Picazo.

 

Flesh 9, the title of this exhibition in Las Verónicas, blends the poetic nature of Marina’s latest work with the rhetoric surrounding this particular building. Verónicas is a unique building due to its strong architectural features and a rich history, a build­ing of the XVIII century once a church annexed to the convent of the Verónicas order. Its architecture is of simple design: three naves under a magnificent dome illuminated by skylights, displaying, almost in a virginal sense and devoid of decorative elements the original architecture. As in the case of all Christian temples whose sectors and floors were gradually formed throughout the centuries depending on the symbolic functions and rites of the times, this building in its height; presents the typical heaven -earth duality- God’s space and spirituality contrasted with Man’s: the domes and vaults reserved for pleasant celestial scenes where God, the angels and the Saints dwell far from gravity, depicted in the form of bodies for purely visu­al purposes.

Underneath the floor of the former church lies the cemetery of the order. Catacombs that we tend to forget lying under our feet. The use of the cellar and even the side churches for burial purposes was quite common in the past due to Churches’ sanctity. The body is buried and so it disappears while the soul ascends to the heaven represented by the dome, and thus to eternal life.

Marina Núñez has pointed out that her work is devoid of any religious or spiritual connotations even though her use of historical conventions of expression or icons traditionally employed in the portrayal of virgins and saints in her characterization of these mad women may seem evident to some. However, on this occasion, she has taken advantage of the architectural peculiarity of Las Verónicas in order to adapt to the symbolic separation its presents. A symbolism which has provided her the opportunity to superimpose her own rhetoric 10. In this sense the space partially recovers its original function and symbolic meaning.

Surrounding the dome of Las Verónicas ten winged figures swoop 11 and fly. Ten anthropomorphic figures whose transparent profiles and mass are depicted digitally by a thin infographic fluorescent line. They are individuals who have undergone some type of mutation. A physically human hybrid who has lost some physiological feature -hair, sexual organs. and who have gained wings. These wings are not those zoomorphic wings of the sirens of classical mythology or of Christian angels, nor are they the transparent insect wings of fairies. These are the wings of technology. A blend of the flying devices that Leonardo dreamed of and the human body; somewhere between hang gliding, reactors, satellites, orbit stations and the body. These are a new type of happy angel who have shed human features, who have shed the weight of their visceral organs, of the brain, of the muscles and of the flesh. Who have shed their human bodies and with it its sweat and bodily fluids. These figures have also rid themselves of pain, growing old and death. There are metaphorically speaking oblivious to gravity because the force which drew them towards the earth, which robbed them of the liberty and happiness they now possess, has disappeared: their bodies. Physiognomically clonal figures differentiated by the extravagant form of their wings, each pair of unique design. As if following a fashion.

These figures swoop and fly in the space of desire. In the matrix. The dome is a metaphor of the virtual space of the Net.

To a large sector of experts in robotics, the human being is little more than information. If our bodies undergo a complete transformation every ten years and not one of its cells survives, this means that the essence which enables us to keep going, to conserve our memories, to maintain our circumstances is information. Therefore, according to this theory defended by many technophiles and part of the cyber philosophy, at death or even beforehand, our essence as information could transform into software in order to survive eternally. This means that these experts would consider Gibson’s Flatline phenomenon to be perfectly viable. To go even further, they actually consider this to be the perfect future 12.

In this theory, technology is taken as an “antithesis of the organism and of human values”. According to Rosi Braidotti, this antagonism should be discarded and substituted with an understanding of technology as “a prolongation of all that is human, intrinsically linked to it 13 ”. Marina Núñez herself, in her writings on the subject, analyses, along the same lines as Haraway, how the traditional divisions which construct and define western identity and which in post-modern times have proved to be obsolete, can be basically altered and subverted by the cyborg body and identity. While the dichotomies between nature and technology, original and copy, homogeneity and hybridism or autonomy and indifferentiation are transgressed by the cyborg identity 14 -an identity which disregards all previous models- one dichotomy, rooted in Platonic philosophy is actually strengthened, the division between materialism and spirituality. This dichotomy is based on the distinction between the inferiority of the body and the superiority of the spirit 15. The body is considered a harmful, submissive weight leading us to uncontrollable passions, to animal behaviour, to changes in humour, to bodily fluids and to death. A dichotomy held in the Christian faith as the separation between the body and the soul, and in philosophy as the division between reason and passion. This polarity comes under yet another name with-in cyber-culture: information and flesh.

Faced with this duality, with the supreme rule of intelligence, to the detriment of even corporal extinction, Rosa Braidotti’s alarming criticism arises, a criticism, which in a rhetorical fashion Marina Núñez also supports in her representation of flying and swooping figures in las Verónicas. This is the other side of the coin. The infographic lines have been coloured red, their fine continuous line has been destroyed, their security has cracked, they have been deformed, their elegant forms ruined, they have fallen. They lie on recently opened grave-like boxes. These are the error of calculation, the negative reflection of the flyers. Those cyborgs who represent hell or the fall of paradise, the rubbish hidden behind the scenes 16. They are the fallen Icarus, the program errors, the defects that can no longer return to the home they once knew, the body they scorned and buried. Each one of these monsters -monsters among monsters- takes its place in its own grave.

This exhibition represents a narration that leads from heaven to hell, a hell where an ironic argument for a fictitious return to humanity is presented in a situation where this is no longer possible. The body demonized for thousands of years of defects has finally disappeared. This cybernetic version of death is laid to rest following the only rite left with any possible semblance of humanity. But, there is nothing there for the worms to squirm in, nothing to feed on.

In the side churches of Las Verónicas a third perspective is presented, a perspective that unites information and bodily flesh. The result of which converts us into something else. Neither flesh nor information nor technology, but an amalgamation of all this. These are mirrors in which our reflection shows the image of a machine on our chest, a turbine behind which lie human viscera, the body in its most tactile image, disturbing and repulsive. There are no hierarchies, just a larger visual presence of a metonymy of technology substituting the epidermis in appearance; however, the identity of the thing changes depending on the angle from which our gaze is held, beholding in its variations all the different possibilities.

The women lying underneath sheets spread on the floor are yet another metaphor of the same idea, however, in these images the appearance of their skin is human, of hu­man beauty. Yet these are the most sinister works of the whole exhibition. As a continuation of the series Monsters and Science Fiction these partially human women are technical cyborgs that do not live in the matrix. Their construction has isolated them in our own bodies and they produce, through empathy, repulsion in the beholder.. The transparent sheets reveal an abject and radical bodily transgression owing to the addition of unrecognizable elements… or the lack of some of physical features. The infinite process of hybridization and polymorphism, either in a cosmetic sense or a more radical one, which our society, its individuals and their bodies, is immersed in means biological change. Lips and breasts being enlarged by silicone. Having an ear that has been ‘grown’ on a white mouse, with which we, as a result, share hormones. Being given a heart made of metal and valves. Having prosthesis in the place of a de­stroyed leg. Being capable of genetic manipulation. Transplanting a vital organ. Inoculating a vaccine. Being able to wear virtual reality glasses. Putting contact lenses in our eyes. Taking out floating ribs. Changing the colour of our skin. Having a pin in a leg. Using a wheelchair. Becoming a computer user. Bodies, as Rosa Braidotti puts it, made of flesh, “multiple bodies, made up of bodily parts” 17.

As in the series known as Madness, these women -in truth all the same women cloned six times- don’t appear to be disturbed by the unstoppable process happening under those sheets, some inscrutable, others asleep, a third in apparent ecstasy they rest in their uneasy, strange bed-box-graves. Under the sheets all possible mutations are to be perceived, mutations that crowd nightmares, that emanate from desire, that arose in bestiaries and mythological tales of monsters and hybrids of every imaginable shape and form. Sirens tales or the body of an octopus, enormous pustules, twisted members, strange stalks growing or simply lack of vital organs. Like two sides of the same coin, like the different roles of Dorian Gray’s portrait. Even though both were one and the same person.

1 Goya’s engraving “El sueño de la razón produce monstruos” (Dreams of reason produce monsters) adequetely supports that interpretation.

2 These artists have been classified on many occasions as visionaries. They have been considered as beings of extraordinary condition associated with the concepts of genius, intuition and inspiration of a mythical character. The contemporary poetry refer to here is situated in the realm of the speculation of potential tomorrow’s based on experience, thought, knowledge and technological and scientific develpments.

3 Vid. HARRAWAY, Donna J. Ciencia, cyborgs y mujeres. La reinvención de la naturaleza. Cátedra, Madrid, 1995. Along the same lines as Haraway, Marina Núñez is of the opinión that the cyborgs are a substitute for the construct of the western individual based on heterogeneity given that cyborgs are of mixed categories “which weaken the dichotomies of binery oposites on which western culture is founded (nature/technology, original/replicate, truth/sham, autonomy/sameness…) and, therefore oppose a generic (and ideological) order corrupting is purity”. Cyborgs are not constructed as “essential, natural, universal and eternal beings but as temporal and susceptible to improvement, provisional and elastic, a sort of raw material susceptible to all forms of processing”. Vid. NÚÑEZ, Marina. “Nosotros, los ciborgs” en VV. AA. (José Jiménez, dir.), El arte en una época de transición, Huesca, Diputación de Huesca, 2001.

4 Flatline, is a novel which marked the beginning of cyberpunk literature, was a genius among hackers converted into “a structure: a cassette of ROM circuits which reproduced the abilities, obsessions and reflexes of a dead person”. GIBSON, William, Neuromante. Barcelona, Minotauro, 1997, pag. 99.

5 Thomas Anderson in The Matrix discovers that his life is nothing more than a mere software program.

6 Vid NÚÑEZ, Marina, op. cit.

7 FOUCALT, Michael, La historia de la locura (The history of Madness), Mexico, FCE, 1979.

8 Zona F was an exhibition organized by EACC in Castellón and directed by Ana Carceller and Helen Cabello in 2000 which dealt with “an exploration into the influence which the different forms of feminine thought have exerted on the visual arts, and the debates which have arisen on the subject”.

9 In cyberpunk literature, to call someone ‘flesh’ is considered an insult. ‘Flesh’ is a corporal material. Flesh is the body.

10I thought it of interest to point out the narrative use Marina Núñez has put this particular space to and which I wish to relate to her fondness for literature. “I have always wanted of tell stories… Indeed, I image my paintings as paragraphs, moments of time frozen in a story”. Vid. PICAZO, Glória, “Entrevista a Marina Núñez” (An interview with Marina Núñez) (Catalogue of the exhibition in Sala El Roser), Lérida, Ayuntamiento de Lérida, 2001, page 16.

11 While in her other series, Marina Núñez’s figures levitated, implying the existence of an exterior force and so the partial loss of their will, the characters portrayed in Verónicas fly freely by their own means, their own decision.

12 With respect for this speculation, Marvin Minsky, expert on artificial intelligence and creator of the first artificial simulator for the nervous system pointed out “when I built my first machine, during the Summer of 1951, each cell simulated consisted of half a dozen tubes and it was as big as a brain… What seems surprising is that in the year 2035 the electronic equivalent of the brain could be, thanks to nano-technology, as small as a person’s fingertip. This means that we could have all the space we wanted in our brain for the implantation of new perceptions, new ways of thinking, things that today would be unimaginable”. Accordingly, instead of doing away with the body as posed in Gibson’s fiction, an utopic sort of immortality could be reached which, strangely, fetishises it. Vid MINSKY, Marvin L., La sociedad de la mente. La inteligencia humana a la luz de la inteligencia artificial. Buenos Aires, Ediciones Galápago, 1989.

13 BRAIDOTTI, Rosi, “Un ciberfeminismo diferente” (Translation by Carolina Díaz) webpage: www.creatividadfaminista.org/ciber_braidotti.htm.

14 HARAWAY, op cit.

15 Vid NÚÑEZ, Marina, op. cit.

16 In Marina Núñez’s previous works there was a positive image towards the potential for change and dissidence that the cyborg presented: in the exhibition the image is much less idyllic and presents a criticism of the maintenance of Manichaesism.

17 HARAWAY, op cit.