The world is too much with us
«Demasiado mundo», individual catalog, Ed. Generalitat Valenciana, Centre del Carme, Valencia 2010.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
William Wordsworth, 1806
In 1967, a year after Marina Núñez was born, Stanley Kubrick released 2001, his historic prophecy of the future of space travel. The film was the first to take full advantage of special effects and animation to simulate the experience of outer space and the technological machinery necessary to get there as well as the disorientation the human body would undergo in the process of space travel. The irony of using Viennese waltz music as the score to 2001, a Space Odyssey emphasized the disjunction between science fiction fantasies and the actual state of a culture stuck in antiquated forms and unprepared to deal with unfolding new realities.
In the period since the film 2001 was made, technology has advanced at warp speed, to the extent that we have still to digest, understand and evaluate the innovations that are changing our concept of humanity and its possibilities for evolution. Every aspect of human life is touched by these rapid changes in every sector of what we make to what we do to who we are from automated production to military capacity to destroy life to scientific discoveries to prolong it as well as to change the relationship between humanity and nature. Equally important in altering our perceptions is the relentless pace of innovation in electronic communications technologies.
As a result of these mind bending changes, it is impossible to be alive and fully conscious today without being aware of such momentous alterations to our behavior and perceptions both of the world and its history as well as of our sense of personal identity. Few artists have either the courage or the capacity to confront such radical changes and to make of them the content of their work. Because of the rapidity and constancy of technological advances, the moment is one of flux and of questioning, most specifically of the urgent issue of whether technology heralds the possibility for a more humane utopia or the death knell of civilization in an apocalyptic dystopia in which machines control humans rather than vice versa. In the latest of her digital installations, The World is Too Much with Us, Marina Núñez examines the dizzying overflow of information that confronts us daily from the ever expanding communication media, which offer new and fresh possibilities for expression to the artist strong enough to resist fragmentation and harness them to a coherent worldview.
Marina Núñez was trained as a painter who has expanded the vocabulary of fine arts by mastering photography, video and digital information programs. At forty-four, she has already had an impressive list of international exhibitions. She is in my view among the most ambitious artists alive today. I mean this not in the sense of the pursuit of worldly success, fame or fortune, but rather in terms of the goals of great artists since the nineteenth century forced a confrontation between the individual self and its historic situation. Such a profound self examination of consciousness is not the facile reflection of one’s times that is the zeitgeist, which describes the content of the works of artists like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons that act as mirrors of contemporary society. Rather I refer to the ambition to create a complex weltanschauung or “world view” that reflects the artist’s interpretation of the deepest concerns of a given culture.
Her work is an inquiry into the nature of contemporary experience, with its unbounded instantaneous communication and nomadic displacements, its excess of information that overpowers the capacity of the mind to analyze, digest and prioritize the bits and pieces of pixilated signals transmitted by ubiquitous electronic media. The result is art that analyzes and reflects on our perception of the world as it is altered by various forms of hybridization in science, literature, science, film, painting, and architecture. Her current exhibition at the Centre del Carme in Valencia The World is Too Much With Us is titled after a poem by the English romantic poet William Wordsworth. This is appropriate since the six digital projections on the back walls of the chapels relate to themes dear to the nineteenth century Romantics—ruins, creation and destruction, shipwrecks and storms and poetic musings on the relationship between man and nature.
As the spectator stands in the entrance to the chapels, a trompe l’oeil digital projection of a door swings open, revealing a scene of disintegration and reintegration of scenes of deluge and conflagration, which may stand as a metaphor for the historical confrontation between destruction and reconstruction—of ideas, places, landscapes, buildings, cultures and relationships—that we are witnessing in a moment that many perceive as apocalyptic. That the animated doors open before us intensifies the experience of viewing the spectacles behind them, much as the technology of 3D glasses gives the animated film Avatar a compelling if artificial reality. The installations are accompanied by an electronic sound piece of violent crashing noises as they explode with fire and smoke.
The exhibition includes other virtual realities invented by the mind of the artist using the computer as her palette and brush to conjure up imagery of otherworldly experiences The static infographs printed on canvas show a nude woman invaded by foliage. Monstrous hybrids of plants and humans, these frightened creatures are invaded by organic growths, as if strangled by uncontrollable vegetation about to ingest their bodies. The fear and panic in the woman’s eyes is an expression of her loss of control over her own body (is there perhaps an unconscious pun on “mother nature”, the earthy woman who is prisoner of her own body?).
These supine women lie in a devastated forest, a ruin which is converting itself into a new territory. Núñez is perhaps inspired by the image of the giant Gulliver whose body is covered by the Lilliputians who vanquish and incapacitate him by their numbers. For Núñez these are reconfigured images of simultaneous destruction and creation, related to the digital projections in the chapels which are blown to pieces only to reconfigure themselves once again.
The iconography of the immobile infographs is related to the videos projected opposite them, which are also of life size nude woman. In the videos, however, the woman fights not the invasion of nature but an aggressive mechanical contraption that appears to issue from her head as if it represents her own thoughts. She struggles to raise herself up but she never succeeds and the futility of her repeated gesture of independence seems a cruel fate. The monstrous machine that pins her down has an uncanny if coincidental resemblance to the space ships floating freely in the film 2001.
However, the woman is a prisoner not of male domination since no men are involved but of her own mental processes and inability to liberate herself from them. The image seems to say that the responsibility for liberation like that for salvation is personal, which in terms of the feminist dialectic of victim /oppressor could be considered heretical. In this case, the mind rather than the body is invaded by alien forces, mechanistic fantasies that frustrate the woman’s desire for freedom while she is trapped either by nature or by her own thoughts.
The space inhabited by these women is also a hybrid, half way between the organic and the inorganic, placing the public in front of a disquieting scene. The enclosure of the personage in a natural prison suggests organic relationships between the body and disease, its vulnerability. The imprisonment and struggle also bring suggest the social conventions of discrimination and exclusion and the search for identity in relation to a range of different perspectives such as gender, the body, mutation and technological interactions.
Núñez has decided to leave the entrance hall darkened with the light coming from especially designed plastic canvas in which heads are decomposed and recomposed. The globular discs on the floor create the illusion of illumination coming from beneath them because they are not projections but sheets of plastic on which the image of a head is printed. They connected by an invisible cable that lights them up causing the heads to glow mysteriously in the spectral gloom.
To create these metamorphic images, Núñez had to go through a difficult process of research and experimentation in order to use new media, which is typical of her restless search for innovation in both materials and forms. The generic heads are deformed like the studies of expression by the eighteenth century German sculptor Messerschmitt. Thus the manipulated crushed mannequin head no longer represents ideal beauty but grotesque and terrifying deformation, suggesting the wounds we see daily in photographs and on television. Their saturated flesh color creates brilliant points of light like mysterious flickering flames rising from beneath the floor of the darkened entrance hall that leads to the chapel installations. In their appearance of being turned inside out, they relate to the heads at the base of each of the chapel installations of apocalyptic landscapes which explode and then reform themselves anew only to endlessly repeat the cycle of decomposition and recomposition.
The idea of the monstrous hybrid is fundamental to the Romantic imagination, which gave freedom to fantasy and the irrational. The richly colored fantasy landscapes in the chapels are inspired by the sulfurous visions of William Blake as well as the wildness of nature in Caspar David Friedrich or the turbulence of the sea in Turner or Gericault. The consciousness of history as the record of ruins is another salient feature of Romanticism. In 1796, the French archaeologist Antoine Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy commented that. “the rubble of the classical past” was “a text that was alternately readable and utterly mysterious.” [i]
Thus in the eighteenth century, the ruin became the image both of natural disaster and of the catastrophes of human history. Now once again faced with wholesale destruction, we experience storms, battles, earthquakes, and revolutions as equally disquieting facts of both nature and history, which relate our moment to the historical crisis that produced Romanticism. Once again we confront the limits of rationality in the face of the madness of men and the unpredictability of the uncontrollable forces of nature. Only this time we must also face the fact that humanity is the force that pushes nature to rebel, leaving our historical monuments in ruins. Faced with the possibilities of nuclear or natural disaster, artists and writers produce apocalyptic imagery, that in the brilliant explosions of heaven and earth produce “shock and awe”—the US Army code name for the invasion of Iraq.
The Romantics cultivated such extreme sensations and contemplated ruins as beautiful in themselves despite their connection to destruction and tragedy. In Les Ruines, ou Méditation sur les révolutions des empires, published in Paris in 1792, the Comte de Volney. recounts his travels among the ruins of Egypt and Syria. He imagines the dead streets full of people. Contemplating the fate of the ancient cities of Babylon, Persepolis, and Jerusalem and their silted ports, fallen temples, and ransacked palaces, he concludes that the earth itself has become «a place of sepulchers” representing human history. Today, turning on the evening news, we have an eerie sense of déjà vu. The problem now becomes how to aestheticize catastrophe as opposed to simply appropriating documentation in the interest of sloganeering propaganda.
In 1779, the painter Henry Fuseli depicted The Artist Overwhelmed by the Grandeur of Antique Ruins: head in hands, he despairs at ever matching the splendor of the statues whose remnants are scattered around him in the form of a massive marble hand and a gargantuan foot that suggest the decomposing heads in Núñez fantasy digital landscapes. Fuseli, a Swiss contemporary of Goya, is of course best known for his depiction of nightmares. The idea that rational consciousness was only a surface layer beneath which the human mind had experiences too primal, chaotic and horrific to be acknowledged was suddenly directly represented after having been repressed since the Renaissance. The unconsciousness mind began to generate its own images.
If ruination is in part a return of culture to nature, in the nineteenth century nature itself is imagined as already ruined. In Núñez’ post apocalyptic ruins we find the memories of Ruskin’s conception of the modern landscape as “smoky, cloudy, foggy, ignoble (in the sense, as one says of a gas, of having lost its «nobility,» its purity).” [ii] The industrial landscape as an empty abandoned ruin is pictured in the stark documentary photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher. However, digital technology provides the further possibility of hybridizing the real and the fantastic providing Maria Núñez with the tools to create poetic images that reverberate both backward in time as well as forward to a post apocalyptic future. In this imagined future the wreckage of abandoned buildings stand where once great structures thought to be invincible fortresses like the Twin Towers of 9/11 have been leveled to ruins.
The constant recycling of the contemporary ruins of current conflicts both in the new world as well as in the pre classical ancient near East by mass media indelibly imprints on our minds the possibility that the steady march of progress envisioned by the Enlightenment has come to an end. In this case the future of our monuments is the same as that of those of the ancient world, i.e. to be reduced to ashy skeletons. It is no coincidence that the conception of the future as a ruin owes much to the imagination of Adolf Hitler’s architect Albert Speer.
Speer’s most ambitious project was a ruin of the future he imagined on seeing a half demolished concrete hangar. However it was inconceivable that a hunk of rusting metal could one day inspire heroic thoughts like the monuments of the past Hitler so admired. By using special materials, he thought, one might be able to build structures which, after hundreds, or as he fondly believed, thousands of years, they would more or less resemble our Roman models. Today Hitler and his architect are gone but the ruin of the bombed out Gedächnis Kirche is preserved as a permanent monument to the destruction of the Third Reich on Berlin’s Kurfurstendam.
The cycle of post nuclear science fiction films beginning with Planet of the Apes considers the landscape of the future as a ruin populated not by humans but by their immediate simian ancestors. This dystopian view is shared by Kubrick as well who begins 2001 with scenes of the great apes inventing the first tool that will inevitably lead to the chain of scientific discoveries that ends in the construction of space ships. In essences, both films like much contemporary science fiction asks whether humanity is capable of evolution or whether human killer instincts together with unpredictable natural forces will ultimately condemn homo sapiens to the destiny of other extinct species.
Marina Núñez has read widely in the area of feminist theory. However, as opposed to hard core militant feminists who see the battle between men and women as an eternal war of submission and domination, Núñez avoids easy oppositions. In the world she represents. There is no violent opposition between men and women because there are no men, only women confronting their own inner demons. Thus she redefines feminism in terms of a personal struggle for both coherence and liberation. In the current exhibition, the video projection of the nude young woman writhing in an anonymous space is unable to stand up because despite all her efforts she is held down by her own thought projections, visualized as a hybridized mechanical construction that could be considered the instrument of repression of her own unconscious.
The woman is neither free from nor entirely aware of the mysterious mechanical growth that springs from her head, the manifestation of her own thoughts, fears and anxieties. She is held down by no man, but her own incapacities. What she confronts as an enemy is herself as her thoughts proliferate in an out of control fashion. One is reminded of Baudelaire’s appeal to his reader “hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère”. Thus when he writes of escape, he addresses a woman his “sister” but when he analyzes his own morbidity, he addresses his mirror image, i.e. a man.
Clearly Núñez has been influenced by science fiction. Of the various contemporary science fiction genres, the two which are the most pervasive are those of intergalactic combat and of terrestrial dystopia, where civilization collapses ruins and disaster and technology turns in on itself to become a destructive rather than a constructive force for creating utopias as it was once thought to provide. According to feminist theory, women imagine specifically feminine dystopias where they are experienced as non persons. In Worlds Apart: Dualism and Transgression in Contemporary Female Dystopias, Dunja M. Mohr describes feminist science fiction’s complex interplay of Utopian and dystopian thought, concluding women have created. a «new subgenre» of feminist «transgressive Utopian dystopia» [iii]
Without invoking Freud or Jung Núñez concentrates on the unconscious and the way in which thought and perception are being altered by the interface between humans and the more and more complex technology they have created. It is within this unsteady world of moral, aesthetic and scientific questioning that she situates her vision. It is a vision that finds hope in the imagination rather than exhaustion in the entropy that lead Robert Smithson to the pessimistic conclusion that we are headed not toward a distant utopia but inevitably toward dystopia.
Dystopias, even transgressive Utopian ones, are grounded in a dual logic that compares the world as it is to the world as it could be. Now that virgin birth is actually a possibility, all biological relationships are open to question. This is reflected in the latest video game “Huxley” (named for the author of Brave New World): projects a dystopia that is addressed to multiple online players in the virtual community of the Internet. Players are thrust into a dynamic world of crisp graphics and realistic environments, where they align themselves with one of two races, Sapiens or Alternatives, in the battle to harness dwindling resources in a war-torn land. Game play is endlessly peppered with attacks from and against the Hybrid, a mysterious third group born of the two races.
Science fiction literature and films featuring special effects as well as games like Huxley embed themselves into the collective consciousness as fully as the Bible stories once did. The dilemma becomes how to use this language without falling victim to its banalities and simplifications. This is the task Marina Núñez has set herself. In her recent site specific installations at the Cathedral of Burgos and at the MUSAC in Leon she has used her computer to construct hybrid bodies and heads that combine aspects of the human with those of the machine. These alien personages are forms of the cyborg, the monstrous offspring of nature and science.
The humanoid monster created from a collage of body parts, the invention of the scientist Dr. Victor Frankenstein, shares many of the features of the grotesque malevolent medieval golem as well as those of the android cyborg. For years it was thought that Frankenstein was written by the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley when in fact the author was his twenty-one year old wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. After Mary wrote a number of other novels including The Last Man, a fantasy about the end of the world, she was fully acknowledged as the author of Frankenstein. More recently she has been considered the inventor of the genre of science fiction.
Mary Shelley wrote the first draft of Frankenstein during the rainy summer of 1816 when she was seventeen years old. All Europe was locked in a cold wave caused by the volcanic eruption of 1815. The house party at Lord Byron’s villa entertained themselves indoors telling what amounted to ghost stories and horror tales of assembling parts of a corpse and animating it. Such morbidity was also a feature of the Romantic imagination. Shortly afterwards as she wrote in her diary she conceived the idea for Frankenstein: “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.”
The idea of the female cyborg, who was not monstrous but frigid, was the fantasy of the French decadent novelist Villiers de l’Isle Adam. In The Future Eve he imagines a docile robot invented by Thomas Edison. He has Edison explain his unlikely invention: «Since our gods and our aspirations are no longer anything but scientific, why shouldn’t our loves be so, too? In place of that Eve of the forgotten legend, the legend despised and discredited by Science, I offer you a scientific Eve… In a word, I have come, I, the `Sorcerer of Menlo Park,’ as they call me here, to offer the human beings of these new and up-to-date times something better than a false, mediocre, and ever-changing Reality; what I bring is a positive, enchanting, ever-faithful Illusion.»[iv]
Both cyborg and cyberspace are inventions of the science fiction vocabulary of the Eighties as descriptions for artificial persons and places. The cyborg is a hybrid, like Frankenstein’s monster who may be considered the first cyborg, replacing some of the biological aspects of being human with mechanical parts, while cyberspace changes the relationship of the individual to space by replacing the actual environment with a constructed alternative.
These new forms are made possible by advances in technology and in human evolution. While the most dominant thrust of the evolution of hominid brain seems to be on the neocortex, which is most responsible for cognitive development and control over the basic limbic-emotional system of the mammalian brain, there was also some evolution of the limbic system. The evidence is based on the comparison of living primates and their relation to evolutionary history.
Some of the evolutionary pressures that produced the biological evolution could be utilized by other cognitive functions. Biology places potentialities and limitations on creativity. This realization lead to the idea of cybersexual discourse exploring the future of evolution of those potentialities and limitations. Cybersexualities is the title of a 1999 book of essays that Núñez has read which was edited with commentary by Jenny Wolmark and subtitled “A reader on feminist theory, cyborgs and cyberspace”.
The topic of “cybersexuality” arises from the confluence of postmodern cultural theory, feminist theory, recent science fiction and extrapolations from the fields related to artificial intelligence, which have been made largely realizable from advances in technology. In this context Marxist, psychoanalytic, and existential theories undergo a transformation while being conflated as a result of the impact of science fiction and the notion of hybridization of humans and machines in the figure of the hybridized cyborg.
In her 1985 Manifesto for Cyborgs Donna Haraway argues for a reconsideration of Marxist and feminist analyses of the social relations of science and technology which rely on a received model of domination and subordination in favor of a new socialist-feminist political strategy that should give rise to new alliances and coalitions.
The previous year science fiction writer William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his novel, Neuromancer, which described a world on the edge of disintegration. Gibson’s invention of Cyberpunk literature is the fusion of science fiction and film «noir,” In this sleazy high-tech, low-life future, technology is merely another tool of power. Gibson used the term cyberspace to describe what he termed the “consensual hallucination of unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding[v].
In an interview Gibson prophetically spoke of the power of virtual reality to replace the concrete objects, spaces and experiences of the real world. ”Everyone I know who works with computers” he commented,” seems to develop a belief that there’s some kind of actual space behind the screen, someplace that you can’t see but you know is there.”’ [vi]
The dystopia of Gibson’s Neuromancer is made visual in the film Blade Runner that tells the story of a race of artificial replicants manufactured to replace humans to prepare for an invasion from outer space. The drama consists of differentiating the robotic replicants, who are a form of cyborgs from the flesh and blood humans on which they are modeled. The replicants have a similar relationship to humans as the artificial malleable repeatable modular heads that Núñez uses in a variety of works.
More to the point in relationship to the images of decadence and beauty of Marina Núñez cyberspace landscapes is the florid overripe language of J.D. Ballard who like the Romantics sees beauty in decay. According to Ballard “The marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th century has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world. Across the communications landscape move the specters of sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy.” His vision is of a dystopia but not that of the cyberpunks of Clockwork Orange. He evokes an exquisitely overripe panorama in his 1966 novel “The Day of Forever”:
Despite the almost static light, fixed at this unending dusk, the drained bed of the river seemed to flow with colors. As the sand spilled from the banks, uncovering the veins of quartz and the concrete caissons of the embankment, the evening would flare briefly, illuminated from within like a lava sea. Beyond the dunes the spires of old water towers and the half-completed apartment blocks near the Roman ruins at Leptis Magna emerged from the darkness. To the south, as Halliday followed the winding course of the river, the darkness gave way to the deep indigo tracts of the irrigation project, the lines of canals forming an exquisite bonelike gridwork.
Ballard’s language is a surreal oversaturation that has its parallels in Marina Núñez’ digital environments. He writes in the popular genre of science fiction, but his language is that of poetry whose transcendence offers the comfort that art can give in a time when worlds fall apart before our eyes. It is within this universal context rather than any politically gendered idea that I would place her imagery of angels and devils, conflagrations and deluges, cyborgs and cyberspace.
There is a consistent trajectory in Núñez’ thought processes which is based in the world of virtual reality as that reality obtrudes upon our consciousness and lodges itself in our unconscious minds. It is not easy to decipher content which is both rich in allusion and metaphor. If there is nostalgia, it is nostalgia for an art that is complete and not fragmented into so many disembodied and meaningless random pixels, a world that believes in at least the beauty of transfiguration and the imagination has free access to the collective consciousness. These are the terms in which the Surrealists defined radicality: the transformation of reality through the liberation of fantasy and the restrictive boundaries of the unthinkable.
The deluge of words, images and sounds swimming around in the conscious and unconscious mind, the flotsam of mass culture on TV and the Internet, which have replaced the billboards and advertising that once constituted the popular culture that inspired artists who wanted to communicate in a lingua franca the public could access. This is the huge perceptual change from static print culture to electronic digital culture. Marshall McLuhan’s slogan “The Medium is the Message” has proven to be untrue. The message is the message and the medium in which it is delivered depends on the choice of the artist of the language.
The staring bulging eyes of her early videos remind us of the hair-raising image of the sliced eyeball in Le Chien Andalou, a collaboration between Dalí and Buñuel which defined the boundaries of Surrealist cinema. And indeed if there is an antecedent for Núñez’ mutating heads with their network of exposed neurons and hybridized human landscapes it is in the landscapes of Dalí, who is suddenly being reevaluated by a new generation of artists and writers able to disengage Dalí’s visionary imagination from his deplorable reactionary politics and puerile behavior.
Events of a certain magnitude change consciousness and the way we look at the world. Historians have written about how thoroughly the Lisbon earthquake exploded the myth of the Enlightenment belief in progress when confronted with the irrational and unpredictable powers of nature which reduced man and his mind to passive victims. This event occupied the thoughts of all Europe for an unusual term of time; both as an expression upon a larger scale than usual of the mysterious physical agency concerned in earthquakes, and also for the awful human tragedy.
On November 1, 1755 at approximately 9.30am, the whole of Western Europe was shaken by a tremendous earthquake. The strength appears to have been around 8.2, or possibly more, on the Richter Scale, which is not the strongest earthquake ever recorded. In the Algarve there was great destruction and nearly all buildings were damaged. Churches came down on top of congregations who had been attending the Holy Day Mass. Two-storey buildings were flattened. In the town of Vila do Bispo, just 20km inland from Cape St. Vincent, only one house was left with any walls standing.
Spain and Morocco were also badly hit. Some 300km to the north, the quayside in Lisbon sank into the river. The undersea quake generated a tsunami. The sea retreated, revealing the sea bed. Survivors rushed to see the unusually exposed ocean floor, but then they were overwhelmed by the thundering wall of water returning. Thirty meter high waves reportedly crashed over the cliffs at Sagres. The reports of these events traumatized Europe and changed its thinking. Yet the recent images transmitted from Haiti in real time of the destruction of the island and its people seem to have hardly been experienced because there is not sufficient time to absorb its reality.
As I was writing this text I was listening to the reports of the volcanic ash crisis that struck Europe recently. Who could believe the news that a long dormant volcano was spewing black clouds of ash that were sufficient to close all airports. An exploding volcano in Iceland, of all places? In the present decade the earth has experienced the three of the largest earthquakes in two hundred years. The underwater volcanoes and earthquakes have gone up 88% over the last three years. The continental earthquakes have gone up by 62% during the same time frame. The rate of increase of earthquakes and volcanoes against time is staggering.
Some scientists believe the ongoing polar reversal is accelerating and will eventually have reverse polarity in North and South pole. According to the simulation model, the earth’s inner core and outer core is going through some serious disturbances causing increased frequency and strength of earthquakes and volcanoes as we approach the year 2012.
And indeed there is already a movie titled 2012 based on the various scientific and historic predictions that the apocalypse is near. Putting aside Nostradamus and the Mayan calendar, in our modern age we have not experienced a simultaneous solar and terrestrial polar reversal. Between now and 2012, the sun will experience a polar reversal and the earth will also experience a polar reversal. This combination of events will cause disturbances in the earth’s crust and tectonic plates resulting in severe volcanoes and earthquakes.
Needless to say these realities are at least as stunning as the news of the Lisbon earthquake which caused philosophers and writers from Voltaire to Goethe to lose their belief in human progress that the rationalism of the Enlightenment promised. Today that belief is once again being questioned by two forces: uncontrollable nature and an accelerating pace of proliferating technologies that also seem to be running out of control. In such a situation, fantasy rivals reality, a development that has spawned post modernist forms in all the arts now that science fiction is a legitimate literary genre and virtual reality parallels concrete in the body experience.
We live for example with the knowledge that in this past decade, there were three of the most violent earthquakes in the last two hundred years. These were accompanied by innumerable small quakes, underwater volcanoes, mudslides and more. We know that the tectonic plates are slowly shifting. The polar reversal also causes shift in tectonic forces to accelerate. The pressures built up for many years are somewhat released through violent outbreaks with earthquakes and repeated tsunamis which seem ever closer in their manifestations. And we live every day with this knowledge just as we know that scientists are constantly finding new ways to create artificial life and limbs just as others are creating newer and more sophisticated weapons of destruction.
These are forces over which we have no control. Yet they constitute our everyday reality, a reality that some artists like Marina Núñez are incorporating into a new hybridized vocabulary of powerful images that need no text to provoke and excite the viewer who is engaged as directly as the latest variety of cinematic special effects. With this difference: whereas Avatar is comforting kitsch, an analytic critique of the world that is too much with us haunts us long after the electricity in the space where they are exhibited is turned off.
Within this context of traumatic upheaval, Marina Núñez has kept up a frenetic pace of work and achievement. The minute calculations need to construct her complex images combining video and digital within the computer which is like assorting the contents of her mind and thoughts. No predetermined program, the images seem to assemble themselves as they pour forth from her own unconscious. Their power is precisely in their lack of calculation and intensity of expression of our own repressed anxieties and concerns in this moment of dramatic change in the relationships between humans, nature, and the machine and the recalibration of gender relationships once mental powers replace brute physical force as the determinate in power hierarchies and virgin birth is now a scientific reality.
The excess of the cycles of destruction and regeneration, the infinite variations of the mutating heads, the exhaustion of the women imprisoned by the structures with the generic three dimensional heads reminiscent of the mechanical standardized expressions of mute mannequins all participate in this imagery of states of consciousness.
Today the artist has the possibility of combining and hybridizing various disciplines, including adding sound to environmental site specific installations, as Núñez does in the current installation of the spectacles behind closed doors. In the way she projects them using the perspective we associate with painting creates an unreal illusion of dramatic deep space that contradicts our knowledge that we are looking at a total illusion, a magic trick conjured up by the artist who invites us to view the secret world that lies behind the portal.
With the addition of music and movement, the digital projections become a new type of Gesamtkunstwerk. The idea of a total work of art or Gesamtkunstwerk in which the individual arts are united was propagated by the great German romantic composer Richard Wagner, who believed that ancient Athenian tragedy was the finest example of total artistic synthesis –which he felt Euripedes corrupted. Wagner wished to return to the form of early Greek drama of Aeschylus and Sophocles that joining music, dance and drama in a single entity.
Wagner saw the evolution of the individual arts as a decline culminating in the nineteenth century form of grand opera that celebrated bravura singing, sensational stage effects, and meaningless plots. The mixture of sound, image, language which digital technology represents, however, was perhaps not what Wagner had in mind. But because of the capacity of digital technology to hybridize sources, it does once more present such a possibility.
The question then becomes in what way does contemporary reality change our brains, perceptions in an undifferentiated mass of all at once information? How to structure, analyze it rather than drown in information becomes the issue now that fantasy is released from inhibition. And how, moreover, to frame these issues in a language that is currently intelligible now that perception has been altered by technology.
Marina Núñez draws on the various disciplines and techniques available today and in some instances uses found images grabbed from the Internet. However, her work is deeply personal and individual. She works alone, in isolation in front of her screen with her library of books. The idea of interactive networked virtual communities which is a popular goal today stands against the idea of individual creativity and the uniqueness of genius. Its broadly leveling democratizing ideology is at odds with the romantic imagination that exalted the strangeness and introspection of the alienated poetic intelligence. Perhaps there is such a thing as group poetry and networked interactive collaborations, but I question the heights of aesthetic achievement such works might attain. It is true that the medieval cathedral was a collective effort it is also true that we remember the name of the Gislebertus the master mason who conceived of the cathedral of Autun or Maestro Esteban of the Puerta de las Platerias. For a collective effort to transcend its moment there must be a mind that can synthesize an aesthetic program of a higher order—which is a thoroughly undemocratic idea that refutes the prevailing ethos of democratically non hierarchical networked communities.
The choice to develop surreal –in the most literal sense—images places Núñez squarely within the concerns of a younger generation of artists searching for a lingua franca to replace the mass culture imagery of pop art in which to communicate with the general public as opposed to the happy few or the academics in the ivory tower. For the moment that language seems rooted in the fluorescent wilderness of science fiction where technology can make anything happen.
It is a choice of a language that Robert Smithson made in his writings and, had he lived, would have inevitably pursued in his visual art as well. Marina Núñez was seven years old in Palencia when Robert Smithson died in a plane crash in Amarillo, Texas. Today his earthworks are ruins and the Spiral Jetty is sinking faster than Venice. His film Spiral Jetty, however, is his masterpiece that points toward what he could have done with digital technology. It would remain for a younger generation, in a different time and a different place to harness the technologies to create an ampler, more energetic and provocatively open ended vision of the potential relationships between humans, machines, and nature.
[i] Quatremere de Quincy,
[ii] John Ruskin, Modern Painters
[iii] Dujuna More
[iv] Villiers de l’Ile Adam, La Nouvelle Eve
[v] Gibson, Neuromancer
[vi] (Gibson, from an interview, quoted by Wolmark)