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(both) Untitled, Wenyon & Gamble, 1994, laser print on paper, 72" x 21"

The Ghost in the Machine:

Wenyon & Gamble

Ron Platt
There is a rich tradition of art emerging from and reflecting on scientific thought and development, whether Leonardo Da Vinci's anatomical illustrations or Howard "Doc" Edgerton's stroboscopic camera images. Since meeting at a holography workshop in London in 1980, artists Susan Gamble and Michael Wenyon have explored the interconnections between art and science; in fact the focus of their collaborative output is the commingling of scientific inquiry and aesthetic visualization.

Wenyon + Gamble are among the few contemporary artists whose primary medium is holography, a form of photography invented in the 1940s which creates illusionistic three-dimensional images in vibrant color. Holography has been widely disregarded as scientific or commercial novelty, yet Wenyon + Gamble have utilized the medium as a forum for their elegant conceptual investigations into the studies of light and optical phenomena. Recently the pair spent a year at Edinburgh's Royal Observatory in Scotland working on The James Clerk Maxwell Tartan. The piece comprised a large multi-part hologram, within the Observatory itself, which resembled both rainbow and tartan, in recognition of the Scottish scientist's heritage, as well as his discoveries relating to the electromagnetic spectrum.

For this exhibition Wenyon + Gamble invest the classical tradition of the nude with a more scientific sensibility in a new series of digitally generated and manipulated images of naked human bodies, photographed from life.

The pair worked with 'whole body' scans, and 'details' of parts of the body scanned––a thumb or tuft of hair, for instance––enlarged to such an extent as to verge upon abstraction. The whole body scans are pieced together from a sequence of images, each taken by the model with a hand-held scanner. The practice conflates the cold applications of medical technology with a more intimate self-exploration of the body.

Considering how the practice of digital manipulation disrupts the notion of the photograph as a moment in time, one is led to reflect how this work contrasts to the traditional photographic relationship to the nude, in which the camera stops time for a split second to capture "the perfect moment." These whole body images recall the recently deceased, when the clock ceases altogether, or a ghostly presence which exists physically only outside the computer. Starkly exposed in white against a black background, the bodies appear to float serenely in a tank of dark liquid, hovering mysteriously between life and death, ephemeral and material.
Excerpt of essay from the catalog to The Ghost in the Machine, published 1994 by the MIT List Visual Arts Center, Wiesner Building, 20 Ames Street, Cambridge MA 617-253-4400.

Exhibition of the same name at MIT List Visual Arts Center, Oct 8 – Dec 18, 1994, curated by Ron Platt of five photographers (or photographer teams) [that] "…turn to computer technology in the making and conceptualization of their photographs," featuring works by Anthony Aziz + Sammy Cucher, Keith Cottingham, Kenjiro Okazaki + Yoshinori Tsuda, Jeff Wall, Wenyon + Gamble