MAN A: Gibson / Martelli

17 January - 28 March 2015

UNION Gallery is proud to present the first exhibition of our 2015 programme; a site-specific, immersive installation by British artists Ruth Gibson and Bruno Martelli.

MAN A takes military Dazzle Camouflage as its point of departure. Unlike traditional camouflage which operates on the principle of concealment, dazzle camo uses complex arrangements of high-contrast, interrupted patterns of geometric shapes intended to confuse the calculation of a ship’s range, speed and bearing in an enemy’s optical gunnery rangefinder.

The distinctive aesthetic of Dazzle found its way into Art discourse in the work of Vorticist artist Edward Wadsworth, who - having been commissioned to supervise the camouflaging of some 2,000 ships during WW1 – produced a series of canvases in the style during the post- war period.

Gibson/Martelli’s installation brings this thoroughly modern aesthetic into a contemporary framework by exploiting its monochromatic, geometric patterns as the de facto standard for machine reading, akin to a barcode or QR pattern. This appropriation takes the form of a custom ‘augmented reality’ mobile application created by Martelli, in which the device’s camera ‘recognises’ the pattern and superimposes three-dimensional imagery into the live- camera view.

It is at this stage that the project’s complexities begin to unfold. Upon the (technologically- mediated) appearance of this previously-invisible data encoded into the structure and objects of the gallery space, the viewer is presented with multiple approaches to ‘reading’ the work.

The superimposed imagery occupies the screen of the viewer’s mobile device, atop its live- camera digital representation of the space, which is filled with re-presentations of dazzle camouflage - which was itself designed with optical representation in mind. This multiple layering of imagery foregrounds the simulacral nature of the experience, highlighting the ways in which images and technologies produce both each other and the viewing subject simultaneously.

Furthermore, the artist’s purposeful ‘glitch’ in this chain of representation becomes apparent; what was once a pattern intended to obfuscate in the analog era becomes one able to reveal and expand upon the image in the digital era, by way of image-recognition and augmentation.

The specific nature of these augmentations is crucial. In presenting stylized humanoid forms whose movements are derived from 3D motion-captured contemporary dance performances, Gibson/Martelli reintegrate embodied perception into a process that otherwise privileges the visual and cerebral almost exclusively.

This occurs at not only the conceptual level, but the practical; in order to fully interact with the installation, viewers must engage their spatial and proprioceptive faculties, positioning themselves in the public street where the exhibition begins and moving throughout the gallery space, and using their full range on physical articulations to view all facets of the exhibition’s virtual performers.

The performers who lent their motion-captured presence to the installation are all experts in the Skinner Releasing Technique model of contemporary dance, which holds as its core premise that all humans are endowed with a natural, animal-like grace that can be tapped by the combination of technical movement principles with poetic images and spontaneity. It is from this principle of natural force and energy - referred to as mana in Pacific Island cultures - that MAN A takes its name.