Australian Video Art Archive

Jill Scott


A Figurative History

00:04:36 1996

A book by David Channel called The Vital Machine inspired this installation. In it he talks about human desires (e.g. to reproduce, to live forever) and the related reconstruction of our bodies by technology. In my installation I chose five different types of characters who represented different but overlapping desires to transform the body using technology. Frankenstein’s Monster (1890) related to the interest in medical bio-manipulation; Lady Miso (1750) was a metaphor for robotics simulation; Pandora (B.C.), represented the metamorphosis from objects to human (like a Golem); The Cyborg (1250) illustrated the desire to integrate organic and mechanic parts; and The Data Body (1950) explored the idea of artificial intelligence and the notion of a downloaded mind onto a computer or the ‘post-human’ discourse.

Inside the installation viewers could interact with these characters on five terminals with smart objects and corresponding screens. By touching metal points on sculptures that related to the histories of the five characters, the viewers could edit the sequences of the animated characters, which appeared on the screens in front of them. The sculptures were sensitive to the viewer’s touch because the water in human bodies acts as a conduit and can close an electronic circuit. The aim was to turn each viewer into a type of cyborg. Before viewers entered the elevated hut of A Figurative History, they had to remove their shoes so that the effect of interaction was enhanced. In order to convey the idea of crossing and collapsing time, the viewers could join hands and link the objects together. Then they could trigger any of the characters to meet other characters at the same time. Often the viewers formed a human chain right around the room, causing the characters to sing out their answers to text-based questions like: “Are you organic or mechanic?”

DVD available.