– text by Borbála Soós
The conditions that obtained when life had not yet emerged from the oceans have not subsequently changed a great deal for the cells of the human body, bathed by the primordial wave which continues to flow in the arteries. Our blood in fact has a chemical composition analogous to that of the sea of our origins, from which the first living cells and the first multicellular beings derived the oxygen and the other elements necessary to life. With the evolution of more complex organisms, the problem of maintaining a maximum number of cells in contact with the liquid environment could not be solved simply by the expansion of the exterior surface: those organisms endowed with hollow structures, into which the sea water could flow, found themselves at an advantage. But it was only with the ramification of these cavities into a system of blood circulation that distribution of oxygen was guaranteed to the complex of cells, thus making terrestrial life possible. The sea where living creatures were at one time immersed is now enclosed within their bodies.
– Italo Calvino: Blood, Sea
Radical atoms are pixels released into the environment, made 3D and ubiquitous. They congregate to make forms and materials that can transform their shape, colour, properties, through digital or other stimuli, heat, light, sound. It becomes a question of the management of inputs, the flow of currents, the direction of heat, the manipulation of acidity levels to impact on optical properties, size, shape and activity. In this scenario, energy from the temperature of the body, from the light of the environment, could be extracted as a power source for devices, a radicalisation of its current use within the circuitry of the touch screen device. They would charge as we exist, as we emanate from ourselves, holding them, and they exist then without the tangle of wires, transformers, sockets. Ubiquity is not just being integrated into all of our activities. It is co-existing, or synonymous with each cell of our body, each fluctuation of our body temperature, each shadow we cast or remove. This is the bleed. … The bleeding edge is technology not just on the body, but integrated into every atom of that body, every atom of that world, whose capacities are augmented so that it might account for every state from fixed to flowing, from liquid to crystal.
– Interview with Esther Leslie, In: Flux until Sunrise, a booklet for Geraldine Juarez, 2018
Liquid crystals molecules are organised in ways that possess properties that are both liquid and solid. With Esther Leslie’s example, they may have the ability at once to flow, like water, and to refract, like ice. In LCDs (liquid crystal displays) electrical currents cause the molecules to align, hence allowing varying levels of light to pass through to the second substrate and create the colours and images that we see. The properties of this now ubiquitous material are harnessed in variously sized flat-screens, including computers, mobile phones, smartwatches and navigation devices… The screens seduce us not only by representing and luring through apps and advertisement but through a quality of the materiality with a surplus of hues and forever-modulating and hypnotizing forms. Perhaps it is no surprise that liquid crystals also exist inside our bodies. Cell membranes, DNA, many proteins as well as our epithelial tissues, which line the cavities and surfaces of organs throughout the body include liquid crystalline.
Imaging technologies influence how we see and perceive the world. Do you remember that sunset over the ocean we watched together from the boat? The open horizon with the two islands on either side of us: it looked so CGI, I felt like I was wearing a VR headset! We augment our bodies with headsets and haptic feedback gloves or with goggles and fins, and our perceptions oscillate between experiences of the rendering and real.
Melody Jue’s recent book Wild Blue Media starts with the description of learning to dive, and through this process having to learn how to reorient one’s body quite literally. She talks about how becoming a good diver requires extensive rehabituation, rewiring the reflex to stand up and getting used to how the act of breathing affects motion, slightly sinking with each exhalation and rising with each inhalation. In the book, she proposes to destabilise terrestrial-based ways of knowing and to reorient our perception of the world by considering the ocean itself as a media environment. She develops an almost sci-fi like methodology, a conceptual displacement through submerging to help understand how seawater can transform how information is created, stored, transmitted and perceived.
A feeling of embodied experience emanates from Paulo Arrano’s work. For him too, the ocean offers a change in perception, down to the cellular and even LDC screen molecular level. He considers the ocean as a live material and an imaginative space through questioning how our conceptions might be recalibrated in the context of this body of water.
In his video, Shall We Dance, Arraiano thinks through the body, technology and feelings as “downloading emotions while having a cold drink”. In the video – an extended or perhaps endlessly suspended moment of wanting to be in touch, but not quite knowing how to – the medium of water becomes a dominant measure of time. While the narrator speaks of connecting and disconnecting in different ways, waves wash over the bodies of mythical jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war floating in open waters.
Mermaids are slippery on purpose. Their roles and intentions vary, but most often they appear as catalysts of a change, transformation and renewal at the points where two worlds meet. Mermaids and mermen (often with ambiguous sexuality) are present in the folklore of many cultures worldwide across great distances and time, and potentially analogous with different animals. Arraiano has a profound interest in the nature of transformation and in creatures of seduction. In Postfossil Images the skeletons of some almost mythical creatures undergo slight alterations and begin to resemble human organs.
The title of Paulo Arraiano’s solo show, Olokun, meaning the owner of the ocean, references an orisha spirit who in many ways is an aider of transformation too. Revered as the ruler of all bodies of water, in West African areas directly adjacent to the coast, Olokun takes a male form among his worshipers while in the hinterland, Olokun is a female or androgynous deity. Olokun is also recognized with small alterations all around the Atlantic Ocean including Nigeria, Benin, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, the USA and more due to Yoruba and Edo people being taken as slaves to these territories. Olokun is associated with material wealth and also governs psychic abilities, dreaming, meditation, mental health and water-based healing, and also plays an important role in the transition of human beings and spirits between two existences.