31 October - 10 November 2006
Dr. Josephine McCormick
What will be the cultural resonance of the flourishing phenomenon of the mobile phone? Along with the other nomadic technological devices such as the iPod and memory stick, how do they mark our era? If we were to entertain an archaeological dig at some time in the future at an early twenty-first century site then we may find many variations of an object that couches comfortably in the hand. Some residue of a surface may remain, a face with a reflective window and tiny buttons. What is unearthed may have left an imprint on the outer pouch. Various propositions could account for an unknown function. A faint phosphorescent glow may be evident if lighting conditions were serendipitous. A displaced sonic function would still echo a faint vibration as it trails away into space. The suite of print works entitled Trace engages in the nature of nomadic technology. Josephine McCormick invests Trace with a 'diverse spectrum of meaning with notions of nomadic technology as iconic relics, symbolic and ritual tools and portals for liquid modernity.' (McCormick)
There are other icons that were lost then re-found that pre-date the archaeological inventiveness of McCormick; venerated icons such as the shroud of Turin, the veil of Veronica and the sudarium of Oviedo. A reddish brown trace imbedded on the veil of Veronica is thought to be staining from the face of Jesus.
The cloth is so thin that it appears to be transparent. It is hard to gaze at the veil without admitting that it at least appears to have a paranormal quality. The image, already faint, can disappear completely, depending on just how the light hits the cloth. In medieval times it was considered miraculous that the image appeared and disappeared when light was shone on it from different directions. (Sora p.39)
As Jesus made his way to Calvary carrying his cross, Veronica was thought to have wiped his face with a sudarium (Latin for a piece of cloth used for wiping the face). The veil of Veronica has an unclear history but it can now be found at the monastery in Manoppello, Italy.
The Jewish burial custom was to cover the face of the dead with a sudarium. The sudarium of Oviedo is recorded as having being found in the tomb of Jesus by John and Simon Peter. We can follow this burial sudarium of Jesus on an epic journey to its current resting place in the cathedral at Oviedo, Spain. The sudarium first remained stored in a chest (similar to that of the Ark of the Covenenant) for six centuries. Under threat by the Persians, it was removed to Alexandria and possibly Carthage and Africa, then on to Spain.
It is said a wolf guarded the ark on its way to Oviedo just ahead of the Moors. For this reason the name of the port where it landed from Subsalas to Luarca (Wolf of the Ark). Luarca still exists today on the northern coast of Spain, about fifty miles away from the inland city of Oviedo. The most reliable records mention that the veil was then taken to Seville. It is later recorded as having been brought to Toledo. It may have spent half a century in that city and then all texts agree that in 711 it was put into protective sanctuary. The ark that contained the sudarium was opened in A.D. 1075 when the king, Alfonso VI, ordered an inventory of sacred items. It was listed as the "Holy Sudarium of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
Legend, rather than surviving documents, recall that when priests opened the ark they were struck blind. This recalls the fate of the unpure who dared to touch the Ark of the Covenant. Finally, when King Alfonso opened it, he was with El Cid, the national hero of Spain, so they were spared any ill effects. (Sora p.49)
Microscopic particles of dirt were taken from the foot position on the Shroud of Turin and were tested in 1978 at the Hercules Aerospace Laboratory in Salt Lake, Utah. Crystals of travertine argonite were identified, a relatively rare form of calcite that can be found near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.
If we return to the red earthy pigments in the prints of McCormick, we might speculate that she embeds her prints with the iconic palette of Australian soil to mark location, suggestive of another deep history and journey. Just as pigment is embedded in the paper made of cotton fibre used in printmaking, bodily fluids are absorbed into the face cloth known as a sudarium. Both are physical impressions. Perhaps too, it is not by chance that the materiality of her dual-faced impressions are haunted by the spectre of the lenticular 'magic' of the face stains from the shroud of Turin turning into an idealised face of Jesus or indeed the glow in the dark printed t-shirt of the shroud of Turin to be had on eBay.
The artist's self-defined role as a technological archaeologist excavating the present is pivotal to the creation of the suite of prints.
The work fluctuates between a contemporary reading of the technology and a possible future historical reading. This work is influenced by Zygmunt Bauman's analysis of 'Liquid Modernity', Kathryn Henderson's view of ritual tools and Adriana de Souza e Silva's article on static to mobile interfaces. These three texts converge to inform and decode 'Trace'. 'The emergence of nomadic technology devices allows whole cities to be used as a 'responsive surface', or as a game board. It is as though the urban space has become a map of itself, a place for interaction and long distance contact, without the need for a restricted or fixed space'. (de Souza e Silva 2004) It is agreed that the emergence of nomadic technology devices have changed our engagement with our environment. Transforming social and geo/physical relationships. The boundaries between private and public space have been blurred by the element of mobility. This array of technological devices proposes liberation from time, space and matter. Bauman's (2000) concept of, 'Liquid Modernity' comments on how we have moved away from a 'heavy' and 'solid', hardware - focused modernity to a 'light' and 'liquid', software - based modernity. The fragmentation within the rubbings of the objects supports this view by causing a shift in the solidity of the object, inviting an expansive interpretation of the work by the viewer. Within 'Trace', the 'enlightened' visual residue of the images flicker and melt into darkness. They hold an ethereal quality about them. The interaction of transformative light and darkness present a playful, quality to the work. The nomadic technology devices explored are all transformative devices, transforming into sound waves and held in ether. They become a portal from the physical plane to digital space. One definition of 'Trace', considered as 'a mark, object, or other indication of the existence or passing of something', is pertinent to the work, in relation to its reading as an archaeological relic of technology. The effusion of light also mirroring the concept of a 'Sudarium' which has the connotation of a 'miraculous' image. The visual residue and fragmentation also conceals the objects functionality so that the object is seen as a 'ritual' or 'symbolic' tool. Henderson (1999, p.190) suggests that high technology tools are imbued with 'technological ritual'. This work represents a continued exploration into the visceral relationship between technology and self. Inverting the solidity of nomadic technology in order to filter reality, to expose what lies beneath.
'The aura of a high-technology designation delegates a certain kind of status to a tool or technique and hence renders products and processes so named as symbolic tools recognized more for the status they confer on their users, owners and makers than for their actual function in getting work done… Symbolic tools bestow power and status on their possessors not because of their functional capability but because of their status as special objects from special sources and special places within the fabric of the social network including its hierarchy, lineage and history.' (Henderson pp.190-191) (McCormick)
I do not have a mobile phone. Nor does the artist own a mobile phone. Placed in the position of outsider to this phone phenomenon gives a unique vantage point for observing a pervasive cultural shift in methods of communication and storage of knowledge. However as an artist in the RMIT Artist in Residence program McCormick was allocated a mobile phone. She even photographically documented the progress of the prints she made during the residency with a mobile phone. The idea of being available for calls or text messages at all hours comes at a curious time for her when as an artist one would hope to be fully engaged in visual practice in the studio. However the profession of visual practice also demands communicating with the world. And McCormick's research involved collecting primary evidence from owners of other mobile phones. The rubbings from the surfaces of borrowed phones were the beginnings of the journey for Trace.
If Helena, mother of Constantine was the first archaeologist of Christianity then Josephine McCormick may well be the first archaeologist of twenty-first century hand-held digital technology. The sonic collaboration of Philip Samartzis adds to the tracing of this perhaps ephemeral but pervasive phenomenon.
Dr Ruth Johnstone
The Bible, English Standard Version, John 20:5-7.
Bauman, Zygmunt, Liquid Modernity, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2000.
Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 10th ed. Pearsall, J., et al., Oxford University Press, 2002.
De Souza e Silva, Adriana, Art By Telephone: From Static to Mobile Interfaces, Leonardo Electronic Almanac, vol.12, no.10, 2004.
Henderson, Kathryn, On Line and on Paper: Visual Representations, Visual Culture, and Computer Graphics in Design Engineering, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1999.
McCormick, Josephine, Artist Statement, 2006.
Sora, Steven. Treasures from Heaven: Relics from Noah's Ark to the Shroud of Turin. Hoboken, New Jersey, Wiley, 2005.
Dr Josephine McCormick was a guest of the RMIT School of Art Artist in Residence Program from July to September 2006. Her visit was supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland through the Travel Award Scheme. Dr McCormick is based in Belfast in Northern Ireland and is an artist/lecturer in printmaking in Belfast and is a member of the Belfast Print Workshop. Dr McCormick has constantly explored and experimented in her practice, integrating digital technology alongside traditional fine art printmaking. A central concern in this process of investigation has been to reflect on the visceral relationship between technology and self. Her work has explored figurative and abstract concerns using organic systems, genetics and DNA as source material. Dr McCormick has exhibited her work internationally at Estampes D'Outre, Mussee Adzak: Paris, Verin fur Original Radierung: Munich, Curwin Gallery: London, Ekaterinburg Museum: Ekaterinburg; Russia and has held residences at The Art Academy: San Francisco, Atelier Contrepoint: Paris and Australian Print Workshop: Melbourne.
The research for Trace incorporated graphite rubbings (visual residue) of nomadic technology devices such as mobile phones, USB/memory sticks and iPods enlarged and transferred onto photo-sensitive copper plates, then etched and printed onto BK Rives paper. In the printing of the suite at the RMIT School of Art Printmaking studios the artist developed an innovative use of phosphorous, a photo-luminescent pigment. This was done by 'flocking' the prints with the pigment particles. The process involved dusting the inked image, and the particles then adhered to the wet ink. The prints themselves were then 'charged', by natural light or ultra violet light to reveal a 'glowing' ghost image lying across the surface. The 'charge', mirroring the need to power nomadic devices, enables them to function. The use of phosphorous, a photo-luminescent pigment, also supports the work as a reflection on the visceral relationship between visual stratification, fragmentation and meaning providing readings of both a physical and symbolic image.
The artist invited Dr Philip Samartzis, Co-ordinator for Sound Art at RMIT to create a sonic installation for the exhibition 'Trace'. Dr Samartzis has organized three immersion festivals in Melbourne focusing on surround sound culture. His work explores the traction between site, sound and space.