Marilene Oliver

Marilene Oliver works with medical imaging (such as MRI and CT scans) to create sculptural artworks. Marilene’s work is concerned with the status of the human subject in an increasingly digitised world. Most recently Marilene has started using anonymised datasets to embody specific narratives / identities, much like a gamer who creates an avatar/ or avatars.


Marilene Oliver

‘Womb Axis’

UV cured inkjet and optichromic and interference ink (silk screened) on to polycarbonate, acrylic stand. 130cm x 75cm w x 120 cm 

The Artists Statement 

My material is digitised bodies. Concepts such as Hans Moravec’s 1988 call to ‘download our consciousness to the datascape in order to survive’ serve as springboards to create artworks that speculate how we might survive, refigure and evolve in the Digital Age. During the time that I have been working with scan datasets (I made my first work using scans in 2001) the impact and nature of digitisation in both the medical world and the quotidian has changed dramatically. From first being a tool for email communication, it has now become interwoven into almost every aspect of our lives from work to socialising and leisure, from shopping to body maintenance and from remembering our pasts to planning our futures. As an artist my focus is to be particularly attuned to these changes and challenge them in my artworks.

At first my work attempted to repair the fragmentation and dislocation brought about by medical imaging and to reclaim the body from the contemporary medical and digital gaze in order to poetically subvert it and offer future relics of our digitised selves. Fearing the loss of human embodied relationships I worked with datasets of bodies I knew and loved in order to preserve them. My motivations were sentimental and nostalgic yet also ironic, playing with disillusioned promises that technology will endlessly improve and save us. I worked almost exclusively with clear and transparent materials to achieve a spectral yet controlled and measured aesthetic employing techniques such as screen printing and laser cutting. The works tried to export the scanned body as purely and as cleanly as possible in order to expose the slicing and fragmentation of digital scanning processes. Works such as Family Portrait, made from MRI scans of my family’s bodies’ printed at actual size at regular intervals and then stacked, were made to offer a life size, real time encounters with digital copies of the human body that bore the scars of their transformation which in the case of Family Portrait were the empty spaces spaces between the sheets.

n 2007 I started to work with an anonymised dataset called Melanix. Freed from having a personal relationship with the subject I worked with Melanix as I would an avatar, constantly reforming and re-materialising her to suit my changing ideas and impressions. My sculptures became the product of what Alice Isoborg coined ‘Virtual Leakage’ – ideas and impressions from the real and virtual mixed through a process of osmosis and solidifying as sculptural objects. At this time the use of the digitised body became performative: I enfleshed the data with techniques and materials with the aim to become another, to play a role, feel a pain, gain a strength. Conjunctly I became aware that my practice had become heavily disembodied and that much of my studio time was spent in front of a computer as well as the production of the work becoming increasingly mechanised. As an artist who works to challenge this Post- Humanisation, I made a conscious decision to employ embodied techniques such as weaving, beading and cutting with the intention of ’embodying’ the materialisations of Melanix.

Most recently since moving to Sub Saharan Africa I find myself struggling with a new understanding of the medically scanned body. Whereas before the scan dataset was something I took more or less for granted, I now recognise its strong symbolic resonance signifying privilege both in terms of wealth and access to digital technology that is far from global. I have returned to the images of Melanix that the radiology software first offers: Melanix utterly alone floating in a deep black vacuum, a weightless void ripe for dreams, nightmares, superstitions, suspicions, myths and rumours. My mind brims with questioning images and I am driven to see them; Melanix with her worth in cows, Melanix having her soul released by a buffalo thorn branch, Melanix with a cloak of Angolan hair braids, Melanix hollowed out like a canoe in order to float, Melanix leaking. This intense proliferation of images encourages a refinement of my practice and my first body of work in Angola has been to create a series of images rather than sculptures. Returning to techniques I specialised in as a student (and have since become rarefied thanks to digital technologies) such as silver gelatin photography and etching I am creating what feels like a library of clashes, impossibilities and paradoxes between the physical and the digital worlds we are all having to precariously straddle. Moving forward my intention is to use this library as a resource for creating sculptures that make real some of the imagery within them whilst fusing together ancient manual skills such as wood carving, fishnet making, marquetry and weaving with those that digital mechanisation make possible such as laser cutting, CNC machining and rapid prototyping.


‘Iceman Frozen Scanned and Plotted’

Drillholes in acrylic and flourescent light, 170 x 60 x 30cm, edition of 6 plus 2 artist copies.


‘Exhausted Figure’

Engraved acrylic and fishing wire. 170 x 55 x 35cm


‘I Know You Inside Out’

Silver ink screen printed on to 3mm clear acrylic, stainless steel rods, 4 sculptures, 200 x 70 x 50cm, edition of 6 plus 2 artists copies.



Inkjet on acrylic, 50 x 70 x 100cm, edition of 6 plus 2 artist copies.

Interesting the way in which she uses the clear acrylic to allow her flat, 2 dimensional forms to be layered to create what appears to be a 3 dimensional form. Using this as inspiration for my degree show piece, in which I will be using large sheets of clear acrylic or perspects to mount my work onto – creating physical layers but dismounting the pictorial layers into sections and fragments as images in their own right.



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