CROSSINGS (3/3): TOUCHING ALTERITY (A LATENT ANATOMY) | MH SARKIS
By Maha Alsharif
Installation view: Crossings (3/3): Touching Alterity (A Latent Anatomy).
© Shirin Fathi
When visiting a historical site, we often wonder “if these walls could talk”. We consider the architecture, the objects and the traditions that surrounded and outlived the humans who gave it life, and then create our own understanding of a certain moment in history. Nonetheless our curiosity remains wishing to hear an honest account of how that time felt. In her latest collaborative exhibition with computational artist Vytas Niedvaras, “Crossings (3/3): Touching Alterity (A Latent Anatomy)”, MH Sarkis reflects from the future on personal experiences with the body, human relationships and power dynamics, gender, and tradition.
The project, which was realised through an invitation from the London based curatorial collective To Whom This May Concern, does not divert from previous themes explored by the artist. For nearly a decade and since the beginning of her practice with painting and video art, Sarkis has consistently tackled the subjects of physical, emotional, and cultural identity using her own body, psyche, and experiences as points of reference to start a dialogue on broader issues. Now experimenting with new unconventional material and interactive presentation methods, the artist finds herself in an ongoing process to preserve humanness through art.
MH Sarkis x Vytas, Motherboard, 2017-2018, hand-tufted wool, steel, custom electronic hardware, custom software, sound. © Shirin Fathi.
Using methods inspired from traditional rug making, Sarkis presents two large scale, fixed yet soft and shaggy looking installations: “Motherboard”, “We Were Taught That There is One, and Then Zero”; and video “Only You”. Both composed in a dark red palette, the works resemble the look of a healing wound; an interesting choice by the artist, as not unlike a wound, the artworks reveal to be sensitive to the simplest touch. It is possible that Sarkis has selected the medium ironically because rather than acting as a decorative veil, the ‘rug’ speaks and bares hidden sensations, as once felt by her creator. The artist explains that the rugs are infused with capacitative touch sensing hardware that was developed by computational artist Vytas Niedvaras, and it enables the random generation of audible responses, extracted from the video “Only You”, to interaction with the works.
Much like its title suggests, “Motherboard” is an almost symmetric grid looking flat structure, that is assumed to perform a mechanical function if properly connected. On a superficial visual and interactive level, it is exactly what the work does; it generates sound in response to touch. On a deeper level however, the grid resembles a diagram of the female reproductive system, which when seen in such context leads the viewer to imagine a techno dystopia similar to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, in which a woman’s natural ability to carry and birth children is industrialised and reduced to a mere transaction. However, Sarkis’s voice and intent make an appearance right then, as “Motherboard” is not at all passive; on the contrary, she speaks when spoken to or touched. She is powerful and present. Perhaps, for the future, the artist is questioning intimacy and human connections in a nearly virtual world and how technology will manifest within society and alter the traditional interactions that form and build relationships.
“We Were Taught That There is One, and Then Zero” faces “Motherboard”. It may as well be part of “Motherboard”, as it appears to be a split ovum, where the top half is suspended from the ceiling while the bottom half is on the ground. This piece is activated when “Motherboard” is quiet, it produces organic sound vibrations, which surprises the visitors and at the same time shifts the power dynamics by making the visitors look away to search for the source of the new emitted sounds. It is at that moment that the components of both works come together, symbolising humankind’s cycle of passing on traditions and legacy to our children.
In “Crossings (3/3): Touching Alterity (A Latent Anatomy)” MH Sarkis contrasts several elements to illuminate many central issues. In line with her practice, she speaks from a personal point of view and questions the future of human relationships and interactions as well as the value of our physiology, especially females'. Additionally, she purposefully forces us to look at the values that we are passing on to future generations.
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2068, SPACE, 129-131 Mare Street E8 3RH
15 Nov 2018 - 12 Jan 2019
Details: MH Sarkis x Vytas, 2018, We Were Taught That There is One, and Then Zero, hand-tufted wool, stainless steel, soft steel locking wire, custom software, sound.