29th October - 20th February, LifeSpace, University of Dundee
Seeing Through the See-Through, by Mat Fleming gives us an intimate look at the usage of scientific imaging technologies and the potential which science has in shaping our cultural identities. Fleming’s works are the result of a nine month residency in the Dundee Imaging Facility within the university’s School of Life Sciences, supported by the Leverhulme Trust.
The exhibition is shown in combination with artefacts from the university archives, making use of outdated analogue equipment in experimental ways. The main impetus of the work is the transition from analogue to digital technologies, with the artist producing works that actively subvert and expand the originally intended uses.
On first entry, quite typically of exhibitions in the Life Space, the works can appear quite stern and clinical. However, in the bringing together of the contemporary and historic, a human story can be extracted and the warmer and even comforting narrative of persistence and progress emerges. A crucial consideration to take from these works is that they bring to issue the societal importance of the artist, illustrating how speculative investigation, experimentation and collaboration can lead to scientific progress.
Analogue technologies are inflexible. They record information continuously and are, as a result, more subject to approximation, often requiring hand processing, such as in the case of film reel and photographic negatives. In contrast, the data generated by digital technologies is less subject to interference, and therefore more precise. It is the transformative ways in which Fleming combines the analogue and the digital which make his works exemplary.
‘Closing in, Not Getting Closer’ (2015), consists of enlarged photographic reproductions of samples from the negatives held in the School of Life Sciences archives. The visuals we are presented with appear at first typically scientific, depicting magnifications of cells; however, neither the artist nor the scientists who worked in collaboration were in possession of the details which more specifically identified the outdated samples. As a result, what can be read from the images is the focus they place on the usage and evolution of the technology as opposed to the biological details that they depicted.
Another of Fleming’s clever and experimental works is ‘Post-Colonial Film Studies’ (2015), a 16mm film piece which documents the growth of dictyostelium (slime mould). The artist then cultured this micro-organism onto the film reel before filming it yet again to produce a creative and multi-dimensional look at the culture which is known for its characteristic of quick and efficient reproduction. There is perhaps a subtle observational comparison being made between the rapid generation of the slime mould culture and the momentum of film technology, from analogue to digital.
‘Refracting Micrographs’ (2015) is a series of lenticular moving image prints which display two separate images when viewed from different angles. Fleming makes the case that the way technology is used in science is “a means to an end”, used toward a specific purpose. He pushes the limits of the technologies, investigating their quirks, but also the conceptual marks that these dated analogue technologies have left remnant in our culture.
The title, Seeing Through the See-Through, attests that we can “see” or discover by means of the “see-through” – the lens. However it also reminds us to look past the ”see-through”, the less physically manifest digital technological data, in acknowledgement of the past techniques which were in their own time radical. Fleming celebrates the ancestry of our innovation in that each generation, no matter how or to which degree, has enabled us to see more than our own vision allows.
The closing date of Seeing Through the See Through at Life Space has been extended until 20th February and is open Saturdays 11am-5pm (or Monday-Friday by appointment only).