Photo by Philip Sayer, courtesy of Marsden Woo gallery

Mutated bodies raise questions about identity in a digital world

You’d be forgiven for thinking that these sculptures were the Elephant Man’s first foray into sculpture. But in fact English artist John Rainey’s work is a statement on a society in which individuals have become increasingly familiar with a mutating notion of identity — where the internet facilitates a means of melting ones persona to create a new, hyperreal alternative.

Starting with a digital photographic image of a human subject, he works with software to distort and rescale it and create a new representation of the human form. Then, he uses high definition 3D printers and rapid prototyping machines to create plaster prototypes before creating the final sculptures porcelain. The result is representation of the human form caught between the physical and digital.

Striking is the embryonic form of these creations: they resemble clusters of cells in nascent human form, caught in time and made solid. But these creations are, in fact, the same size as fully grown humans. Knowingly or otherwise, Rainey makes us aware of our relatively recent embrace of the digital realm. While we may all celebrate a life increasingly lived online, we must remind ourselves that this in fact a brave new world, and attempts to edit our identity must proceed with caution.