Focus on Lienors Torre – glass artist & creator of ocular obscurities

vjp-194

Lienors Torre with her work ‘Degenerative Vision’ in Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts

Melbourne artist Lienors Torre’s work in Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts (until 18 February) has generated a lot of interest. Enormous glowing glass eyeballs, glass fish with human eyes, and a disturbing cabinet of ocular obscurities are both compelling and disturbing.

Lienors lectures in Screen at Deakin University and is a glass artist and animator who is currently working on a book on Australian animation history. She spoke about her work in the exhibition at RMIT Gallery on 29 November, 2016. This is an edited extract of her talk.

“Some time ago the call for proposals for this exhibition came out. It was about diseases of the arts and when I first heard about it I thought ‘that’s not quite for me, what I do doesn’t quite fit in to the realm of this exhibition’.

“The pieces I had made in the past, they were very much in the area of glass making or they were in animation or they crossed the divide between the two. It was very much about objectifying animation and bringing it into the world looking at screens and things like that.

“I thought about it for two weeks before I came up with a proposal that would fit it and one of the things that really stuck in my head was the idea of rain that might fall and become eye-drops. Water is an amazing thing. It’s something that we take for granted, it makes up most of our bodies, and it falls as raindrops from the sky. It’s also something that falls from our body as teardrops or sweat and the idea of rain that might fall and the sound of those raindrops was something that stuck in my head right from the start for this exhibition.

rmit-morbis_artis-0233

Lienors Torre, ‘Degenerative Vision’, a screen based work that appears to look back at the viewer with two glass eyes peering from the screen. Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts. Installation image, RMIT Gallery, by Mark Ashkanasy 2016.

“Another thought I had was this idea of a cabinet of obscurities and right from the start it was the idea of a cabinet with objects that one would look into and they would be obscured objects so that you could barely see what was happening on the inside.

“During that process of thinking about the work and exploring and working out how to make it, I have to say I didn’t have a cabinet, I had no idea what this cabinet was going to look like. I thought I might be making one from scratch. I thought at the beginning that there might be a back light box and there might be the shape of bottles shining the light through.

“But through that journey I found this cabinet. I’ve looked at a whole lot of images of objects where you have, like, sort of sea creatures in bottles and there is that sense of enticement where you know it’s a dead creature and it’s quite an ugly object. At the same time you really want to look into it and you’re enthralled by what you might see.

rmit-morbis_artis-0228

Lienors Torre’s Degenerative Vision and Cabinet of Ocular Curiosities, in Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts, RMIT Gallery. Installation image by Mark Ashkanasy, 2016.

And so, again, when I first imagined this object, those bottles in the corner, I imagined them engraved and you’d be looking through them seeing other objects. And it would be that same kind of looking but not being able to see clearly again.

“I imagined it really as sort of a diagram across all those shelves with lots of little bottles like you would see in some museum. As the making of it unfolded it became an exercise of finding bottles so that I wasn’t making them from scratch and the ones in the top corner are probably antique bottles. The ones lower down are more, sort of, recent bottles. Then it has been a process of trying to find ways to make the images come to life in some way.

“So in the top I’ve got a whole load of decals that have come from old text books and that idea of a diagram over a whole load of bottles and objects and spaces that one might read is sort of shown in that little bit but it’s also become more of an exploration as I’ve tried other things as well.

img_4833

Detail of Lienors Torre’s Cabinet of Ocular Curiosities, in Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts.

“One of the things I learned is that there’s an enormous giant squid that has been found with eyes the size of dinner plates. There was a time, about a week in the studio where I had squids and fish and octopus and a whole load of sea creatures. I have to say it smelled quite interesting while I was making models of them, making waxes. I’ve still got waxes in the studio. But the ones that were turned out in glass were a fish with a human eye and sort of an octopus type creature again with a human eye.

“It was this sort of mixture of eye object and sea creature that eventuated from looking at a whole load of bottles and specimens. The bottle in the far bottom corner – I just ran out of time from- there’s a whole load of wax fish that are associated with and are a part of that bottle and might one day be made.

img_4813

Lienors Torre with a work from Cabinet of Occular Curiosities, which references the grotesque sideshow or museum displays of biological abnormalities.

“The little eyeballs is one of my favourite pieces. The only thing is I didn’t actually make those eyeballs. They’re actually old eyeballs that have been made specifically for people’s eyes. I think they were made in the 40s or 50s. I got help making the stands so that they all appear there looking at you but there would have been an eyeball maker and this is a process that I learned along the way.

“An eyeball maker would have been a lamp worker sitting at a little table with his flame torch. He would have looked at the person’s other eye to match it. Then he goes through this process of using special soft glass that he will blow into the shape of an eyeball, get all the veining happening with rods of glass, make the iris so that it matches the iris of the person’s other eye and then he’ll sort of suck the air out to make an indentation in the back of it.

“At some point it is then fitted back onto a person’s eye. So each one of those would have been in someone’s eye at one point and would have been made specifically to match their other eye. I found that a fascinating process to look at in the journey of making this work.

rmit-morbis_artis-0216

Close up of antique glass eyes, from Lienors Torre’s Cabinet of Ocular Curiosities. Installation image from Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts, by Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery, 2016.

“One of the things I’ve thought about and looked at is vision and how we see it in its myriad forms and how diseased or dysfunctional it can become in some way. We think of the internet as a way of vision. We all assume we’ve got access to it; that we’re seeing the same news, we’re seeing similar things come from it. But if you think of people who have no reception, their knowledge, understanding and, in a sense, their vision of that is again dysfunctional and it has that sense of macular degeneration that one would get with one’s eye.

“Just on that note, one of the things that amaze me – I had to look at how eyes work of course for this exhibition and I have to say that I still don’t really understand it. It’s amazing that we can see at all. I now think of eyes as a little cinema for your head because, of course, the light comes in, it hits our iris and there are all these cones and things at the back of our eye that pick up the light and they absorb the red or the blue.

“When you think there’s a whole load of cells at the back of those eyes, it’s amazing we can see at all.”

The animated world of Drew Berry

img_5099

Drew Berry with his work in Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts

Drew Berry is a biomedical animator at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical ResearchHis stunning, scientifically accurate animations illustrate how the molecules in our cells move and interact. His work, featured in the RMIT Gallery exhibition Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts (until 18 February) is a perfect merging of art and science – as well as being beautiful, it helps researchers see the ‘unseeable processes’ within our own cells.

Drew’s animations have been exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Royal Institute of Great Britain and the University of Geneva. He has done two TEDX talks, worked with Bjork, created special effects for a Doctor Who episode, won major awards including a BAFTA, an EMMY, and a MacArthur Fellowship Genius Award. Not surprisingly, Drew has a very impressive Wikipedia entry!

He spoke at RMIT Gallery on Friday 18 November 2016 – here is an edited version of that talk.

MY FIRST INSPIRATIONS IN ANIMATION WERE MESSING AROUND WITH COMPUTER GAMES

img_5095

I was born in 1970, in the late 70’s I was really inspired by the documentaries of Jacques Cousteau, and his travelling lab on a ship and being co-inventor of the scuba tank. He was doing these amazing adventures but also science all around the world and I just knew as a young kid that that was exactly what I was going to do. So I did everything I could do at school to get into marine science. I was a rescue diver by the age of 18, I had hair back then and I was really tanned so I was really into it and got to go to university into their marine science program.

I was the first generation to grow up with access to a personal computer, the most pivotal machine for me was the Omega. It was a powerhouse well designed for graphics and sound.  These are a couple of games that I just found mind blowing and inspirational. I’ve always been into games, not so much the game play but just the graphics. I remember someone saying ‘it just can’t get better, they’ve solved it all! These giant, colourful characters with a 3D effect.’ I couldn’t believe it and then Xenon II came out and had all these organic forms and I just thought, how are they doing this? With the Omega for years I ‘wasted’ many summers stuffing around with computer graphics and just playing around with games.

AT UNIVERSITY MY FOCUS SWITCHED TO CELL BIOLOGY

I discovered that if you just sample a little bit of the water even from muddy gutters, and put it under a microscope, it’s teeming with life. Even the most green and scungy water is guaranteed to be full of beautiful creatures.

I COMBINED MY SCIENCE DEGREE WITH GRAPHICS AND A SHORT EXPERIENCE IN MARKETING, WHERE I LEARNT PHOTOSHOP

I’m using the tools of cinematography, the same things they use in Hollywood for special effects so it is extremely powerful, you can deal with pretty much anything nowadays, it’s very mature and very powerful. But what I’m doing is applying it with real scientific data.

The principle of how I work is I don’t make anything up. I am just responding to the data, the measurements, what is being described in scientific literature. I build models based on that and the animations come out after, so I never know what the animation is going to look like. I go into data and it becomes clear once I am playing around.

I USE SOUND AND COLOR IN MY ANIMATIONS VERY MUCH AS AN INFORMATION TOOLS

spindle-pole

Drew Berry

Color in my animations provides contrast and emotes a feeling, and helps viewers look at different aspects of what is happening inside the body. It is very much a storytelling devise I use. This is my visual communication about these cells, which are are all smaller than the wavelength of light, so there is no actual color.

I also use sound for a similar reason. Sound designers like my friend, composer Frank Tétaz, who won a Grammy of the year for his work with musician Gotye, provide the sound tracks.

If you play the animation without sound in a classroom the kids will scream ‘yeah!’ you put sound in and they go, ‘whoa!’ they start leaning in, and that’s a really critical thing and they’re sucked in and they ask great questions like ‘is there really sound?’ and it’s a great question, or colour? And so on. Sound and color are really important tools in my animations.

MY ANIMATIONS ARE AN ARTISTIC INTERPRETATION OF WHAT IS HAPPENING INSIDE THE HUMAN BODY

The models, the shapes, the scale, and wherever possible the speed, are all accurate. The colours and motion, I am telling you a story, this world you wouldn’t be able to watch if I hadn’t slowed it down and stripped away all the stuff. I go into depth about what the actual molecule looks like and it’s like putting your head in a thick soup and you can’t see anything. So I stripped away everything except the things that I’m just showing you.

ONE OF MY HEROES IS NEUROBIOLOGIST RAMON CAJAL AND HIS ARTISTIC DRAWINGS OF CELLS

Cajal (A Spanish Nobel laureate) did these exquisite watercolours and ink-based paintings and these are still used in education class textbooks today. They’re beautifully accurate; you can’t really improve on what he’s done in such detail. This is very much what I do, using technology to look at data and do measurements and paintings as accurately as I can.

Cajal had worked out a hundred years ago the wiring of our brain that we are still barely working out today. What it turns out he was doing was adding dye to the neurons up here and he was seeing the dye flow and that’s actually the flow of information; it’s a stream inside the cells. With the dye he was mapping out where the flow was and as it turns out that’s where the signal goes.

MY SECOND MOST FUN PROJECT WAS WORKING WITH BJORK ON HOLLOW FOR HER ALBUM BIOPHILIA

I am very excited to have worked with Bjork! Hollow is a beautiful piece of work, you can actually use her interface and you dive into the stars in one of the songs. I did a 3D face scan of Bjork and I represented her proteins as an ancestral spirit creature to show the flow of genes going from one generation to the next.

What we built was a drum machine made out of the DNA because it broke the mechanism so that we achieved what she wanted and then we also did this feature video.

The song itself, the instrumentation is the world’s largest acoustic instrument, which is the pipe organ, which Bjork played in a lighthouse. It’s a very spooky Gothic song. She specifically asked for bling DNA, it was ‘blinged’ up with the colours and everything else.

So this was a fun project and we did some crazy stuff and it was fantastic.