Artist: Valerie Wolf Gang
Curator: Tia Čiček
The installation of Valerie Wolf Gang at Škuc Gallery as a whole rounds off her research into the connections between the human body, technology and astronautics. The research was initiated by an art project in which she taught the computer to write poetry via neural networks, based on the thesis that artificial intelligence can be autonomously creative and capable of artistic creation without the help of the human mind or intervention by the artist. While learning and preparing the neural networks, the artist decided to narrow down the topic and use a base of scientific articles on the topic of body hydration and healthy lifestyle. During several months of preparing the neural networks and working with artificial intelligence, she unintentionally also acquired knowledge herself. Gradually she began to change her lifestyle, which over a period of two years had a profound effect on her body – changed physiognomy, way of interacting with the world, her loved ones, attitude to everyday decisions – and consequently on her psychophysical state. One night she did not recognise her reflection in the mirror, or rather, she recognised herself as a different person – a stranger in the room. She began to associate the effect with the phenomenon of an astronaut seeing the Earth from space for the first time. Indeed, this kind of confrontation with the dislocation from the body/planet triggers a unique cognitive and physical experience that Wolf Gang compares to her own everyday life; when she does not recognise herself in the reflection of the shop window or no longer touches the person sitting next to her on the bus with her thigh.
Re-interpreting familiar spaces, moving through time and space, have become a way for her to find her own new movement and to reclaim personal space, which is often exposed by the artist through her works. In her artistic research, she has focused on both the physical body and the psychological effects associated with her psychophysical endurance. The process of losing weight and achieving exceptional physical fitness is of secondary importance in the context of the art project presented at Škuc Gallery – the exhibition itself highlights the events following its completion, which it confines to the ‘tailoring of the spacesuit’. The astronaut’s gear must fit its wearer perfectly, just like the skin, which became too large for the artist due to the changes in her body and had to be surgically removed. If the spacesuit functions as a shield that protects us from the world/universe, creating a dividing line, we understand the skin as a membrane – a means to experience the world and at the same time a means to place oneself within it. The skin has a biological, social, fantasy, somatic, political, aesthetic and last but not least, cultural life in the ‘lived body’ – all of which inform and shape each other.
At the same time, the skin is the first line of defence for the body against the outside world, i.e., a psychologically projected shield that encloses the self, but unlike a shield, the tactile membrane constitutes a permeable boundary that permits congress between inside and outside, whether material or metaphysical. The skin thus forms a border not only between the bodily interior and exterior but between the psychical and physical conceptions of the self as well.
As we stroll past the front of the gallery and as we view the artist’s footage, we are confronted by our own (self-)image. Distorted reflections facing the street provoke passers-by, who are unsettled by their own reflection because it is not an exact mirror image. The actual mirrors look like solar cells that space stations use to generate energy. Upon entering the gallery spaces, windows open into many worlds where the artist’s body learns to experience and recognise its own materiality once again. As we observe, we not only follow her movements but become aware of our own bodies, moving, breathing, turning our heads, opening our mouths and eyelids – our unconscious, perhaps even involuntary movements. In the new spacesuit, she enacts the feelings she experienced through the transformation. She replays them in her mind and re-enacts them wordlessly, completely focused on the body’s non-verbal communication with the space and reliving the experience. Through the performance, her body and mind teach each other – movement inspires thought and thought inspires movement. Under the circumstances, she repeats the mantras in her mother tongue rather than in a foreign language as is customary for her practice. Namely, words like skin bear different meanings, of which we become aware only in direct negotiation or learning.
A key element of the exhibited footage is also landscapes, indefinable but with a clear Western European connotation. They are not just backdrops but collaborate with the artist’s body through the phenomena of nature and the life within them. By being placed in the space, the body disturbs the natural balance, while at the same time the environment influences the movement of the body. The newly tailored spacesuit – the skin, sets new boundaries of perception of materiality and seeming appearance. In this way, Wolf Gang continues her research into the digital art practices, seeking to answer questions about the autonomy of artificial intelligence and the placement of body and mind in the context of the technology of the future.
 Cavanagh – Failler – Hurts. 2013. Introduction: Enfolded: Skin, Culture and Psychoanalysis. In: Skin, Culture and Psychoanalysis, ed. Sheila L. Cavanagh, Angela Failler, Rachel Alpha Johnston Hurts. New York: Palgrave, p. 3.
 Cohen, William. 2003. Deep Skin. In: Thinking of the Limits of the Body, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Gail Weiss. Albany: State University New York Press, p. 63.
Valerie Wolf Gang (1990) is an intermedia artist, director, videographer, transdisciplinary art researcher and pedagogue. She explores the relationship between humans and technology, participates in international research organisations and exhibits her work internationally (including Weltmuseum, Vienna; Institute of Contemporary Art, Singapore; Contemporary Art Centre, Portugal; Expo Garden, Beijing; Qubit, New York). She is the recipient of numerous prestigious scholarships and awards (Ivana Kobilca Award for current production, Vesna Award for best student film, Darmstädter Tage der Fotografie, International Brain-Computer Interface Art Award, The Future of Innovation Award) and the founder of UV Arthouse, which produces experimental films, video installations and explores the scope of the new media. She lectures on contemporary artistic practices and film, she is a doctoral candidate at Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SAZU), an expert associate at the Institute of Fine Arts in Vienna, a mentor in the programme of the Centre for Creativity of the Republic of Slovenia and works under the auspices of the of the Network of Art and Cultural Research Centers (RUK) research centre. She is also active as a jury member in international film and new media festivals and is a frequent guest at world conferences on digital media at the intersection of science and art.
Slovene Proofreading: Inge Pangos
English Translation: Arven Šakti Kralj Szomi
Brochure Design: Lea Jelenko
Technical Consultancy: Sara Rman
Acknowledgements: Urša Bonelli Potokar, Janez Čač, lekt. Breda Čop, Lukas Einsele, Albrecht Haag, Steve Maher, Pixelache, Gaja Naja Rojec – Knjižnica pod krošnjami, Dr. Mitja Oblak, Verena Schneider.