September 11, 2023
This week we recognize Patricia Olynyk, and her thirty-plus year practice at the intersections of art, science, architecture and technology.
KleptoGenic Chamber, 2022 - work in progress (above) is a multi-sensory installation that perceptually steals the viewer’s understanding of the natural world and reflective reality. This chamber prompts the viewer to question reality and how we live and dwell in this world. In the KleptoGenic Chamber, the worlds of biology, art and architecture converge to become a room that redefines scale, materiality and gravity.
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Sensing Terrains, 2012 (above) is a multi-media, site-specific installation based on cenesthesia, or the relationship between consciousness and bodily sensation. In response to a technology-mediated world increasingly desensitized to physical sensation, viewers are called upon to expand their awareness of the worlds they inhabit, whether those worlds are their own bodies or the spaces that surround them. Scanning electron micrographs of histological samples combine a variety of specimens – human and non-human, transgenic and otherwise – with photographs of images from special Japanese gardens that have been composed and constructed to "tickle the senses." The images impose a reorientation of our own sense of scale as the viewer navigates a new gargantuan landscape through the abstract projection of their own body into an alien space.
Dark Skies, 2012 (above) is a multi-media, multi-sensory installation, which translates un-see-able phenomena into perceptible range, using mesmerizing visuals and sound to make tangible the penetrating effects of nightfall across multiple scales of being. It is a work that questions the future of the deep integration of life, light, and darkness which has developed over millennia. Growing out of my concern with light pollution and the recognition that night skies are becoming fatally obscured, Dark Skies captures the tension of a key cinematic moment: sundown. It reveals two distinct time frames on the 24-hour clock simultaneously, a situation that can only exist by way of technology. Dark Skies consists of a two-channel video projection on a large-scale dimensional wall: one side reveals a crepuscular sky and the other, a dark sky with smoky trails. The installation also features a soundscape, drawn primarily from field recordings of vespertine creatures, captured at twilight in the Rocky Mountains during high summer. The sound design in Dark Skies serves two functions: the first sonically articulates the ambiguous space between micro and macro environments, echoing those depicted in video elements, and the second adds an interactive/immersive quality to the work. The sound elements are projected directionally into the exhibition space, allowing viewers to migrate between these two soundtracks, essentially moving between macro and micro realms.
The Mutable Archive, 2014 (above) is a multi-layered series of photographs and performance videos that speak to renewed nationalistic obsessions with Othering and difference. A unique artistic strategy of this project involves the interrogation of the mechanics of storytelling and who speaks for those who are lost, particularly in the absence of verifiable archival material. Each photograph from the 19th century collection of Viennese anatomist, Josef Hyrtl portrays a single specimen and post-mortem skull tattoo with an accompanying archive card, which details only partial information about each subject. Collaborators representing a diverse array of disciplinary fields—artists, historians, a medical ethicist, a philosopher, an opera singer, a hip-hop artist, and a spiritual medium—are invited to write and then perform speculative narratives about subjects of their choosing from the collection. Each script and recorded monologue, a 4K cinematic video, reveals a myriad set of issues related to race, ethnicity, gender, and class, while demonstrating the fictitious foundations of the human taxonomy itself.
OCULUS, 2020 (below) is a complex digital sculpture depicting a colossal abstracted drosophila eye—replete with distorted compound faceted surfaces—inspired in part by a series of scanning electron micrographs produced in a transgenic lab several years ago. The title recalls the circular opening at the apex of a cupola while the form alludes to a surveillance device, or drone hovering in mid-air. Oculus invites the viewer to ponder the impact of the gargantuan and the miniature on our perception of bodily scale. This work explores those sensory modalities that play a dominant role in spatial perception, which spark the affect of scale on several fronts. Consequently, Oculus strategically triggers an affective encounter with the colossally represented miniscule, offering a fantastic voyage that navigates spatial, temporal, and phenomenal worlds.
Patricia Olynyk works in photography, print, video, and installation while investigating science and technology-related themes and the ways in which social systems and institutional structures shape our understanding of our place in the world. Working across disciplines to develop “third culture” projects, she often collaborates with scientists, humanists, programmers, and engineers. Her multimedia environments frequently call upon the viewer to expand their awareness of the worlds they inhabit—whether those worlds are their own bodies or the spaces that surround them. Olynyk was appointed inaugural director of the unified Graduate School of Art and Florence and Frank Bush Professor of Art in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in 2007. She currently holds a courtesy appointment in the University’s School of Medicine and fellowships in The Institute for Public Health and Living Earth Collaborative, both interdisciplinary hubs that facilitate research across a wide range of fields. She was also appointed in Medical Humanities, Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies, and Performing Arts. Olynyk co-chairs the Leonardo/ISAST NY LASER Talks program in New York, which promotes cross-disciplinary exchange between artists, scientists, humanists, and scholars. She received her MFA with Distinction from the California College of the Arts and spent four years as a Monbusho Scholar and a Tokyu Foundation Research Scholar in Japan at the Osaka University of Foreign Studies and Kyoto Seika University. Recent exhibitions include Cyfest 15: Vulnerability, HayArt Cultural Center, Yerevan, Armenia; and Douro Biennial, Côa Museum, Vila Nova de Roz, Portugal. patriciaolynyk.com
Images: ©Patricia Olynyk, Kleptogenic Chamber, 2023- in progress, model by Sung Ho Kim, Axi:Ome; Sensing Terrains, 2012, multimedia installation and sound collaboration with Kathryn Stine and Jukka Nurmela, and solo exhibition at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.; Dark Skies, 2012, solo exhibition, Sci Center Gallery, UCLA, design modeling by Sung Ho Kim, Axi:Ome, with sound engineering by Christopher Ottinger; The Mutable Archive, 2014, series of nineteen digital pigment prints on archival paper, 80 x 120 inches and 4K video; Oculus, 2020, digital modeling by Nathaniel Elberfeld and Alex Waller, Metron Designworks, and Sung Ho Kim, Axi:Ome; Portrait of Olynyk by Stan Strembecki.