By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – With the use of Facebook, Twitter and blogging, our interaction with the world is increasingly virtual. It is this very absence of the physical body in contemporary life that provides the impetus for the work of Rio-based British sculpture artist Marilene Oliver whose new show of Brazil-made works opening at Beaux Arts in London on October 5th.

Dreamcatcher, 2009, Laser cut acrylic, fishing wire and ostrich feathers 200 x 220 x 60cm.

Oliver works with medical digital imaging to create hauntingly beautiful sculptures of the human form that pose questions about our relationship to the body in a digital world.

Her interest started as a student at the Royal College of Art in London when she discovered the Visible Human Project, a medical image project that that took the frozen corpse of Joseph Paul Jernigan, the death row prisoner who made his body available to medical science, and shaved into 71 individually-documented slices.

This led to her first major work I Know You Inside Out, where Oliver printed each image onto clear acrylic and hung them 2cm apart to create a ghostly, suspended figure.

Speaking at her Lapa studio, Oliver relates how this combined with her interest in the new ways in which people interact with each other: “I started thinking again that you could download all those images, you should be able to build yourself a new man. I was thinking about all the online dating and that you could build a perfect person”.

“I was always interested in the body and then this thing about computers and digital space came in. It struck me that you interact with people in this intimate way online without your body being present”.

Marilene Oliver at her studio in Lapa, photo by Felicity Clarke.

Works such as Family Portrait (2003) the suspended prints of full body MRI scan images of her family, The Kiss (2005), an MRI scan of the artist and her husband kissing and Iceman Frozen Scanned and Plotted (2007), where holes drilled through acrylic at the mummy’s scan plot points allow the light to shine through, all possess a moving emotional quality quite at odds with the scientific techniques that created them.

Having been exhibited widely in London and internationally, Oliver moved to Rio de Janeiro in March 2008 when her husband, a geo-scientist, was posted here. “We wanted to have an experience of life somewhere else so we jumped at it,” she says. “I love living in Rio…There’s something about it that gets under your skin”.

Her experience living in Brazil has meant some interesting developments in her work. “The work I’ve made here is much more physical. That was one of the main things I wanted to try and do, invest the sculptures with traces of the body. Also, I started working with the materials I could find here, things used to decorate Havaianas or make Carnival costumes” she explains.

Split Petcetrix, 2010, Foam rubber, seed beads 85 x 80 x 35cm.

The latest works which will be showing in her solo show Carne Vale at Beaux Arts certainly have a more tactile, fantastical quality with scan templates cut in crayon bright foam and organs embroidered in dazzling tiny beads like this year’s Split Petcetrix.

Other Brazil works such as Dreamcatcher and Fallen Durga hint at questions of spirituality. Oliver explains, “People are so superstitious here and I find it fascinating the levels to which they are. Things that may have a logical explanation, here are very much given to God.”

With the show in London running through the Autumn and a Canada show working with stem cell research lined up for January followed by another London show, Oliver has a busy six months ahead. She also has plans to have a show in Rio before she and her family are due to move next June.

But in the meantime she’s enjoying spending time with her family exploring Rio and all it’s odd charms. “I love the trees here” she enthuses. “You get trees that are not just trees, they’re a world, trees wrapped around each other, things hanging off it. You can lose yourself in a tree here. There’s so much about Rio I love.”

Carne Vale is on at Beaux Arts London, 22 Cork Street, from October 5th to November 5th 2010.
For more information about Marilene Oliver’s work and forthcoming shows visit


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