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The artificial flesh of Catherine Ikam: A cryptographic exploration of the human trace

"The human face is an empty force, a field of death, the old revolutionary claim of a form that never matched its body..." - Catherine Ikam

Catherine Ikam is a pioneering artist in video and digital imaging. Since the 1990s, she has been working - with Louis Fléri, a theorist and artist specialising in new image technologies - in search of interactive devices that can take the shape of a face, thus upending the traditional places of the author and the model - namely the "self" and the "other". The process takes place while humanising intelligence, or even creating one that goes beyond that of man: a post-human intelligence.

From the 1970s onwards, a wave of theorists and intellectuals began to reflect on the idea of linearity and historicity embodied in Modernity. In response to this unilateral triumph, postmodernity and the emergence of new technological advances have created a paradigm of horizontality, defined through spatio-temporal notions such as "presentism", "immediacy" and "fragmentation". In terms of representation in the digital age, this is reflected in a medium consisting of an infinite encrypted network. The terms "non-human photography" (Joanna Zylinska), "post-photography" (Joan Fontcuberta), "shared" and "relational" photography (André Gunthert) and "power of connectivity" are increasingly feeding the current debate.

Diverting the portrait with a "digital mould"

catherine ikam

Exposition V.I.E at Galerie W Lanau © Alexis Limousin

catherine ikam

Exposition V.I.E at Galerie W Lanau © Alexis Limousin

For the past few months, Catherine Ikam's works have been on display at Galerie W Landau in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris (Oscar, 2005; Deep Kiss, 2007; Jeanne, 2018). They are part of a collective exhibition called "V.I.E. V.ideo I.mage E.volution" which focuses on the issue of formal, conceptual and technical changes in representation through multiple media. Catherine Ikam uses the traditional genre of portraiture, the representation of the individual, to divert its codes using the "digital mould" technique. The artist uses the portrait as a tool through which she experiments with the plastic characteristics of new mediums and technological advances and then clarifies their conceptual value. Through her digital faces, she transcends the material boundaries of photography. The result is the creation of fictional characters, with a hyperrealistic appearance, who in most cases interact with the viewer. The form, a traditional canvas; the background, a transhuman (H+) or rather post-human (android) and dematerialized image, composed of a coded language.

catherine ikam

Jeanne, 2018 (Photo print laminated under Altuglass - flush frame with wood stamped with wax and Indian ink) © Catherine Ikam & Louis Fléricatherine ikam

Oscar, 2005 (Interactive video) © Catherine Ikam

The post-human or how to represent "the other"

Addressing the themes dear to the artist - identity in the digital age and appearance - her intellectual portraits are activated in the face of human presence, simulating the attitudes and physical aesthetics that are specific to the viewer, yet the artificiality of post-human gestures challenges and surpasses us.

The presence and experience of android (between human and artificial) has previously been treated by feminists such as Donna Haraway (Cyborg Manifesto, 1984) as an aesthetic, political and social tool that does not identify with any culture or society. In the same way, Catherine Ikam's series of visually humanised interactive characters are composed from a scientific-technological way that results in a cryptographic portrait of "thinking machines", in reference to Alan Turing.

These faces made from data that can be changed and modified in an evolutionary creation process react and are created in an instantaneous way, at the rhythm of interaction with the spectator. Moreover, it is the characteristics and technical constraints specific to photography that are questioned here - fixity, veracity, memory, archive - when their values are linked to those of the digital world. Moreover, these posthuman and dehumanized beings confront the viewer with nostalgia as soon as he/she faces his/her technological double. Composed of pixels, unfinished identities, fragmented formulas - the result of codes and organic data from changing universes - these images appear, in the manner of an Antonin Artaud, as "bodies without organs".

This interaction is a sign of the dependence between the virtual and human world. This dependence, which is increasingly visible and assumed, would make us feel the end of one era and the anxiety of another.

Humanising digital technology: creation or emancipation?

In the digital age, technology is a source of inspiration but first and foremost a great creative tool.  And in Catherine Ikam's work, it is an extra-human conception when she immerses herself in an archaeology of the being in which the latter no longer seems to find her/his place: we then create reflections of individuals by using the latest technological advances, particularly artificial intelligence, while questioning the need for the thinking being, and therefore for human beings.

“Your eyes saw me when I was formless;

all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.”

(Psaumes, 139)

Androids are lonely too, 2006 (infographie 3D) © Catherine Ikam et Louis Fléri

Deep Kiss, 2007 (vidéo) © Catherine Ikam

For more information, visit the website of Catherine IKAM and Louis FLÉRI.

03 Jan 2019 by Coral Nieto garcia

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