In the window of Valerie Grove’s house sits a life-size skeleton with perfect posture, "typing" at a laptop computer. Don’t be alarmed if you catch a glimpse of him: he is one of the stars of her installation, “Man Machine”, which occupies the entire front room of her house. Through paintings, sabotaged posters, text and an interactive wall, this disturbing installation brings to light the potential negative effects of technology on the individual, both physical and mental. These effects are largely absent from discussion of technology, as it increasingly becomes a seemingly indispensable part of contemporary life.
There is a narrative to "Man Machine". Famous artworks in rich jewel colours have been adapted to celebrate technology and the thrill of acquiring the latest gadget. Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus reads the New York Times on her iPad and even the baby Jesus has a Blackberry smartphone. Paintings of philosophers with globes, quills and laptops, show how time has speeded up. Developments that affect the way we think used to take years. Now each piece of new technology comes hot on the heels of the last, leaving no time to step back and assess the effects of these changes.
A note of negativity creeps in with Picasso's Absinthe drinker, sitting in a bar and looking at her laptop. Like many people who spend the whole day at work staring at a computer screen, she has escaped to the pub only to log onto the wireless internet connection. Colours get cooler and more melancholy. Valerie's painting of harsh, cold blues, silvers and blacks refers to the limited spectrum of colours that laptops come in. The disturbing effect of this technology on the body is clear the painting of a mishapen back, in raw pinks and reds, distorted by injuries relating to laptop use. The dark painting above the computer evokes the loneliness and sadness that working with only a computer for company and a body that has been damaged by a machine can cause.
The nightmare is complete with the skeleton and the monster (Gollum from Lord of the Rings) looking at his laptop. The skeleton stares at a computer screen showing a rotating brain, it is as if his mind has become a machine. Sitting in an office chair, he has no legs. He cannot leave the machine. Next to him, a distorted clock shows how time passing is irrelevant when the machine sucks people in.
People have (hand)written their experiences of technology on the interactive wall, which is filled with stories of being a "twitter widow", having "square eyes", "feeling empty and alone when I'm not on the internet" and "spending at least three hours on my xbox". Others read "my computer gave me sciatica" and "everyone I know has RSI". Electronic immersion now begins earlier and affects leisure time as well as work.
Athletic achievement will be celebrated in 2012 but, as Valerie points out, "the physical fluidity of the Olympic ideal is a sharp contrast to the sedentary and technology- dependent reality of contemporary life". After explaining the thought behind her installation, Valerie gives visitors with sore backs exercises to help muscles that are suffering from too long spent sat at a computer. It's common to brush over injuries sustained by computer use, not wanting to make a fuss because they need to get on with their work. This installation shows, as the note on the wall says, we ignore our bodies "at our peril".