Grace Blake

Grace Blake’s installations are visions of ecologies that pose doubt and aporia, speaking to present-day realities and anxieties. Inspired by science fiction, her work explores how human, animal and machine might co-exist. Her virtual landscapes are corporeal, technological and tangible, allowing us to visually and emotively conceptualise and embrace the anticipated.

I meet Blake at the artist-run space Tributary Projects in an industrial, bare part of Fyshwick in Canberra, a perfect venue for our discussion of Blake’s interest in speculative futures, the paradoxes of science fiction and posthumanism.

Blake’s futurescapes embody a number of dualities in her transformation of interior and exterior landscapes. Her ambiguous forms are both architectural and corporeal. The soft pink tones of her image Cuts (2019) implicates anatomical flesh, yet the hard edges and warped structures of these forms are reminiscent of sleek, contemporary infrastructure. This seamless synthesis of the organic and the constructed points to a future of posthumanism and transhumanism, manifested in her use of silica, a mineral found in our bodies and also widely used in circuitry and hardware. For Blake, silica is the ideal metaphor for this hybridised future, conjuring associations with the cyborg.

The notion of the cyborg is familiar to many vis-a-vis theorist Donna Haraway’s 1985 essay, A Cyborg Manifesto which rejected the separations between human, animal and machine. As Haraway identifies, the cyborg is already here, embodied within us. It is more than an abstract future but presents new forms of subjectivity and ontology. As she asserts, ‘It’s not just ideas. It’s new flesh.’

Blake embodies Haraway’s sentiments in works such as Fabrications (2018), in which she stretches latex onto metal poles of what appears to be a medical bedframe. Mimetic of human skin, it blends the virtual with the tactile and confronts us with the reality that technology does not exist in a separate, disconnected realm.

Blake also uses 3D printing to create her sculptures, explaining that it is ‘cathartic to have a fully malleable space in the computer … yet when the possibilities are endless, it can be stifling.’ It is her dedication to the haptic that renders her explorations so seductive and visceral.

Beyond her biological concerns, Blake’s landscapes represent abstract technologies, in exposing the systems in the world around us. Her prints of amorphous unidentifiable imagery relate to Timothy Morton’s concept of the ‘mesh’, defining ecological thought as ‘the thinking of interconnectedness’ of all living and non-living things, consisting of ‘infinite connections and infinitesimal differences’. In Blake’s installation, ‘mesh’ is manifested in the agglomeration of objects, from rings of black 3D-printed material to fabric prints. Silica is more than just a parallel between technology and the human body but indicative of Morton’s ‘mesh’ that emphasises ecological entanglement and the interdependence of beings.

This material tension also suggests the ambivalence that society holds towards technological progress. In Western society’s teleological view, the anticipatory is unsettling. For Blake, the future is aesthetic, comforting, ambient, yet underpinned by the threat of entropy. It is porous, fluid and polymorphic. Caught in the process of modulation, she captures the poetics of potentiality. As Blake says, ‘Science is not about proving things to be true but about asking questions.’

This Discovery article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 48, 2019

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