Phillip Warnell

Andi Nahmias, Bogazici University,

“… any technology, as per any material, can be incorporated into an artwork. Anything can be assimilated into an artwork, anything can be designated an artwork.”
Phillip Warnell
Phillip Warnell is an artist and a filmmaker who basically grounds his works on the ‘body’. He uses live performances, photography, ingested cameras, and various other techniques in order to explore the inner parts of the body and to satisfy one’s curiosity about it. Outlandish: Strange Foreign Bodies (20mins, 35mm) is his new remarkable short film; which will also be screening in Istanbul later in the year. It’s about history and integrity of bodies: their secrets, their touching, their annihilation and strangeness. We talked with him about his movie  and also another remarkable and fascinating performance work and video installation Endo Ecto. ICA, London – 2006(Medical Museion, Copenhagen – 2009)

Andi Nahmias: Can you talk about the idea beneath your film: Outlandish: Strange Foreign Bodies.              
Phillip Warnell: The etymology of the word Outlandish is exactly as it suggests. It means non-native, or of foreign origin. The word as a title for my film suggested itself during the translation of the French word, étranges, for which we have, finally, used the more frequent translated form, ‘strange’. However, the term Outlandish comes close to this, but incorporates three distinct elements: Out, Land and Ish. These three word parts are independent but, in conjunction, they describe remarkably well the premise for the film.                                                                      The project brings together quite distinct ideas for a screen-based work. Firstly, to work with philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy as an on-screen reader of a specially commissioned text for the project: ‘Strange Foreign Bodies’. Secondly, there are a series of episodes where we witness the passage of a seemingly crewless fishing boat, journeying around uninhabited terrain on the Mediterranean Sea. However, the vessel has been modified and, unusually, houses an aquarium on its deck. Housed in the raised glass box is an Octopus, which either controls the path of the boat, or is a captive of it. The Octopus occupies a displaced sea box, a piece of sea made visible to the camera’s eye. In total, the film provides a visual elaboration of these two interwoven, fractured narratives, with that of a third: a human organ, witnessed during the process of a transplantation procedure. During its ‘out of body’ period, we see the organ being prepared for insertion into a second host body, or recipient.
Andi Nahmias: Endo-Ecto is a very remarkable per formative piece of art; how can you call; a medical procedure; an endoscopy; as ‘an art’?

Phillip Warnell: There is clearly no inherent relationship between a medical procedure and art, per se. In saying that, however, it should, be remembered that medicine is a field that is increasingly reliant on imaging and audible techniques (especially in their enhanced form), which motions towards a creative reflection of images. It should also be remembered that at their core, technologies are (arguably) neither ‘medical’ nor ‘art’. Technologies aren’t inherently medical; they are employed for use in the medical, diagnostic field. The gap between a technology and its subsequent purpose is significant. A good example of this would be X-ray, which following its discovery in 1895, was employed initially for a peculiar, rather uncanny range of odd purposes in relation to imaging the body: as a photo-novelty revealing the cadaver or exposing the death drive within us (a proto-death form of portraiture), as a medical technology and, best of all, as a cinematic device (early x-ray film shows were screened in cinemas alongside early films). I might add that x-ray was also an astonishing – and unknown - new form of concentrated, hitherto unknown invisible force, firing a strange mix of both therapeutic and aggressive radiation at its target object. The important point here is that any technology, as per any material, can be incorporated into an artwork. Anything can be assimilated into an artwork, anything can be designated an artwork. In other words, Endo-Ecto uses the technology of a camera, an imaging device. The difference with a ‘pill’ camera is that it is an inward facing one: imaging our internal landscape, as it were. As I’ve mentioned, there is nothing inherently medical about cameras or images. A capsule endoscope is a diagnostic technique. However, released from these constraints, the images they produce are not. My work with these images contributes on how these might be evaluated beyond their medical application. Indeed, my online ‘Nine metre web object’, is probably the only anthropometric, measured view of a complete GI tract. Such an image has no clinical function. Perhaps it is worth developing the point here that artworks can be considered as being united by their own dissimilarity. This means that an artwork can be constituted of almost anything, or (almost) nothing, either found or generated. Collectively, this dissimilarly is the only thing they (artworks) share. They can be considered as a ‘constellation’. In contemporary times, there may be no such thing as art, only artworks, framed collectively by this view of them as visible clusters. Finally, I wouldn’t suggest art and science are necessarily alike, no. However, many of their differences (and apparent oppositional traits) are generated primarily by their supporting institutions and those who work within them; thus, they are perceived as ‘disciplines’, fields of specific study, rather than premised on broader notions of curiosity and research, the pre-disciplinary process of enquiry, or perception, by which both science and art are linked.

Andi Nahmias: Considering all the art forms that you had made so far: Which one is the most satisfactory one for you; and why?

Phillip Warnell: Probably the film, images and ideas that developed during the project ‘The Girl with X-ray Eyes’, during 2007/8, produced with the participation of Natasha Demkina. A Moscow medical student, Natasha also claims to have a supplementary, penetrative form of vision (she calls this medical vision), able to see directly inside of bodies. The idea that (in the face of technology and its prowess) the subject somehow fights back, assimilating technological capability and its prowess, are (at least as a psychoanalytical proposition) is a rather interesting one. It was also a great challenge and privilege to meet Natasha personally and develop a work about the irreconcilable: a space where science meets the unknown and ambiguity supersedes.

As Philip Ross bases his artwork on the nature, Phillip Warnell on the other hand; bases his artwork on the body; as a place to explore. Philip Warnell is an autonomous and a very impressive artist; whom keeps on astonishing his audience.
Andia Nahmias