Molly Dierks: Organic Life in a World of Technique

 Molly Dierks, Postmodern Venus (detail), digital photograph. Photo Credit: Chiun Kai Shih

Molly Dierks, Postmodern Venus (detail), digital photograph. Photo Credit: Chiun Kai Shih

by Eric M. Stryker, Ph.D.

I should like you to consider that these functions (including passion, memory, and imagination) follow from the mere arrangement of the machine’s organs every bit as naturally as the movements of a clock or other automaton follow from the arrangement of its counter-weights and wheels.[1]

René Descartes, Treatise on Man

 

Descartes’s words mark a new mechanistic world view in the rise of the modern age. The faculties of the mind are explained by way of the functions of a machine, understood as a linear sequence of moving parts. This notion underlies much of contemporary technology-obsessed society, where the insistent progress of technological improvement promised a parallel betterment of mankind’s faculties, our daily functions and interactions. The machine is no longer metaphor; it has become a worldview - one in which technology is faith, fetish, destiny, panacea and universae explicandum. Molly Dierk’s work engages this contemporary worldview as a skeptic. In her work and thought, the technic should not eclipse the organic, embodied experience of an unprogrammed inner life.

In Postmodern Venus, Dierks produced a three-dimensional scan of herself dressed as a 1930’s synchronized swimmer. Her appearance echoes that of the young women employed as cogs in the visual spectacles of Busby Berkeley, the great musical film choreographer of early classical Hollywood. To this, she added artificial nipples in caricature-proportions, resembling a science fictional “femme-bot.” Using the novel 3D-projective technology MIDEN, her image could be optically combined into a virtual sculpture-in-the-round. (This is achieved by use of optical goggles that combine a meshed image split onto three sides of a square chamber - kinetically-responsive three-part “stereography.”) The technological spectacle of flesh seems to respond to the viewer who may look around, through, and into her - the subject virtually touching, penetrating, and invading the object. Reminiscent of Lee Miller in Jean Cocteau’s Le Sang d’un Poet, this body is entirely in white. Once body art, it is now a simulated marble autoportrait. Its immateriality contradicts the image’s ancient sculptural lineage with its stony, cold and static corporeality. To create such an alien self-image and break into its flesh with your own is a critique of Descartes’ assertion that perfect analogs between the mind and the machine, the organic and the technical exist. Embodied experience is presented with its opposite image. It is merely a mirror to fall into, exposed in a single penetrative gaze as a soulless mechanical imitation of life.

Industrial design and the machine aesthetic are important aspects of Dierk’s work, as in the neon, metalwork, signs, billboards and shopping cards of her Re:Production series. However, the seductive sleekness of these technical and consumerist object-studies, for the artist, points toward the alienation once described by Marx and Engels as inherent to the repetitive, soulless work of the industrial working classes - or, in the modern day, the social alienation which screen culture and the fetishized gadget-culture of the present day creates as it begins to mediate our relationships with each other, our (natural) environment and our inner selves. Instead of the linear assembly line, the “progress” of high modernity, and unidirectional thinking, Dierks imagines a world where “sidewalks move forward and backwards,” “reading doesn’t need to move from left to right” and “time can fold back onto itself.”[2]

She seeks out this ulterior existence in works such as Test Tube Babies, in which a pitted, lumpen mass of aluminum is cast in sand, yielding not the one-to-one positive/negative interaction of a conventional sculptural mould and cast, but a fluid, unpredictable, improvisatory and dynamic interplay between these two interacting materials - a light metal and soft eroded stone. There also exists an interplay between manual and industrial production – the artist excavates each void by hand, scooping out handfuls of sand, before pouring the molten aluminum, a metal with a high melting point typically reserved for industrial uses. Unlike traditional bronze sculpture, which demands intensely physical manual finishing techniques like soldering, polishing, application of a patina, and waxing, Dierks maintains her sculptures’ raw finish then adorns each “baby” with unnatural mass-produced accessories.

This favor she shows for un-designed objects and processes is also apparent in her most recent (and ongoing) artistic project. In this work, Dierks has jettisoned her erstwhile preoccupation with the gathering of technical knowledge to create tech-oriented artworks, instead throwing herself out into what she calls “borderlands.” These are marginal urban spaces where human waste meets nature (highway divides, construction sites, back lots), where she gathers both natural and manmade materials for objet-trouvé and assemblage pieces, such as Twilight Sleep where this detritus has drifted onto a mattress-spring and, thereby, into a nebulous realm where the mind drifts from rational, conscious thought to the wandering, the unpremeditated and unpredictable - in short, the manifestation of subconscious interiority in external reality.

Indeed, Dierks has clear interests in artistic process as a method of probing the irrational, non-linear mind and even feels her works to be akin to the process of self-exploration that is psychotherapy. It is “therapeutic to be in nature,” she asserts. So too is the pursuit of a more intuitive approach instead of operating like a mechanistic designer; it “directly counteracts alienation” and becomes a means of peering beyond the blinders of technoculture. In Rorschach, for instance, the enantiomorphic shape of an inkblot-test is painstakingly pieced together from stuffed animals, a “onesie” and a baby blanket. The “image in the ink,” here, is not one we conjure up in our minds at the prompting of a psychoanalyst, but a meaning we know from our shared cultural frame-of-reference - namely, the object-life of newborns. For Dierks, the work strongly reverberates as an eidetic image of her own mother; but it resounds simultaneously much more broadly as the cultural construction of concepts of motherhood and infancy through global capitalism and consumerism. The mass-produced stuffed animals - with tags from Thailand and Indonesia - are anonymous, salvaged items from a charity shop and present the received image of infancy as a time for “cuddly toys” and soft embraces. Yet, they are battered, torn and need stitching. The work points to the idea and emotion of a gap between mother and child - the break between a womb and a new life. “When that relationship is torn, it is like one’s own body is torn apart” she says. There is a soft violence which is torn, but mended, here - mended by an unpremeditated hand.

And still yet, through this work and many others, there is always the surfeit of hyper-saturated and pastel colors - the colors of 1950s cadillacs, children’s toys, Disney films, and the sharp acrylics of an Ellsworth Kelly blasting at our eyes. “Color is addictive” she says, “When I look at color, it is like being high. I get such intense pleasure from the way that whites glow at dusk. [It is] a visual high.”[3] This high climaxes in explosive pink hues - saccharine candy-pink, the soft pink of an American baby girl’s bedroom, and the many pinks of flesh. It is both skin and not-skin - natural and artificial - synthetic and natural. In pink, the organic and technic overlap, collide, combine and are mended together. This daring, glaring, diverse and unpredictable color is like a stick of bubble gum, chewed inside the mouth, ruminated over in a meandering daydream, and thrown into the gears of a machine which comes to a grind and a halt.

  Shopping Cart (Re:Production) , neon

Shopping Cart (Re:Production), neon

  Twilight Sleep , found objects on mattress spring, 2017

Twilight Sleep, found objects on mattress spring, 2017

  Twilight Sleep  (detail)

Twilight Sleep (detail)

  Test Tube Baby No. 1 , Cast aluminum, wax, urethane, plastic, resin, plaster, paint, spray paint, Floam, Silly Putty, toys, found objects, 10 x 5 x 5 inches, 2016

Test Tube Baby No. 1, Cast aluminum, wax, urethane, plastic, resin, plaster, paint, spray paint, Floam, Silly Putty, toys, found objects, 10 x 5 x 5 inches, 2016

  Test Tube Baby No. 2 , Cast aluminum, wax, urethane, plastic, resin, plaster, paint, spray paint, Floam, Silly Putty, toys, found objects, 6 x 14 x 6 inches, 2016

Test Tube Baby No. 2, Cast aluminum, wax, urethane, plastic, resin, plaster, paint, spray paint, Floam, Silly Putty, toys, found objects, 6 x 14 x 6 inches, 2016

  Test Tube Baby No. 3 , Cast aluminum, wax, urethane, plastic, resin, plaster, paint, spray paint, Floam, Silly Putty, toys, found objects, 10 x 8 x 8 inches, 2016

Test Tube Baby No. 3, Cast aluminum, wax, urethane, plastic, resin, plaster, paint, spray paint, Floam, Silly Putty, toys, found objects, 10 x 8 x 8 inches, 2016

  Postmodern Venus , digital photograph. Photo Credit: Chiun Kai Shih, 2012

Postmodern Venus, digital photograph. Photo Credit: Chiun Kai Shih, 2012

  s(Mother) [Rorschach No. 1] , 77 recycled or donated baby blankets, baby clothing items, and stuffed animals, muslin, thread, batting, 6 x 7 feet, 2012

s(Mother) [Rorschach No. 1], 77 recycled or donated baby blankets, baby clothing items, and stuffed animals, muslin, thread, batting, 6 x 7 feet, 2012


[1] Descartes, René “Treatise on Man“ from René Descartes. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothof, and Dugald Murdoch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. pp. 108.

[2] Molly Dierks. Interview with Eric Stryker. Dallas, Texas, USA, June 2017

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.