Press Release

Dan Gunn is pleased to announce the opening of the three-person exhibition Let The Body Be Electric, Let There Be Whistleblowers.

Let the Body be Electric, Let There Be Whistleblowers is an exhibition of works dedicated to the question of mediality and the body in the machine age. How can we conceive of the worlds that the dawn of modernity brought into being? How have modern inventions redrawn the limits of what can be seen, narrated and known?

Each of the five works on display is dedicated to an invention, and its relation to economy and the structuring experience and hence, in an ambivalent sense, to “magic”: Joachim Koester presents three 16mm films, two of which are dedicated to the history of the sewing machine, and a new work on the apparatus of projection itself; Allison Gibbs’s work looks into the origins of modern accountancy, transcribed into the notational system of hand gestures, and Ken Jacobs presents a work on the early days of the railways, implying an affinity between the cinematic apparatus and the tracks of the railway as means of physical and cognitive “transportation”, respectively.

Ken Jacobs is both an inventor and an archaeologist of media, having developed patent-pending visual effects and techniques of animation, and having worked extensively with found footage and archival materials. Let There Be Whistleblowers is an 18 minute long montage made from short sequences of film stock from the early 20th century, depicting a train arriving and departing from a station. The sequence dissects the original footage, creating a hypnotizing experience that explores the impact of the machine on human experience of time and space, and the impact of film at the nexus between perception, psychology, physiology and technology. The work is made to the sounds of minimalist Steve Reich’s piece Drumming, in which two players are playing a single repeated pattern in unison.

Joachim Koester’s practice focuses on exploring the limits of documentary accounts, and their relation to the sense perception and our image of history. His work is dedicated to the “secret inscriptions” that are found at such limits, exploring the nexus between knowledge and the obscure, and the potential of resistance in divergent forms of mediality, as symptomatic phenomena, but also as sites of social experimentation.

Both Of Spirits and Empty Places and HOWE are works that centre around the invention of the sewing machine. Elias Howe invented the sewing machine and patented his invention in 1846. The sewing machine was on its way to become one of the most important inventions and was to revolutionize the economy. Howe’s patent made the powerful machine too expensive for ordinary people and John Murray Spear, an activist, spiritualist and promoter of Free Love and the women’s Liberation movement in the middle of the 19th century, was one of the people who attempted to bypass Howe and invent a new and affordable sewing machine. Spear’s ambition was to revolutionize the relations between the sexes by giving women an opportunity to make enough money to take control of their lives.

According to Spear, the drawings of this new sewing machine were already present in the spiritual realm and Spear organized group séances in 1861, in which the participants would enter a trance and become automated parts of the machine, together forming a model for its actions in a working whole, their utterances becoming part of Of Spirits and Empty Places, conjuring a liminal space that combines sexuality, sleep and spirituality. While the text narrates the story of Spear without showing the experiments of the séance, HOWE presents close-ups of the revolutionary, mass-produced sewing machine that had been patented by Howe. 

Reminiscent of the sexualized deptictions of machines in the revolutionary cinema of the 1920s and 30s, Koester’s film Body Electric shows the close up of the body of a 16mm projector. The work is juxtaposed with the other works on the invention of the sewing machine and points at the great similarity between the sewing machine and the filmic apparatus, as both come to represent, capture and preserve bodily actions. Like the mechanics of the sewing machine, the main problem of projection was to create a continuous movement of the film. In developing the Cinematograph, the Lumière brothers drew on the mechanism of the sewing machine by adapting the “presser foot” mechanism to move small sections of film quickly across the lens, allowing a short period of time for each frame to be stationary for exposure. 

Allison Gibbs’s new film How to wash your hands in molten metal is based on her research on Luca Pacioli, the Italian monk who published a treatise on Arithmetic, Geometry, Proportion and Proportionality in 1494 which would become the basis for double entry bookkeeping and modern accountancy. Pacioli became Leonardo Da Vinci’s friend and teacher and both were involved in creating On The Power Of Numbers, the first manual that teaches how to perform magic, considered the basis for modern magic and numerical puzzles. Double entry bookkeeping introduces a sum on a balance sheet that in fact has no meaning but needs to be identical both on the credit and the debit side in order to prove that all transactions have been registered. In her new work Allison Gibbs translates the financial information of her own accounts into the hand gestures registered in Pacioli’s masterwork on accounting. Following the logic of the balance sheet, she shows her credits on the left hand side and her debits on the right, introducing also a medieval coin.