Magic Touch

Five artists explore how technology impacts on creativity at the Centre for Contemporary Art

There is an advert currently showing on the television in which a man seemingly climbs inside the driver’s seat of a car. He drives around, hidden within the vehicle, and it looks like there is nobody there, much to the amazement and confusion of passers-by.

it's not such an unusual concept. These days, you can buy cars that will reverse park for you, while you watch the wheel turn of its own accord, and the government is giving the go-ahead for the testing of driver-free cars. Soon we’ll all be Knight Riders.

Magic Touch is the latest exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Derry~Londonderry, and is the first curated by new director, Matt Packer. It features five artists – Kate Davis, Katja Novitskova, Jessie Flood-Paddock, Padraig Spillane and Artie Vierkant – and its theme is the human body and our relationship with the objects around us, and particularly the way in which technology is reducing the human imprint on those objects, negating the senses, diminishing control.


The exhibition shows the artists addressing the question of where the body is now, and the issues of passivity, withdrawal, reduction and reconfiguration. Cleverly and subtly presented, it offers a narrative to the viewer, the work of the different artists merging to develop the show’s theme.

'Shapeshifters' is by Katja Novitskova. It is a series of small sculptures done in epoxy clay, and painted in silver nail polish, with each piece pierced by a broken computer chip. The globules of clay have been squeezed by hand into ugly misshapes, and the nail polish gives a deliberately amateurish look, in contrast to the slender computer part.

The shapes are ugly and primitive, bearing clumsy, lumpen handprints that look laughably outdated. Held in thick perspex sheets, they have the flavour of museum pieces that show a sophisticated audience how savagely humanity used to live, but there is something futuristic about them too, as if they’re post-apocalyptic weapons.

Jessie Flood-Paddock’s work is taken from her series, Nude, based on the logo of a cosmetics company that proclaims the invisibility of its products. These pieces are tall, elegant sculptures, shapes that curve gently almost from ceiling height to the floor, held in place by wire.

The shapes suggest the human form, pared down and reduced to absolute essentials, although the essentials don’t include head or hands – in Flood-Paddock's world, achines can think and feel for us.

The pieces are cut out of polystyrene, white and flecked with grey, giving a look of marble. As such, a breath of wind would blow them away. Light and playful, they only have the look of weight and substance and permanence.

Within these polystyrene forms is 'Spine', by Padraig Spillane. It is a photograph pinned to the floor by a long, straight, metal spike. It shows a woman’s back, curved as she hunches, with the spike piercing the base of her spine.

There is a contrast between the strong spike and the frailty and fragility of the hunched back. It suggests a form of acupuncture, or a pinpoint identification of weakness. It also brings to mind an old story spiked on a reporter’s desk. The story has been told, and is no longer any use.


The exhibition’s story moves then to five works by Kate Davis. In 'Denkmal', housed strangely within a false wall, a video shows an old computer screen. Within the screen objects appear: a pack of cards, an abacus, crayons. These objects are now semi-obsolete. You can play cards online. An artist or designer can use computer graphics to draw and create. Calculators will do the adding and subtracting.

Davis is arguing that technology takes away senses – you only need to click and move a mouse to shuffle or draw or count. There is no need to touch or hold – or the nature of holding has changed – and no opportunity to smell or hear. Senses withdraw and fade, and the relationship with objects change, from intimacy to distance. The process of creation loses personality.

Davis’ other works are drawings, exquisitely fashioned and detailed. The drawings are of dolls made in London in the 1890s by children in deprived areas. They were made by children overlooked or forgotten out of discarded, unwanted materials: old shoes, offcuts, bits of bone.

The dolls depicted are ugly misshapes, twisted and distorted, perhaps indicative of how the children who made them saw themselves, definitely reminiscent of the clay sculptures produced by Katja Noviskova, relics or mutations.

The story shifts to a playful piece by Artie Vierkant, produced especially for this show. It is a video exploring digital fingerprint techniques and recognition software. It shows a series of lines in different colours on the screen. Abstract and random, the lines ultimately appear as the artist’s signature, the identity finally calling out of obscurity.

The final chapter of the narrative is another work by Padraig Spillane. 'Trans' is a series of images showing a patient being treated by mirror therapy. It is concerned both with recovering stroke victims and people recovering from amputations, learning again the use of parts of the brain that have left them, or how to cope with new configurations. Touch has to be reclaimed and relearned.

Overall, Magic Touch is an elegant, discreet exhibition, full of quiet power and beauty. It is provoking, challenging and relevant.

Magic Touch runs in the Centre for Contemporary Art, Derry~Londonderry until September 20.