Spare Face | Tamsin Snow


Tamsin Snow

Exhibition: 13th October – 10th November 2018                          

Rooms are constructed to be fit for purpose: for bodies, objects or facilities. Measures are put in place to make us aware of the use-value of these structures before we even set foot in them.
They perform gravitas or humbleness, invite or forebode.

Tamsin Snow draws on Modernist legacies of architectural functionalism, and the minimal aesthetics that are increasingly mimicked by technocratic industry. In an autopsy room, all is explicitly functional. By stripping everything back to structure, hard edges and angular geometrics, the complexity is present not in ornament but in the minutiae of form and function.
The space rests, suspended in time until reanimation, just like the bodies in Tamsin Snow’s current work Spare Face.

The architectural dynamics and flow of negative space within the structure are reliant on the imagined future occupancy of a human subject. It is the liminal space, the waiting room, the suspension, that Snow repeatedly probes. The human subject in her works is notably absent, activated in the videos through voice-over and subtitles, and In-Real-Life by the human viewer; flesh, blood, bone in the presence of the work, retinas tracking the point-of-view shots through the stark clinical spaces.

Spare Face considers the shift in notions of mortality as technology advances. Organ processing leads to the commodification of flesh away from the united body. Through cryogenics death becomes a process not a terminal event, ‘an extension of consciousness’. It is this boundary, on the knife-edge of death and the keen-edge of technology that the artist uses to blur the line between medical innovation and speculative fiction.

CGI architectural modeling techniques allow Snow to imagine and conflate environments so that the viewer can glide through her mesmeric digital dolly-shot. These digital composites of received images, some recollected from sci-fi environments already retina-burned onto the collective unconscious, mean that we already know what we are seeing. Our mind’s eye may have even been there before. A palimpsest of connotations is created, one hazy recollection following the next so what we experience feels soothingly familiar. Yet it is the off notes – as with all good sci-fi – that point to something not being quite right. Snow needles a sense of the uncanny in the body of the viewer.

Flesh here is compromised – bodies are mechanised. The CGI medical processing plant is managed, controlled and automated.  It does not need the disinfectant, it does not hold the
formaldehyde stench or seeping liquid that emits from a defrosting limb of an unruly body.

In having witnessed autopsies herself, and speaking with practising pathologists about the move from live flesh autopsies to virtual autopsies, the artist’s research has taken her through real life encounters with dead flesh, and into the depths of internet message board discussions on the taxonomy of skin tone variation through Pantone colours. In the future – as the body is further hacked and modded – this designing by human architects rather than God, Chaos, Chance or Nature, will be an economic endeavour. The crass tone of Snow’s title points tongue-in-cheek to the well-worn futuristic trope – will we all have spare faces? Be able to shift visual identity at will? Could appearance be fluid and entirely curated from stock colour sheets or blended in a B&Q style the paint mixer?

There is another consideration Snow calls to account in these future visions: whom is the technology accessible to? In a time when the NHS in the UK is being increasingly dismembered, the slow pulse and gasping death rattle setting in – it will not be the masses whose identities are so easily configured. The super-rich will have access to synthetic skin, designer bodies and spare faces, whilst the poor remain in their degrading flesh suits. Much as today with the cosmetics industry, the lasers, fillers, lifts and vampire facials, those who can afford to modify can choose to look younger for longer. Those who can afford spare livers, kidneys or hearts live longer. The technologies that progress are those whom the techno-monopolies drive to fund. Spare faces are not without bias.

Snow engages in the lexicography of the human body both physically and virtually, whether it be by observing dissection, or scanning categories of flesh in her internet trawls through message boards of voices engaging with the developments in the pharmaco-human industry. In doing so, the artist echoes the mapping of the body from early anatomists to today: skeleton deconstructed, genome sequenced, genetic ‘defects’ decoded, tissues, bone and sinew stripped away as the body is processed and classified.

The jangling tone Snow adopts in the humming of fluorescent lights and off kilter minor keys, is designed to destabilise. Corporate vision is unveiled and we are asked to read between the lines. In Spare Face, the voice-over is the character of the medical facility, and the body of the viewer (us) is addressed as a potential client. Snow is sizing us up. In entering the 3D space of the gallery that is sensitively echoing the CGI architecture, our bodies become complicit, up for grabs – degrading but filled with possibility for enhancement.

Text by Susanna Davies-Crook.


Read Tamsin Snow’s interview by John Dine here.

This interview was conducted in Helsinki, Finland, where Tamsin Snow was artist in-residence on the HIAP Helsinki International Artist Programme in collaboration with Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin.

Showroom, 2017. CGI Video Animation, 3.5 mins


In addition to Arts Council England support, this exhibition is also kindly supported by Brixton Brewery and Culture Ireland, and is part of GB18 Programme.