Marilène Oliver – Family Portrait

Family Portrait, Dad, Mum, Self-Portrait and Sophie ,
Bronze Ink on Acrylic,
Edition of 6, 2 Artist’s Copies,
70 x 50 x 192 cm (28 x 20 x 72 inches)

Family Portrait, Dad, Mum, Self-Portrait and Sophie (2002), Bronze Ink on Acrylic, Edition of 6, 2 Artist's Copies, 70 x 50 x 192cm


Direct from the Artist


Catalogue to accompany Solo Exhibition Intimate Distances September 2003


2003 Intimate Distances  Beaux Arts London
2003 Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham
2006  Howard Gardens Gallery, University of Wales


In September 2003 I had my first solo show at Beaux Arts Gallery in London. At this exhibition, which I chose to call Intimate Distances, I presented Family Portrait, a sculptural work that was made with the generous help of the Academic Radiology department at the University of Nottingham.

For my Family Portrait I did not arrange for my family to be painted nor photographed, but to be MRI scanned. I then screen printed the scans, which were taken at 20 mm intervals onto sheets of clear acrylic. These sheets, when stacked (in order) form sculptural reconstructions of each of my family members.

The MRI scans faithfully and objectively tell us not the superficial, but of what is inside the body, hidden beneath the surface. I wanted to explore alternative and poetic ways of using medical imaging and to repair the fragmentation and dislocation it promotes. For me the MRI is the ideal instrument for portraiture. In it I seek to question the digital preservation of bodies and how medical imaging can be poetically subverted. I wanted to use the technique that holds, as photography did for the Victorians, a secret hope of resurrection.

The technique that I developed results in a body that at certain angles appears to be solid and whole but then vanishes at eye level – an intangible body. The vanishing point that exists between the virtual and the physical forms the poetic crux of the work both visually and conceptually. The result is a line of four sculptures: my family preserved inside out, hovering like shadows, forever.

In the essay for my exhibition catalogue Jeanette Winterson wrote:

‘When we look at Family Portrait, the bodies are vulnerable and frail (can we really be made up of so little?) ­ but they also allow us to contemplate the proportions, the architecture, the skill and scale of the human beings. We are more and less than we thought. We are movingly similar ­ her family is our family, is each one of us. In the context of the exposed, inside-out body, our separate personalities are temporarily erased, freeing us from the worry of self, into a united place that all of us share.’