Ghosts are Jealous
Producer: Michael O’Reilly
Fernando Orellana continues his investigation of the paranormal with his site-specific installation in PAFA’s Morris Gallery, Fernando Orellana: His Study of Life, featuring four robotic machines that will attempt to interact with the ghost of Thomas Eakins a century after his death. Orellana took inspiration from PAFA’s long-standing tradition of working from the figure, and its wealth of Eakins’ archival materials, to create the installation for the museum’s Morris Gallery exhibition series.
His Study of Life is comprised of four robotic machines outfitted with electromagnetic field (EMF), temperature, and infrared (IR) monitors — tools used by ghost hunters to detect paranormal activity — as well as some of Eakins’ personal possessions from PAFA’s archives. When the monitors sense fluctuations in PAFA’s Morris Gallery, each robot will help Eakins’ ghost carry out a specific action.The first robot will allow the ghost to open and inspect Eakins’ watercolor box, which includes the artist’s paints and brushes; the second will rotate a red armchair often used as a prop in Eakins’ portraits; and the third will use a series of LED matrices to activate Eakins’ own painting palette and allow his ghost to select and mix his colors.
The fourth and most elaborate robot will allow Eakins to create ghostly drawings of either the photographs that he made when he was alive or new renderings made by his ghost’s direct guidance of the drawing robot. Given that Eakins’ primary subject was the human figure, the installation will include figure models who will pose for Eakins as they would have done more than 130 years ago in the very same building. While standing in the installation, the figure models will cycle through various poses that Eakins captured in his photography, thereby creating a type of life drawing study for the dead. And in fact, there was an occurrence with the drawing machine that Orellana posits should not have come from an error in his code, and could be an actual paranormal experience.
His Study of Life is the latest in Orellana’s recent series of interactive ghost machines, and the first involving a widely-known person. He has previously created work in which personal objects like bells, candlesticks, books, and childhood toys acquired from estate sales of the recently departed would animate when triggered by the presence of their former owner.
Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), who taught and exhibited at PAFA in the late 1800s, is inextricably linked with its history and with groundbreaking artistic practices in 19th-century America. As influential as he was controversial, Eakins’ teaching ideas led to a much greater emphasis on the study of human anatomy, including students working from dissections of human cadavers and from the nude model, a practice that had not previously existed in American art schools. Eakins, who also attended PAFA as a student, was dismissed from the faculty in 1886 for what was seen as his over-emphasis on the use of the nude. However, working from the model and other Eakins-era innovations remain central to PAFA’s curriculum even a century after his death.
Life Drawing Class for the Dead
Edited by Nick Gandolfo-Lucia
This vignette highlights the performative aspects of Fernando Orellana’s latest installation at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, in which he has automated Thomas Eakins’ paintbrush so that the ghost of Thomas Eakins can draw again. In the installation, two nude models sit for the drawing machine so that the ghost of Thomas Eakins can make portraits of them. Through an intermingling of ghostly, gliding footage of the automations and models, unearthly music, and an interview with Orellana, this short transports the viewer to the spirit-world of Orellana’s installation.
A Student Seance
Edited by Madison Wagner
Gail Rawson gives an inside scoop about a group of students and their desire to contact Thomas Eakins. Watch to find out if the students fulfilled their goal or if former PAFA teacher, Thomas Eakins wanted to be left alone.