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Patricia Olynyk



Patricia Olynyk’s work investigates science and technology related themes and the ways in which social systems and institutional structures shape our understanding of human life and the natural world. Her prints, photographs, and video installations engage the history of science to explore the dialectics of mind and body, human and artificial, and cognition and affect. Working across disciplines to develop “third culture” projects, she frequently collaborates with research scientists, humanists, cinematographers, and industry specialists. Many of her multimedia environments call upon the viewer to expand their awareness of the worlds they inhabit—whether those worlds are their own bodies or the spaces that surround them.

Olynyk received her MFA degree with Distinction from the California College of the Arts and spent four years as a Monbusho Scholar and a Tokyu Foundation Research Scholar in Japan. Prior to joining Washington University in 2007 as founding director of the unified MFA in Visual Art program and the Florence and Frank Bush Professor of Art, Olynyk was an associate professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where she taught in the School of Art & Design and designed numerous cross-disciplinary initiatives across campus. Olynyk was also director of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitors Program and the Roman J. Witt Visiting Faculty Program, which supported discourse, practice, and research across disciplines at the highest level. In 2005, she became the first non-scientist appointed to the university’s renowned Life Sciences Institute.

Olynyk has been the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions, including a Helmut S. Stern Fellowship at the Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan and a Francis C. Wood Fellowship at the College of Physicians, Philadelphia. She has held residencies at UCLA’s Design Media Arts Department, the Banff Center for the Arts, Villa Montalvo, California, and the University of Vienna, Austria. Her work has been featured at Palazzo Michiel, Venice in an ancillary exhibition of the Venice Architecture Biennial, the Los Angeles International Biennial, The Brooklyn Museum, the Saitama Modern Art Museum in Japan, and Museo del Corso in Rome. Her solo exhibitions include: Sensing Terrains at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., Dark Skies at the Art I Sci Center Gallery at UCLA, and Transfigurations at Galeria Grafica Tokio, Tokyo, Japan. Other recent exhibitions include: Skeptical Inquirers at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, New York; Sleuthing the Mind at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery; and Ephemeral: Unraveling History at the Ruth S. Harley Gallery, Adelphi University, New York.

Olynyk is former Chair of the Leonardo Education and Art Forum, a branch of the International Society for the Arts, Science, and Technology (Leonardo/ISAST). She co-directs the Leonardo/ISAST NY LASER program in New York, which promotes cross-disciplinary exchange between artists, scientists, and scholars. Her writing is featured in publications that include the Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture, Technoetic Arts, PUBLIC Journal, and Leonardo Journal.

Personal website

Work by Patricia Olynyk

A person in front of a bookshelf holding a magnifying glass, their eye magnified. Red light from the left illuminates them.

The Mutable Archive (Shimon Attie), 2020

video still, 27" x 52".

The Mutable Archive is a multi-layered series of photographs and performance videosthat speak to renewed nationalistic obsessions with Othering and difference. A unique artistic strategy of this project involves interrogating the mechanics of storytelling and who speaks for those who are lost, particularly in the absence of verifiable archival material. Rather than follow conventional archival theory, the project prioritizes the relationship between each author/performer and their chosen subject while exposing how various narrative strategies can reveal the social and political challenges of the present.

Each photograph from the 19thcentury collection of Viennese anatomist, Josef Hyrtl portrays a single specimen and post-mortem skull tattoo with an accompanying archive card, which details only partial information about each subject.

Nineteen commissioned writers –artists, musicians, scholars, historians, a medical ethicist, a philosopher, an opera singer, and a spiritual medium –each create a speculative biography for the subject of their choosing from a collection of photographs from The Mutable Archive.Invited collaborators write speculative narratives about nineteen subjects from the Mütter Museum’s collection. Each script and recorded monologue, a 4K cinematic video, exposes the roles of assumption and subjectivity in science.

A white room with shelves of preserved substances in jars and various objects, some (stuffed/taxidermied?) animals, others skulls and bone, more still mounted on the wall. An arch in the midground reveals a hallway lined with more shelves.

The Mutable Archive (Animal Archives), 2020

video still, 27" x 52".
Two images, side by side, of severed/detached, likely bionic (right) legs, illuminated by green-golden ambient light. The background is a red-black gradient. The foot in the image to the left is in a black dress shoe, with long light brown socks. The leg in the image to the right is bare, with some cloth draped across the thigh.

Isomorphic Extension I (diptych), 2014

digital pigment print on archival paper, 71 ¼" x 25 ¼".

This diptych conjures the way in which the brain constructs an image of the body and the perceptual phenomena of phantoms. Individuals who have lost a limb almost without exception experience the phenomena of the phantom limb, the vivid impression that the missing limb is present. In a macabre reversal of the missing limb phenomena, two, large scale photographs portray two prostheses, which linger below the invisible, or phantom body. A disarticulated human form is implied through an amusingly unmatched pair of prosthetic legs from different periods, one gendered male the other female. This diptych strategically places them in a configuration that suggests self-organization—or autopoesis—and ambulation.

Installation in a white gallery space of two large, bulbous hanging forms connected by black wires/cables/ropes, red light shining through its perforations.

Oculus, 2018

Light sculpture, 44" x 48".

This complex light sculpture depicts a colossal abstracted drosophila eye—replete with compound faceted surfaces—that is inspired in part by a series of scanning electron micrographs I produced in a transgenic lab several years ago. Its recalls the circular opening at the apex of a cupola and also alludes to a surveillance device, or drone hovering in mid-air. Oculus invites us to ponder the impact of the gargantuan and the miniature on our perception of bodily presence and scale. This work explores those sensory modalities that play a dominant role in spatial perception and triggers the affect of scale on several fronts. Ultimately, Oculus strategically triggers an affective encounter with the colossally represented miniscule, offering a fantastic voyage that navigates spatial, temporal, and phenomenal worlds.

Digital Modeling by Nathaniel Elberfeld and Alex Waller, Metron Designworks; and Sung Ho Kim, Axi:Ome.

An abstract composition of a squiggly surface, its colors ranging from a warm golden-yellow to vibrant reds and soft grays. Ambient light surrounds the form/sculpture, casting it in shadows that highlight its irregular texture.

Dark Skies, 2012

Two-channel projection on dimensional (digitally sculpted) wall, 8’ x 8’.

Dark Skies is a multi-media, multi sensory collaboration with the architectural firm: Axi:Ome and sound designer, Christopher Ottinger. This work is motivated by the existence of light pollution, defined by The International Dark-Sky Association(IDA) as an excessive amount of obtrusive artificial light. The work takes as its title an astronomical reference, referring to remote places free of hazy city light that allow for an extended view into deep space and time as a unique perceptual and psychological experience.

Dark Skies is a multi-channel video projection on a large-scale dimensional wall:one side reveals a crepuscular sky and the other, a dark sky with smoky trails. The installation also includes a soundscape, drawn primarily from field recordings captured at twilight in the Rocky Mountains during high summer. The sound design in “Dark Skies” serves two functions: The first is to sonically articulate the ambiguous space between micro and macro environments, echoing those depicted in video elements, and the second is to add an interactive/immersive quality to the work. The sound elements are projected directionally into the exhibition space and viewers will be able to migrate between these two soundtracks—essentially moving between macro and micro realms.