Evan Penny (right) learned some of his imaging techniques in the 1990s, creating special effects for films like Natural Born Killers, JFK, and Nixon.
Photo:Aerial #2, 2006 (detail with artist)
silicone, pigment, hair, aluminum,
106 x 60 x 13 inches (269,3 x 152,4 x 33 cm), Private collection
The scale of the oversize visages makes you stop. But the distortion makes you stare—then look away. It’s just what Evan Penny wanted: The Toronto-based artist constructs stomach-churningly odd silicone faces and bodies that cause your brain to say “Does not compute.”
It’s a disturbing feeling. “Humans are highly sensitive to distortions in their bodies, and seeing them physically manifested like this, so perfectly, can be a traumatizing or threatening experience,” Penny says. “The brain has to work overtime.”
The sculptures can take up to a year to complete. Penny scans his subject with a 3-D-imaging rig, then imports the data onto his computer, where he skews the image—carefully: Stretch the human form too much and it becomes flat and unrecognizable, so the trick is to find the disconcerting sweet spot where the brain recognizes familiar features but can’t fully make sense of them. “Optically, perceptually, it has to be believable, and it has to convince someone looking at it,” Penny says. The image data is sent to a computer-controlled milling machine, which produces a hard foam core. Penny then applies a layer of modeling clay and sculpts it into a detailed form that will eventually be molded and cast in silicone.
A survey of Penny’s work is on display at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg, Austria, through February 19. The face-to-face encounter may make you queasy—just take a moment and look away.