The Girl with X-ray Eyes
Phillip Warnell, UK, 2008, 35mm film, 23mins
35mm screening print or 4k digital file

Natasha Demkina is the girl with x-ray eyes: her claim, to be able to see directly inside of bodies using a supplementary, penetrative form of vision. As a medical doctor and faith-driven practitioner, she employs this vision diagnostically to see medical conditions and even the dynamic effects of medicine in action. In 2007 Phillip Warnell went to Moscow to meet Natasha, himself becoming the subject of her gaze. Staged in a gymnasium, his becoming subject of Natasha’s scrutiny is followed by a detailed, technical report on the health status of the patient and hints of Natasha’s domestic abode. The film culminates in Natasha’s attempt to make contact at distance with future audiences, in a mediated eye-to-eye message.

An exchange takes place during the performative circumstance of the film’s making, the questioning of roles and negotiation of status, conditions and directorship. The film also develops ideas on contact at distance, whereby the glance is already a blow, an act that permeates and makes present the body. It also brings into question how the veritable remains unverifiable, shamanic practices founded on ambiguity, Russian faith traditions and discreet agendas.

The film also features a specially commissioned soundtrack by avant-garde Russian composer Vladimir Nikolaev. A two-screen version of the film incorporates the image of its soundtrack in the form of the Theremin, played by virtuoso Lydia Kavina. There are two 35mm film print versions of the film, one that permits a live-theremin accompaniment by Kavina. This version of the film was presented at the BFI and Warwick Arts Centre in 2008 (see below).

The Meaning of the World Outside the World (extract)
Andrea Lissoni
Head of International Curation and Film, Tate Modern. First published in Mousse Contemporary Art, 2011

Why are magic, the occult, and even the basic mechanisms of optics and out-of-date, analogue visual devicesso interesting to artists in the 2000’s? With two limpidly enigmatic, apparently irreconcilable films, artist and filmmaker Phillip Warnell pushes the boundaries between scientific research, the paranormal, and philosophy, forging ahead once again into the most intimate, alien territory possible: the sphere that lies between the body, its interior, and the outside world.

Natasha Demkina has the inexplicable ability to see through bodies. She is no strange sorceress wtih the stereotypical trappings of the paranormal. Natasha, a medical student, exercises her ‘supplementary vision’ by clearly describing to her patients everything the body cannot show, giving them a full report and possible diagnosis. This is probably what inspired Phillip Warnell. His film - also presented as double screen installation (or as live media, with theremin music by Lydia Kavina) - is the story, in the form of a brief and very unusual documentary, of Natasha’s world. The girl with X-ray eyes lets him into her apartment, appears with her dogs outside, up to teh narrative climax of the film, when she scans the body of a man standing motionless in front of her. This sequence takes place in a gym, and Natasha and hte surroundings are captured in impeccable framings and camera movements that culminate with a tracking shot. The man being scanned is Phillip Warnell himself, whose film achieves an extraordinary equilibrium in charting truly unique territory: that ‘intimate terrain’ between scientific approach and reinvention, a film of fiction and documentary, the inside and outside of the body, the body and the urban landscape. And this equilibrium is a tightrope walk between seeing and narrating, between vision and representation.

But why is The Girl with X-Ray Eyes so disarming? Perhaps due to the difficulty of interpretation, after a first screening? Or is it the ambiguous attitude towards what it shows and tells that disconcerts the viewer? Perhaps the key issue is that The Girl is unquestionably related to a central obsession that has seized the artistic imagination in recent years. The fascination with obsolete optical devices, the rediscovery of pre-cinematographic visual mechanisms, the attraction towards the traces of alchemy found in the process of shooting and developing analogue film, the passion for the occult, the use of cameras or formats unearthed from the archeological depths of media (or found driftig on the waves of an experimental cinema that has never truly been entombed) are all predominant elements in the art of the 2000s. Of course, they generate an exciting kind of feedback (a gentle one, without that grating screech effect) when juxtaposed with ‘archive fever’, as well as the invasion of pleasant two-dimensional kaleidoscopic images pervaded by modernist nuances...but we can only ask ourselves whether this full-fledged genre (we might as well call it that at this point, rather than just a ‘style’) reflects a large-scale exploration, an unconsciously collective one, of new, symbolic ways to represent reality.


papers:
Pregnable of Eye. Steven Connor's essay commissioned to accompany the film
http://stevenconnor.com/xray.html
The Glance as a Blow. Phillip Warnell for the 2nd Symposium of the Ural Industrial Biennial, Russia, 2012 (see this on 'writing' page)
Projections of Animality. Phillip Warnell for the Natural History Museum, Unruly Creatures, 2011

Screenings/exhibitions:
2019
Cineteca, Madrid, 'The Electric Gaze'
The Hunterian, Glasgow University
2017
illingworth Kerr Gallery, Calgary, 'Aberations'
curated by Elisabetta Fabrizi
2013
Sharjah Biennial (exhibition) UAE
2012
Ural Industrial Biennial Russia
2010
Event Forming Bodies (installation in solo exhibition) 300m3 Gallery Gothenburg
2009
Jihlava Czech Republic
Cila Colombia
Rencontres Internationale Berlin, Paris and Madrid
Belgrade Serbia
Reelscreen Beirut
2008
IDFA Amsterdam
Bilbao International Film Festival
Warwick Arts Centre UK (live cinema-sonic event with Lydia Kavina)
Gorizia Italy
FID Marseille (in competition)
The Transparent Body (event) Marseille
BFI London (live cinema-sonic event with Lydia Kavina)
Science is Fiction (installation in group exhibition) Paris
Introspection-Extramission (installation in solo exhibition) Leamington Spa

Publication (2008): contact info@phillipwarnell.com