Fernando Orellana: His Study of Life

Exhibition Info
Curated by
Jodi Throckmorton, Curator of Contemporary Art
Using robotic machines to investigate the paranormal, forcing us to confront the difference between what we see and what we think we see

Fernando Orellana will continue his investigation of the paranormal for 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 navigation 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.

(During the hours below, this exhibition will include a nude figure model. No photography of the installation is permitted when the models are in the Morris Gallery.)

Tuesdays: 1 - 5 p.m.
Wednesdays: 2 - 8 p.m.
Thursdays: 1 - 5 p.m.
Fridays: 1 - 5 p.m.
Saturdays: 1 - 5 p.m.
Sundays: 1 - 5 p.m.

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.

The upcoming exhibition Thomas Eakins: Photographer, honoring the centenary of Eakins' death and opening October 19, will present over 60 of his photographs, paintings, and sculpture exploring issues of representation, gender, and sexuality that are as relevant today as when they were made.

Press Coverage

Hyperallergic: Machines Triggered by the Ghost of Thomas Eakins

Philadelphia Inquirer: PAFA says Thomas Eakins' ghost may be in their machine

PhillyVoice: Real actual ghost shows itself at PAFA maybe

WHYY Friday Arts: Ghosts Are Jealous

Philadelphia Inquirer: At new PAFA exhibit: live nudes, robots, and Thomas Eakins' ghost

Billy Penn: New Philly art exhibit tries to lure a ghost with live nude models

Artblog: Confronting Your Ghosts -- Fernando Orellana at PAFA

The Art Newspaper: How to summon the ghost of Thomas Eakins

Artblog: Jodi Throckmorton on Ghosts, Cassils, and Curating Contemporary Art at PAFA