Marlene Maier, Unreal Engines, 2019. Video still

Unreal Engines

2019. Single-channel video installation, 20′

In the history of science the study of human perception, the exploration of the world and of the universe have been significantly determined by the phenomenon of the shadow. Its significance lies primarily in its function as evidence of a body without actually being that body. In dealing with contemporary image technologies like Machine Vision, Virtual Reality, algorithmic production of images and 3D modeling it is plain that the shadow substantially marks the creation of these new forms of reality as well, be it as an obstacle to machinic interpretation of shadows in images, as a challenge to the imagination of learning machines or as a yardstick for successful realism, be it in game design or in the rendering of augmented-reality application. Concurrently, its domain of significance expands into a new dimension with the digital shadow, as that domain in which the data of our online activities manifests itself and can be comprehended. Those shadows we leave daily in online shops, search engines or social networks are algorithmically read, evaluated and interpreted in order to conquer new markets. Even beyond this, the horizon of meaning of the shadow seems rich in allusion, metaphor and cultural references, be it in fairy tales, science fiction or painting. Simultaneously it embodies a binary order found also in the relation between gender roles and identities.

On this backdrop, through the phenomenon of the shadow the experimental video project Unreal Engines approaches various dimensions of technologization and forms of subjectivity involved. Across several flows of action, the 20 minute video essay connects different stories and voices, documentary observations and poetic elements around the phenomenon with the aim of creating a multi-dimensional narrative space. In this way, statements from forums and tutorials in which work on the perfect virtual shadow are discussed and related to references to the history of painting and culture that broach the significance of the shadow for the construction of reality and human perception, thus negotiating to some extent reality. On the plane of images, close-ups of digital shadows from games and renderings are contrasted to subjects from product photography, in which objects are consciously shown without a shadow. Unreal Engines also asks the question to what extent the individual, in a culture increasingly dominated by images positions itself in relation to a simulation of virtual reality and thus to narrative structures, and inhowfar this gives rise to new forms of subjectivity, imaginative spaces and spaces of interaction.

In the context of the exhibition the project ties in with the video installation Food only exists on pictures presented in the 2018 edition, which tells of three figures acting on the border of the perceptible and visible like ghosts despite their lives being determined by images.

Translated from German: Alan Roth

Marlene Maier, Unreal Engines, 2019. Video still

Marlene Maier, Unreal Engines, 2019. Video still


Marlene Maier, born 1989 in Steyr, Austria, lives and works in Vienna. Graduated from Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts, where she majored in art and digital media under the direction of Constanze Ruhm, and the Kyoto University of Art and Design. Her textual, filmic and installative projects deal with contemporary systems of image production and narrative forms in relation to reality, fiction and invisibility. In 2017 her works featured in the exhibitions Everything a Hand Can’t Take at Kunsthalle Wien Karlsplatz, Monitoring at the 34th Kasseler Dokfest and at the IMPAKT Festival, Utrecht. In 2017 she was awarded the prize of Kunsthalle Wien as well as that of the Academy.