Emily Verla Bovino


Date: 16.12.2011 — 01.01.2012
Beginning: 18:00



In the mid twentieth century, the management of death was participative. A thanatology symposium in 1956 popularized the study of death, dying and bereavement to encourge the exploration of the concept of death and its relation to behavior.

A hundred years later, death attitudes would take a performative turn. While participatory death, participatory advertising, participatory governance, participatory enterprise and participatory pedagogy were symptomatic of new liberal democratic sensibilities and the post-war consumer-citizen, performative death appealed to the information age’s self-tracking entrepeneurs.

The hyperthymestic RK is a fictional character.  He was born in the midst of this shift, sometime between the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the expulsion of the Italians from Libya.  Born to upper middle-class parents of working-class origins, he suffered for a depth of education inappropriate to his social class. After several years of working in the knowledge economy as a low-rank administrator in the private sector, he began to wander as a self-hacking clinical trial participant and brain sampler. Though the generation previous to his had exhausted the function of art in society, he decided to identify as an “artist” all the same.  He had determined that this histrionic gesture was the closest he could get to an authentically religious one. In an increasingly high-tech world that coveted “creative leaders” for its proliferating social networks, “artistic practice,” as art was called at that time, was becoming obsolete, swiftly replaced by the more utilitarian “aesthetic consultancy”.

As RK approached his seventies, he began to plan his own death. He decided he would euthanize to better serve the donation of his hyperthymesic brain to a Brain Observatory. If, as has been asserted, the brain of the famous amnesiac Henry Molaison was the emblematic brain of the modern era, the superior autobiographical memory of RK made him the most representative single case study of the early twenty-first century.

Unlike brain banks and archives, the Brain Observatory where RK would donate his brain was not a storage facility for historical conservation or a cataloguing unit for clinical research.  Instead, its objective was to preserve and maintain both the physical material and abstract context of donated brains in the interest of future worthy interlocutors. In the twenty-first century the future defined the present and had become boundless, hence, a brain in the Observatory had to be preserved alongside life narratives, objects and photographs.

The “observed” brain, stored in a file system of cadavre scans, life narratives and personal artefacts, is no brain-in-a-vat, but a series of microtomal slices mounted on glass slides. Digitized and scanned into a three-dimensional model, this digital brain fossil is then uploaded to the Internet in an immortalizing gesture. Someday in the not so distant future, developments in information technology would open the eternal to the single individual.


Episode one from the log of the “cloud identity” RK, is a scenographic webdrama that introduces the fictional character to a mysterious future “user”, an uncanny double. In the late twenty-first century, the “user”  of the brain library circles telepathically in and around the radioscape of Sorrento Valley, where the Brain Observatory had been located, by way of an advanced brain-computer interface. The online emblematic scenography takes the form of a radioscape with accompanying “anchor” image, and is the result of artistic research employing several experimental fieldwork methodologies.  These methodologies include critical auto-ethnography, thanatography and narrative psychology.   The episode has been edited from an extensive collection of research material, including recordings from the field, from video-sharing and sound-sharing sites, from radio, from lectures, from conversations, from scripted readings and from improvised performances with collaborators. “On the Significance of a Posthumous Gesture” was facilitated by Emily Verla Bovino and realized with the participation of Jerad Acosta, Jacopo Annese, Cara Baldwin, the Del Mar Racetrack, Bette Ferguson, Ruth Klaming, Grant Schoneman, Rachel Williamson and Danvir Singh Grewal.  It is the result of discussions with Benjamin Bratton, Noah Doely, Ricardo Dominguez, Bette Ferguson, Cathy Gere, Amelia Glaser, Jack Greenstein, Edward Kihn, Benjamin Lotan, Sheldon Nodelman, Joshua Tonies and Tony Trocki.

An accompanying projection features footage from a 16-mm cinematographic landscape, a work-in-progress.  The film is a collaborative project with artist Christina C. Nguyen.

For the entire duration of the exhibition at ETC, episode one from the log of the hyperthymestic RK will be available to users at RK-LOG.NET.


Emily Verla Bovino (1980) is author of the fictional character, the hyperthymestic RK, and is facilitator of encounters between RK and the world.  Her ongoing project is an epic scenographic radio drama of narrative landscapes that the “cloud identity” RK encounters over the course of his lifetime, from the late nineteen seventies until the mid twenty fifties.  Artistic fieldwork in preparation for this project involves composing suggestions entitled “What We Should Do With Our Brains,” a response to philosopher Catherine Malabou’s work, “What Should We Do With Our Brains.”  These suggestions take the form of articles, proposals, timelines, informal conversations, talks, dinners or lectures that use moments in art history and developments in neuroscience  to illuminate meaning in ordinariness.

She currently works in Marfa, TX as a resident of Fieldwork: Marfa and is doing doctoral research in Art History, Theory, Criticism and Practice at the University of California, San Diego Visual Arts department, founded by artist Allan Kaprow. Her writing has appeared in Artforum.com, Frieze and Art Papers.  Episode one from the log of RK was screened online for the occasion of the 2011 &NOW Festival of New Writing. She was a FUTURA resident through Viafarini, Milan in 2010.