From the tension between photography and figurative painting to the recent development of NFTs, art and technology have always had a complex relationship. Today, technology is the subject of many artworks, more so than it has ever been. A growing number of artists are illustrating our complex, interdependent affair with the digital world. Some assume direct cues from the aesthetic and rituals of the online; others reflect on its abstract impact on our subconsciousness and the body.
Tapping into the same areas of human stimulation as social media, contemporary art is increasingly influenced by the effects of online networking. To explore this further, we look at the artists delving into the bodily and psychological give-and-take between us and our devices, bringing into question the realities of our own dynamic with the ever-growing digital world.
Numerous contemporary painters utilise language in their work but it was conceptualist Mel Bochner who first paved the way for text in painting and print, both as a poetic and protesting gesture. His decades-long use of direct expressions taken from the everyday predate social media jargon, whilst his unapologetic directness and timeless humour continue to encapsulate the contemporary landscape of language.
In contrast to Bochner’s geometric precision, David Shrigley renders letters with a whimsical ease which elevates the satire in his message. In our world of quick apologies and unsolicited confessions, his humorous drawings and prints of simple catchphrases reflect reality with brutal honesty. Shrigley’s juxtaposition of words baffle and intrigue, and similar to our unending conversations through DMs or texts, we simply cannot look away.
From codes and cryptic icons to emojis, technology continues to impose its unique language on us. For painter and street artist RETNA, language is a construct, and the message is an enigma. His signature orchestration of circular and geometric forms pulls the viewer into his own personal language, which at once seems archaic and futuristic. In a landscape of what is seemingly utter chaos, RETNA’s invention of a language defies communication, disrupting an order fascinated by the overflow of content and connection.
Justin Bower’s figurative paintings radiate chaos through colour and form. He veils facial expressions behind a sea of painterly gestures, which at once recall pixels and computer screens, as well as dreams. Describing his work as exploring ‘the pervasive nature of technology and its destabilising effects’, his subjects are invaded by code. In paintings like Faith Healer I and II, the human face becomes both digital and corporal, a product of the online and off.
Perhaps, no artist captures the mesmerizing geometry of the pixel like Invader, whose mosaic tiles turn the familiar into the foreign, rendering the alien commonplace. He appropriates street art to parallel the physical universe with that of cyber. The immediacy of the location of his works challenges the limits of a phone screen and invites us to look outside where a robotic tile awaits in a corner, instead of a feed or post.
Inspired by the contemporary chaos of online advertisement, James Verbicky creates mixed media works that are as vibrant as they are arresting. Combining old advertisements in precise geometric arrangements, the artist’s work emulates the experience of browsing on the internet, where users are continually bombarded with an overload of images.