These techno-portrait paintings by Justin Bower look out at us, immutable, distant, machine like, as if sucked away by a computer, a digitized version of their former selves.
These are a picture of the everyman, they represent all of us living in a world in which individuality is subsumed by the digital universe, limited by technology, our human idiosyncrasies, traits, nuances all appropriated by the machine, all serving one idea, subservient to artificial intelligence and the corporate control of our existence. It’s an unnerving thought and one that’s so visually extreme that we cannot help but be sucked in by an aesthetic that borrows much from the electronic colours of Ed Brushka, the abstract marks of William De Kooning and the stylistic qualities of 1980s sci-fi films such as Tron.
We are not presented with portraits of people rather these are a human exposition, one that has been stripped of its fleshy veneer to reveal an unpleasant reality, a world in which we are out of control, already compromised by the forces of technology, the soul absent, expression, emotion long since vanished and replaced by a hard drive that dictates our very being. These people ask no questions, give no answers, they are disinterested, un-engaging, they are robotic, without feeling and it is in this truth that Bowers asks us to question our relationship with our devices, with the information that we disseminate. What is truth? Does it even exist? Are we merely consumers eating up what we’re given, thankful to be fed an endless stream of product.
This is about definition. What it means to be human in a digital world, how we make decisions, live our lives in a virtual world that is dictated by market forces. It is scary concept articulated by a painter whose mesmerising lush colours, seductive surfaces and violent marks reach out and shake us to the core, force us to think and re-evaluate our relationship to technological progress and the destruction of the world through mass consumption.
His paintings reflect the increasing “control society” that we find ourselves in. By placing his turbulent subjects in an Op Art context, the familiar repeating patterns that were used to engage the eye in the 60’s, are now being deployed to act as a type of “code” permeating and invading the body/subject. Bower wants to “have the viewer feel the instability his subjects reflect”, by playing on the non-fixed features of the face and the hallucinatory effects of the Op Art, so as to engage the viewer and perhaps awaken them from a techno-slumber.
In the end, Bower’s subjects are an inquiry into the nature of autonomy in the modern subject. Is “free will” minimized in a society that deploys technology in an effort for more and more control over the individual? Have we ever really had it to begin with? Bower paints his subjects as an ontological problem, and as such, he sees…”the study of subjectivity functions best under the threat of vanishing”.
All images courtesy of the artist.
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