Crossed Wires: Painting and Technology Mingling

The Hollows
Feb 13, 2017 8:44PM

Tomie Seo and Brian Batt utilize an amalgamation of technology and traditional, physical drawing and painting media within their artworks. They achieve this balance in directly parallel, yet opposite ways. Seo’s use of naturalistic, hand drawn “collages” call to mind modern day use of computer programs to alter images. She also incorporates LED lights and electronics into the support and composition of the artworks, further emphasizing the strange “mixed media” aspect of her work. While Batt doesn’t integrate any literal lighting or electronics within his works, he implements technology in both an aesthetic and thematic sense.

Seo’s drawings are picture-like in their naturalism, intriguing stark black and white examples of hyper realistic draughtsmanship. However, the scenes and situations depicted collage-like in their hodge-podge absurdity, calling to mind mimetic images altered in Adobe Photoshop. In addition to combining physical electronic lights, Seo’s artwork uses technology and composition of imagery to destabilize meaning and concepts associated with the images she has appropriated. Seo’s work examines social and cultural structures by organizing and structuring images so to juxtapose and hollow them out. She implements a wide berth of icons, not refraining from even controversial and tabooed ones. Images of Americana, women wearing headscarves, KKK members, military men, people in pre-20th century dress, animals, mass produced consumable goods, and more are merged and made to inhabit the same constructed space. Seo creates a sense of universality while eroding binary preconceptions, putting these images on the same plane of existence in a high definition caricature of reality. Her use of photorealism and smooth inclusion of these varying aspects makes the iconography extremely malleable. Supposedly monolithic, although vastly differing, modes and hierarchies of governing, consumption, and social practices are revealed as shallow and flimsy.

Making her drawings hybrids between traditional media such as graphite and paper, and combining it with simple electronic elements such as lights, fans, monitors, and other mechanical components, Seo blurs the lines between static art and kinetic sculpture, opposites co-existing. Technology is utilized to build on these themes of the contradictory, easily influenced nature of imagery, as numbers and machines themselves are considered ubiquitous. No matter what geographical location or language, it is assumed that numbers and raw data can only be interpreted in one, singular fashion. In Seo’s work, she breaks apart this assumed singularity by making the lights flicker, motors whirr, and numbers cycle. The constant and predictable are turned unexpected, even unsettlingly so.

Perception plays a large role within the success of Batt’s portraiture. Batt plays off of theories of the systems of how we people within the modern age perceive the societal environment that surrounds them. According to art theorists such as Rudolf Arnheim and E.H. Gombrich, the way a person sees the world is, in actuality, based as much in psychology as it is in the physical act of visualization. The way the viewer interprets reality is based on one’s “schema,” or the most dominant cultural approach of understanding/representation within the context of how people live, the tools and media most commonly used, and their individual temperament and experience. Batt engages with these concepts in this contemporary digital age by choosing to depict icons, ranging from those art world legends, such as Mark Rothko and Dash Snow, to pop cultural celebrities/rock stars such as Bob Dylan and Pete Townshend. 

Celebrity culture is an unavoidable constant in the lives of the average Western viewer, due to both the progressively creeping “edutainment” factor within the consumption of information and news, as well as the typical person frequenting social media, enthusiast, and gossip sites online on a daily, if not hourly, basis. The continuous inundation of media has primed and hardwired the brain of the modern viewer to recall instantly these particular subjects of renown which he portrays. He renders the visages of instantly recognizable figures geometrically, broken down into a gridded, somewhat abstracted pixilated style. Despite this obfuscation, the figure depicted within Batt’s pieces can be distinguished, despite the low resolution “digestion” and degradation of their images. It is as if human perception barely even notices the distortion, since it has become so normalized into our way of seeing! It is encouraged to view Batt’s works by filtering the image through a smart phone’s camera in order to clarify his paintings, further cementing the notion that seeing the world through the lens of technology is both accepted and supported. While some artists would decry this change in the way people see and comprehend the world, he does not. He simply acknowledges it as a factual, functional way perception works in reaction to how the world operates in this current day and age. Batt uses his portraits to reveal the constant distribution of the image, as well as how technology plays a role in the distribution of it. By using the tenets of perceptualism and the obscuring aesthetics, Brian Batt shows how technology has affected our way of perceiving people and the world around us. Meanwhile, Tomie Seo applies the characteristics and presence of machinery to her drawings to create artworks that brazenly shirk and defy typical binary classification. Although they choose to use traditional media within their works, both recognize that the impact of technology cannot be ignored. They choose to keep the old modes of art making while acknowledging the change and potential technology has brought into artistry.

-Gina Mischianti

The Hollows