Thursday, November 14, 2019


HUMAN and a Tree Oil on linen 25 x 20 cm 2019 



Related previous post is PAINTED ALGORITHMS

As regular readers know I often incorporate strings of colourful binary code into my paintings. I see this as a playfully subversive way to comment on our increasing reliance on digital and cyber systems. I see it as a way to draw attention to data gathering and capture activities that enable the formation of what I call proxy identities. That data assists in targeting activities undertaken by advertisers, governments and social media companies is a concern. Of greater concern is targeting for attack by state and non-state militarised organisations. I am reminded of something Jean Baudrillard wrote when he described a digitally coded destiny where it will be “possible to measure everything by the same extremely reductive yardstick: the binary, the alternation between 0 and 1". (1) And, this recent article "The Captured City The “smart city” makes infrastructure and surveillance indistinguishable" by Jathan Sadowski, highlights concerns about data capture and how data is used. 

HUMAN - Human
Over the years I have created a few paintings that include the word HUMAN or Human 'instructed' in binary code. Lots of ideas have gone, and still go, through my mind when I paint these images. My latest painting is HUMAN and a Tree (above). The 'human' is the string of red zeros and ones, 'instructing' HUMAN. Is this a sign of a human being targeted by software that allows autonomous identification and potential action? Is the code a representation of human species demise, its remnant data-remains stored in 'surviving' digital systems? 

A human body when it dies returns to the Earth, either in burial or as ash. What happens to our digital data after we die? In HUMAN and a Tree I have also included a tree. As regular readers know, this is my interpretation of the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life. The tree in this painting is also red, blood red. It draws attention to the mimicry and subterfuge of the instructed HUMAN code. The tree stands as a beacon on the distant horizon. What kind of warning is it sending?

The tree-of-life is also an important element in HUMAN [below]. This painting parodies a computer screen, perhaps a remote drone pilot's screen, a gun or camera scope. The computer graphic-like lines and markings clearly indicate that a targeting exercise is under way. The binary code at the bottom of the painting 'instructs' HUMAN. While the painting may portray individual human figures, the larger question is - is humanity under siege? 

Unusually for me I have depicted human figures. They are under immanent attack, the cross hairs just need to lock-on. However, the tree-of-life shadows provide some kind of hope. They indicate, to me, that the targeting systems cannot detect or identify everything that constitutes a human being - imagination, love, desire and more. This painting has three types of human identification - the figures, the trees-of-life and the binary code. Which one/s is/are real? You can read more about this painting HERE on a previous post.  

HUMAN Oil on linen 30 x 35 cm 2019

Two Humans (below) is a 'landscape' with two 'humans' forming unusual topographies in the landscape. The strings of binary code 'instructing' the word 'Human' attempt to occupy the landscape, albeit an ambiguous one. This painting sold recently to someone who totally 'got' it. I get so very excited when people 'get' the parody, the visual puns, the subversive intent!

Both Two Humans and Two Humans: Uploaded [below Two Humans] playfully critique ideas about posthuman uploading of - well - posthuman entities. Things like uploading human minds or memories, so a person can 'exist' forever. Both paintings critique ideas of data identification, data proxy, life in the algorithmic 21st century and discussions about posthuman futures.  

You can read more about the inspiration for these two paintings on a previous post HERE.

Two Humans Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2015

Two Humans: Uploaded Gouache on paper 24 x 32 cm 2015

In both these paintings binary code 'instructs' 'Human'. This code forms part of the posthumans' 'bodies', and in the case of My Future Posthuman [below] it also forms the posthuman's 'head' in the shape of a question mark.

I had so much fun with my posthuman series, painted a few years ago now.

My Future Posthuman Gouache and watercolour on paper 42 x 30 cm 2016

 Is this a Posthuman?  Gouache and watercolour on paper 42 x 30 cm 2016

[1] Jean Baudrillard, Passwords, trans. Chris Turner (London and New York: Verso, 2003), 76.

Podcast interview with lead researcher of the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare project, University of Sheffield, UK

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