Friday, December 23, 2022


Where's the Beating Heart? Oil on linen 112 x 92 cm 2022
Photo: Rob Frith

This new painting relates to my last painting On The Edge of Being 

In both paintings I visually question the human-machine relationship, including increasing developments and expectations of these relationships. Using a visual ambigramatic [after Douglas Hofstadter] ploy in both paintings, I have painted tree-like patterns as if they are about to merge, or maybe even repel each other. It's your choice to decide! An ambigram can be read, with multiple meanings, in both an upside and downside orientation. But, they can also be read as the same....

The tree-like patterns are those of a natural tree or branching system [roots, vascular, leaves, lines on our palms etc], plus tree-like patterns uses in computer science ie: tree logic, neural networks, chip boards etc. In Where's the Beating Heart? the upper oval represents natural life and systems, and the lower oval represents coded systems and their correlative hardware. Like an ambigram, the painting could be turned the other way - maybe orientation depends on aesthetics, but also beliefs about humanity, technology and the future?

I am not a computer scientist, nor am I an arborist, but as an artist I like to look for patterns, and I like to present what I see as provocations to prod questions. Regular readers will know that I have a keen interest in technology, undertaking technical research to inform my work. These readers will also know that my current PhD research examines increasing military interest in the electromagnetic spectrum [EMS - radio, microwave etc frequencies]. Without consistent uncongested or uncontested access to signal-transmitting frequencies in the EMS, much of our contemporary technology would flounder.  

Theatre of War
Both On the Edge of Being and Where's the Beating Heart? have been inspired by my research, particularly my interest in the idea of 'theatre of war', a phrase often used by 19the century General Carl von Clausewitz in his famous tome On War. Clearly the contemporary  'theatre of war' is different to the 19th century idea of 'theatre of war', but if war is seen as a performance, I do think performativity is still a component of war. We now have 'roles' played by technological systems and hardware that are militarised and militarise-able. Militarise-ability of civilian systems/hardware is a key interest of mine ie: connectivity, interconnectivity and interoperability of systems/hardware, are enabled by signals transmitted via EMS frequencies. New modes of war, such as cyber, information, hybrid, and network-centric warfare draw civilian systems into the 'theatre'. One example is the use of social media for information warfare - there are many other examples.

Where's the Beating Heart? poses questions about human being-ness and technological utility. As autonomous components are embedded into systems, human speed is bypassed. I ask, isn't human speed, the pace at which we work and think, part of our being-ness? This is just one of many questions I ask myself, and embed in my work. The tree-logic pattern 'pulses' with a predominantly red centre of painted conduits. Is this a fake heart? 

There's more to say, but I will leave that to you! 


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