These works were created in pursuit of what painting means in our present world where we coexist with digital technology. After splashing paint onto paper, artist Seungjin Lee photographed the splash pattern, applied a computer glitch effect to the digital image, then copied the glitched image onto a physical canvas by hand. By traversing between impulsive and mechanical actions in creating this work, the artist expresses the fluidity of the natural world and the human body, controlled and demarcated by technology.
“I always create works based on the relationship between digital and analog, and the philosophies, concepts, and ideas that arise from living with digital technology in the modern world.
This piece is a painting created based on such ideas.
What could be the meaning of a painting today, especially a painting on canvas? As I have concluded from giving it much personal thought, I feel that there is an element that represents a kind of industry inherent in the capitalism of art. In other words, although the work is indeed appreciated as a picture, in terms of format it differs from a casual work of digital information posted on social networks or as an NFT, as it likewise differs from an image of primitive ideas drawn on a rock somewhere deep in the mountains. Both intentionally and unintentionally, a painting seems to call to mind the very image of “art” itself in a way that is especially relevant to the contemporary meaning of the word.
For me, painting with paint on canvas is an extraordinarily modern form of expression that is in fact limited in its regard to the future and to the past. I have lived my life believing in capitalism since I was a child, and it has been my privilege in life to look through the screens of computers and smartphones and thereby traverse between analog reality and digital unreality on a daily basis. I don’t know if this is really going to happen, but it is possible that in the future, because of the outer-net we will use our bodies less and less, we won’t even know whether we exist or not, and technology will bring us to a magical state where the intangible information and emotions in our brains will naturally connect us to others. Setting aside whether that future will actually come to pass, what is certain is that from just a moment of exposure to works that depict those concepts, such as the science fiction novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and the film “The Matrix,” the basic axis of my life turns in relation to the influences of those works.
That’s the essential story of the frame around the canvas. Now I’ll talk about the painting inside.
First, I used my body to create a splash painting on a piece of paper the same size as the canvas. Black paint is depicted in white space, its movements based on the physical laws of nature. Black and white, existence and non-existence, the connection between myself and everything in this world, the realization that at least for now I feel I am actually existing in an analog space, the natural depiction of thin nerves or the branches of a tree, the dots that come into view one by one like individual cells, the large brushstrokes from which I feel a sense of energy, the simple technique, and yet, it grants us a these diverse elements both visually and sensually.
I took a picture of the painting with my digital camera and downloaded the data to my computer. Then, by using special glitch maker software, or by changing the image pixel information to a binary signal and then re-inputting it randomly, I create the expression of bugs in the system, destroyed and broken images on the digital screen. Whenever I see what is produced out of this process, I reflexively feel a kind of empathy. When I see how the digital glitching effects break the dynamism of splash brushstrokes that were drawn with so much vigor like a living organism, or how they create new expressions of some different dynamism that I had not anticipated and wasn’t there before, I reflect on my own appearance as I live in relation to digital technology.
I then copied the image onto canvas by hand, feeling as if I were a human printing press. When I’m copying, I am truly mechanical, working silently. At times I feel that this kind of work is emblematic of the graphics in the PS4 games that I play all the time. Every day, it’s getting harder and harder to tell if the graphics in the games are real or not. Occasionally, when I’m walking in my neighborhood park and see some trees, I find myself thinking, “The graphics for this tree are really well done,” as if it is not a real natural object but the crystallization of some digital graphics done to an extremely high level of completion. This thought reminds me of the latest research in quantum mechanics, which theorizes that the elements of the three-dimensional space we live in are signals projected on the wall from the outside world. While I am working as a human printing press, I have the sensation that I am both existing and not existing.
I always think the picture might be completed in this way, but each time I’ve felt that something was missing. So I make one last splash and adjust the image. I continue to adjust it until the expression’s mechanical elements and fluid elements are comfortably intersecting. Now I have to take a walk.”