Justin Bower is a Los Angeles-based artist who creates oil paintings that have the appearance of being digitised, yet they are, in fact, entirely hand-painted. His portraits feature anonymous subjects with expressive, glitchy faces, attesting to our close relationship with technology. His exhibit “The Humiliations” is intended to show how we are losing our free will through our increasing subservience to technology. In our day-to-day lives, we are dependent on our devices and the use of them is now inevitable.
The ‘humiliations’ that Bower alludes to come from how we interact with technology, illustrated by his fractured subjects, with digital and artificial qualities becoming part of each subject’s makeup. The subsequent glitchiness warps and displaces the portrayed identities. This represents the techno-saturation that we are currently experiencing, and which will only increase over time. Bower has stated:
The fracturing of the human, doubling of sense organs, opening of the flesh…are all ‘Humiliations’ to the autonomous and free-willed human of the past. The uniqueness of the human species is contested by biotechnology and genetics; the singularity of the human mind is undermined by informatics, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
In an interview with Hi Fructose magazine, Bower said his “work is foremost about the destabilization of the contemporary subject in an increasing control society,” highlighting “the current status or crisis of humanity today”. Indeed, to Bower, the ever-presence of technology can constitute an “architecture of control”, in which society uses technology for its control needs, undermining our freedom and autonomy in the process. Bower wants to question whether we are free in the contemporary world, although he stresses he is not an alarmist about this issue; he merely wants the decisions we make within a tech/virtual culture to be autonomous and free.
The glitchy effect of his paintings is meant to be “an affirmation that technology is always already inside the subject today,” as well as reflective of “our ever warping and protean definition of who we are.” When explaining his artistic choices, he notes that he uses “”loose and expressive” strokes because it enables the painting to look as if the subject is in a paused state of “becoming” new and reborn.”