Painting Now explores the relationship between tech and art

Atticus Gordon, a third-year bachelor of fine Arts student at the University of Ottawa, is exploring time, space, technology, and trauma in his new solo exhibition, Painting Now.

The exhibit, which opened on Nov. 16 in Gallery 115,“deals with the language of painting and the old forms that make painting, but at the same time some new technological aspect: a projection, a phone screen, or a printing of the actual work itself,” Gordon explained. “There is an exploration of the relationship between new technologies and painting.”

The piece “Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction” consists of three seemingly identical paintings—a building in the distance being photographed by a man in the foreground—and below them are pictures of those respective paintings, being projected onto the wall. The difference between the actual paintings and the digital manifestations of the paintings are made clear; the caution lies in the false sense of experience. The painting is inspired by cultural theorist Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility,” which deals with the authenticity of art and mass reproductions.

“How often do we actually see the original piece?” Gordon said. “We usually see it as a digital copy or print copy in a book.” He wants us to ask if the authenticity of works of art is lost when technologically reproduced.

Gordon’s collection seems to suggest that it isn’t. In fact, the pieces combine painting and technology to enhance and introduce a new contemporary art form.

Technology allows the paintings to extend across space and time. For instance, one piece features within it two cellphone screens, showing a time-lapse-like progression of that same painting being made.

“War Painting After Otto Dix” explores themes of trauma, space, and authority. Gordon is interested in history and catastrophic events like wars because they reveal the limits of human experience and human endurance—a theme he finds potent in the work of Weimar-era painter Otto Dix. The painting features the entrance to a home seemingly in ruins, with a hanging skeleton above the doorway, cloudy landscape, a scene of chairs instead of a sky, and a person in the foreground painting a portrait of it all.

To Gordon, a space can convey meaning and especially express trauma.

“If we were in this hallway and there was a horrific conflict here, and this hallway was partially destroyed, we would read that space a lot differently,” he said.  

Showcased via the miniature projectors that hang over the piece are photographs of buildings which suggest a sense of authority and austerity.

The majority of Gordon’s paintings include a person painting or photographing, which acts as a commentary on painting itself to initiate a discussion: What is painting’s role? Are its structures still validated or have they shifted overtime?
“There’s really nothing like it—putting paint on the surface and creating something,” Gordon said. “I think I’ll always stick with painting, but I really like installation. Installing stuff dealing with space—I think that’s fun and interesting.”

Painting Now at Gallery 115 is free of charge to University of Ottawa students and professors until Thursday, Nov. 23.