My work looks at how technologies at every age of human civilization exert control, loudly or subtly, over human choices. As inventors, we assume a nonreciprocal relationship of control over our technologies. For example, we sometimes mistakenly believe that photography frames our memories and experiences in a pure medium; however, the camera’s mechanical limits create a product of finite possibilities that alters our relationship with our memories and channels our experience with the world. To risk imbuing cameras with agency, I wonder in what other ways they exert their quiet influence over us. If it is true, as Vilém Flusser suggests, that in taking photographs, we fulfill the camera's calling that every possible picture eventually be taken, can the same be said about Drawing? About Painting?
In fact, all technologies we create, which have their own built-in limits and functions, channel our experiences, and then to varying degrees, alter our interactions, thoughts and even beliefs. Chekov articulated half of this relationship when he said that in a play "one must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." I would argue for a corollary that not only must the characters of the play fire the rifle, but also that the rifle itself demands to be fired.
I looked at this phenomena recently in a triptych titled “New Worlds”. In this set of paintings, a bright central image of Neil Armstrong’s space suit is abutted on the left by a painting of a wooly mammoth’s head, recently pulled from a melting Canadian glacier, thawed for the first time in 13,000 years. It was likely killed by some of North Americas earliest human inhabitants, as evidenced by chipped stone spear tips still lodged between its ribs. On the right side of the triptych is a painting of a martian landscape, based on a NASA photograph in which the tracks left by the Mars Rover, Spirit, looked suspiciously like a penis. The triptych looks at the human impulse toward exploration, as well as the unexpected impacts that inevitably come along with introducing humans and their technologies to new worlds.
My diptych series “Natural History” also looks at these themes of technology, choice, and influence. On one side of each diptych, the drawings depict North American animal species that went extinct soon after humans settled on the continent. (Some anthropologists argue that these animals were the victims of humans’ earliest weapons technologies.) The other side of each diptych portrays nude figures in the conventional postures of bathroom-mirror-selfies (a contemporary display made newsworthy by some of my home state’s politicians.) Taken together, I think of the images as an extremely condensed history of technology in North America.
My other current paintings and drawings also incorporate these references to technology, history, and the future, reflected in images of our most pressing anxieties and desires. Motifs of military and consumer culture, news events, and economic/environmental collapse appear alongside faceless spectators, junk foods, revelry and the ubiquitous eyes of cameras. In my newer work, Islamic geometric patterns, (an early abstract homage to the divine) pair with imagined, hallucinogenic depictions of the jet engines and rockets that have permanently changed the way we relate spatially to our place and planet. These ecstatic rocket images nestle alongside drawings of the recent explosion of an unmanned Antares rocket.
Technically, the paintings and drawings are a jangle of rendering styles from mechanical illustration and visual communication drawing. Exploded diagrams, scientific-style illustrations, isometric projections, engineering schematics, geometric patterns and rendering that directly references photography, create a dissonance that echoes the interplay of eras and technologies.
Paintings and drawings in this portfolio have been exhibited in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Miami.
—Scott R Horsley, 2017—