Spiraling and whirling, house of the self, our body, rife with authenticity, thick flesh, suddenly becomes alien, desperately begging to transcend material sloppiness and engender its own perfection.
In his latest series of paintings, King explores our discomfort with the architecture of the body in the technological age. Confronted with the dissonance between a vulnerable human body and a digitised, flawless version of ourselves, fostered by the Internet and social media, our sense of embodiment feels increasingly at odds. We desire, every too often, to transcend the skin and fight off the burden of materiality, to hide into the comfort of desirable personas and virtual identities.
A mural artist later trained in classical oil painting, King has always been fascinated by the materiality of the body: the thickness of the flesh, the twisting of torsos and muscles highlighted by the light play of chiaroscuro of the likes of Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Gentileschi and Bernini. Diagnosed with an autoimmune condition which hindered his mobility and forced him to confront the limitations of his own embodiment, King started to manifest the body within the boundlessness of digital worlds, reflecting on the utopian and dystopian undertones of these horizons.
In this context, the use of oil painting is a conscious and engrossing choice as the medium’s wet materiality has been historically bound to its relationship to skin and the thickness of the body. King’s chimeras, conceptualised within a 3D software and then meticulously translated into oil on canvas, underpin the tension between physical and digital, fleshness and weightlessness, wedding the thickness of Velazques’s meat to Haraway-esque phantom cyborgs.
Glorious in their shimmering appearance and ice-cold in their purple-green metallic skin, King’s figures appear frozen in liminal settings. Playing with the dimensionalities of the figures and a sharp cut-out perspective, the free-standing bodies speak to the thrilling yet paralysing, utopian yet dystopian experience of technological existence, forever unleashing and sickeningly confusing. Are we an illusion or are we even more real? Are we losing ourselves or gaining consciousness? Are we more knowledgeable or simply overloaded by elusive information? Are we truly more connected or wedding ourselves to loneliness?
King explains that his subjects speak of our paradoxical relationship with the digital: “We extend ourselves through technology, but now technology extends itself through us”. In this exhibition, King debuts his new ‘captcha’ series with dispersed text running scattered over the figures. CAPTCHA is a randomly generated sequence of letters used in computing to authenticate the ‘human identity’ of internet users. Ironically prying into the lost and complex significance of humanity in an increasingly digitised world, King graffitis his characters of captcha-inspired internet slang: ‘That’s So Meta’, ‘Speed’, ‘Icey’. Everyone is speaking, but none is listening: words float in space with sporadic meaning over confused subjects. The human senses are emphasised throughout the paintings - touch, sight, hearing - with a humoristic and paradoxical flair, almost to question the humanity of the subjects.
The work that gives the show its title, Seeing is Believing, explores the act of looking and being looked at, often interchangeable actions in the internet: from browsing and watching, we quickly become the object of someone else’s browsing and surveillance; we simultaneously gain and lose agency, we shift from subject to object. Time to Shine depicts a brightly whitened smile, half-grinning, half-biting its own finger, as if to trial the actuality of its own flesh, while Karaoke and Music to My Ears gesture towards hearing and performativity in what appears as tragicomic scenes. A suffusing Lynch-esque aura arises throughout the paintings in the show, with synthetic-looking eyes rife with impenetrability and a little touch of shyness. Do we believe in what we see?
Androgynous and weightless, King’s chimeras are imbued with digital slickness, the mastery of oil painting and poetic imagination. Singled out in their attempt to speak, sing, perform and reform, the figures attest to the double-sword of their (our) melancholic desire to connect in a pixelated horizon. They watch and are watched, unveiling the dystopia feeling of being controlled, browsed and mapped while also seeking to reinvent themselves. They sing, in a desire to infuse emotions; they perform, in the hope to catch our attention; they move awkwardly, in their unnatural human bodies. Transcending physical horizons, they beg for connection and authenticity in cyberspace.
Words by Maria Dolfini