Ghost in the Shell

The fusion of the human and electrical or mechanical appears as a topic entirely natural within the realm of digital art. Perhaps, it would be rather difficult to find, within the hyper-realistic or surrealist genre, a quasi-human depiction which would not contain some allusions to the unstoppable transition towards the cybernetic. Despite that ubiquitous tendency in digital art to represent the human figure in a roboticized manner, various artists approach this theme in different ways.

The androids by Peter Gric possess an almost romantic quality, which at times makes them resemble a Greek sculpture in white marble rather than a half-mechanized creation. The surrealist style, with some elements of hyperrealism in his treatment of the human body, invest the figures with timeless qualities. Essential for the final look is the meticulous 3-D rendering, which is later combined with qualities of precise ink pens or shinier textures, characteristic for oil or acrylic paint. This combination of techniques closely reflects the literal fusion between the traditional art techniques and unmistakably contemporary realm of digital art. As a result, Peter Gric achieves a convincingly ‘old-fashioned’ stylization, with convincing shadowing reminiscent of a Renaissance drawing and finishes the work with a subtle signature in the bottom right corner, which, again, alludes to the style of the European Old Masters. Because of his attention to detail and somewhat historicizing style, the futuristic themes concerning the human-mechanical forms are extremely convincing in conveying the universal truths about human nature, the history of humankind, and, finally, the art history itself. His successful series ‘Synchronization’, for instance, is dedicated to the mystery of establishing human connections in the somewhat hostile environment.

In other artworks, Gric deals with the art historical convention of the nude, posing the glistening cybernetic female android, against a balanced, black and white background. The viewer is immediately drawn towards the intricate patterns of the outer armour, which appears rather decorative than utilitarian, only to discover the piercing face of the android, whose face despite appearing superficially blank, is in fact shaped by the defined features, and most importantly, the gaze that meets the viewer. While Gric is also fluent in even more surrealist, magical styles, using elements of animation and more complex compositions to create a sense of a mystery, it is the figure of a surrealist cyborg which best reflects the whole of his ambitious artistic projects. A link between Gric and a contemporary sculptor, Igor Mitoraj, whose romantic half-broken sculptures stylized on Greek originals are to be found, among others, in Canary Wharf in London or Barcelona, Germany or Italy, is visually convincing. Despite the vastly different media, both artists are celebrated by collectors and enthusiasts for the timeless qualities of their work.

Jay Toor’s approach to surrealism is more intuitive than that of Peter Gric. Toor uses subtle allusions to some of the most acclaimed classics of the surrealist tradition, in particular to Salvador Dali. Some of the works play on the balance between a surprising prop, which serves the role of setting an unsettling mood of the work.

The inspirations with Dali’s famous The Persistence of Memory (1931) echoes in the use of contracting, light and dark colours and contrasting textures, playing on the notions of ‘softness’ and ‘hardness’, which Dali’s canvas became equated with. Toor’s approach to the mechanized human body is, by all means, not limited to the surrealist allusions stemming from the pure knowledge of art historical movements. The artist eagerly takes up themes of social relations and desires, making the cyborgs tokens of deep-rooted and hidden in the human psyche fantasies, historically so central for the surrealist thought. Some of the works almost move towards an X-ray type of quality. The figure of the cyborgs appears swimming in the sea of warm colours, the darker outline allowing the viewer to peek into their centres, which seem not so different from the image of a chest’s X-ray. Toor’s undisputable talent lies also in the ease of navigating different ‘moods’ while remaining true to a characteristic style. While in some works, the colour scheme is immediately warm and comforting, others can possess a truly dark allure to them being able to cater to various needs of the audience.

Chris Bjerre’s chief medium of expression is animation. His stylistic approach to surrealism is incredibly clean, almost clinical. The colour palette is limited to whites and creams and the central figure is a singular human-cyborg being, usually a short-haired woman. Bjerre depicts his protagonist always in the state of decay or explosion, frozen in the time, disintegrating slowly in the perfectly clean, white limbo. Usually, the characteristics of the cyborg do not become immediately obvious when looking at the animation still but once the process of disintegration begins, the mechanized inside with perfectly fitted metal joints becomes visible. Bjarre describes his works as depicting ‘things beneath the surface, which differs from what one can see at first glance’. The allusions to Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995) are particularly poignant as Bjerre indulges in turning the cyborg protagonist to pieces. The disintegration, while animated in a rather tragic manner, possesses a degree of aestheticizing romanticism to it.

All three of the artists, Peter Gric, Jay Toor and Chris Bjerre tackle the relation between the human and mechanical in individual ways, while stylistically remaining within the convention of surrealist hyperrealism. There are certain visual similarities between their approaches, like the use of a limited, ‘clean’ colour palette, as it is in case of Chris Berre and Peter Gris. What appears to be particularly striking is the sustained interest in the emotional, psychological sphere of the cyborg, resembling the innate tensions between the physical and digital realm.

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