Disposition of Digital Youth

Disposition of Digital Youth 


Acrylic, protein powder, flavourings, polyvinyl, ink, glitter, collage varnish, vinyl

170 x 130 cm (displayed on cermaic tiles)

Joan & Joyce Collection, Orange Orient Foundation

︎ Summary

Disposition of Digital Youth is a painting chronicling online dating platforms for queer communities, exploring the plight of a men in seeking affection amongst the pressures of body-images, loneliness, and isolation in society. This painting forms an ongoing series exploring male body-images and intimacies influenced and experienced across digital media. 

Before development Morl constructed various online accounts on dating platforms specifically intended for queer men. Rather than being an observer he directly engages with his subjects, as he feels that in order to understand the affect between places, people, and systems you need to be submerged in them. Though identity constructed, they were honest, reflecting a genuine desire for connection and companionship. It is this mode of communication and ability for minorities to be able to utilise the internet to form communities that interests the artist. Through using the apps he exchanged conversations and at the same time witnessed the proliferation of images of torsos and muscles, seeing how a users curation of one’s profile directly influenced the way the platform could facilitate ‘positive affirmations’ or the psychological term ‘positive social feedback’, based upon appearances of body-images; the more an image conforms to social ideals of beauty, for example cropping of arm muscles, or presence of abdomen muscles, or focus upon ‘youthfulness’, the greater the increase in connections. In this instance the subjection of images or how they are selectively projected to others conveys feelings of worth, validated by communications based upon content of images. Morl believes that this sense of worth has transcended from a lack of education in which existence and visibility of queer conversations are validated:

‘Due to the lack of queer conversations in society and education which causes alienation... so many young men in particular are forced to observe material online to be educated. The issue is that poor self-esteem and fear of rejection manifests as a risk of developing addictions later on in order to confront extreme feelings of loneliness. And with smartphones media is now accessible instantly and publicly. Increasing use of digital technologies utilised for dating platforms has enabled queer individuals to find companions but at the same time has also led to projecting unattainable images of muscular men’

The title Disposition of Digital Youth suggests how digital and online media is negatively influencing the thought processing of young individuals. As an adolescent the artist underwent psycotherapy treatment for body-image concerns which initiated the production of this series. It was whilst undertaking these that he became aware of the motivations for his restrictive behaviours and the forces which lead to ritualising obccessions regarding appearance and attempts to adapt body-images. Similarly, informed by scientific practices when he was a patient at Great Ormond Street Hospital and involvement in their art therapy programme, he began associating medical experiences and the environment’s sensory components with basic human emotions such as solace and pain. Among the many materials that Morl uses in his work, consumption of coffee by parents in corridors communicates hope in paintings, and lipid (fat) solutions or cosmetic products are deliberately chosen to comment and confront fears and anxieties connected to obsessions or insecurities about the body or psychological experiences.

In this painting specifically, the artist utilises popularly consumed body enhancing supplements to compose human forms. Painted in protein powders, flavourings, and compounds, the pigments have been deliberately formulated so that upon drying they separate, imitating damaged artworks preserved under varnish and industrial adhesives. A factor explored in relation to this work is how the body is projected and transmitted across media. The central figure is unidentifiable, anonymous and fluid, like a phantom body existing on an online profile. As with internet physicalities, the quality of the image is directly informed and dependent on these images, the capability and compatibility of the platform, the individual quality of images uploaded by users, and the quality of the connection of the artist’s device. The process of undertaking the work therefore becomes ultimately unpredictable and at will to these networks.

This idea of ‘network’ has been an concern with the artist rooted from childhood studies of animal taxonomy and medical diagrams, becoming the approach for engagement through stages of application, process, research and presence or form within the artwork itself. Firstly, the subject matter occurs across an online system application, whereby through intervening within them he observes his subjects forming the very research for his practice. Under this engagement, works like these paintings are composed and informed by the collective merging of research, and like electrical components these factors, images, forms, collages, texts are presented onto surfaces. These links subsequently can then be related visually and connected to reveal and understand wider issues, and like psychotherapeutic practices ultimately aid in neutralsing fears and anxieties, many of which motivate and cause people to undertake behaviours or actions. It is these recognisable images of affection or fixations on bodies that communicate the thought processes behind validation and pursuits in evading feelings of loneliness. 

Through his performative interventions across chatrooms and online platforms, which can be read in tandem with his personas, he has collected and appropriated images from the internet including muscles, abdomens, jawlines, chins and torsos. Surrounding the central figure becoming the motif they are juxtaposed with collages containing images of cherubs and children from historical paintings depicting the Virgin Mary and Baby. Religion in this instance becomes the motif for adoration and affection under an established language of emotion. Often with Morl’s work their ambiguity in both form and presentation discourages immediate knowledge, and like the devices of nursery rhymes, once the content is closely inspected the overriding themes and subjects slowly become known.

The method of how the paintings are exhibited is intrinsic to the work. Rather than fixed to a wall, the painting is displayed on floor ceramic tiles resting against the wall emulating medical facilities or rather gravestones for unknown soldiers. In other instances, the painting has been juxtaposed in purposefully constructed shrines under extreme low light levels complimenting the metal and religious content. Displayed previously in conversation with artworks by Bartolomew Esteban Murillo and Joshua Reynolds, whose copper painted depictions of beggar boys in streets or images of cupids contrast representations of vulnerability in art. Essentially, throughout history the fragility and influence of youth has remained the same, though the modes within which the risks to young people exist have changed and more alarmingly become more intense.

︎ Further Reading

George Morl, Disposition of Digital Youth, Southend Museums Wordpress, 20 July 2018

George Morl, Disposition of Digital Youth, Edvardo Shadalow Instagram, 10 March 2019

Platform Artist Focus, Contemporary Visual Art Network, 30 April 2019

︎ Exhibitions

Precious Boys, Southend Museums, 14 July - 08 September 2018

︎ Assosiated Awards

Darren Henley Scholarship, 2016