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Marc Quinn’s HISTORYNOW (2020-present) series surveys our increasing digital interdependence at a vital point in history. In 2020, our online world expanded drastically, a phenomenon catalysed by growing restrictions on physical connection and in-person contact related to the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a few clicks of a smartphone, we could discover news from every part of the world, educate ourselves on different perspectives, and engage with political agendas and social standpoints instantaneously. Each post, screenshot, share and view were synaptic to a new collective consciousness.

The HISTORYNOW paintings start life as smartphone screenshots which are enlarged and pigment-printed on canvas before being overpainted with gestural strokes that alternately distort, blur and highlight aspects of the image and text beneath. Retaining the iPhone’s original proportions but enlarged to 240 x 110 cm (8’0” x 3’7”), these uncanny, colossal screengrabs communicate the distorted way in which way the pandemic was largely experienced by many from home, via device screens, and present a familiar first-person account of the daily updates and viral moments that universally consumed us during this shared historical moment. Quinn’s use of the screenshot vernacular reflects our growing preoccupation with mobile phones but also on their role in documentation and dissemination. Our camera rolls are full of screenshots, a new form of photography and the medium for sharing and receiving information to the world’s hivemind. The variety of news outlets and platforms deployed by Quinn showcase different perspectives and focuses during a time of uncertainty, change, but also innovation, telling a year of stories through screenshots. HISTORYNOW becomes a scrolling journey through our endlessly refreshed digital feeds of visual culture and breaking news alerts, capturing a range of worldwide events.

The HISTORYNOW paintings mark a new material chapter in Quinn’s ten-year History Paintings project, which riffs on the grand tradition of history painting by using recent images of global conflict taken directly from the media, enlarged and painted with oil on canvas or woven in silk and wool. While the press photographs featured in History Paintings take months to reproduce in oil, the use of photo printing in HISTORYNOW reflects the accelerated writing of history via constant online news updates and online communication.

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