Big Mood, Mauro Martinez’s eagerly anticipated debut show with Unit London, centres around the phenomenon of ‘cursed imagery’. A concept born on Tumblr in 2016, ‘cursed images’ are ostensibly mundane images that are lent significance by unnerving content and/or poor picture quality.
'Cursed images' are primarily the work of 'Zoomers' (a coining of the term ‘Boomer’ for Generation Z). Members of this digitally literate generation are voicing their social apathy by creating unsettling images that often critique well respected societal institutions. As Martinez’s work has traditionally engaged with notions of meme culture and content censorship - delving into our contemporary relationship with the image - this shift towards 'cursed imagery' is a perfectly natural progression, one that takes the work to a darker corner of the internet.
Martinez’s interest in the contemporary relationship between image and viewer has led him to explore the juxtaposition between vastly disparate historical styles: for example, how does mainstream digital imagery respond to art historical oil painting? Where do the two divide, and where do they coalesce? Due to their inherently repeatable nature, cursed images are often far removed from their creator, they multiply and spread (essentially author-less) throughout the internet. An oil painting, on the other hand, is a tangible piece, inherently singular; unlike the cursed image it is expensive and time consuming to produce. Where cursed images pop up on the peripheries of our attention, flashed on a social media feed or glimpsed on a website, paintings are less ephemeral, they seek longevity, they aim to stay with us, connect with us.
Despite these differences, Big Mood also considers the similarities between cursed images and traditional oil painting. Both classical painting and ‘cursed image’ construction converge around the subject of documentation. Art has always aimed, and perhaps always will aim, to capture and then ossify our emotional states. The image has long been the main component of a collective emotional archive for the whole of human-kind, from the first cave paintings at Lascaux, to the ‘cursed imagery’ being created today, we have found solace in these constructions, these visceral, tangible attempts to lay down and preserve human feeling.
Due to its somewhat crude nature, the ‘cursed image’ could easily be dismissed as patently worthless, its access to the pantheon of remembered imagery denied. By fusing this subject matter with the respectable practice of oil painting, Martinez puts the viewer, for the first time, into a dialogue with a kind of imagery that may have previously gone unnoticed or under appreciated.