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Insights of an Eco Artist

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02: Contemporary Currents - Digital identities through the eyes of Pieter Schoolwerth

Join us as we explore the fascinating artistry of Pieter Schoolwerth in this episode. Discover the complexities of digital communication, identity in the technological era, and the seamless blend of virtual and physical realms.

In today's episode, we turn our attention to the artist, Pieter Schoolwerth, whose practice offers a critical analysis of pressing contemporary issues. With a keen focus on the impact of technology on individual identities, social constructions, and the convergence of physical and virtual realities, Schoolwerth's artistic approach prompts deep reflection and examination.


Pieter Schoolwerth received his BFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 1994 and has since then, been active across several artistic mediums including film, music, photography, painting and sculpture. In 2021 he had a solo exhibition at the Kunstverein Hannover, Germany. Schoolwerth has shown at many other institutions, among others at FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, Whitney Museum of American Art and Museum of Modern Art, both in New York, Armory Art Center, West Palm Beach and Centre Pompidou, Paris. His work  is in the permanent collections of the Pinault Collection, Venice and Paris; Boros Collection, Berlin; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Kistefos Museum and Sculpture Park, Jevnaker; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Aïshti Foundation, Beirut; Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig; Denver Art Museum; and the Stavanger Art Museum, among others. 

Broad Concepts 

Pieter Schoolwerth addresses the absence of the physical human body in social interactions in the current digital age. He tries to make the intangible invisibility of digital communication, whether it be through text, call, or FaceTime, visible via abstraction. He makes somewhat jarring films utilizing word play, spinning the words around until they become unrecognizable to their original meanings emphasizing the disorientation that communication can carry.. He captures the act of learning how to read. When everything is just shape and sequences of  letters that mean nothing until an image or audio or meaning is attached to the word.

What sets Schoolwerth apart is his ability to craft allegories, paintings, and digital elements that capture the essence of our modern existence. Through his art, he delves into the complexities of identity formation in an age defined by increasingly abstract social relations. By primarily exploring the human body, the creation of avatars, and the intersection of the physical and virtual realms, Schoolwerth compels viewers to contemplate the intricate dynamics at play in a technologically mediated world.

These avatars, depicted in various environments and contexts, serve as representations of individuals within virtual realms, extending their identity beyond the physical self. This portrayal raises fundamental questions about the authenticity and agency of virtual identities, challenging conventional notions of selfhood. Schoolwerth's aim is to shed light on the dichotomy between the physical body and its digital counterpart, ultimately influencing our perception of ourselves and others. Through painting techniques like impasto marks, he weaves a narrative that explores this disconnect, inviting us to question our own place in this technologically-driven society.

Moreover, Schoolwerth's exploration of subjectivity within digital spaces takes a bold step towards challenging existing norms. By infusing his avatars with emotion and expression through expressive techniques, he humanizes these digital entities, giving them a unique identity that defies the generic nature often associated with virtual realms. In doing so, he challenges prevailing notions of subject formation in the digital age, highlighting the individuality and personal experiences that shape our online presence.

Another compelling aspect of Schoolwerth's work lies in its resonance with the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on our social fabric and sense of self. Through symbols such as masks and references to isolation, he alludes to the distancing and disconnected nature of our digital lives, where our online personas exist independently from our physical bodies. This thematic exploration serves to strengthen the visual language of his artworks, evoking the chaotic emotions and the pervasive sense of isolation that have become hallmarks of contemporary life.

Examining Schoolwerth's artistic language, we encounter a fascinating tension between traditional painting, the materiality it embodies, and the virtual digital representations that increasingly dominate our lives. He poses thought-provoking questions about the viability of painting in the internet age, especially when contrasted with the rise of AI-generated artwork. Within this tension lies a deeper exploration of authenticity, representation, and the influence of late-capitalist structures on the formation of our digital selves.

David Elias Aviles Espinoza is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Economy, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

What are late-capitalist structures 

It was coined by Werner Sombart, a controversial German historical economist, almost a century ago in his three-volume magnum opus Der Moderne Kapitalismus (published from 1902 through 1927). 

In Sombart’s analysis, late capitalism referred specifically to economic, political and social deprivations associated with the aftermath of the first world war. 

The term wasn’t taken up widely until Belgian Marxist economist Ernest Mandel’s treatise Late Capitalism was published in English in 1975.

As Mandel described it, the period of late capitalism did not represent a change in the essence of capitalism, only a new epoch marked by expansion and acceleration in production and exchange.

This period of exceptional economic growth, argued Mandel, would reach its limit by the mid 1970s. At this time, the world economy was experiencing an oil crisis (in 1973, and a second wave in 1979). Britain was also experiencing a banking crisis derived from a fall in property prices and an increase in interest rates.

However, since the time of Mandel’s writing such crises have become recurrent. 

For instance, the 1980s were known for the different regional financial crises, such as in Latin America, the US and Japan. In 1997, we saw the Asian financial crisis. The 2008 US subprime crisis became the Great Recession.

The cultural component

The term “late capitalism” regained relevance in 1991 when Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson published Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

Drawing on Mandel’s idea that capitalism has sped up and gone global, Jameson expanded his analysis to the cultural realm. His argument was that late capitalist societies have lost their connection with history and are defined by a fascination with the present. 

In Jameson’s account, late capitalism is characterised by a globalised, post-industrial economy, where everything – not just material resources and products but also immaterial dimensions, such as the arts and lifestyle activities – becomes commodified and consumable. 

In this capitalist stage, we see innovation for the sake of innovation, a superficial projected image of self via celebrities or “influencers” channelled through social media, and so on.More recently, Jonathan Crary, in his book Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, argues our current version of 24/7 capitalism, enabled by intrusive technologies and social media, is eroding basic human needs such as sufficient sleep. It is also eliminating “the useless time of reflection and contemplation”.

Since its conception, the idea of late capitalism has chiefly referred to the latest stage of capitalist development. This “last stage” condition has been bestowed on almost every period following a moment of economic crisis. 

Global economic upheavals such as the 2008 subprime crisis and the financial upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a simultaneous expansion and concentration of wealth. 

In other words, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, such is the ever-turning gyre of capitalism. Indeed, contemporary economists, such as Thomas Piketty and Joseph Stiglitz suggest increasing inequality could endanger our future.

What will come after late capitalism? In the face of the climate crisis, some are imagining everyday lives no longer guided by overconsumption and environmental degradation: a post-capitalist society

Sims Shift

Art comparisons

Rear Window directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock thinks about voyeurism through the Rear Window of a New York City apartment complex. The Rear Window focuses on the main protagonist Jeff who is injured from a photography accident in an auto race. Through his boredom during his recovery.Jeff becomes obsessed with spying on his neighbors through the rear windows with his binoculars. It highlights the extremes one experiences in isolation and can be seen as a parallel to social media and the voyeuristic nature of it.. This movie relates to Schoolwerth’s Shifted Sims series - which is a reflection on The Sims video game franchise where players pick their own avatars and interact with neighbors in a virtual world or simulated reality. In Shifted Sims, Schoolwerth makes layered and distorted paintings that depict estrangement caused by social media and out of person communication. Abstraction and distortion lend itself well to this conceptual thinking as there is nothing tangible in this way of interacting. Everything is non physical in today's world. Perhaps by making a physical object such as a painting, Schoolwerth is attempting to bring us offline and back into a physical environment such as the gallery or cafe or meeting on the sidewalk. To engage with other people’s reactions face to face.

I was interested in comparing Schoolwerth’’s paintings with a work from a time before cell phones to show the inherent behavior people display under boredom. People do anything to distract themselves from reality which is evident in Jeff who finds his entertainment through spying. Social media is not all too different to Jeff’s window spying with the large caveat that people choose to share what they share. But there is still an element of feeling like you are consuming too much of somebody’s life without meeting most of the people you interact with online. This is a strange form of feeling out of body which is captured by Schoolwerth.

Pieter Schoolwerth

Shifted Sims #13 (Covid-19 Expansion Pack)


In Shifted Sims #13 (Covid-19 Expansion Pack) there are nine figures that I can count showing various states of materiality. There are twins, one with a green body and blanked out face, the other partially skin, partially flat red. There is a knight or some kind of medieval character holding an ipad, taking a picture of a woman who appears to have her face sliding off. It’s quite disturbing. Like it has been melted. The knight and the very foreground figure have word bubbles that are a mix of comic book and emoji in their representation. It makes a lot of sense that Schoolwerth would reflect on the pandemic in this series as it invariably skyrocketed people’s use of social media. It shows the sporadic mind stew of internet consumption.

Ghinwa Yassine

Ghinwa Yassine is an anti-disciplinary artist based on the land of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh people, so-called Vancouver. Her work uses various media, including film, installation, performance, text, and drawing. Yassine’s work confronts the ideological and patriarchal systems that she grew up in while exploring collective feelings and what it means to be a marked body. She seeks a radical historicizing of individual and collective traumas where embodied memories are put into question. Using hybrid forms of storytelling, where story manifests as somatic experiencing, ritual, and gesture, her projects are portals to factual/fictional dimensions that activate collective memory.

Yassine holds an MFA in Contemporary Art - Interdisciplinary Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, an MA in Digital Video Design from the University of the Arts Utrecht, and a BA in Graphic Design from the American University of Science and Technology in Beirut. Her works have been exhibited in the Netherlands, Lebanon, UAE, Canada, Iran, and Croatia.

Critical analysis of her work: 

  • First off, let's talk about the body and how it plays a central role in their artistic practices. Ghinwa really focuses on how individuals and shared experiences find embodiment through movements, gestures, and storytelling. She uses video performances to establish a connection between the performer and the audience, translating stories and emotions into movements and spatial experiences. It's all about breathing life into historical narratives through the power of the body.

On the other hand, Pieter takes a different approach but still recognizes the importance of the body. He delves into the world of avatars and the interplay between the physical and virtual realms. By portraying these avatars in different contexts, he challenges our notions of authenticity and agency in virtual identities. It's a exploration of how our digital representations can shape our perception of ourselves and the world around us.

  • Now, let's shift our attention to their critiques of systems and power structures. Ghinwa draws from her personal experiences growing up in Lebanon during the Civil War and within a traditional Shiite Muslim family. Her work sheds light on how societal norms, power structures, and gender roles affect marked bodies. She emphasizes the inseparability of political and religious ideologies, adding profound depth and complexity to her art.

On the flip side, Pieter takes aim at the contemporary age itself. He challenges the prevailing narratives and ideologies that dominate our digital culture. It's a thought-provoking exploration of how our virtual existence can become disconnected from our physical bodies. He pushes boundaries and urges us to question the very essence of our digital identities.

  • What's also interesting is their interdisciplinary approaches. Pieter infuses painting, music, and digital culture to create a multidimensional experience for the audience. It's all about enriching perspectives and bringing narratives to life in a more immersive way. On the other hand, Ghinwa combines neuroscience, spirituality, politics, and feminism. She meticulously captures and documents embodied gestures within a broader historical and cultural context. It's a meticulous process that adds incredible depth to her art.

  • Last but not least, let's explore their examination of collective experiences and their impact on individual and social identities. Ghinwa dives deep into collective emotions, highlighting the interconnectedness of individuals and the power of collective bodies. She uses hybrid storytelling, somatic experiences, rituals, and gestures to reclaim silenced narratives and give them the recognition they deserve.

On the other hand, Pieter tackles the shared affective experiences within the digital realm and the feeling of isolation that can accompany it. It's all about shining a light on the influence of our digital culture and how it shapes our personal and societal identities. It's a thought-provoking exploration that resonates with the experiences of many in our contemporary world.

Overall, Yassine's critical analysis of the body, memory, and socio-political systems demonstrates a thoughtful and interdisciplinary approach to art-making. Their work aims to challenge dominant narratives, reclaim silenced voices, and provoke meaningful dialogue around the human condition within politicized contexts.

How Far Can A Marked Body Go? Live performance. 

Sheds the light on what the bodies of Lebanese women, marked by war and patriarchy, are capable of enacting. In this performance, that is based on the 2019 uprisings in Beirut, Ghinwa Yassine aims to reinsert the body of women into the Lebanese historical narrative by portraying an agentic gesture, one in which a body is acting and not being subjected to. Through an interplay between re-enactment, archival images and animation, she tells a story of using one’s embodied agency in the public arena and asks questions around boundaries, safety, appearance, and disappearance. How Far Can A Marked Body Go? insists on an incompleteness, repetitively shifting between the modes of lecture, performance, and video installation. Ultimately, Yassine is writing a story in space.

"How Far Can A Marked Body Go?" explores the capacities and agency of Lebanese women's bodies that have been marked by war and patriarchy, emphasizing the active function of the body rather than its submission.

By incorporating lecture, performance, and video installation, the artist creates a repetitive and shifting experience, reinforcing the idea of incompleteness.

Yassine's work can be interpreted as a spatial storytelling endeavor, where the artist utilizes various mediums to convey her narrative. By addressing the marked body in the context of Lebanon, she shines a light on the struggles and potentials of women, giving voice to their experiences.

Overall, "How Far Can A Marked Body Go?" offers a thought-provoking exploration of women's agency, challenging patriarchal structures, and reclaiming the presence of marked bodies within the historical discourse of Lebanon.


As we conclude this episode, we have observed the profound impact that art can have in challenging dominant narratives, questioning power structures, and highlighting the nuances of the human experience. Through the lens of Pieter Schoolwerth and the interconnectedness of artists like Ghinwa Yassine, we are reminded of the transformative potential of art in shaping our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

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Jonathan Crary- ⁠⁠Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep⁠⁠

Have a look at the artist's works



Ghinwa Yassine

What’s on your mind?

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