Exhibit transforms digital to physical

Benjamin Cook created artwork for his exhibit using various media including acrylic paint in pieces like a “Flower Sniffin,’” pictured here. 


Tension between digital and organic worlds is the theme of a new exhibition scheduled to open Sept. 9 and run until Oct. 29 at Zg Gallery, 300 W. Superior St.

Benjamin Cook, a third-year MFA candidate in Art—Studio at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will be debuting paintings and sculptures in an exhibit entitled, “How Do I Know You?” inspired by imagery in new digital technology.

Cook said his inspirations grew out of living the first half of his life without internet, while the second half was filled with “massive amounts” of new information.

“[‘How Do I Know You?’] is a reconciliation of trying to understand where I need and don’t need to fit into this [present] form of communication,” Cook said.

Cook uses masking tape, bright paint and rope to create paintings mirroring Snapchat filters and warped Photoshop layers.

“Coming from a painting background and looking at all of these small, backlit JPEGs of things you see in a museum [online], I felt like I was cheated in a way,” Cook said, noting how the impact is lost when an image is converted to a small digital format.

While growing up in Kentucky, Cook’s access to museums was limited, but the internet was readily available. Cook realized his feelings about the art he saw online were still real. Since his youth, Cook has had opportunities to travel to see his favorite artists in museums and online, and he said the experience is powerful.

Katherine Conlon, an adjunct faculty member in the Art & Art History Department, said there is an excitement in being able to share art with millions of people.

“In terms of making [art], the possibilities are expanded by technology,” Conlon said. “Digital [content] informs the way you’re thinking.”

Cook, who graduated from the University of Louisville with a Bachelor’s degree in fine art and painting in 2012, has exhibited work in Louisville, Kentucky, and Rochester, New Hampshire. “How Do I Know You?” will be his first solo exhibition in Chicago.

“A lot of my work is investigatory and self-reflective,” Cook said. “[This exhibit] is looking back at my history and family through a new lens.”  

Cook’s artwork was featured in Zg Gallery’s group exhibition entitled “Winter Group Show,” where he sold a number of works, according to Sheehy. 

Cook said he thinks his work’s aesthetic will please those who visit, and  the personal stories portrayed in the art will be universal.  

“I hope [the artwork] is accessible enough that people will be able to personally engage with it and be able to take away something I may have never even thought of,” Cook said.