Common Grounds

What’s left of transient cultural spaces – their art and music, excesses and fantasies – after they are gone? Read an essay by curator Nora O Murchú on the exhibition Index, Avenue, Skylight by digital artist and former web resident Nicolas Sassoon, who created nostalgic animations named after such venues that operated in Vancouver B.C., between 2014 and 2016. The Skylight project, which he created for the web residencies at Solitude and ZKM, is part of the show.

There is an unspoken labor that goes into creating underground venues. Run voluntarily and operating on a not-for profit basis, these spaces constitute more than the makeup of the objects and events held within. The labor that sustains these places is a vulnerable process requiring both the generosity and emotional commitment of those involved. The artists running these venues leave traces – reflections of the sociopolitical conditions the spaces operate in, and the forces that both destabilize and sustain them. These spaces are ephemeral and experimental, and build various work processes and relationships that constitute communities of artists. Index, Avenue, and Skylight are three such venues that operated in Vancouver B.C., between 2014 and 2016. They made up part of the city’s cultural landscape and provided space for local artists and musicians to collaborate and contribute to the city’s underground scene. They were spaces of social interaction as much as they were spaces of work, offering refuge and kinship for many to interact.

These types of venues often operate in pointed contrast to commercial and institutional structures. They follow their own social and visual codes, and form their own logic based on collective experiences. They provide the space and autonomy to experiment with identities and cultural forms. They often operate at night – a time when others are sleeping – to cater to bodies to congregate around shared interests, collective consumption of common media, and desires to meet others with similar tastes to themselves. Although these activities are global phenomenon, they are at the same time firmly rooted in the local. Music and art may be easily imported and exported, but the crowds that attend are municipal, regional, and national. Taking part in these cultures builds affinities, socializes participants into a knowledge of the likes and dislikes, meanings and values that are embedded into the infrastructure and affective labour that manages the spaces.

These are otherworldly environments in which we can escape; they act as interior havens with such presence that often we forget time and place. They separate inside from outside, private from public, and allow us to abandon our daily routines of rules and codes. It’s in these spaces that we can find a type of renewal or leisure that blurs the boundaries between affective and political freedoms, a cure for the alienation and dissimulation of the everyday.

In this exhibition, Sassoon evokes the culture and communities surrounding these spaces using idiomatic visual elements from his practice: pixelated patterns, digital moirés, and isometric perspective. Stemming from his accounts of operating within these spaces, Sassoon recalls his memories – the infrastructure, objects, events and energies that unfolded over a period of time. He articulates the inner workings of these spaces, rendering them through pixels and patterns, and makes visible the unseen forces that weave in and out of these spaces. These visualizations are subjective records, halfway between recollection and imagination, simultaneously factual and fantastical. Sassoon’s aesthetic exploration creates a multitude of details, textures and imaginary figures, conveying the energies and processes at work in these communities.

Sassoon’s work has long been concerned with the tensions between the pixel and the screen, reflecting on their entanglement and materiality by constraining himself to experiment with pixelated patterns and figures as its sole visual language. In his approach to recall these memories, he applies this visual language to materialize these spaces through large-scale animations, projections, and prints. There is both a familiarity and a distance to these materializations. Based an ocean apart in Ireland, these objects and spaces encourage me to remember hazy nights out and spilled drinks in similar venues. They embody seemingly immaterial interactions, processes, and histories that raise questions about the means in which we are connected.