What is left of transient cultural spaces, their art and music, excesses and fantasies, after they are gone? The French Net artist Nicolas Sassoon, who has lived in Canada since 2008, looks back at some of the temporary art and music spaces of Vancouver that operated at the fringe of legality, fixating his fading memories in nostalgic animations named after the venues. In an interview, the artist talks about his moirés animations, how he got involved in digital art, and how some of his patterns made it into fashion. Find the project page here.
Mareen Wrobel: With your project SKYLIGHT created for the web residencies, you show us a section of architecture rendered through early computer imagery. You also make us scroll to properly see all the details of the animation. Could you give some context on the project? Is there a form of nostalgia affiliated with it?
Nicolas Sassoon: SKYLIGHT is an animation portraying a former artist-run space from Vancouver BC, Canada, which was active between 2014 and 2016. The animation is drawn from memory; mixing accurate elements with imaginary ones. With two other similar works – INDEX and AVENUE – SKYLIGHT considers the representation of temporary art and music spaces operating on the fringe of legality. Each animation is an impression of an existing venue and is named after the venue it portrays.
Since 2009, I’ve contributed to a number of electronic music events in Vancouver. Some of these events were held at venues called Skylight, Index and Avenue, as well as in other locations. Typically, these spaces are run by artists and operate on a spontaneous basis for a couple of years before shutting down. My project is a way to look back at my involvement with these environments; it is also a way to contemplate the fate of these transient spaces and what’s left of them once they’re gone.
Formally, SKYLIGHT is rendered in isometric perspective, combining digital moiré textures to pixelated and monochromatic graphics. The overall rendition gives the work a dated and idealized feel. The animation is read in a similar way to a mural, except viewers have to scroll to uncover everything.
The composition and scale are also informed by traditional Japanese screen paintings, depicting social scenes and domestic spaces.
SKYLIGHT started with the desire to create a form of record, but more in the sense of trying to fixate a fading memory than creating an accurate archive. In that regard, the work operates like a collage of memories and imaginary elements referencing the excess, the fantasies and the culture that I experienced in these spaces.
MW: I have seen a lot of your work online and wonder – where do your origins lie and how did you get into digital art and animated gifs?
NS: I grew up in France in small cities on both the Southeast and southwest coasts. I also did my schooling in France in fine arts and new media, then moved to Vancouver in 2008. My work in art school was very focused on interactive and video art, but once in Canada I felt the need to explore new directions. I began to experiment with early computer graphics; it was something I’ve always wanted to do but never allowed myself to. I started making sketches and animations for sculpture and installation projects. Eventually these sketches became the focus of my practice and I started publishing them on a blog. The feedback was very positive and in 2010 I was invited to join Computers Club; an online collective very active at the time and which gave me a broader perspective on net art and screen-based art.
MW: Your works have mesmerizing and contemplative features; especially your Patterns or the video works SIGNALS, which you created with Rick Silva. How do you explain the calmness and repetition that is so present in your work?
NS: A lot of my work is about making connections between material experiences and screen-based experiences. This is true for Patterns, where past impressions of landscapes and natural forces feed into the animations. With patterns, these connections usually happen through experimentation: I work on an animation and when I perceive visual cues or motions that seem familiar, I isolate them and develop them.
Patterns began as experimentations with a digital moiré technique: the overlapping of two images creating the illusion of a third moving image. Around 2009-2010, I explored this technique to create animated textures for large figurative landscape animations. Very quickly, I set aside the figurative elements to focus on the digital moiré experiments, which were much more abstract and led to Patterns. I see Patterns as renderings of environments; they are animated all-overs with no beginnings or ends, spatially or temporally. They are also informed by optical art and motion graphics; they rely on optical properties that are specific to screens and screen-based graphics.
SIGNALS is different since it’s a collaboration with another artist based on the West coast (in Eugene, OR), Rick Silva. The project revisits landscapes of the Pacific northwest through realistic 3D renderings, introducing foreign elements within natural sceneries. In many ways, SIGNALS explores questions relating to our era – the Anthropocene – and to the relationships between nature and technology.
SIGNALS 4, Nicolas Sassoon & Rick Silva, digital animation, 5min57seconds, dimensions variable, loop, 2017
MW: Are your patterns glitches, or are they carefully designed?
NS: They are different from Glitch Art, the final aspect of each pattern is quite controlled and intentional.
MW: Your early computer imaging techniques made it into fashion for UNIQLO’s summer season 2017. What do you think is the reason for this interest in low-resolution forms and structures, although the technological possibilities are way beyond that?
NS: The patterns I use are very closely related to different techniques of knitting and weaving. There are visual correspondences which probably explain part of that interest to transition digital images to fabric. I’ve been collaborating consistently with fashion designers since 2010. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s much harder than it seems to successfully translate a pixelated image onto fabric.
MW: You often materialize your digital work in different media. Would you describe this as a translation or an extension of your digital pieces, and how do these two interact with each other in an exhibition context?
NS: I’ve always thought of my screen-based work as a foundation for everything I do. Different projects can then spread into different fields. Whatever the medium is, I tend to work with analogies or connections between digital and material, and explore how much these analogies/connections can be stretched. It is often a way for me to confront my experiences on screens to material realities.
As an example, whenever I project Patterns, I create templates of architectural features and windows. The projections become openings toward the animations, like windows toward a landscape. In space, it creates a relationship of scale with the human body and with human architecture. It’s something that is already present when experiencing the works on screen, but in space it takes a completely different dimension specific to projection.
MW: I have one last question for you as an obviously conscious online observer: where do you think we are heading for the SS18 in digital art?
NS: Hopefully toward more web residencies :-)