Nicolas Sassoon Dreamhomes (exhibition installation at Wil Aballe Art Projects) 2014
Your artistic practice deals with a negotiation between the virtual and physical, by using computer-generated processes as well as materializing these digital forms into sculptures, prints, etc. As an artist, what drew you to this?
Since I was first exposed to screens, I always identified them as a sort of extension of different types of practices. I’ve never had a divide in my head between a blank piece of paper and a blank document on Photoshop. It has always been seamless to me. And to me the divide is either generational, or it’s based on projected values or issues of politics. The physical iterations of the digital work came much later in my practice. Once I settled down in the digital environment, I thought about what happened with my interests in making prints, sculptures, and installations. And then I came back to that, to just kind of take a step back and say, “Now this is done, what were my goals before that, how can what I’m doing right now be potentially transferred into a physical or material iteration, and does it make sense?”
What is the relationship between your physical studio space (basement), and virtual studio space (computer)?
I need a space for my computer. That can be anywhere really. But I think what’s really important for me is to be comfortable in front of my computer. I see computers as projecting space; it’s a space for projection, so depending on the program you use, you’re working in a different space. For example, Photoshop is a different space from a 3D program. So I sort of focus primarily on that space, I try to understand that space, I try to optimize the way I work with that space, and sometimes I find it interesting to see how the logics or the fantasies generated within that space can translate into a physical space.
I struggle with a studio practice because 75% of my practice is on my computer, but now its becoming different because I am more engaged in a sculptural practice and making things appear physically. But it has been a sort of cycle: I had a studio practice when I was in art school, then I ended up on my computer for a few years, and the studio practice vanished, which was then transposed within the space of my computer. And now it’s starting to be this negotiation and balance between the physical and digital space. It’s always re-negotiated depending on the project.
With a digital practice there are all these questions of routines, rituals, rhythms, how do you make it more comfortable for yourself, and how do you make it more efficient. It’s like a weird black hole with computers. How do you organize that space? I think that’s a big challenge for everybody.
After creating an artwork within your studio, it is either posted online, or materialized into a physical object. How do your artworks operate in these different contexts, and how does your relationship to them change?
It is two different contexts, so they operate differently. Interestingly, what’s comfortable for me being in Vancouver is my connection to both the online community and the local community, and that’s very pleasant because there are certain things I get from one community that I cant get from the other. Online, I guess you could say that it’s a context and a non-context. When I publish work online, its very site-specific, depending on whether I post it on my website, my blog, or if it’s a commission series for a magazine, if it’s for an art website or an online gallery. When you work online you get to work with the characteristics of your context.
I really enjoy working online because there is something very easy and fluid, and it is also very accessible. There is something amazing about being able to reach out to people on their computers. There’s a sort of intimacy that’s exciting. But then there are also things that you can achieve in a physical space by creating an event that you’ll never be able to achieve through a digital platform or through a website. At least not right now. So I see both contexts as complementary.
Collaboration with other artists and professionals seems to be an important part of your practice. How does having a digital practice affect your process of collaboration?
When you create a website and start being involved online you realize very quickly that you’re in the wild. Being involved online made me realize that very early on it’s a different space and things function differently there. You compete with advertising, you compete with porn, you compete with video game industry, and you compete with the flux and the stream of so much content. You have to come to terms with that, and decide what you want to get involved in and what you don’t want to get involved in.
How does this virtual space differ from the physical in terms of collaborative commercial projects?
If you have a similar online profile to me where your work is very recognizable and identifiable and some brands or individuals want to associate with that, they are going to offer you commercial projects. It’s kind of exciting because it gives you an opportunity to experience something different than just working within a Fine Art context. There’s a side of online practices that very quickly get exposed to a different industry and a different world than the world that you get exposed to when you work only with galleries. Online, there is this constant sort of thirst for attention by everybody. Everyone wants more traffic on their website, everyone is trying to build a better image of their brand or corporation, so they have different strategies for that, and one of these strategies is inviting artists to make work for them or to feature their work on their website. Some of it is more of a commercial endeavor, and other parts are more personal and exciting.
That’s interesting, because while being in art school and discussing things such as institutional critique and being critical of the commercialization of art, we also must think about this transition to post-education where our practice has to sustain our needs.
And that’s bullshit because there are sponsors behind galleries and big institutions and these sponsors have a huge impact on what happens in the space. So it’s just more transparent online. That’s the thing. There are no smokescreens. The Internet is a sort of Wild West; they take fewer precautions, and are more direct and in your face. It is what it is.
Many of your works explore the contemplative dimensions of the digital, such as with your “Patterns” pieces. Can you elaborate on the type of natural quality that these possess, and the mental states that you explore through computer-generated processes?
It’s a process of trying to define qualities of an object or define qualities of a space on my screen, using the language of my screen. These animations are about trying to transcribe something that feels natural, but is completely artificial at the same time. So it’s inspired by the physical but it also just happens within that space. My Patterns are very influenced by sensations, and how I perceive nature or natural elements, not for what they are objectively, but by my emotional impulses towards them. Some of these elements, such as the sound of rain, lightning, or the motion of water, make a lasting impression but it’s not necessarily visual. It’s a mix of motion, texture, and rhythm, and I try to reproduce and re-encode that.
So then what happens to these artworks when they are brought back in to physical spaces, by increasing their scale and projecting them onto walls?
That whole thing of translating screen based works or online works to a physical space has been a big issue for a lot of artists. I think my strategy for that was to really function based on perception, and based on questions of sensations; how one thing feels a certain way in one context and how I can translate that feeling in another space. I really see screens in general as being part of the desk and the computer and the seat is like a launching area where you project yourself into the space of the screen. And so, I try to make use of that when I make these animations full screen. I’m hoping people will hit the full screen button, turn out the lights, and just stare very close to dive into them. So how do you translate that into physical space?
My first experience in Vancouver of manifesting my work in physical space through projections was at warehouse electronic music parties. It’s an awesome context to reach out to people for this sort of work, and I started realizing that people engaged with them very naturally. I think there’s something intimate within these spaces and events. That was my first way of trying these works in a physical space, which was working with light and scale. If you want to transcribe that space of intimate connection with your screen, you have to go big. And immerse yourself physically in the work; get in front of the projection, and see it on yourself.
Robert Psutka is a visual artist currently studying at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. His works predominantly deal with digital media, combining screens, projections, computer programs and online content in order to critique the shared materialities between digital and physical forms.