French artist Nicolas Sassoon is a hot commodity when it comes to exploring the new realm that is digital art. The 34-year-old has exhibited at New Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the New Orleans biennial Prospect and his currently traveling four solo exhibitions. Carlos Saez caught up with the master of gifs to discuss his work while we quietly drifted away on a wave of digital wefts.
Carlos Saez: Every time I see a hypnotic RGB weft on a black background I think “This is so Sassoon.” This means your visual identity is solid and distinct. When did you start to use this aesthetic?
Nicolas Sassoon: It started in early 2008 when I moved to Vancouver from France. I decided to stop what I was doing previously (videos, interactive installations) to focus on pixel-based motion graphics. I started making sketches of sculptures using simple pixelated textures. Eventually these sketches became an obsessive daily practice. At the end of 2008 I discovered the work of Laura Brothers which gave me confidence to start my own blog.
CS: Do you ever visualize anything out of this vintage computer graphic fantasy world?
NS: I grew up – like many others – looking at pixels on CRT monitors and computer screens. That’s how I first became exposed to a certain type of abstraction, as opposed to discovering abstraction through painting for example. The experience was very powerful, and since then I’ve always associated screens to abstraction; an abstraction geared towards fantasies, contemplation and speculation. If you look at the history of computer graphics, you can see a strong connection between them and the production of fantasies; screens have always been a space for dreaming – or for selling dreams. Developing my practice through a palette based on early computer graphics is a way for me to re-explore all this and add my voice to it.
CS: One of your latest series is “Patterns”, a set of gifs with different dithering and dynamics in loop and names like “Rainfall”, “Waterfall” and “Windows”. Are they a result of any kind of digital abstraction process on these concepts?
NS: “Patterns” is an on-going body of work from 2011, all based on digital moiré pattern animations. These animations are usually leaning towards abstraction but they are also connected to natural and atmospheric elements. I try to translate natural behaviors through artificial and digital means. I’m sometimes looking for familiar sensations, movements and qualities based on memories of water, of liquid motion … it’s often related to liquid elements. It’s a way for me to reconnected two very disconnected experiences; an experience of the natural and its transcription as a mediated/digital experience based on a screen or projection.
CS: How is the work process in the case of those not-so-abstract figures like houses, scenes, or elements?
NS: I use standard tools that everybody else uses; Adobe Creative Suite, simple 3D programs like Google Sketchup. There are no secret programs or any form of programming in my work. I have a very “mechanical” approach to animation and computer graphics, I keep things to a level of simplicity where I can work within a very definite set of parameters. It’s all based on the basic principles of early computer graphics software.
CS: Your project WALLPAPERS has been showed IRL in galleries like Vancouver art Gallery and 319 Scholes in New York. Could you describe the show?
NS: WALLPAPERS is a collaborative project founded in 2011 by Sara Ludy, Sylvain Sailly and myself. Since its creation, the project has existed under two specific contexts; exhibited online at w-a-l-l-p-a-p-e-r-s.net and manifesting in space through exhibitions and events. WALLPAPERS online takes form as a catalogue of digital patterns created by each artist. Each digital pattern (or wallpaper) from the catalogue is displayed full-screen on its own URL. On a regular basis, we add new wallpapers to the catalogue, and we include occasionally contributions from other artists. WALLPAPERS offline takes form as site-specific installations comprised primarily of large-scale video-projections. These site-specific installations employ digital patterns from the online catalogue and project them in space at a larger scale, producing environments adjusted to the proportions of the architecture in context.
The project refers to both traditional wallpaper applied to walls as well as digital wallpaper applied to computer desktop backgrounds. By extension, the project also refers to the practice of pattern-making for the creation of traditional and digital wallpapers. At large, WALLPAPERS covers a wide range of imageries and formats, equally drawn from the history of computer graphics as from the artist’s on-going inquiries. Each participating artist is engaged in a significant production of digital patterns; they convey their own approach to the format by employing distinctive modes of production. The artworks exhibited through WALLPAPERS hold ties to traditional methods of pattern-making, while also being art forms adjusted to a contemporary technological context of art production and dissemination.
CS: How should Sassoon gifs be watched?
NS: I work on a Full HD SAGER laptop screen with a high color gamut, but I only calibrate it for my personal comfort. Every screen is different so I never try to adjust or calibrate my work for a specific display, unless I’m supplying the display. To look at my websites it’s best if your screen is set to its native resolution, or for Retina Display users to a resolution half the size of the native resolution. You can use this link for help -> http://www.displaycalibration.com/
CS: Have you heard about someone who watched your work on acid or some hallucinogen drug?
NS: It happens all the time and it’s usually well received.
CS: How did your Signal collaboration with Rick Silva start?
NS: Rick contacted me a few years ago and asked me if I was interested in collaborating. We have a mutual interest for the representation of natural landscapes through computer imaging, and the project came together very fluidly and quickly. Rick brings an expertise in many fields that I’ll never have and it’s always a pleasure to work with him. We actually have a few new chapters of SIGNALS coming up very soon.
CS: The internet and the social media explosion have joined together a community of internet based artists, who share their works and get in touch with each other. Who is your best URL friend?
NS: Sara Ludy is my best URL friend; we exchange weekly and work together quite often.
CS: If everything would turn into a same (and only) color, which one would you like to be?
CS: Imagine Cheetos is launching a brand new flavor in collaboration with digital artists. What artists would you like to taste?
NS: Parker Ito, Laura Brothers, Kari Altmann, Lorna Mills, Krist Wood, Brenna Murphy, Kim Laughton, Sara Ludy, Claudia Mate, so many more actually…
CS: What are you working on right now?
NS: I’ve been expanding on what I’ve produced recently with Wallpapers, except these new works are taking a darker, more psychedelic turn. I’m exhibiting a few large scale projection-based installations in August and September in Vancouver, in collaboration with New Forms Festival, ISEA 2015, Wil Aballe Art Projects, Burrard Arts Foundation and the Vancouver Art Gallery. I’m also doing an exciting project titled Nature Falls at Plugin ICA in Winnipeg curated by Jenifer Papararo, where five artists and writers are invited to react to my animated work. Finally, I’m putting together series of custom LED displays and new moiré sculptures for the end of August.