Ontological Animations: Interview with Nicolas Sassoon & Rick Silva

Ontological Animations: Interview with Nicolas Sassoon & Rick Silva

Synthesising nature and technology in their pursuit for a new aesthetic, Nicolas Sassoon, who works between Biarritz, France, and Vancouver, Canada; and Rick Silva from Eugene, Oregon, collaborate to create ‘visual vocabularies’ as computer-generated simulations of what it is to involve mother nature in a machine age. In spite of the proliferation of animated graphics, their practice proves to take a more poignant approach. They seek to address timely issues such as the environment, ecological issues and the death of technologies as an underlying cause, as they favour a reciprocal relationship between the natural world and an artificial one. For Sedition, their 2014 work SIGNALS is a triptych of three seascapes that replicate the subtle nuances of the ocean, polluted by a man-made oil spill. Discolouring the surface as it shapes the works idyllic motion, the works as described by the artists are “a series of 3 video works depicting an ocean surface. Each video functions as a loop, aiming to produce a contemplative experience with no specific duration. Each video offers a variation around the exact same setting.” We had the chance to Sassoon and Silva further about their collective and individual practices.

Sedition: For an audience less familiar with who you are, can you explain your collaborative practice and approach?

Nicolas Sassoon and Rick Silva: Our collaboration is based on a common interest around the representations of nature and landscape through computer graphics. Each of us has a different approach and also tends to focus on a specific visual vocabulary within computer graphics. With SIGNALS our goal was to combine these different approaches and try to produce a sort of synthesis.

S: Can you talk more specifically about the series SIGNALS as an edition work for Sedition?

NS&RS: SIGNALS is a series of three video works depicting an ocean surface. Each video functions as a loop, aiming to produce a contemplative experience with no specific duration. Each video offers a variation around the exact same setting.

S: Signal 1, 2 and 3 appear as variations on the same theme; impressive for their atmosphere, animated sound and image texture, and of your desire to reconstruct the undulating energy of the ocean. What was your intention with the work beyond reproducing a moving seascape?

NS&RS: SIGNALS contemplates on different ideas around human intervention within nature and man-made landscapes. Our goal with the project is to reconstruct various natural settings while adding foreign elements to these settings as perturbations, but also as elements of deconstruction of the landscape.

S: Equal to the animation, the soundtrack appears to respond to the altering seascape measure for measure. Charting the water as it moves in great volume from distance, and as a consequence acting as the ocean’s oscillating heartbeat. How did you come about determining the relationship between the sound and the sea?

NS&RS: The sound was generated in response to the visuals, trying to both mimic the rhythms and patterns of the waves, and to add a disquieting undercurrent.

S: In the brief description that accompanies the sequence of works, it makes reference to an ‘oily substance’ on the surface of the ocean; is that more digital detail than a wish to address oceanic pollution? Or is this work carried entirely by environmental and ecological issues?

NS&RS: The series is definitely influenced by environmental and ecological changes. We are both living in the Pacific Northwest, and it would be quite hard for us to ignore these issues at the moment. The title SIGNALS refers to the idea of a foreign element inserted into the landscape, which can be interpreted as an oily substance on the ocean surface or as an artificial body added to the rendition of a natural body. It symbolises human intervention upon the landscape.

S: What was the intention of having three versions of the same work?

NS&RS: We both enjoy producing versions around the same idea; in the case of SIGNALS it’s a form of exercise as well as a reference to traditional art forms depicting the same landscape at different hours of the day.

S: In terms of your collaborative practice, it appears you want to animate nature, and by doing so, capture its ephemeral energy that can otherwise be lost in translation. Are you ultimately seeking to synthesise nature and new technologies?

NS&RS: Nature is already synthesised through and with new technologies in a very real and sometimes dark manner. What we try to create is more of a visual experience reflecting on this reality.

S: Can you explain some of the other collaborative works that you have done to date, and how they might be a departure from your own individual practices?

NS&RS: We both have different fields of expertise visually speaking (Rick Silva for realistic 3D rendering, Nicolas Sassoon for digital and moiré texturing); and we base our collaboration on a form of play around these complementary fields. SIGNALS is our only collaboration to this day, but we aim to expand over the next few months, mainly in the form of large scale site-specific installation works.

S: How do you find working from two different locations for your collaborative approach?

NS&RS: It’s quite easy as pretty much everything we do is taking place on our laptops. We are just extending our work environment.

S: Drawing attention to your individual practices, Nicolas can you explain some of the sample animations on your website, and of their intentional retro look?

NS: Most of my work is screen-based and considers computer screens as primary displays for an experience of art. I work specifically with hard-edged pixel graphics that make use of the physical properties of screens, in a manner influenced by optical art and kinetic art. Most of my practice revolves around the idea of contemplation within the digital realm, as well as the manner in which computer technology can mimic or emulate a natural or physical experience. There is a retrospective aspect in my work as I have developed a visual vocabulary influenced by early computer technologies, but the experiences produced through my work do not aim to connect with that specific era. There is no nostalgia.

S: And how do your animated works relate to your sculptures and installations?

NS: Projection is a medium I often use for installations; it allows me to expand on the experiences created on screen. It’s an opportunity to work at a different scale and create a social space, while also objectifying technology as an environment.

S: Coming back to ‘texture’ with your animations integrated into the architecture of space; they superimpose a digital texture into a situation. Is that your attention, to furnish space with these animated surfaces?

NS: Projection as a medium works as an added ‘layer’ within a given space. This layer can either be in dialogue with the space, or completely deny the space. It’s a form of conversation between two dimensions, the physical and the digital. The conversation between both spaces and their respective logics is what interest me. Our experience of space is more and more influenced by the digital, I like to objectify that and push it a little further.

S: Rick can you explain The Silva Field Guide To Birds Of A Parallel Universe? Individually the animations are incredibly beautiful for their spatial dexterity and detail; collectively they appear to promote a whole new breed of bird come animated form. Is nature a starting point for these sample experiments?

RS: One way I look at these animations is not so much as a new breed of birds, but a slight peek into other realities. As if they are footage from a camera or device that can collect data from parallel universes.

S: Do you always intend on taking nature as far as is anatomically possible in your works?

RS: There is an element of the ‘uncanny valley’ that 3D animation lends itself too, and so that works itself in there. A lot of my work deals with this moment of oscillation between the representational and abstract, I’m very drawn to that tension.

S: Can you explain Oregon-Oriented Ontology as a work? And of the notion of ‘dead technology’ being celebrated with a reconstructed deer head?

RS: Oregon-Oriented Ontology is a series of still digital images I did for the Electric Objects screen. I was thinking about ornament, still life, my home state of Oregon, and yes, dead technology; not so much celebrating, as reflecting our current relationship to tech as it passes from new and desired to used and discarded.

S: Is the hunt trophy a metaphor for the conquering and control of something, that though a temporary triumphant marks its ultimate death? And if the deer hunt is the slow extinction of one animal, in the same way is the invention/celebration of something the death of an idea?

RS: That’s an interesting take. As I was working on this series I tried using a 3D model of a more ‘real’ deer head, but it didn’t feel right, became too much about the hunt, rather than the ornament or gesture.

S: Drape Wave from earlier this year registers your interest in animating onto the object. The notion of projecting movement onto an inanimate object proves incredibly intriguing; what was your intention with that show?

RS: Drape Wave is a collaboration with Jordan Tate; it is a conversation we are having about our styles and influences. Jordan comes from a photographic background, and I come from film, so there a back and forth in most of the works about movement versus moment.

S: SKY BURIAL, 2014 appears to be another show in which you address death, of the ecological pattern of life, and of the intervention of technology. Is the gravity of such ideas interlinked?

RS: SKY BURIAL is about death, but also about transformation and ritual. An idea that interlinks all of these is that technology is not separate from nature, but part of it.

S: With Render Garden, 2014, again you appear to replace nature with its technological equal, as your animations deliver a hyper-real version of reality that resembles the work of British artist Marc Quinn. Can technology be as unruly as nature itself?

RS: Again, I see it not as a replacement, but as a part of nature. The Render Garden program infinitely generates new combinations of flowers and plants; it mimics only slightly the endless generative diversity of a real garden.

S: Your photographic series, Spencer Butte recalls the work of Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, and historically French and Dutch painters Claude Monet, and Vincent Van Gogh; for their wish to return to the same subject. Was your intention of photographing nature the same?

RS: It’s a project in process and I’m not sure exactly what to make of it yet. I am interested in the repetition of the action, of hiking to the same spot for each photograph, but I’m also interested how the image is never really the same, each has varying light and clouds.

S: Finally collaboratively what do you intend to do next?

NS&RS: A site-specific version of SIGNALS will be exhibited at Wil Aballe Art Projects in early 2016. It’s going to be a very large scale installation expanding on the first chapter of the project. We also have a website coming up in 2016.


Text by: Rajesh Punj, September 2015

SIGNALS is now on display at the Richmond-Adelaide Centre, 130 Adelaide Street West in Toronto from 1 September - 30 November 2015. View the SIGNALS collection on Sedition.

Mentioned artists