On April 26th, Sedition launched a special auction featuring John Sanborn's latest artwork, Original Muse, which is a unique iteration from his Intimate Archeology collection. Using photometric scanning, Original Muse captures a mesmerizing choreography as 3D objects, highlighting Sanborn's expertise in media technologies and collaboration with Sarah Cecelia Bukowsky.
Sanborn's recent exploration of the intersection of technology and art has resulted in an incredible showcase of arrested time and altered space. With nearly 50 years of experience working with media artworks since the 1970s, the artist continues to seek new technologies to express his ideas. Sanborn's innovative use of cutting-edge technologies such as VR, AR, and 3D photometric scanning has resulted in breathtaking imagery and movements.
In conjunction with the special auction and new artwork collection, Sedition had the privilege of interviewing John Sanborn. The conversation covers a wide range of topics, from the artist's creative development to his practical techniques. It is a fabulous opportunity to gain insight into Sanborn's history of art practices and collaborations.
You can access the full version of the interview on John Sanborn’s profile or our Vimeo channel.
Intimate Archeology by John Sanborn
Sedition: You have been creating media art for several decades, from the "technological stone age" of the 1970s to the cutting edge of today. How has your approach to creating art evolved over the years?
John Sanborn: I've been making media art for many, many years starting in the mid-1970s when I met my great video master, Nam June Paik, living in Paris. For decades after that was the beneficiary of his graciousness and his energy and support. In New York City in the late 1970s, I started to understand exactly what the power of video and moving images could do for me as I tried to explain to the rest of the world exactly how I saw things which weren't exactly normal.
The ability to edit video, the ability to layer video and the installation works that I started, told me that I could adapt time and space in such a way that I could profoundly reshape my world and deliver that message to millions of people.
A Still from Morpheme by John Sanborn.
Sedition: Many of your works feature complex visual effects and experimental techniques. Can you take us through your creative process and how you approach the technical challenges of your projects?
JS: The key word for me throughout the history of my making, moving image art, video art, and media art is transformation. Transformation from one state to another, transformation through a series of musical impulses, transformation of a body into an abstraction, or the transformation of an idea into a kind of reality.
All these things have followed me through the course of my career. I adapt technology to suit whatever theme or idea is that I have for work.
For example, as I started to create pieces for Sedition, I realised that certain impulses I have could be extended. Something that might be a moment or a beat in a larger work would be interesting to zoom in on to kind of get closer to. And Sedition has allowed me to break apart larger works, such as PICO, Performance Indeterminate Cage Opera and zoom in on my interpretation of Nudes Descending Staircases of Marcel Duchamp, but it's also permitted me to take a flourish or a gesture, particularly involving dance, and expanded.
This expansion shows that transformation is beautiful, transformation is transportable, and depending on the technology I'm using, it has a way of being at the same time that it is ephemeral. And those two things are pretty interesting in this highly digital age.
If you talk about special effects and technology, I am not at the service of the tool. The tool is at the service of my impulses and instinct. Starting with the early days of computer editing where I could go down to the individual frame and make musical and visual compositions that actually were almost too rapid for the mind to seize on. To now where I can find a level of liquidity in the image. That technology is there for me to use or not depending on when I want.
Interview with John Sanborn
Sedition: You have collaborated with many performers and dancers throughout your career which we also can see in your The Collective Attention collection or Remix Boogie-Woogie (Dance, Descend, Repeat) on Sedition. How do you approach collaboration with other artists, and how do you incorporate their performances into your multimedia works?
JS: I have throughout my career collaborated with musicians, dancers, composers, visual artists, and performance artists. Always because they can do something I can't do. They have a language and a persona that they have developed over years and years of practice and intuitive exhibition.
I can't do a lot of the stuff that they do. But what I can do is create an environment or a stage for them. Or I can invite them into something that I've created, and ask them to actualise an idea.
The collaborations usually come from discussions. I will write a brief for a project and that brief will give parameters to the singers, the composers, the dancers, or the performance artists. When we get in the studio, we work within those parameters. I hope for and expect whoever I'm working with to do something that takes whatever limits whatever props that I've put in front of them, shatters it and takes the idea to a new place. And then, the really fun stuff happens where you take what you've recorded, you start playing with it. And you spatter it about and you cut without questioning your decisions.
And then slowly, the footage starts to talk to me and says,
“Oh, come on let's do this. Oh, why don't we try this?”
Sedition: Your recent works address themes of identity, memory, and cultural truth. Can you talk more about the inspiration behind these pieces and what you hope audiences take away from them?
JS: The new works, Intimate Archeology is a tight collaboration between Sarah Cecilio Bukowski, a dancer and performer who I've worked with for many years.
Sarah is unusual because she is a blend of many disparate and possibly conflicting elements.
She's mixed race, she's queer, she's too tall to be a ballet dancer and she's too angular to be a modern contact improvisational dancer. She defies categorisation, defiant, energetic, she's bold and she's courageous.
A Still from Modes by John Sanborn, collaborating with Sarah Cecilio Bukowski
When I started to use the LiDAR and photometric scanning that's available to create 3D models, I started to break what the intentions of the APP were all about.
I didn't want to replicate something in nature. I wanted to see if I could force the application to extend nature. When Sarah and I got into my studio over the course of a very long day, we did about 200 takes of these real-time captures. What I liked was that as soon as we got an idea, there was a call-and-response between what she was doing with her body and what I was doing with the camera. I had written a brief about moods and emotions and circumstances that, using some props and her ability to really inhabit her body, we started to push.
The results, again, viewable in real-time, were these strange, layered, dense approximations of humanity that spoke to our times, our feelings. Also, to a certain extent, relating to painting. Because the interpretation, the transformations, all had a kind of painterly quality. But these are 3D models. So looking at them, looping them, and allowing the viewer to intensely dissect them, presented a set of opportunities that I think we took full advantage of.
A Still from No Coffee by John Sanborn
Sedition: With the current state of the world, how do you believe artists can contribute to important discussions and social change through their work?
If I ask myself ‘What am I doing? Am I changing anything? Am I making people's lives better?’ I can get the answer when I watch people watch my work. I can see their delight. I can see their confusion, anger and fear. I can see expectations being either met or new expectations being set. As an artist, I don't think about the ‘world’.
I think about here and now. And me and you and our friends and people we're going to meet next week who might be our friends. The conversations we can have, that tell us ‘we are alive’ and we best do the best we can to make sure we stay alive.
The large themes that my work bumps into, that are connected to, what I think I should be doing all, are based on the supposition that I'm not in the answer business. I'm in the question business.
I need You, and You and You to think about things that might be challenging the difficult questions that we know don't have answers give it some time give it some effort and then take a little bit of yourself and give it to somebody else and smile.