Since 2008 we have seen the rise of a phenomenon that has linked many communities of artists, critics and curators interested in the dynamics related to the Internet and “new media”. Basically, it was a time in which there was an increasing interest towards aspects that went beyond technical issues, reflecting on that gray area with emotional significance and sentimental references generated by using those technologies.
So I am not surprised to find that – between 2008 and 2011 – the Canadian artist and curator Nicolas Sassoon (http://www.nicolassassoon.com/) has known these reflections and encountered on “Rhizome” platform the works of Laura Brothers, Sara Ludy, Krist Wood and Brenna Murphy, the artists involved in “Witchcraft”, the group exhibition he curated at Initial Gallery in Vancouver which opened the last February 19th, 2015 (he wrote about this in his essay posted some weeks ago on Rhizome). As he said: “Their collection of online works was constantly updated, bringing weekly developments to their digital territories and increasing the frequency of my visits”.
At the center of this exhibition there is the intention to investigate the possibility to understand technologies like computers and internet, critically and poetically. The selection of the involved artists reveals, for those who already know this field of research, the mood and the premises of the exhibition: Laura Brothers, Brenna Murphy, Krist Wood and Sara Ludy are some of the most popular artists of the international scene that deal with these issues and “Witchcraft” is an opportunity to see their work (and practices) all together.
Filippo Lorenzin: How and when did you develop the concept of “Witchcraft”?
Nicolas Sassoon: “Witchcraft” relates to many artists who have influenced my understanding and appreciation of Art online. More specifically, the project examines notions of craftsmanship, personal mythologies and spiritual queries within the digital realm through the work of four artists: Laura Brothers, Sara Ludy, Brenna Murphy and Krist Wood. These ideas are not exclusive to these four artists, but their work is crucial in my understanding of these concepts. I have always found these notions under-evaluated, and even more today.
Filippo Lorenzin: The exhibition is about some elements that many critics would define as “post-internet issues” (I’m especially referring to personal mythologies and spiritual queries). What’s your opinion about this? Are they really “post” or we’re just experiencing a wider dynamic that was well radicated since the 80s and the 90s?
Nicolas Sassoon: I believe the artists featured in the show can be perceived through a wider lens that goes beyond Internet Art. All of them have a strong presence online while being engaged with timeless questions of identity, spirituality, mysticism. They are informed by present technologies and they address essential questions-beyond technology.
Filippo Lorenzin: The construct of allegorical and spiritual identities within the Web is one of the main topics at the center of the project. Could you explain what is it?
Nicolas Sassoon: One important facet of computer technology is the variety of fields it has created for users to engage with. When it comes to creating art with/in a computer, the hardware, software and internet all become extensions of the studio. This restructuring of an artist work space has many different implications; one of them being the opportunity for artists to create online environments as extensions of oneself. Another is the ethereal nature of the work space these artists are working in, in comparison to a physical space, using physical tools. “Witchcraft” is also about this context, and how artists get involved in this context to formulate practices outside the norms.
Filippo Lorenzin: All of the artists involved in the exhibition are American. I’m wondering how much this is important for the exhibition’s concept. How did you select them?
Nicolas Sassoon: These four artists have been central in my understanding of the notions considered in the show; curating their work felt like a logical starting point. I wrote an essay aside from the exhibition to give further insight on the notions behind the project. However, I don’t see the notions in the show and essay as being limited to these four artists. I hope there will be many other iterations of this project.
Filippo Lorenzin: According to Marshall McLuhan, artists are able to perceive the changes of their ages, while their works can help to understand and assimilate the shifts. It looks to me this is a point of view that is really near to yours, when you write about the exhibition that “artists engage with pervasive technologies to convey digital impressions on primeval questions of identity, spirituality and virtuosity”. What’s your opinion?
Nicolas Sassoon: Artists are observers of the shifts within society and culture; they bring significant perspectives on these changes. Artists can also engage in very personal journeys through their work, which seems equally important to me. A lot of Internet Art can be perceived as a shape shifting reflection of western civilization, and this has been widely covered by many talented artists, curators and writers. My personal interests tend to be directed at the edge of this perception, where unusual practices can be appreciated individually.