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SIGNALS by Nicolas Sassoon and Rick Silva

February – March 2020

For 150 N. Riverside Tenants & Guests:
Monday thru Friday

Public Viewing Hours:
Fridays 6–8pm
Saturdays 1–5pm
Sundays 1–5pm

SIGNALS is a collaborative project by artists Nicolas Sassoon (Vancouver, BC) and Rick Silva (Eugene, OR) that focuses on immersive audio-visual renderings of altered seascapes. Sassoon and Silva share an ongoing theme in their individual practices; the depiction of wilderness and natural forms through computer imaging. Created by merging their respective fields of visual research, SIGNALS features oceanic panoramas inhabited by unnatural substances and enigmatic structures. The project draws from sources such as oceanographic surveys, climate studies and science-fiction to create 3D generated video works and installations that reflect on contamination, mutation and future ecologies.

Interview with Nicolas Sassoon and Rick Silva

Can you tell us more about each of your contributions to this project and your respective fields of research? How did your collaboration come about?

SIGNALS began as an experiment in 2014, when we decided to collaborate on a first project online to be published on a net-art platform. Prior to this, we were aware and interested in each other’s practice, which led to conversations and eventually, to the collaboration. We share a strong common interest for landscape and wilderness in our respective practices, although it manifests differently in each of our visual work. Rick’s work often employs realistic 3D rendering to manifest landscapes, life forms and structures at the intersection of the real, the speculative and the virtual. On the other hand, my (Nicolas) interests for landscape and natural forces manifest through digital abstraction, where pixelated textures and moiré patterns become a visual vocabulary to create works that oscillate between abstraction and figuration. There is a form of distance between the different visual languages that we each use in our individual works, and SIGNALS is an opportunity to combine these visual forms. Typically, we conceptualize the works together through conversations and experimentations. Rick brings a sense of realism to the landscapes while I bring a sense of digital abstraction through textural components within the scenes. In terms of production, Rick tends to manage the production of the video works, while I tend to handle the installation of the works in space, but we remain both very involved at all stages of conception and production.

The visual representation of “Signals” is sublime and spectacular, yet the project draws from scientific sources such as climate studies which are factual. How did that research impact the direction of the aesthetics?

Our main axis of research in SIGNALS is centered on the notion of landscape as a construct, an “in-between”; between reality and fiction, factual and speculative, natural and man-made, between temporalities. We also both live in the Pacific North West and we wanted to use the natural landscapes surrounding us as a starting point, in particular the North Pacific Ocean. This led us to document a wide range of content relating to the ocean; scientific research and imagery, environmental phenomena, 3D renderings, resources extraction visualizations, etc. We eventually created a documentation blog to keep track of all the notable elements we came across. The title of the project also hints at what we look for when we consult our documentation: signs, foreign elements within a natural setting, signifying a form of alteration or change. Looking at nature today, these signs are almost always present within the landscapes - sometimes obviously and sometimes enigmatically - they are significant of our experiences of nature and wilderness in the Anthropocene. In that regard, SIGNALS is informed as much by scientific studies as it is by fictional elements: we deconstruct and reconfigure elements of the landscape, and we integrate our own foreign elements along the way.

The 3D animation gives the water a sense of uncanny, artificial sensibility which is very interesting. How do you see the relationship/tension between the representation of nature and the unnaturalness of computer-generated images?

3D animation and rendering offer the possibility to create highly realistic natural settings, but what we are most interested in is to generate a confusion in what is perceived as natural. Each work is conceived as a balancing act and tension between a sense of reality and a sense of uncanny. We use physics inspired by nature for the settings of each work – to render the liquid motions, the reflections, the atmospheric depth – then we include a dissonant element within this setting. This dissonant element is almost always a textural component which brings a sense of abstraction in an otherwise very realistic looking landscape. We compose each work in regards to the presence and role of this element - its relationship to the setting – and we try to keep this relationship open-ended, so there isn't just one way to interpret the environment depicted in the work. The point of view is also a very important factor since it greatly determines the experience of the work during exhibitions, the scale at which the landscape unfolds in space and the place of the viewer within that represented space.

“Signals” has been shown all over the world and reconfigured to fit into different venues and screen formats (from art museums/galleries to public spaces). What were the challenges of transforming this piece onto the 150 Media Stream’s unique, sculptural screen configuration in a commercial building in Chicago?

SIGNALS 1, 2 and 3 (the 3 works exhibited at 150 Media Stream) are meant to be exhibited at a monumental scale, filling the field of view of the audience and establishing a powerful relationship of scale, where the horizon line is way above human height. In that regard, the configuration at 150 Media Stream is ideal for these works. Our main challenges were to adjust the artworks to make them readable through multiple screens, and working at a very high resolution fitting the resolution and scale of the site.

How did you arrive upon the concept for the audio and what is its relationship to the visual?

The presence of sound in the works goes back to what one may encounter when facing a real ocean horizon visually, sonically and in terms of experience. The sound for each artwork was created using low and medium sound wave frequencies, in resonance with the waves pictured on screen and also reminiscent of meditation soundtracks. The incorporation of sound pushes the experience of the works towards something more meditative and contemplative, eventually linking to the notion of mindscape, which is another form of landscape leaning towards the abstract and the ethereal.

Nicolas Sassoon employs early computer imaging techniques to render a wide array of forms and figures, encoded visually using pixelated patterns and animation. This focus on early computer graphics is driven by the sculptural, material and pictorial qualities of this imagery, as well as its limitations and its poetics. Sassoon’s work explores the contemplative, fantastical and projective dimensions of screen-based space, and how the digital image can express dimensions of the physical realm. While most of his output is published online, Sassoon also materializes his web-based practice into a wide range of Medias. His visual research often leads him to engage in cross-disciplinary projects in the fields of architecture, electronic music, textiles, and art. Nicolas is a founder of the collective W-A-L-L-P-A-P-E-R-S and SIGNALS. His work has been exhibited at The Whitney Museum of American Art (US) Eyebeam (US), Current Museum (US), Hammer Museum (US), Vancouver Art Gallery (CA), Plugin ICA (CA), Contemporary Art Gallery (CA), Charles H.Scott Gallery (CA), Western Front (CA), PRETEEN Gallery (MX), Victoria & Albert Museum (UK), the Centre d’Art Bastille (FR), Espace Multimedia Gatner (FR), House of Electronic Art Basel (SW), Arti et Amicitiae (NL), MU Eindhoven (NL) , Today Art Museum (CN), the Berlin Fashion Week (DE)) and the New-York Fashion Week (US).

Rick Silva was born in 1977 in Brazil and lives in Eugene, Oregon, where he is an Associate Professor of Art & Technology at the University of Oregon. Silva received an MFA from The University of Colorado in 2007, and has since shown nationally and internationally, with solo exhibitions at TRANSFER Gallery in New York, Wil Aballe Art Projects in Vancouver, New Shelter Plan in Copenhagen, Interstitial Gallery in Seattle, and The Ski Club in Milwaukee. Silva’s projects and collaborations have been featured in festivals such as Sonar in Barcelona, Transmediale in Berlin, and Resonate in Belgrade. His works and installations have been acquired by multiple permanent collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Borusan Contemporary Collection, and the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University. Silva’s work has been featured in WIRED, The New York Times, and most recently in Rhizome’s Net Art Anthology book.

Learn more about SIGNALS here
Learn more about Nicolas Sassoon here
Learn more about Rick Silva here

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