Costas Picadas: worlds inside us

Roxanne Vardi

Costas Picadas is a Greek artist who currently lives and works in New York. Picadas studied fine arts and art history at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Louvre School in Paris, and has exhibited his works internationally at biennales, festivals, and galleries in Athens, Paris, Avignon, Amsterdam, and New York. Picadas’ works and art practice come from an awareness that we share a deep essence which is encoded in all organisms. Just like the mycelial networks hold the soil, the plants, and the trees together, humans share a practice of respiration which in the artist’s words allows us to stay grounded on this planet.

Niio Art recently published Picadas’ new solo show titled World Inside Us composed of works from his Microbiomes. We sat down with Costas to discuss this latest project and his motivations to affect his viewers with this series.

Explore the work of Costas Picadas on Niio

Can you elaborate on the different technological tools used in the creation of your artworks? What is the balance that you use between found imagery and live documentation?

I work with many different techniques, I work with photography, painting, and drawing. I use new technologies like After Effects and augmented reality, and I am still investigating new technologies. But these are only tools, the essence of goal is in my concept. It’s important for me to have a very structured idea, and the tools are there in the service of my idea. The same goes for found imagery as opposed to images that I create. A good example is my inspiration from science. A few years ago, I was invited to give a lecture at the immunology department of Mount Sinai hospital where I expressed my interest in healing and met some very interesting scientists. They were kind enough to give me some medical slides of microscopic images with which I could recreate images combining nature and medical science. Through my concept I aim to blend images of nature with those of human biology in order to ascertain the existing underlying similarities in both ecosystems.

“I am very interested in the concept of art healing.”

Costas Picadas, 4K – MICROBIOMES 4, 2023.

Your artworks show a deep understanding and interest in the study of nature. Can you please explain how this came about in your art practice?

Since I was a kid I was living the life of a saint and religion, I was intrigued by how these people become phenomena in healing themselves and other people. I was questioning how this is possible? Then I started to understand how ecosystems, like forests for example are completely autonomous and know how to heal themselves, reproduce themselves, and regenerate themselves which is the cycle of nature. We see the four seasons, we see the beginning, the end, the cycles. We have the human body that is born and dies. But nature regenerates itself in cycles, and I was fascinated by that. While walking one day I heard whispers from a tree, and I became interested in how an ecosystem knows how to live, die, and regenerate. The idea of how a given ecosystem can have these powers inspired the investigation in my own work.  Moreover, I was curious about how art as part of human expression could possess this healing process, and how this aspect could possibly be transferred to our own bodies. 

Costas Picadas, 4K – MICROBIOMES 1, 2023.

Your new series of works Biomes may remind some of paintings by artist Georgia O’Keeffe where we find a tension between abstraction and depictions of the natural world. Is it right to read your works in this way and how would you place your artistic practice within the trajectory of art history?

My new works Biomes are inspired by the seven Biomes that exist on our planet. One biome for example is the ecosystem of the forest, the second is the desert, third is the coral reef. In my works you will see many representations of coral branches breathing inside of their own ecosystem. 

Of course, my works do have a fleeting connection to the images of Georgia O’Keeffe as well as other artists working with abstracted imagery. Every artist has a uniqueness but at the same time we are all connected. We may even be investigating the same things but we express them in different ways. We are all human beings expressing ourselves with the tools that we have as people. We express things with the tools that we have as human beings, but we use these tools in different ways. We investigate who we are and what life is. In human history we started expressing ourselves, eons ago. Art history demonstrates the uniqueness of what we have created. I don’t create art to become the history of art, I create art because I am interested in human nature and human life. You need centuries to define what has become important, you need distance from it. It’s all about consciousness. Technology changes now more than ever. We have the accumulation of knowledge. Artists of my era and I use what is new. 500 years from now, my work is going to be understood in terms of a cave painting. It’s something that we cannot even imagine. To say that my art will be part of art history we will need to see it from a distance.

Costas Picadas, 4K – MICROBIOMES 2, 2023.

Can you please dive deeper into your interest in the analogies of the human body and natural forms found in our outside surroundings?

Whatever exists in the universe is one energy, it’s the same energy. We investigate what we see on this planet. This planet started creating microorganisms and developed this nature. Only after many eons did humans come to this planet. Everything is connected in this same energy. Like you see in the forest, the whole forest is connected through fungi, through the mycorrhizal network, which is similar to what happens in the human brain. This energy represents very similar forms such as a tree, a human being, an animal. All the forms that we see are very similar to the brain and the human body because it’s the same energy and the same forms. What I am trying to achieve with my works is to emphasize this consciousness that we are very similar and connected. People living in big cities, multiply. The human population doubled in the last forty years. Seventy percent of the population is suffering from depression. People get sick, there is no room in hospitals, and there are not enough doctors so what is the point. We have to understand our nature and our connection to nature. Why is the forest not depressed? Because it knows how to heal itself. As human beings we forget that we have the most developed brain and we forget how to deal with these things so we just get sick. I try to create comfort zones where people can see images of the human body and of nature and become more conscious of their own healing abilities.

“All the forms that we see are very similar to the brain and the human body because it’s the same energy and the same forms.”

Costas Picadas, 4K – MICROBIOMES 9, 2023.

As an artist who has worked with many different mediums from painting to photography to video art could you please provide your assessment of the digital arts and its potential to discuss complex subject matters and to reach wider audiences?

I think people are more and more interested in seeing a moving image, they like that experience and simulation. Technology is still relatively new, so people might think ‘oh this is not art’ but this is the same thing people said about photography years ago. I think people are more sensitive to the way we live today we think that we don’t have time to do many things. So, the more direct the message, the better it captures the attention of the public. Therefore, for me technology is a great tool. It’s an important tool. It’s very direct and captures people’s attention.

Nemo Nonnenmacher: digital spaces, materiality, and the body

Roxanne Vardi

Nemo Nonnenmacher is a multi-media visual artist based in Europe, working with photography, sculpture, and virtual reality to explore the relationship between the body and digital space. Nemo holds an MA Photography from the Royal College of Art, London and has exhibited in selected exhibitions including in Germany, Italy, Lithuania, and recently Cyprus. The curatorial department at Niio had a conversation with the artist following his residency exhibition at CYENS Thinker Maker Space, and towards a collaborative project in the making.

Recently, and as a part of your residency at CYENS Thinker Maker Space, you have been working on a mixed media project titled Burn. Can you please dive deeper into this subject matter and how this project came together?

Two years ago I witnessed being close to a wildfire for the first time in my life. I relocated from London to Greece recently, just before the pandemic. My studio is on the west side of the mountains in the Peloponnese, the closest fire was 2 kilometres away. I realised that these catastrophes happen every year all around the Mediterranean. A few weeks later I visited sites of past fires which are further south as you drive through the mountains. Seeing the landscapes where the fires had raged was a striking and uncanny experience, both visually and emotionally. It made me aware of the changing climate – in a very immediate way, as well as the reasons behind some fires being started purposefully, for economic gain. Having grown up in Germany and having developed a Western-European perspective on these issues; I was reminded that catastrophes like this are usually mediated through news, media and the remoteness of a screen. 

In my practice I am focusing on new technologies and looking at what impact they have on our understanding of body, materiality and space – both physical and virtual. Experiencing the immediacy of the fires in Greece made me look at my artistic practice from a different perspective. One of connection, interaction and consequence.

I started collecting material from forests near where we live: Vasilikis Forest, one of the oldest forests in Greece. I gathered charred pieces of bark and burned wood, took videos and pictures to generate some initial 3D models from. Whilst driving through some of the previous sites, I filmed and photographed slowly recovering plants and trees, burnt vegetation – a picture for the 4 million square kilometres of wildfires that happen around the globe every year.

Finally, I was looking for space and time to explore these materials further. I wanted to research new ways to connect physical installation and virtual spaces within my practice, as well as meet the demands of the urgency of the project. I applied for a new residency programme at the CYENS Thinker Maker Space in Cyprus funded by S+T+ARTS and Horizon EU programmes, which invites artists to use their workshops and explore projects on the intersection of art and technology.

The outcome of this residency was a multimedia installation that allowed viewers to experience the burned material in several iterations: as charred bark on display to directly touch and experience, as well as developed into a new surface through laser-cut and digitally processed sculptural pieces. The experience of these physical works was the centrepiece for two video and VR works that focused more on the remote character of how these spaces and materials are usually experienced. They were driven by the movement of the viewers in the space, as well as through remote weather data in realtime. In a way, this project presented a spectrum of how immediate and mediated the sense of touch and the urgency of these very real climatic issues are experienced. The artistic challenge for me was to bring all these elements together in one exhibition space, which is something that I definitely want to explore further in future installations.

“In my practice I am focusing on new technologies and looking at what impact they have on our understanding of body, materiality and space – both physical and virtual. Experiencing the immediacy of the fires in Greece made me look at my artistic practice from a different perspective. One of connection, interaction and consequence.”

Nemo Nonnenmacher, καίω (burn), 2023.

Many of your works and your artistic practice in general deals with digital virtuality and our ability to experience, sense, and reflect cognitively in the digital space. Moreover, through your works, you reflect on this duality between the real and the virtual. Is there a desired outcome that you create for your viewers experiencing your artworks?

In a way, I would like for people to experience my works and consider where they come from and whether the space they depict or are based in is something familiar or not. I do believe that the boundaries between understanding something as real and physical, and virtual, remote, abstract are blurring with the technological processes we are employing. In the end it is a question of where do ‘I’ begin and ‘the other’ end. What is space, what is real –  and is our concept of real the same as what we can experience? I hope that my work can be an entry point to thinking about how all these spaces – virtual, physical, personal, environmental – are connected through us and our bodies. Our sense of body and touch will ultimately have an expression in the virtual space and have consequences, just like in the physical and intimate world. In the end we might come to the conclusion that our actions matter, and have an impact, no matter whether you consider one space less real than the other. I would like the viewer to think about what intimacy means in all spaces and how we relate from one to the other. 

When I started thinking about digital and virtual spaces, I ‘just’ wanted to emphasise the limitless possibilities of this new space. Somewhere where humanity can overcome its condition, where we can rethink our bodies, societies, economics – all from the fact that it is a space without materiality. This has been a big utopia of the internet and a driving force for why many people believed in the technological developments in the 90s and 2000s – and which I think still is fuelling the belief in crypto and other decentralised concepts. 

Now I believe it is my responsibility to make the inner workings and the consequences of using new technologies more transparent. I would like viewers to leave an exhibition with a sense of amazement towards digital spaces, questioning their materiality and how our bodies relate through them and what environments and realities – bodily, social, emotional, environmental – they have consequences on. All technologies should be a means to better understand what it means to be human.

“In the end we might come to the conclusion that our actions matter, and have an impact, no matter whether you consider one space less real than the other. I would like the viewer to think about what intimacy means in all spaces and how we relate from one to the other.”

Nemo Nonnenmacher, καίω (burn), 2023.

As an artist working with the mediums of photography, sculpture, and virtual reality do you feel that these different art forms assist in pointing your viewers into your questioning of our experience and tactility in the virtual space?

When I started working with photography I was fascinated by the fact that everyone can take pictures nowadays. It is a medium that we use on a daily basis to communicate, remember and broadcast – in the case of social media – who we are (or what we want others to see we are). There is a very ingrained scientific connection between what you can see in a photograph and the statement: This is real. It happened. This is proof. I found this psychological ‘hook’ very interesting and a great starting point to look at spaces we don’t consider real, abstract or immaterial – like virtual spaces. 

Virtual Reality (as well as Augmented Reality and other Cross-Reality applications) is on the other side of this spectrum, as it bears the possibility of entering a space that (on a superficial level) has no need for a connection to the real world. Its visual worlds can be generated entirely from code, with no physical imprint whatsoever. The starting point for a Virtual Reality experience is usually an expectation of entering another space that is separate from the reality we started in. ‘This is not real anyway’ – a similar psychological hook to photography, just the other way around. This again is what makes it so attractive to work with and to think about how I can connect the exhibition space with the virtual one. 

Sculpture and installation are the physical components that allow me to bring these two expectations together. What I am looking for is something that highlights a sense of space, a site-specifity, a tactility or material that is already present in the digital and image space and makes experiencing one before or after the other more meaningful.

“I would like viewers to leave an exhibition with a sense of amazement towards digital spaces, questioning their materiality and how our bodies relate through them and what environments and realities – bodily, social, emotional, environmental – they have consequences on. All technologies should be a means to better understand what it means to be human.”

Thinker Maker Space of CYENS, Nicosia. Nemo Nonnenmacher residency exhibition ‘Kaio’. Installation shot.

In 2023, you are planning to work on creating an interactive virtual reality work to develop a fully interactive, world-watchable space that will function both online as well as offline. This biome, as you have referred to it, will be created using new technologies, data-driven elements, real-world data and physical experiences. Could you please elaborate on the challenges and technicalities involved in working on such a technology-advanced project?

On a technical level, the main challenge for this project is that most of the tools and plugins are not built for the use I intend them to use, at least not in the way to combine them. The project draws a lot from resources in gamedesign, the automobile industry and machine learning, and combining these often performance-heavy elements whilst maintaining a freedom to experiment visually is something that you would only find in large industry companies, game and film studios. And even then their technicians would look at you doubtfully and ask: Why would you even want to do it like that?

This means that I have to develop and test all these elements individually, in separate environments, before combining them together in a single biome. This is a great generator for other works along the way, like renderings, videos and sculptural ideas, as they act as little artistic playgrounds. But it also means that you have to keep an overview over compatibility, performance overheads, whether software versions are still working with each other in a few months time or not (quite a few of the applications I work with are in development phase and change frequently). 

This makes it feel like a lot of the steps of this project are made on very fragile legs, especially as some of the technologies rise and fall with the combined knowledge of the communities they are built in, online tutorials, waiting for answers on tech-forums, whether they are open-source or not, or if a major player like Meta decides to change their privacy guidelines when it comes using eye tracking in their headsets.

Artistically it is very exciting, as there are a lot of possibilities in every aspect of these tools, as well as a sense of agency of its own, something that is unexplainable at first, or literally happens by chance. But on the flipside this makes it predestined for bugs and errors, especially later on when combining multiple interfaces or plugins, or literally failing hardware and having to wait for an update of the graphics driver.

In the midst of all this there are these moments of clarity, in which everything works as intended, where you can actually start to explore how it feels to be in this space…

But even more important than the technical side are the ethical implications that come with these types of technologies. They are often overlooked in the economical and political race to world-first. When we are talking about hosting content in the cloud, using server resources or hardware intended for machine learning workflows, we are, or should be talking about their footprint as well. It will be a particular challenge to realise a project like this, that on one hand maintains its relevance on a technological level, but on the other, artistically and responsibly considers a sustainable way to participate in and exhibit it. 

The other thing we have to keep in mind is that the conversation around AI and machine learning with copyrighted material, images, videos, texts, content in general, is only just beginning. As always, the law has to catch up with what is happening right now and it certainly will have an impact on what will be developed and how. It is something that, even if you are using AI for artistic purposes – and not for a monetary one – you have to be aware of. It is something we should all advocate and there is no excuse for the lacking legislation.

“we have to keep in mind is that the conversation around AI and machine learning with copyrighted material, images, videos, texts, content in general, is only just beginning. As always, the law has to catch up with what is happening right now and it certainly will have an impact on what will be developed and how.”

Nemo Nonnenmacher, Virtual Biome (Work in Progress), 2023.

Can you walk us through the process of the use of data-driven elements in your works? Where can these be attained and how are they then implemented into your works?

There are several ways in which I use data-driven elements in my works. For one there is the input directly through sensors when working with an installation in the physical space. This could be movement data, like position in space, velocity, distance to an object or sculpture, or how many viewers are present in the exhibition. I usually use this kind of data to animate objects in the virtual space, activate and change sound, or to influence the visual language of the environment, like colour, movement of textures or light and darkness. This could be either a direct response, where the viewer has a direct feedback on his actions, like changing the colour of an object when walking closer, or a more subtle interaction, where the data is used to introduce randomness and noise to the environment. This makes things feel like they have a life of their own, like breathing or a vibration of a plant, or the swaying of a tree.

Secondly there is data requested from public server APIs. These are datastreams that are used for all sorts of commercial and noncommercial apps and software everyday, like real time weather data, movements and changes of and in the markets, like currency values, exchange rates (including crypto and fiat), or the usage of hashtags on social media, trends on twitter and website traffic. 

One example of how I have used this in my work is the implementation of real-time weather data, in this case the temperature and humidity in Arakapas, an area in Cyprus that was heavily impacted by a fire in 2021. As the weather changed, so did the colour and light intensity values in the interactive video work for ‘burn’. This meant that the VR environment was reacting to the weather data at any given time, changing from morning to evening, and basically different every time a viewer would come to see the exhibition.

Thirdly it is the use of OpenAI and ChatGPT to send data and receive new strings of information, pieces of text, or images, to implement back into the VR environment on the fly. For example, in the work I am developing right now, I am tracking what viewers are looking at in the virtual space and for how long and then sending this data to an AI to generate a new string of text, or a corresponding visual that then in turn flows back into the game engine and changes what the viewer encounters next, or has an influence on the parameters of a material or object. This allows for a certain degree of storytelling, but more importantly for very individual and unique experiences and outcomes for every viewer, which will be different every time.

“in the work I am developing right now, I am tracking what viewers are looking at in the virtual space and for how long and then sending this data to an AI to generate a new string of text, or a corresponding visual that then in turn flows back into the game engine and changes what the viewer encounters next”

Dev Harlan: “I found a wilder geometry in the desert”

Roxanne Vardi

Multidisciplinary artist Dev Harlan works in sculpture, installation and digital media. He has had solo exhibitions with Christopher Henry Gallery, Gallery Madison Park, and Northern-Southern. His works have also been included in major group shows. The artist has also completed corporate commissions for Canon, Target and Y-3/Adidas. 

Dev Harlan’s sculptural and digital media works deal with geometric and geological forms, and themes related to landscape, land transformation and anthropogenic change. Niio Art’s curatorial team sat down with the artist to discuss his art practice and latest artworks all which are available to experience on Niio.

Can you elaborate on your explorations of geology in your artworks and how this came about in your art practice in general?

Absolutely. I think I can trace this direction to my first visit at the AZ-West artist compound in Joshua Tree, and a subsequent artist residency at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in Scottsdale, Arizona. I spent a month in the Sonoran desert, hiking and photographing rocks and boulders. I was very inspired by the desert landscape and saw something poetic in the geological process that shaped it. My previous artwork dealt with geometry and pattern, but in the desert rocks I found a geometry much more wild and alluring. I began studying and reproducing these wild rocks through mold-making, casting, 3D scanning and 3D printing. An interest in geology and landscape also inspired me to work with aerial photography. I did this using low cost cameras flown from a weather balloon. During another residency in Joshua Tree I spent time photographing the National Park and Amboy Crater, CA. From these I created 3D terrain maps using photogrammetry. I began using Google Earth a lot and also discovered the vast and beautiful satellite images being taken of Mars. The writing of Kim Stanley Robinson was influential at this time.

Dev Harlan, Wonder Valley Iron Age UV Stratigraphy, #2, 2022.

Extractivism is a subject that appears in your work, connected to the interest in geology and terraformation, as can be seen in projects such as Aero Gardens and the Gale Crater. Can you elaborate on this connection between geology and capitalism, and how your work addresses it?

Once you start paying attention to landscape it is difficult to ignore the effects of anthropogenic change. In the desert, mining operations are the most obvious, they are visible from many miles away. I have visited a few in the Southwest. Photographing, scanning, documenting. Extractivism is geoscience in the service of capital. The altruistic aim of the sciences is knowledge building. But the practical applications, and highest paid work, in geology is the assessment of resources for industry. Every single electronic device, battery or screen contains elements that were mined from somewhere. The demands of capital drive ever greater extraction, but little thought is given to the toxic scars etched on the landscape. They are stupendously large. Bingham Copper Mine in Utah is nearly four miles across, the largest open pit mine in the US. Interestingly it is also a site studied by Robert Smithson for a proposed land art intervention. Thinking about the resources required for a proposed Martian city I made a speculative 3D model placing the Bingham Copper mine on the surface of Mars at Gale Crater, a site currently being explored by the NASA Curiosity Rover. Everyone wants to speculate about what the city of the future will look like. Nobody thinks about the impossibly large hole in the ground that will be required to build and supply it. How will these renewed colonialist ambitions avoid all the same problems we already have on Earth?

Dev Harlan, Five Body Problems #1, 2022.

“Everyone wants to speculate about what the city of the future will look like. Nobody thinks about the impossibly large hole in the ground that will be required to build and supply it.”

Your new series of works Five Body Problems deals with anthropogenic change and the irreversible effects that we as humans are causing our planet. This very charged subject matter is presented in your works in a  very delicate manner. How would you want your viewers to approach this new body of work?

I think most intelligent people are already inundated with bad news about the terrible state of the planet, so I don’t want to beat people over the head. Some may not want to hear them at all. At the same time I can’t use technology within my artistic practice without also addressing how technology is complicit in extractivism and land degradation. So I use aesthetic compositions and visual spectacle to draw the viewer into the work, which may reveal a depiction of a reality which is not so pleasant. The logic of limitless consumption has created an unmanageable cycle where resources are dislocated, used and discarded. In the series “Five Body Problems” I focus on technological waste depicted in the ubiquitous and recognizable form of mobile devices. These devices contain a wide variety of precious metal and minerals which primarily end up as waste. The currently accepted figure of 55 million tons annually almost defies the ability to imagine. Through animation and textual dialog I question the afterlives of the unthinkable amount of technological waste required to maintain our digital dreams and desires, while also proposing alternative futures to a system of unchecked consumption.

There are different layers of materiality in your work, from the photogrammetric scans of real stones to the animated 3D versions, the sculptures and the projections on them. How do these different layers intervene in each project? How do you decide what kind of materiality you want to create?

I think I am often exploring the tension between material and immaterial objects. The stone surface has an immutability that suggests stability over time. The digital image or model is in fact an ephemeral collection of electronic impulses on a screen, or magnetic traces on a hard drive that could be wiped out instantly. What if the stone becomes an immaterial digital model? What if the immaterial model is carved in stone? What if both of these representations are combined? I am often deliberately mixing materialities in order to dislocate the hierarchies between them. The video projection work employs a similar strategy. The cast stone surfaces tell the story of a vast temporal history that changes little over a thousand years. Yet the video projections are as ephemeral as a rainbow – they are pretty but can’t be touched and will soon fade. I am juxtaposing these to create a tension between vastly different temporalities.

“Through animation and textual dialog I question the afterlives of the unthinkable amount of technological waste required to maintain our digital dreams and desires, while also proposing alternative futures to a system of unchecked consumption.”

Dev Harlan, Found Boulder, Section Six #5, Float, 2022.

In your work we find a combination of abstract, geometrical compositions and objects, and elements taken from nature such as rocks or plants. What interests you about this confrontation of natural and artificial elements, textures, colors, and structures?

Yes there are a lot of things going on, and I think in part it is due to a variety of different phases and interests in my practice. In the late 90’s I was doing very geeky video work and installation with vintage computers. Then for many years I made only geometric sculptures with 3D video projection where I was motivated by a Sol LeWitt type of serial minimalism. More recently there is the body of work interested in geology and planetary science, in dialogue with a wide range of ideas across art, science and critical theory. More and more I find a want to flatten these categorical and temporal distinctions and reference all of the things that cross through my mind, either ten years ago or last week. By mining my own past I try to keep all these different threads and thoughts in dialogue with each other. The thinking of Timothy Morton comes to mind, who writes in an illuminating yet cryptic way about the ontology of objects and their embedded set of relationships. It’s a strategy towards non-anthropocentric thinking, to posit a world of objects in relation, collapsing the hierarchy which places homosapien at the top.

Can you dive deeper into the different technological softwares which you make use of in the creation of your works?

Sure. Much of my recent digital work starts with 3D scans of the natural world. For this I often shoot on a DSLR and use Reality Capture for photogrammetry processing. I often expose the processes and artifacts of 3D scanning, making work from live screenshots, or the constructed UV texture maps. For 3D animation and rendering I use standard industry tools such as Cinema4D with either Redshift or Arnold renderer. I have used Derivative Touch Designer for many years to do video projection mapping and to produce generative animation. A few years ago I built a delta printer from a kit to do 3D printing. I’ve experimented with a variety of filaments, including metal and chalk. Most recently I have also begun to create generative 3D works developed in webGL using Babylonjs.

Dev Harlan, Five Body Problems #3 (Afterlives), 2022.

In the creation of your artworks, what is the balance between live footage which you collect from your natural surroundings, and data which you collect digitally or online?

For me the best source is always what tells the narrative. If the narrative is of a place I am visiting I try to document the actual place in a variety of modes, perspectives and temporalities. This has included still photography, video, HDRI capture, iPhone panoramas or timelapse. I use a variety of cameras and phones. They all bring a different sense of place, and become more interesting when juxtaposed. I rely on photogrammetry a lot because, in some essentialist way, I am interested in real things, and photogrammetry models are traces of the real. They bring with them with all the flaws, imperfections and the embedded narratives of materiality and place. The internet is also a valuable source. If the narrative is about a place I cannot visit, such as the Bingham copper mine, or Mars, I have used terrain depth models of Earth and Mars in the public domain from USGS or NASA/JPL. And if the narrative is depicting technology or other man made artifacts I freely pilfer the internet. It seems the most appropriate to appropriate.

“I am always striving for a balance between the digital and the physical, as I think that speaks most vividly of our contemporary condition.”

Your art practice includes printmaking, sculpting, casting, stone-carving, and working with digital 3D tools to discuss topics such as climate change and technology’s impact on the ecology. How do you balance between these different art forms and mediums?

Yes, and I think this goes back to the idea of having gone through a few different phases within my art practice and becoming somewhat medium agnostic. Like many, working during the pandemic encouraged a strong pivot back towards the digital, and my most productive areas have been in digital art making. However, materiality is important for me. I love the tactile practice of sculpture and visceral encounters of real things in space. I am always striving for a balance between the digital and the physical, as I think that speaks most vividly of our contemporary condition. We have normalized the immaterial digital presence or virtually anything or anyone. However technology’s virtualizing effect has not liberated us from the world of material things – in fact technology has a real material presence with real world impacts. It is solid. it is ephemeral. It is real and hyperreal. Working across many mediums I try to acknowledge all the overlapping temporalities and materialities in our cultural present-tense.

Daniel Belton: dance, music, and digital art

Roxanne Vardi

Daniel Belton is an artist, filmmaker, choreographer, and dancer from New Zealand. In 1997, Daniel Belton and creative producer Donnine Harrison founded Good Company Arts, an entity devoted to creating live events, exhibitions, and installations through the fusion of multiple art forms, and is internationally recognized as arts innovators that combines dance, choreography, fine arts, music, and digital cinema. Belton acts as the artistic director of Good Company Arts, and together their project based art programs are internationally recognized as innovating the arts and design sectors.

On the occasion of his solo show artcast Unification of Dance, we had a conversation with Daniel Belton about his work and artistic practice of combining different mediums and art forms into a unifying whole. Belton has choreographed a number of acclaimed dance works, created a number of experimental film dance works, and has created a number of short films. The artist holds a number of renowned rewards and honours.

Daniel Belton, Astrolabe – whakaterenga (Portals), 2020.

In your digital artworks you combine contemporary dance, music, animation, and AV technologies. Can you walk us through the different complexities combining these disparate media into a coherent whole?

In my work the role of digitally augmented dance is really determining how the narratives or story threads are shared to the viewer. As well as this, the relationship between the choreographed work and music, is a central driving force. When you watch the works in motion, for me it is the relationship between the dance and sound, that is the heart beat, the emotional arc if you like. From this centre all the other elements are derived – the couture, the motion graphics and generative atmospherics, the virtual worlding of spaces in which the human figures project themselves, traverse, journey, or inhabit. 

I’m a self taught filmmaker – I studied photography and painting before heading into an international career in dance. After a decade working in Europe for various theatre and dance luminaries, I returned home to Aotearoa NZ to begin raising a family, and this was is also a significant turning point, when we founded Good Company Arts (1998). I began working closely with film artists to initially document our live performances. 

My curiosity for film and dance as shared mediums, really grew through the next decade, and continues to this day. More recently I have focused on outputs from the digital to print, and installations.

When I edit film, it is not in a conventional way. I use FCP, After Effects, predominantly for my workflows which often have 10 or more layers of visual material in a scene. I usually start by testing out the compositional space, with various visual components. This means playing with masks, scale, proportion, colour, and tone to establish a design language for the specific work. If you see all my works in a space together, you will recognise the “eye” and aesthetic, which is my signature. I’m grateful to the small team of collaborators who I bring in to support the overall vision – these artists work with software such as Cinema4D, After Effects, Premiere, Lightwave and more. I commission and guide their contributions, and we have a long rapport of collaboration. Their work becomes part of the total vision for the design feel of my work with GCA.

Collaboration with the performing artists is key. I work closely with Donnine Harrison (my life partner and Creative Producer for GCA), to choose dance artists who are also makers in their own right. These young artists bring their choreographic voices to the work, which is carefully guided. Usually we work shop and film in a choreolab style process. The filmed material is then reflected on in post, and this is where the relationship to music, and the visual design and narrative structure is developed – the total work is usually anchored this way. Sometimes later on, and it can be years later, a work is recommissioned to be performed as a hybrid piece. Then we bring the team together again to realise a performance activation of the digital work, for example with large outdoor projection, live music and live dance bridging to the digital world and expanding on it.

It is a fluid relationship. Works arrive and carry in a specific quality or message. They have their own energy and wairua (spirit). So the relationship becomes overtime, even more attentive because it is like communicating with a child of ours, and this is reciprocal. We listen, watch and respond.

“Works arrive and carry in a specific quality or message. They have their own energy and wairua (spirit).

Daniel Belton and Good Company Arts, AD PARNASSUM – Purapurawhetū Solstice, 2022.

There is something very theatrical and cinematic about your compositions. Do you find inspiration in these two areas of artistic expression?

Yes, I come from a background as a professional dancer, choreographer and visual artist, with many years of working in theatres. It has become a deep fascination to explore how we can expand our storytelling practices out and away from traditional blackbox and proscenium theatres. This gradual shift in my own work, has developed skills with digital mediums to grow my practice for dance art-film, and 2D screens, projection mapping etc. More recently I’ve started the deep dive into XR which has migrated my projects with GCA from 2D to 3D formats with full dome and CVR.

To me, the theatre and the cinema are inherently connected. They are powerful amplifiers and channels for broadcasting our stories. Human beings are story telling beings. From the cave painters of the paleolithic, through to cutting edge VR, we have always pursued the liminal, pushed ourselves and our communities towards a greater understanding of our place in the cosmos. This search is a beautiful, ongoing quest for identity and belonging.

“Human beings are story telling beings. From the cave painters of the paleolithic, through to cutting edge VR, we have always pursued the liminal, pushed ourselves and our communities towards a greater understanding of our place in the cosmos.

Daniel Belton and Good Company Arts, soma_songs_(aarhus_festival_promo) (Original), 2022.

Your artworks have been exhibited at art galleries, museums, public spaces, and architectural facades. Can you elaborate on the differences, at least from your personal perspective, working in the public sphere as opposed to the private gallery sphere?

This is about space, the human relationship to environment, our sense of belonging, and well-being. It is about discovery and returning to something to engage with it in a new way. What do we see? Our perception of an artwork is altered greatly when we augment through scale, light, surface. The ephemeral digital nature of film, especially projected, means that it is a membrane of datum, a digital cloak of light rippling with stories.

When we can identify ourselves in these stories because they are populated by the human in motion, then our awareness also moves to new places. So my works are not didactic, they do not attempt to tell a story in the traditional sense, rather to create an invitation for the audience to connect. This is a personal experience, and each individual will have their own response to an artwork. 

I find that when filmed dance appears in unusual sites such as mapped onto building facades – people really engage with it. Perhaps part of this immediate connect is that dance is a universal language.

In this way we can bring a new kind of illumination to a site, and invigorate, catalyse. For my work Line Dances at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, this was a direct link up to Paul Klee’s lithographs inspired by the theatre such as his delicate and humorous “Realm of the Curtain” and “Equilibrist”. It was 2013 with the Genius Loci Weimar Festival, and my first go at projection mapping. Since then we have learnt much, and I have been fortunate with GCA to be invited to many cities to show our work in more unconventional ways, with mapping. 

I do love the clarity and purity of a fine gallery or museum space. Artwork can breathe, and when curated well, bodies of work offer incredible insight to public, around an artists practice and oeuvre.

Many of your artworks, including Astrolabe – whakaterenga (Portails), are rendered in black and white and display celestial, astrological compositions. Could you elaborate on the intended reception of these representations?

The monochromatic space is powerful. I find it a natural optical realm in which to create compositions, and to cultivate spatial relationships that are coherent. Integrating the human figure here is also a natural progression for me. Don’t get me wrong, I adore colour! But it must be introduced carefully and deliberately. Human beings are travellers, and our ancestors were largely nomadic. Since we can remember our species have navigated using the stars, and the natural elements which we embrace as part of the vast family of sentient life on Mother Earth. In our shared histories, Indigenous peoples from all around the globe have created maps and charts, and systems to move safely and efficiently from place to place, over land and water. Everywhere we look, there is evidence of knowledge founded in the wisdom of the stars, and the wisdom of living in rhythm with Gaia (Papatūānuku). Certain GCA projects I have directed, such as Astrolabe – Whakaterenga, are about celebrating this. Whakaterenga in te reo translates as “to launch”. In this work, there is a merger of Asian and Pacific Island wisdom, that binds such systems as astronomical charts and stick charts (used in canoes to navigate with the stars). This work as with OneOne is about honouring diversity, and acknowledging the many links that bind us. These pieces are affirmations of the human spirit, of diversity and unity. They speak of the interconnectedness of being.

Daniel Belton, NGURU, 2022.

In many of your works, including NGURU, you reference Māori arts which are an important part of Māori culture. Could you dive deeper into this compelling subject matter and how it facilitates in representing more contemporary media?

In some of my works, those that carry and promote nga taonga pūoro, I have with GCA engaged Māori artists who are practicing musicians, composers, dancers and weavers. Specifically the works are OneOne, Taiao, Astrolabe, Nguru and Ad Parnassum. Although I am not Māori, I have Maori and Samoan cousins. I greatly respect and admire Māori language, arts and culture. When GCA brings in Māori artists to collaborate, they lead in their specific field of expertise, and their mahi (work) is carefully combined into the total artwork and process. We are attentive to protocols (tikanga) and this is reciprocal. For Ad Parnassum -Purapurawhetū there is a focus visually on weaving and the horizontal. The music score created by Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead (of Ngai Terangi and Tuhoe descent), is a fusion of classical (string quartet) and taonga pūoro (traditional Maori instruments). Of the nine female dance cast, 2 are tangata whenua (which means they are Inidgenous Māori, or have a Māori bloodline). The other 7 dancers make up this multi-cultural team which combines ancestry from Japan, India, the Phillipines, Eastern and Central Europe, Scandinavia, and Fiji. Their dance is contemporary, not traditional, but I do see influences in their work that offer glimpses of each artists cultural ties.

Alona Rodeh: Automated Fantasy

Roxanne Vardi

Alona Rodeh is an Israeli visual artist and individual researcher who currently lives and works in Berlin. Rodeh is a cross-disciplinary artist whose works include immersive environments, video works, sculpture, and public art projects. Rodeh’s artworks are currently focused on the presence of artificial illumination in the public sphere, and in turn its influence on humans and non-humans. Rosenfeld Gallery is presently exhibiting its third solo show of Rodeh’s works, this time focusing on a collaboration with artist Rachid Moro. The exhibition titled CITY DUMMIES is made up of CGI works which were all created in the past year, and which mark a shift in the artist’s oeuvre from video and cinema to the practice of post-cinema. Rodeh’s artworks have been exhibited internationally at private as well as public spaces including Berlin, Vienna, Tel Aviv, and New York.

CITY DUMMIES, comprises of eight video artworks, powered by Niio Art, which are spread across Rosenfeld gallery’s space. The artist designed and engineered the space in a way which complements what the viewer is anticipated to see on the screens. The gallery space is painted in a dark grey tint to complement the video works, and the screens hang from industrial metal poles. Moreover, the space is partitioned with a white metal roofing panel used as a wall to separate one of the artworks titled Runway Freefall Deluxe. The works exhibited are CGI works which all display familiar urban scenes that are deplete of humans, and instead all show inanimate objects as the protagonists of the presented scenes. The fictional urban scenes produced by the artist present viewers with different machines that vary from an ATM machine, to electric scooters, to drones which come to life during the nighttime hours and become the stars of the spectacle.

The hyper realistic works set within dystopian environments display a certain obedience to contemporary consumer society. The presented imaginary urban technology landscapes all show orchestrated plays between extraordinary lighting, movement, sound, and visual effects. The Juicer (Late Shift), shows a transit van pulling over down a driveway in reverse gear. The back doors of the car open and a stack of electric scooters flicker and play music from within the transit. The artist has stated that she feels she plays a kind of god-like figure of the fabricated events that are created within these artworks. The series of works created for the CITY DUMMIES exhibition were all created using 3D models which were inserted into gaming models as a kind of “puzzle of pieces which we put together”. Moreover, Rodeh has shared with us that the work here is of a scenographer of built environments, and that many of the final artworks allude to movies such as the work Runway Freefall Deluxe which references Magnolia.

Alona Rodeh, The Juicer (Late Shift), 2022.

You started your artistic career working mostly with sculpture and installation, whereas lately you have been working mostly in the digital space and specifically focusing on Unreal projects. Can you walk us through this trajectory and how one medium led you or complemented the other on your artistic journey?

CITY DUMMIES is–also–a sculpture and installation show, though it might not look like it at first glance. But going into the creation of digitally-fabricated environments had much to do with the pandemic. When reality as we knew it came to a halt in 2020 and into 2021, I felt it as a life-changing experience. My plans were shattered time and time again. I, among so many others, lost a sense of control over my present and near future. This project, slowly but surely, grew out of an almost existential urge to create my work on my terms, without relying on institutions and their commissions. Not by coincidence, it’s an imaginative space that can be seen online and offline. It’s a huge bet, and hopefully, it also pays back. 

“This project, slowly but surely, grew out of an almost existential urge to create my work on my terms, without relying on institutions and their commissions.”

Alona Rodeh, Gearing Up, 2022.

The artworks which are part of the CITY DUMMIES all insinuate human intervention but are in fact completely deplete of people. What is your intention towards this definite decision? Does it in your opinion also point to what is expected to come in the future?

People’s presence is felt even if they are not visible since the built environment results from human production. Here, direct human presence is strictly ruled out; The series is a little love letter to all those precarious machines of the Zeitgeist acting out at night. Dancing as if nobody is watching. I don’t look so much at the future but comment on the shadow of the present. It’s a strange, automated fantasy.

Towards the creation of your new series of works and towards the CITY DUMMIES exhibition you discovered and worked with Unreal Engine. Can you share your experience working with this novel and advanced real-time rendering tool?

I heard “rumors” of Unreal Engine while using other render engines for presentations of sculpture, which I have been using for some time (Keyshot, Blender), and I thought I’d try it. No other software allows such powerful real-time rendering, which is a game-changer. There is no delay between design and output; The software is so well-optimized that it can run very complex scenes with little effort. I did one little work with it, and appetite comes with eating. My partner Rachid Moro (lead CGI in this project) and I had to shift all the studio equipment to feed the monster: getting the best graphic cards, extra memory cards, screens, and of course: expanding the team. Rachid dived in with all his attention to detail; I focused on the conceptual possibilities and steering this big ship; we gathered a few other people around us to contribute and learn together what this engine can allow. Some clips took a good few months; some are still in the works, and others are only in my head still. It’s complicated but gratifying.

“I find all my inspiration and ideas in the built environment. Therefore I’m always happy to do work in actual public space.”

Alona Rodeh, Runway Freefall Deluxe, 2022.

You have also created artworks for public spaces in the past, can you elaborate on the differences, at least from your personal perspective, working in the public sphere as opposed to the private gallery sphere?

I find all my inspiration and ideas in the built environment. Therefore I’m always happy to do work in actual public space, and I focus on doing some of these in parallel. When I work on public art commissions, I have to consider a battery of limitations and challenges: safety, the resilience of materials, costs, communication with local authorities, public opinion, and so forth. With CITY DUMMIES, I don’t have all this baggage; it’s all up to me. At this point in my career, it feels liberating. 

Thomas Lisle: On 3D painting, abstraction, and punk rock

Roxanne Vardi

Thomas Lisle is a British artist who works in 3D animation, painting, digital art, and installations. Lisle’s works display his intention in creating new forms using digital tools, and his interest in psychology and the environment. Moreover, his artworks are part of the collections at Tate Modern in London and MoMA in New York. This interview is presented in conjunction with the launch of our latest curated solo show artcast titled Thomas Lisle: New Forms and Plasticity.

As an artist you create both paintings and digital artworks. Moreover, towards the creation of some of your digital works you also use digital paint techniques? Could you share with us your thoughts on combining more traditional historical art mediums with today’s available digital tools?

So I don’t see a combination of mediums; I see different mediums but with shared values (no mathematical values !), shared visual languages, shared symbols and psychological responses, it’s just a continuation of modern art practice in a new medium.

Let’s be clear the digital medium is very different from the real world, art critics and writers used to talk about an artist’s relationship with the media they were working in, but today very few art commentators have much knowledge of the practicality and techniques of digital art.

Artworks may be evaluated on the visual images, ideas and reactions that they invoke. We do care and think about how traditional paintings and sculptures are made. People talk about responses to mediums, and the specific use of a material in the artwork, like Eva Hesse (Hesse’s interest in latex as a medium for sculptural forms had to do with immediacy.) Wikipedia. or Richard Sierra and rusty steel. A drawing made with a pencil and a drawing done with mud or blood, for example, the medium makes a difference. 

So I see the autographic, the hand-making marks by the artist as central to the paintings that I admire along with composition colour and form. What’s extraordinary about digital 3D painting is that it opens up the boundaries of what a paint stroke is capable of. If you think of ‘loading’ a brush with paint, then this paint flows out of the brush onto the paper and depending on your point of view, makes something beautiful, interesting or not. The brush is an emitter, the paint, carbon, ink, whatever flows out its just a real world liquid that can be simulated digitally. You can copy this with a digital paintbrush, but every aspect of the paint stroke can be programmed, if you use a tablet, then the pressure, direction and speed data all gets collected, and that data can be then fed in to control how thick your brush is how hairy, how anything you like, almost.

I get lots of satisfaction, both intellectually and visually, from making complex time-based abstractions from 3D paint strokes and 3D models. It relates to the need for some chaos, some randomisation in an artwork, some craziness, the hand-to-eye relationship. I use the variation in pressure, speed, and direction of a 2D brush stroke to become the starting point in a great deal of my artwork. Often the 3D brush stroke gets abstracted beyond the point of recognition as a brush stroke very quickly. This is intentional, and it’s not that I don’t like brush strokes, but that the initial motion and intent, is recorded and the data from it, is used to drive other values, such as the density of a cloud or velocity of a liquid, it’s a kind of transformation of one thing into another, a kind of ‘painting’ ‘form’ ‘psychological alchemy’ to me. A visual and coded metaphor for internal, psychological or collective change, progression, or distortion. 

So while the digital paint medium is very different from the real-world medium, and one of the biggest differences is that its time based, many things are the same. I think composition, colour and form are still important; they didn’t just get cancelled. Visual languages don’t just disappear; symbols and meaning didn’t just ripped up and forgotten about. The trouble is that it’s difficult to have access to the right software – it can be expensive, it takes many years to learn and then the artist has to find a means of expression with the tools, software and hardware that are available. 

I have personally been trying to make some kind of moving painting since 1982 when on my foundation, I started detuning TV sets and recording the results so that I could realise this idea of time-based art that is not photographic film/video, but rather abstract and based on visual languages. 

If you have only become interested in digital art in the last few years, then it can all seem just digital at first, and how it’s made doesn’t seem so important. However, I would argue that what software is used and how well it is handled has a very drastic effect on the artistic output. As a simple example of this, just look at how many bald CGI characters there are. Any idea why? I don’t think it’s because it’s a new way of depicting humans or some ideas about bodily purity (hair being unpure, intrinsically non-body), that’s for sure. And I’m guilty of making bald figures, too. I know why I have done it; it’s because adding hair involves a whole series of technical and time-consuming issues (and not because I’m fairly bald). If I wanted to add realism, then it is going to take a few days to program and set up so that it looks and moves realistically as the character moves. On top of that, there’s a huge hit on the render time per frame from computing the motion of all the hairs and rendering 100s of thousand of individual hairs. If I buy or download some license-free, none dynamic hair, just a solid blob of matter, I might feel I have compromised. If I didn’t know a bit about human IK skeletons and character rigging (the systems that enable character animations). I wouldn’t know how to keep that hair in the same place as the head; it’s attached to as it moved. You then need to give that hair mass a hair-looking texture and have to understand how UV mapping works (UV coordinates map textures to 3D objects); it’s quite difficult to learn. If my figure is in some way distorted or abstracted, I would have to apply a similar abstraction to the hair, and this is another big issue because if my hair model isn’t made in the same way as the figure, and I didn’t make the figure, I just downloaded it or bought it for £10, then I would have to learn how to model and how to integrate even the most basic hair model into the deformation in a way that matched the figures’ abstraction also not straight forward. So bald is the easy solution, but it really makes no sense; art history is not littered with bald Mona Lisas and Madonnas, ok babies are born fairly bald, so that’s ok. The world’s artists have never gone around and depicted people who would normally have hair bald for any reason whatsoever that I know of.

There’s also a huge difference between art drawn on an iPad and made by an AI or drawn, modelled in 3D. 

If you look at a digital artwork and think that someone has hand-drawn it when in fact, it’s a video effect off the shelf that took 5 minutes to achieve – it may not devalue the artwork, but it may still be fantastic in your eyes, it may be genuinely fantastic! Or you imagine an artist has cleverly programmed an Ai supercomputer to do it or built a filter from the ground up. It’s valuable to understand the artwork and the artist’s input. I’m being careful not to dismiss digital techniques that are not sophisticated or are off the shelf, the artist may be new to digital art generation the visual idea and the concept could still be fascinating, but if you don’t know the differences, then you don’t know what the artist did and you don’t understand the process or the artist’s practice. 

“So I see the autographic, the hand-making marks by the artist as central to the paintings that I admire along with composition colour and form. What’s extraordinary about digital 3D painting is that it opens up the boundaries of what a paint stroke is capable of.”

Thomas Lisle, Abstract 01, 2022.

For the creation of your artworks included in your latest artcast you make use of 3D digital tools. Could you dive deeper into the complexity of these tools and how to aid contemporary artists in expressing their explorations through this new medium?

I have been trying to make time-based paintings since I was 19. Yes, there is hand drawn/painted animation, but it takes so long, it’s not procedural, and on the whole, it hasn’t been the medium of many contemporary artists, and I would say that’s because it takes a very long time, there has been no market for it, and I would say it’s difficult too, but NFT’s might change that.

The artworks in my artcast are autographic, generative and procedural (procedural-an artwork defined by a computationally represented system of rules, relationships, and behaviours, enables the creation of works that are flexible, adaptable, and capable of systematic revision. Dynamic Drawing: Broadening Practice and Participation in Procedural Art Jennifer Jacobs MIT 2017). Many artworks are going to be both Generative and procedural at the same time, and they could be 3D, 2D, AR, VR, still or moving. 

In simple terms, procedural means that one programs an effect/distortion that affects a 3D model or some element in 3D or 2D and it abstracts it in a very specific way. Because it’s procedural, you can apply that effect to another different model by swapping over the input model i.e from a horse to a chicken. Procedural means all the elements that make up the abstraction effect can be tweaked, revised, animated and manipulated in more depth. I use these techniques a great deal and build on complex programming sequences that I have worked on previously, changing, modifying and improving the initial way the distortion or simulation works. Sometimes I take the whole abstraction code and make it part of a subset of another larger, more complex distortion/simulation. Once you start playing around with the fundamental building blocks, the DNA of form as it where you can start to build a new and personalised visual abstractions that are, in effect, similar to painting styles. This is particularly relevant to 3D artwork, where the scope for new forms and new and novel ways of abstraction is vastly wider than in 2D. This is because 3D encapsulates the whole object, whereas 2D only gives you the bit you can see. Leonardo only painted the front of the Mona Lisa, so if we manipulate her in 2D, we are never going to have access to the back of her, only the bit we can see in 2D.

The artworks in the artcast use lots of different techniques, from 3D painted forms to 3D painted forms turned to gases and liquids, deformed shapes, animated textures, several different types of gas simulation, directly painted tubes, particle flows, and more! It’s very much about contrasting visual elements motions and forms working in different ways to come to a sort of visual balance.

My heartfelt belief is that as cave women/men painted and people throughout history, it’s the element of the human expression that comes through using tools that they themselves wield and have a relationship with that have the meaning. The most direct way of doing that digitally is with a touch-sensitive pen or equivalent. As I mentioned earlier, an artist has to work with the tools that they have available, and I believe Blender ( a free open sources 3D package) has some 3D painting capabilities. It can make fluids, and gases, animate characters, deform models, it can do a great deal it has a modular programming functionality and a procedural node based programming language. I personally think that it’s easy to get lost in the effect and lose sight of the goal. I know that I have often spent months trying to learn a certain technique and forget why I wanted to use it in the first place. I use Maya for my artworks and have done for over 15 years.

I read an article by Alex Estorick a few years ago when he asked the question, “why are there not more painting-based 3D artworks”. Well, the answer is quite simple, it’s complicated to make a 3D paint mark that has fluid qualities and is programmable over time. The only solutions I have seen that incorporate touch sensitivity, a loaded multicoloured brush, and liquid simulations are in Houdini and Maya software packages maybe Blender. In 10 years time or so, I think people will have the computation power and disk space to do this easily. At the moment, it’s complex, and there is no off-the-shelf digital tool that does it properly. To get it to work, I have to program it procedurally, there are limits to how much detail and how long a fluid simulation will be defined by my computing power. It’s possible to make the paint stroke fundamentals in real time; the rest, the liquid simulations, take a few days to compute. I enjoy making something based on a paint stroke that then morphs into something uniquely animated and digital that no longer has any visual relationship with a brush stroke yet uses the data in the stroke to drive the animation/abstraction/deformation. And If I didn’t say anything you would probably never know.

Sometimes I have made these types of artwork and feel that the real interest lies in the struggle to work out how to do it, as the result is not as interesting as the amount of effort put in to make it. However, a few years later I find that I appreciate that learning and experimenting with a technology has led to all sorts of new and exciting work and has been invaluable after all. A splash of paint can easily become a sort of non-contemporary art thing, a more corporate communications symbol for some kind of creativity. I really want to avoid that! And find more interest in the abstraction and deformation of paint-like strokes; being able to turn off gravity reverse the surface tension of a liquid, and make paint stick to 3D characters or models opens up lots of interesting possibilities. I’m starting to treat paint simulations as an element of a larger artwork, an element that describes something but is not the centre of the artwork. 

I heard Frank Stella recently describing some of his work as painting in 3D, and this is what is so interesting about 3D software, it brings together two systems that have been thought of as two distinct systems. It’s a fundamental shift in visual thinking. 

“I enjoy making something based on a paint stroke that then morphs into something uniquely animated and digital that no longer has any visual relationship with a brush stroke yet uses the data in the stroke to drive the animation/abstraction/deformation.”

Thomas Lisle, In the Minds Eye, 2022.

Can you please elaborate on your interest in psychology and how this is incorporated into your artworks?

I will try and answer briefly. It seems that there are universal rules that apply to people’s psychology regardless of where they are born, which means that basically, we are all humans regardless of race and religion; religion itself seems to be oriented to where you are born and the culture you grow up in. So rather than think of specific issues to bring to the public attention in art why not look at the underlying causes of all the issues. And secondly, we are all developing psychologically; I don’t think many people can claim they have reached a full understanding of themselves or their full potential. We all have some personal issues, no one is perfect, and we all have a shadow side that we need to come to terms with. We are all moving towards individuation of one sort or another from birth, it seems to me.

As I studied psychology more and more, I started to find out about psychological symbols in art and film, and I started to investigate archetypes ( wonderful lectures of archypes) and their use in narratives and symbols, from folk tales to feature films. And symbols and psychological alchemy, the psychologist (James Hillman was written some eye-opening books on the subject.) And I started to incorporate ideas and concepts of psychology into my artwork. And Jung’s book “Man and his symbols” and introduction to Jungian psychology and symbols.

Thomas Lisle, Abstract 02, 2022.

Some of your artworks such as Abstract 01 and Abstract 02 may remind some of artworks by artist Wassily Kandinsky. Is there a purposeful reference to art history in your works?

Not specifically, but I love his work and subconsciously, its working away somewhere in the background. There are lots of references to the art history of the last 100 years, in my work.

Are there any other traditional artists or art periods that you look back at or are inspired by in the creation of your works?

In the 20th century, artists like Picasso and Rauchenberg, the Fauves and German expressionists have been lifelong influences. Helen Chadwick, Ron Haseldon, Marc Chaimowicz all had an influence on me when I was at Art school. Today some of the artists I find the most interesting are Albert Oehlens and Gerhard Richter. It’s the visual experience and ideas that make their work so interesting and important and an important influence on my work.

Thomas Lisle, Subconscious Motions, 2022.

As a young artist you became interested in Glitch Art and Punk Rock, could you outline how these art forms influenced your art practice and oeuvre of works in general?

I think there is an element of punk rock in lots of art movements, from the Fauves to Dada to Expressionism, at the time of punk rock, it only really lasted a few years; there was no equivalent visual movement, I was only 16 in 1978, it seemed an important movement to be part of and it was very cathartic. 

My glitch art was borne out of a desire to make art that was more about our time (then) and the media of the time, analog TV, to basically make images that had a new approach to abstraction by detuning TVs by making them go wrong and using ones that didn’t really work, capturing a bit of the randomness at specific moments. For those of you who never experienced analogy TV it was the high tech of the 70’s 80’and 90’s that really wasn’t very perfect and all controlled by the Broadcasters. Around that time in the early 1980s, I started to be interested in Electronic music – I can’t play an instrument or even hum in tune, but there was no equivalent to the synthesiser for artists in the 80s. Today I still like electronic music. I listen to a wide variety from classic to world, to electronic. The fascinating popular music for me today is the french “Trip Hop” scene, I can see elements of that kind of clash of taking all sorts of reference points and techniques and putting them together in a chaotic way that somehow finds some kind of balance or sense interesting in a number of ways with my digital art.

So going back to your question, I think the legacy of punk rock was to be happy to take risks and not worry about the results. My work with glitch art was aimed at finding new ways to abstract figures in a mode that was analogous to the times I lived in and to take on board the idea of time-based painting. I gave up making glitch TV artworks by the early 1990’s as I got frustrated with the inflexibility of the medium; there’s very little control. It seems less about conscious abstraction, especially of the figure, than about a symbol for the frailty of the digital era. Analog glitch art threw up interesting abstractions, very randomly. Digital glitch art is programmed. Digital 3D systems give me control of nearly every aspect of the artwork I make, it’s all a conscious decision it’s all intended, even the added visual chaos is orchestrated.