Niio is proud to introduce a selection of artcasts by celebrated photographers in collaboration with Fahey/Klein Gallery, the leading contemporary photography gallery in Los Angeles. Curated by Nicholas Fahey, these selections dive into the work of the artists, presenting key series and iconic images.
Frank W. Ockenfels III is an American photographer, artist, and director who is best known for his portrait photographs of celebrities and diverse personalities such as David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, and Hilary Clinton. Ockenfel’s work has frequently been featured in leading magazines globally such as the Time and the Rolling Stone. The artist’s works have been displayed at exhibitions in museums and galleries worldwide including Berlin, Amsterdam, New York, and Los Angeles.
Niio Art in collaboration with Fahey/Klein Gallery recently published an artcast titled “Frank Ockenfels III – Volume 3” which provides a window into the artist’s visual thinking. Over thirty years ago, Ockenfels started a process of journaling the product of which he calls Tech Books in which he would keep polaroids, written lighting diagrams, and his personal writings, specifically what he wanted to remember from each and every experience and project.
Once Ockenfels did away with the tech journals he started assembling objects, scraps of paper, drawing into the journals so that they became elaborate, and turned into pieces or found graphic elements instead of just photographs. To this end the artist has noted that this process “was a great way to flush my mind. You are so focused on being a photographer sometimes that you forget that the majority of photography is so inspired by other things like a Richard Serra sculpture”. In essence, Ockenfels’ artworks are no longer just portrait photographs but instead they become personal statements of the artist’s psyche and creative artistry. His artworks can be seen as re-presentations, as works that break the boundaries of traditional photography.
Referring to his tech books, the artist has mentioned that there is a lot that even he can learn from them as they allow him to reconsider why he captured certain projects as he did, and can make him think of the ways through which he approached his images. In the artist’s teachings he also liked to bring his tech books to classes, and through his student’s questions and questioning there was always something new that he felt he could learn about photography.
Ockenfels started out by shooting chrome, then went into negative, and lately has gotten into digital photography. Specifically referring to digital photography the artist has shared that he likes seeing “how far I can go, that’s when the interesting stuff actually happens. I find it more the abstract mind that I have less and less sense of time and space and what I am supposed to be doing. As I get older, its more so where I accept the moment and say this is what I’m supposed to be doing”. Thus, the artist prefers portraits which are less pre-defined and thought out and instead likes “the moment showing up and looking and seeing what I see about you that I would like to capture”. In turn, the artist’s representations leave the imprint of his unconscious on the photographic image.
The artist sees his journals as a place ‘to vent’, places that illustrate different points in his life. Ockenfels has stated that when he was younger he “didn’t care if anybody liked [the journals] or not, or was interested in them, but people started looking at them”. However, the artist didn’t want peoples opinions “because they are personal… its kind of like the Purist sense of art. Richard Serra would say ‘art is purposely useless’ it is a useless process thinking that anyone would be interested in seeing it, but it answers a lot of questions to yourself by the act of keeping journals, thoughts, memories, ideas”.
The artist thinks that inspiration is what a person should strive to do. “I think it’s important to inspire, almost more so than the creative process”. In his interview for Fahey/Klein Gallery Frank Ockenfels III shared that he had an experience a couple of years ago on a Brooklyn subway platform while he was coming back from visiting a friend when a young kid came over and said that he saw him on the internet talking about ‘the creative process’ and that he was completely inspired by that. He was a graffiti artist, inspired about the point of creativity. Referring to that specific instance the artist asserts “that to me is where I always wanted to be in life”.
A multifaceted artist, Yoshi Sodeoka creates a wide range of audiovisual artistic works that include video art, animated gifs, music videos, and editorial illustrations. Influenced from an early stage in his career in noise music and glitch art, as well as avant garde movements such as Op Art, his work is characterized by breaking down the structure of the musical score and visual integrity of the image to find new forms of artistic expression.
A multifaceted artist, Yoshi Sodeoka creates a wide range of audiovisual artistic works that include video art, animated gifs, music videos, and editorial illustrations. Influenced from an early stage in his career in noise music and glitch art, as well as avant garde movements such as Op Art, his work is characterized by breaking down the structure of the musical score and visual integrity of the image to find new forms of artistic expression. His projects, developed individually or in close collaboration with other artists, materialize in fields as diverse as music(Psychic TV, Tame Impala, Oneohtrix Point Never, Beck, The Presets, Max Cooper), illustration (New York Times, Wired, The Atlantic, M.I.T Technology Review) fashion (Adidas, Nike), and advertising (Apple, Samsung). His work has been exhibited internationally, including at Centre Pompidou, Tate Britain, the Museum of Modern Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Deitch Projects, La Gaîté Lyrique, the Museum of Moving Image, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Laforet Museum Harajuku.
In the following conversation, Sodeoka discusses his work and influences, focusing on the two artworks from the series Synthetic Liquidrecently commissioned by Niio.
Could you elaborate on how your background in music influences your artistic practice when creating new media artworks?
At the beginning of my abstract video art projects, music and sounds usually come first. I guess in a way, I’m trying to be a human audio visualizer. I usually start by picking up some interesting sounds that I want to work with. That could either come from a friend or from myself. It really depends on how I feel. I’ve been a long time user of Logic (a MIDI sequencer software) so I usually cook up something quick in that. I’ve always played electric guitar since a young age, and I still have a collection of synthesizers and instruments. I’ve been a big fan of experimental noise and ambient music. I am lucky to have some really talented music friends that provide me with the exact sounds I’m looking for if I’m not in the mood to do my own. Anyhow, then I would try to come up with the idea of what sort of visuals go well with that sound. Experimental/Noise music is just a perfect fit with the videos I make.
Yoshi Sodeoka, Synthetic Liquid 7, 2022.
Why are you interested in glitch and noise?
I feel that everything is broken anyway, nothing is complete. In computer glitches, something interesting happens, in terms of color and composition. I am mainly interested in these colors and shapes. For me it comes from an aesthetic reason, I am not a conceptual glitch artist. I use it for everything.
However, these particular artworks I created for the commission look more organized, with more neutral colors. It relates to how I feel about the project or what influences me at a particular time, but I really can’t tell why.
The neo-psychedelic style of both commissioned works from your Synthetic Liquid series with its kaleidoscope of colors resembles the aesthetic used by Futurist artists in the early twentieth century, and you have also mentioned your interest in Op Art. Would you say your work relates to these avant garde movements?
Yes, to some certain extent. I like Futurism, particularly in its more abstract manifestations. And in this particular work that I’m presenting in Niio, I should say I’ve been more influenced by Op art. I like the work of Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely, among others. I just like the idea of making video versions of Op art. I enjoy seeing those visual triggers: Op Art makes you question what you are seeing. The arrangement of colors and shapes make your brain think. I like the idea of trying to make animated Op Art, because when you see it your mind goes someplace else, and this is fascinating to me. When you look at a landscape, for instance, you feel calm, whereas with Op Art there is a different feeling.
Yoshi Sodeoka, Synthetic Liquid 8, 2022.
Can you tell us about your artistic process and about the different digital softwares that you use in the creation of your video works and the process of moving from analog practices to digital practices?
Sound and visuals are strongly connected. My interest in experimental noise is that it does not have a structure, which goes well with abstract videos. I have been playing music since I was 12 years old, and at the same time I studied painting. Doing both at the same time from a very young age, when I discovered video art there was no question that I wanted to do that.
I’ve used a lot of analog setups in the past. But I use less of it now. I still like a pure analog setup, but I’m just in a different phase. I like to keep it simple with fewer gears in my studio at the moment. I incorporate the ideas that I have learned from working on analog videos into the digital video-making process. One of the things that are fascinating about what I can do with analog video is video feedback. I try to simulate that in the digital setting. The exact process might be different. But the concept is the same either in analog or digital.
I still have a video analog setup in my studio. For me it started to get kind of boring, and to break out of it one of the solutions was to buy more gears. I feel that the parameter is very limited because if you buy gear, then your creative process becomes shaped by the vision of the person who made that gear. I don’t like that, so I use my own video feedback technique with After Effects, which not many people do, and therefore it feels like it is my own tool and my own technique.
I also randomize a lot of elements in my audio production, working with a set of parameters. I set a tone, add notes from here to here, and allow a bit of randomness. But that’s as far as I go. I don’t use a coding environment such as PureDate to make audio compositions, but I use audio production software and randomize it, which is similar in a way.
When experiencing your works, one cannot help but think of the beginning of the creation of everything with the representation of fluids and water.
Ha, I’m not sure. When people think of computers and technologies, they don’t really think of liquids and water. Machines are always dry and hard things. But I imagine that the future of computing will be more organic and fluid. People are using liquid elements in computing and I am fascinated by it. My videos feel very organic, particularly because they have an analog component, so it is not only about zeros and ones. I want to make everything organic as much as possible. It’s not easy, but I take it as my challenge to make things look more organic.
You have recently also been active in the NFT space, could you please share your experience with us on these projects and how you imagine NFTs becoming part of the more traditional art industry as a whole?
It’s been such a crazy ride with NFTs! I’ve sold plenty of work as I’ve never had before. And I’ve made a lot of new friends, and I discovered a lot of great artists I’ve heard of before. Overall it’s been a good experience for me. But I’m not a big fanatic of it either. I’m staying pretty low-key about it. Things come and go and I have no idea where this is going, honestly. I just focus on making good art, which has always been my thing.
With a history that spans more than a century, collage has evolved as an artistic technique from the pieces of newspaper glued to a canvas to a wide array of forms of appropriating content using digital tools. We sat down with Tal Keren, who established the Nico Tone collective and acts as the senior artist, on their use of found images to create digital collages in their latest series of artworks.
This interview is part of a series of three editorial articles that dive deeper into the different software, technicalities, and processes that go into creating digital artworks, in order to offer our readers a deeper understanding of digital art as a medium.
We speak to Nico Tone as part of a collaboration with Render Studio, a collective creative experimentation for a digital reality. Render Studio is inspired by art, design, nature and technology and aims to explore dimensions of virtuality, interactivity and motion.Nico Tone’s series Cornucopia, Vintage Matchbox SeriesandCosmoscapesare all featured on Niio this summer, and were all created for Render Studio.
Towards these series, Nico Tone looked at archives of vintage matchbox illustrations from around the world. Can you please explain the complexity of turning older images into novel digital artworks, and the different technicalities that go into this process?
We were very lucky to find many archives of designs and illustrations of matchboxes that were scanned in a good quality. So it wasn’t a problem to take these images from the server, and to put them into different folders. Each of the folders we create is categorized under a different topic such as animals, flowers and space. We took images of each subject and with the use of Photoshop, we cut the illustrations and then used the program After Effects in which we placed all the cut images. To make these series we needed to create many small animations. I equate this process to Lego: animating each image separately so with each artwork we can use the same animations but in different colors, sizes and placements. We also created many animated GIFs towards the creation of the final artworks. We use between 50-70 illustrations collected by the group from vintage matchboxes to create one coherent artwork. From some matchboxes we just take one element or illustration, and for others we can take all of them. We also looked at the reference of stamps and of vintage bills for the Vintage Matchbox series. The artworks are conceived to be symmetrical at first glance so that the compositions are like mirrors, but then the illustrations break that symmetry.
Nico Tone, Vintage Tales I, 2022
In your search for these images, do you have a specific website that you explore or do you start every exploration from scratch using search engines such as Google search?
We tend to use specific links that we are familiar with, and we were very careful about the copyrighting of the images, so even when we found an image that we liked we needed to do a lot of research on the image’s legal copyright conditions.
Do you take these images and try to think about what the different illustrations meant historically, and play with these existing narratives or do you really use these images just as a starting point to create something completely new?
The history of the different illustrations is usually taken into account. It is very important and interesting to know the history of the images. But when we create the artworks, the main focus is on how it looks, and how something new can be created from these materials. It may reference and remind us of the history, but the outcome is not the history itself, it’s something else, a new world that combines everything together. Each design comes from a different culture and country, and we take everything and mix it up into a new narrative. This type of work is similar to the process of globalization, which is experienced everywhere. Keep in mind that the vintage illustrations are very small, so we have to work with a lot of small details. This was also a challenge, to try to think what can be done, and how something new can be created from these small historical illustrations.
Can you elaborate on the different softwares used in creating this series of works?
As I mentioned, for the creation of these works we use Photoshop and After Effects. I make use of a digital tablet and a pen. For the space series, Wandering Stars, we needed to create the backgrounds, so we used the Ipad with a program called Procreate to create them in high quality.
Nico Tone, Wandering Stars I, 2022
In your works you combine subject matters taken from different cultures and different time periods into one coherent whole. How do advanced technical softwares help in creating these new collated narratives?
The size of the illustrations make the available opportunities very limited, but on the other hand this is also a good thing because this also creates abstract boundaries where we need to be very creative. We try to create everything that is supposed to be alive in real life as breathing. Most of the animations are not fast, but instead are very slow and calm. It is like looking into an aquarium, or like when you’re diving and looking at the fish as a spectator. So the focus is on creating something that will be nice to be with. Even when portraying wild animals, we don’t want to represent them as scary but instead as calm and pleasing. Most of the animations portray movement, where the GIFs are created in a loop of movement. For this process, we take the image, for example the head of the bear, and break it apart into different pieces, and then move these different pieces one by one.
Present in your collage works, there also seems to be little stories or narratives, so that upon closer inspection over time, one can see some particular things happening or maybe even expect some things to happen which were not necessarily visible at first glance.
Yes, the artworks are all created in loops. But within those loops of 1.5-2 minutes there exist even smaller loops. These are created purposefully so that the narrative of the work is constantly changing. We like to create small surprises in the artworks, so that every time you see the work you can see something different. Like the half moon in Shell City that jumps out and back into the coffee cup, or the butterfly in Vintage Tales II that flies and lands on top of the boat. Also, as you mentioned, there are little stories that we create firstly for ourselves, where the viewer needs to see the work a couple of times to notice these. For example, in Shell Flower, there is a turtle that is biting into a plant on top of the car. In general, we think about the movement that you see the first time that you see the work, whereas there are other elements that one would only see after a couple of times that one has seen the work.
Nico Tone, ShellAnimals, 2022
You mentioned that you would like viewers to take the time to see the artworks, or to live with them. What do you think of how we usually consume images which is really the opposite, fast-paced and ephemeral?
I think that because we are confronted daily with many images and videos that nothing really infiltrates us or touches us anymore. I believe that if you take the time and look at one artwork you will start feeling and sensing its power. This is what we try to achieve. We would like viewers to look at our works for a while, and not just a couple of seconds. I am in favor of technology, but I think that the subject matter that we choose to portray is usually more natural. We try to combine technology and nature for a long term relationship as opposed to a short one.
You don’t use much text in your compositions, is this done purposefully?
We feel that when you incorporate text in the works, it gives it a more radical feeling or meaning which we want to leave more open. We don’t want our viewers to relate an artwork to one culture or to one language, but instead wish for every viewer to have their own take and perception of the artwork.
Your artworks show many references to Art Historical collage practices such as those initiated by Cubist and Dadaist artists from the early Twentieth century. What do you see as the role of the digital artist in this lineage?
When we are presented with a new technology, we have a new opportunity to do new things. So that we are aware of the history, and what the artists did in the past, but now we can do those same things with different techniques and challenges. I don’t like to create political artworks. The use of technological advancements for me comes out in the small nuances, when we say that we can use technology but in a positive way. The collage method and the digital tools give us the opportunity to portray what we are trying to say. Taking elements from history and from different cultures and with that to advance towards something more positive and more colorful, and to show the similarities between these different cultures. I like the idea that when you put different and seemingly opposite things together in a collage, such as a polar bear next to a tiger, suddenly it can make sense to see these two elements presented side by side.
You present your artworks on very large screens, which are sometimes a couple of stories high. What do you need to consider, digitally, when your art is presented on such large scale?
On very large screens every detail is seen and scrutinized. Everything needs to be meticulous and have meaning. It is like putting all your imperfections out there, enlarged for the world to see. We have to simultaneously consider both the viewer looking at the collosal screen from very close, and one looking from far away. This does not happen on a normal size screen where a viewer must come relatively close to it. The short distance viewer will be very focused in a limited space inside the artwork and must gain value from that spot alone. He or she will see every detail in that limited scope. The viewer looking from afar will see the big picture. We aspire to convey the message or story of the artwork for both these types of viewers. From a technical standpoint, these colossal screens have very irregular formats and colors that we need to consider. We commonly need to make adjustments in the artworks to fit these unique screens. It is both scary and extremely satisfying to present our works on these huge screens.
An award-winning artist whose work is characterized by otherworldly narratives, Jonathan Monaghanintroduces in his animations, prints, and sculptures a critical view of our contemporary society that aims at consumerism and our growing dependence on digital technology. His work has been exhibited at the Sundance Film Festival and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and has also been acquired by numerous public and private art collections, including The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Washington, D.C. Art Bank Collection.
In a recent artcast,Revelations, we showcased a selection of artworks that combine the mundane and the supernatural, drawing inspiration from diverse sources such as depictions of mythological creatures in Middle-Age tapestries or the iconography of the Book of Revelations by St. John of Patmos. Monaghan’s exploration of otherworldly narratives continues in his two recently commissioned artworks, Panther Incensed I and II, which we are now presenting in a dedicated artcast.
In this interview, the artist discusses the themes that inspire his work and his views on the digital age, which contrary to what his stunningly beautiful animations may seem to convey, is deeply critical of what our technology-mediated society has become.
Jonathan Monaghan, Panther Incensed I, 2021
In many of your artworks, including Panther Incensed I and Panther Incensed II, we find Baroque architectural structures that are warped into technological beings. What is it about the combination of these two different motifs that interests you?
I work with baroque ostentation, because the digital age is decadent, in my opinion. It is an age very much about excess, and one that is pervaded by extreme wealth inequality. Also, in all of my work, there is a tension and discordance between natural and synthetic forms, which allows me to explore our uneasy relationship to technology. You can think of my work as therapy for an uncertain future because, like a dream, the imagery in my work embodies these fears and anxieties we have.
You incorporate mythological creatures in your works which are based on art historical references, such as the Unicorn, which is inspired by French medieval tapestries. In contrast, this same creature is frequently used as a pop culture reference, oblivious of its symbolism. What is your opinion on this popularization and vulgarization of mythological references, would you say it is part of the decadence you perceive in our consumer culture?
Traditionally, mythological stories have been born out of a desire to understand humans’ relationship to the wilderness and are deeply connected to the human psyche. Fantastical and otherworldly visions of mythical creatures sometimes offer the best channel to understanding the complexities of human nature and the inhabited world. Stories and symbols that are thousands of years old have indeed been appropriated by entertainment and commercialism, and their meanings have been lost. So my work asks today, in the midst of ecological crises and an often dehumanizing technological dependence: What would contemporary mythology look like? I rebuild these ancient symbols and stories for the digital age.
In your works there is frequently a narrative that is laid out in a series of scenes with no dialogues but with significant actions and transformations. How do you conceive of these narratives? What do you want to make explicit, and what do you leave for the viewer to imagine?
The narratives in my work are very loose and subjective, meant to evoke fears and anxieties surrounding authority, commercialism and technology. Because I work closely with the techniques and aesthetics of mass-media, my computer animations are sleek and refined, however the narratives are disjointed and ambiguous. With imagery drawn from science fiction, corporate logos, ancient mythology and baroque architecture, the works are at times jarringly absurd. Installed as continuous loops, with no definite beginning or end, my works allude to a disconcerting reality behind the seductive surfaces of technology and consumerism.
Jonathan Monaghan, Panther Incensed II, 2021
In your art practice there is always this fine balance between a dream-like world and a feeling of dystopia. How would you describe this contrast?
Like many artists, I want my work to reflect the tensions of our contemporary culture. Consumerism and technology co-depend, and utopia and dystopia co-exist in the digital age. So I confront my audience with an illusionistic, yet dehumanized world in which past and present merge into a dreamscape filled with opulent architectural décor and banal mass-produced items of today. At once fanciful and bleak, it portrays our consumerist culture in which technology takes over ecology.
There is often a reference to surveillance equipment and cameras in your work. How would you describe your interest in these intrusive apparatuses?
The worlds I portray in my video installations are devoid of human presence, yet these are not your typical post-apocalyptic landscapes. If there are human-like figures, like in Panther Incensed II, they are robotic or like a cyborg. More importantly, in my worlds, products may be on display, security cameras are ominously moving, and everything is sterile and corporatized. I envision this world as an alternate future where technology, the surveillance state, and consumer goods take on a life force of their own, replacing human presence.
Cristian Reynagais a curator of new media art based in Buenos Aires (Argentina). With a background in electronic arts and cultural industries, he has developed numerous curatorial projects in Argentina and Colombia and has led governmental initiatives focused on science, technology, and society, as well as commercial projects for brands such as Nike, Pepsi and Unilever. In 2015 he founded +CODE Cultura Digital, an independent cultural organization promoting an international festival on digital culture.
As part of a collaboration between Niio and +CODE, Reynaga has curated the artcast Post-Production, within the series +SUR, focusing on artists from Latin America. In this exclusive three-question interview, he draws a general picture of the digital art scene in Argentina.
1. How would you describe the digital art scene in Argentina?
The digital art scene in Argentina is located in what I would define as cultural periphery: it develops independently, not only facing the economic crises that already identify us as a country, but also the precariousness of cultural institutions in general, and specifically the lack of development of the digital art ecosystem: there are no cultural spaces, galleries, or specialized collectors and there is an absence of managers and public or private officials who are interested in reliably promoting artistic projects linked to digital culture.
However, talented artists have been dealing with this scene for decades, accustomed to creating without a budget, to experimenting with limited access to technologies and to the lack of spaces that encourage collaboration or the dynamization of the sector, which is necessary to stimulate the emergence of new artists and new projects. In addition to this great effort from the artistic sector, it is worth highlighting the sustained interest of research groups that have accompanied this diagnosis from different study centers.
The crypto art and marketplace boom has had a great impact on the artistic community: for many it has become the main source of income, for others it has meant the first experience of economic retribution for their artistic work in their entire lives, and for others, an acceleration in their artistic projection. Some of them have begun to be exhibited in international galleries and museums while in Argentina they’ve had no opportunities to enter the art scene. This has generated an asymmetry between trajectory and relevance that is very interesting to analyze: it reveals both the dynamics and paralysis of our particular art scene. It can be said that Argentina is, at the same time, scorched earth and also a very fertile soil with enormous talent that should be taken into account for the insertion of new modalities of creation or international collaboration.
Online distribution is creating new audiences with a specific interest in digital art and allows creators to project themselves as artists within a circuit that supports them.
2. Are there networks of collaboration between Latin American countries in the field of digital art?
There are collaborative networks, but they are informal and based on voluntarism, which is a word that has been a recurring theme in discussions over the last few decades as a vector that explains why regional communities of digital artists and alternative institutions or organizations have not disappeared. The desire to share experiences and sustain bonds of interest and professional affection continues to overcome the social context.
At the Latin American level, possible alliances fail to develop due to a lack of interest in sustaining them at the institutional level, both public and private. There are exceptions, such as the governments of Chile and Colombia, which, from their respective governmental organizations, have carried out internationalization actions in relation to digital culture, but which do not prosper due to the lack of collaboration from their peers in other countries, as is the case of Argentina. Our country does not respond in the same way to attempts at internationalization and collaboration. However, there are certain contributions from European countries (Spain, France and the United Kingdom) that manage to deploy certain initiatives but with little real impact, or at least little real impact on Argentinean soil. I believe that this is due to the lack of interlocutors capable of managing the Argentinean scenario.
3. The pandemic has led us to connect more to our screens. Do you think that online distribution has benefited Latin American artists?
Without a doubt it has given artists something basic and fundamental: interest in their production. The paralysis of the local and national scene, strengthened by decades of precarious actions, has become even more visible when compared to the new online markets: a growing number of platforms have appeared that favor circulation and provide artists with the opportunity to become part of global communities. Online distribution is creating new audiences with a specific interest in digital art and allows creators to project themselves as artists within a circuit that supports them.