Cruda Collective: mapping the untamed

Pau Waelder

This interview is part of a series dedicated to the artists whose works have been selected at the SMTH + Niio Open Call for Art Students. The jury been selected at the SMTH + Niio Open Call for Art Students. The jury members Valentina Peri, curator, Wolf Lieser, founder of DAM Projects/ DAM Museum, and Solimán López, new media artist, chose 5 artworks that are being displayed on more than 60 screens in public spaces, courtesy of Led&Go

The artist duo Cruda Collective, formed by Laila Saber Rodriguez (CAI-CDMX) and Andrea Galano Toro (CL, ES), creates ways of re-thinking established narratives and mindsets through what they describe as rewilding practices: “ to activate the wilderness, playfulness and the glitches within storytelling & mythology.” They approach the world, aesthetic, and language of magic to address the non-normative through playful action and critical thought. Their artistic practice mainly consists of audiovisual performances, videos, workshops, and spell-casting.

Cruda Collective. Re-Rooted, 2024

Your work deals with magic, hybridity, transformation, the non-normative, wild, unseen, and obscured. You address these fields of knowledge and existence through workshops, bestiaries, performances, and spells. How do you deal with the dichotomy between the untamed and the systems of order and rationalization behind analytical practices such as making a bestiary or a cartography, and the necessary application of rules and consistent methods in the elaboration of a workshop or a spell?

Andrea Galano: We are fascinated with the processes that have a certain order, because we’re very interested in transformation. We like to adopt processes such as those involved in cartography, or burial too, which have a certain method or ritual. We then switch the narrative, still within that particular method, to talk about transformation or spells: we appropriate certain structures or ways of ordering. It is useful when you’re talking of things that can be ungraspable.

Laila Saber: In order to apply a method, an order, or an analytical practice, we need to be involved and interact with that practice or method in order to break it and disrupt it. And we also consider how the incomprehensible or the disorganized, the disobedient as an archetype, or as a process is what can create new models and new systems of knowledge. We reference a lot the concept of “Body without Organs” by Deleuze and Guattari: how can the breaking down of the body, and the normal functions of the organs, address new maneuvers and new functions of the body? And then how can it produce new models of thinking?

Andrea Galano: Mappings, rituals, the functions of the body… These are things that create the world we live in. So if we transform them, then we are somehow creating other worlds.

It seems that we are always attracted to chaos and everything that is mysterious or hidden, but at the same time, we need structures to understand these “untamed” aspects of reality. How is the experience of people who are in your workshop, what are their expectations, and how do they react to the methods that you suggest to them?

AG: Sometimes we start with something that is very playful, not knowing yet what you’re going to do with what you’re making. And then later we ask them to think of a narrative with it. So rather than thinking of the concept, and then making something, sometimes we do it the other way around, just to see what happens. This is the method that tends to work best, first doing hands-on or embodied exercises, and later on asking participants about the narrative and perhaps bringing in theory. 

LS: I think most of our participants are from the art world: they are makers, or creatives, or artists and designers. So it becomes super interesting to propose to them to think with their hands and think with the body rather than with the rationale of having to produce a perfect product. By starting with this uncertainty and playfulness, we also ask them to defy the linear structures that makers are so conditioned to go follow. We actually just start all the workshops by saying: “Okay, today we die. Today everything is gonna die.” We start with death, and from death everything begins. We read really beautiful texts specially written by Gloria Anzaldúa on Coatlicue and Mesoamerican deities, which are all about transformation and rebirth.

“Mappings, rituals, the functions of the body… These are things that create the world we live in. So if we transform them, then we are somehow creating other worlds.”

Andrea Galano

Writer Alan Moore has said that magic was once “a science of everything,” and that “If magic were regarded as an art it would have culturally valid access to the infrascape, the endless immaterial territories that are ignored by and invisible to Science, that are to scientific reason inaccessible, and thus comprise magic’s most natural terrain.” Would you agree to this connection between magic and art? How do you see this idea from the context of your artistic practice?

AG: It is true that there’s a certain first reaction or expectation that we’re going to talk about, I don’t know, paganism. Which anyway, we find very interesting, but it’s not in the way we are approaching it. However, this is good because it creates this reaction of  “oh, but what is it gonna be about?” That is an interesting starting point. Also, for example, we always talk about knowledges, in plural. There are many ways of thinking that coexist, and have coexisted in the past, but perhaps were erased or they’re not part of the main Western narrative. So already thinking that there are other alternatives to this monolithic Western thinking, becomes very intriguing to the participants, and also to ourselves. We are very interested in different fields of knowledge, such as biology or ecology, and we find that some of the processes they study are very magical. For instance, the fact that something new can emerge out of two separate things that were put together, that feels like magic.

LS:  Something we’ve also been working on is how magic animates worlds and landscapes or elements. We imagine what it would be like to engage in a conversation with, for example, the ocean or the mountain. What can those bodies tell us about the world we live in? And how, within that conversation, another world can emerge? And I would say that magic is another word for speculation or imaginative thinking, engaging in a really beautiful and often confronting or disruptive way of thinking and acting. In this way, we can apply Magical Thinking to everything, not only science, but let’s say cooking, business, or politics. In all discourses there is the possibility of redirecting what is expected and opening new paths to creative thinking.

“Magic is another word for speculation or imaginative thinking, engaging in a really beautiful and often confronting or disruptive way of thinking and acting.”

Laila Saber

Similarly to how science has undervalued magic, as Alan Moore states, it has often dismissed art and artistic research. When you approach science, how is your connection to art and magic perceived? Have you had this discussion with scientists?

AG: There are many people from the sciences that are very inspiring to us, such as Karen Barad, who has a background in quantum physics. We do find references from science that resonate with us, and at the same time we’ve had workshops where some participants were scientists who found it very interesting for them to actually play and think of something that didn’t have to be real or measured.

LS: It’s in the symbiotic fusions between disciplines where we can find interesting models and new forms of seeing the world. I don’t think that, as artists alone, we can make those changes, and neither can biologists alone. We need to have conversations, and work together to open up these worlds, which are often isolated and self-referential. It also comes down to the language barrier: the way we speak, as artists, is very different from the language of science, and of course we need to find ways of understanding each other.

You take the concept of rewilding beyond the sphere of the natural sciences and the environment to encompass a rewilding of our inherited ideas and dogmas, particularly in relation to a society driven by Western colonialism and patriarchal structures. Can you elaborate on how your work addresses this expanded notion of rewilding?

LS: We like to think of rewilding as a practice of planting new seeds. Just as in an ecosystem or a rainforest, seeds travel and grow into plants, bushes, and trees, by communicating ideas we are planting something that ultimately will regenerate the terrain. These ideas mingle and all the new thoughts, disciplines, and discourses entangle within one another. In this way, rewilding is a portal into other possibilities of what there is, both in the natural world as in society and in our mindsets.

AG: The artist Johanna Hedva, who works a lot with witchcraft, once said: “It’s no coincidence that as capitalism began to take root, a regime of colonial exploitation started to run amok, de-enchanting the world. If the world is seen as a lifeless resource, it can be mined without compunction.” In this sense, rewilding is re-enchanting, not only in terms of ecology, as Hedva suggests, but also culturally and artistically, connecting with those cultures that celebrate the enchantment of the world and have been sidelined by post-colonial Western rationalism. In these cultures and in the concept of rewilding we find a more sustainable relationship with our planet

“Rewilding is a portal into other possibilities of what there is, both in the natural world as in society and in our mindsets.”

Laila Saber
Cruda Collective. SHAPESHIFTERS: Matters of Demons, Ghosts and Monsters, 2023

Your interest in beasts and shapeshifting brings to mind Donna Haraway’s concept of the Cthulhucene, with its tentacular, earth-bound, promiscuously hybrid forms as a response to the rational, human-centric view of the Anthropocene. How does your work relate to Haraway’s concept, and subsequently to our relationship to the environment?

AG: Haraway also talks about kinship with other species. We relate a lot to this idea: when we talk about bees or hybrids, there’s definitely this kinship with other beings. Also, in the spells we write or perform, we usually embody creatures that have other forms of communicating, such as bioluminescence, or the snake shedding its skin… 

LS: In terms of the Cthulhucene, we are also interested in the chthonic, which relates to what lies under the earth or soil. We’ve been recently researching on our last workshop about this, the underworld and the gestures and acts of burial. We have found inspiration in the book Underland by Robert Macfarlane, in which the author speaks about Anthropocene unburials: “Forces, objects and substances thought safely confined to the underworld are declaring themselves above ground with powerful consequences.” We are a species that buries, and also a species that digs, and in our exploitation of the Earth’s resources, what was buried comes back to the surface. 

Cruda Collective. Worldbuilding lecture. Media Arts Festival Arnhem, focus theater, Arnhem NL

Process and narrative can be said to be driving elements of your performances and workshops. How do these two concepts translate into your videos? How does the video, as an audiovisual narrative passively consumed by a spectator, connect to your other forms of knowledge transmission and active participation? What do you expect of the video as a medium?

AG: We’re very drawn to video because it has the capacity to build a particular world and, when it is combined with sound, it can create an immersive experience. We love storytelling, and we find in video a way to play with narratives and also a dissonance between what you see and what you hear. In our video pieces we aim to take the viewer through a certain journey, and also give them space to process their experience. 

LS: We often refer to our video artworks as portal openers. The term “video” sounds very limiting, so we try to use this medium to bridge different narratives and suggest new meanings, subvert expectations. We like to think about forms of nonlinear filmmaking, fluid filmmaking, a kind of storytelling that is sometimes slippery, that sometimes leaves you wondering what is going on. 

AG: Another aspect of video that attracts us is the possibility of working with different levels of perception, from images of the cosmos to those of a microscope. Also with audio, we can play with very different sources to create a hybrid of contents and meanings.

LS: Our practice is also evolving in this sense, we are increasingly interested in creating immersive experiences through audio visual performances where we have both visual and sound as we’re performing. We often describe our videos as “spells” because our performances and videos are actions of enchantment, and as a video piece, this action becomes a spell that is out there and can be activated by any viewer.

Cruda Collective. Re-Rooted. Displayed at CC Plenilunio (Madrid) as part of the SMTH + Niio Open Call. Photo: SMTH

Since your work addresses that which is outside of the normative and established, how do you see the possibility of taking it out of the exhibition space, the cultural institution, and into an everyday commercial space as is the case in this distributed screening project with SMTH and Niio?

AG: This is something new for us, and therefore it is also exciting. As we were saying earlier, playing a video can be like activating a spell, enchanting a place, so I’m curious to see if it resonates with the people in these spaces or not. In any case, it is occupying a space where it is not expected, and that is interesting in itself. I also think that it is important that the artworks do not only stay in the galleries or in spaces dedicated to art and presented to an art audience. 

LS: It feels magical to have this artifact existing in several spaces, having a presence in these commercial locations. In a way, it is like breaking a curse, maybe the colonial curse, the capitalist curse… It is about rewilding too, in this shopping mall in which it may not be seen or understood, but it will still be there, and possibly prompt questions, reflections, or experiences.

“Playing a video can be like activating a spell, enchanting a place, so I’m curious to see if it resonates with the people in these spaces or not.”

Andrea Galano

You are currently students at Bau and Elisava Design Schools in Barcelona. What is your experience of the educational models in these schools? How do your studies inform your artistic practice? What is your opinion about the current perception of artistic research as a field of knowledge creation?

AG: We come from different studies in the past, and now we are also in different studies in our respective schools. As for me at BAU, I’m doing a Master’s Degree in Audiovisual and Immersive Spaces. And I think I can only speak for my master rather than the school, but I’d say we’ve learned a lot about having a critical approach to the ways of making. I think that’s very interesting, because it’s not so much about the topic or the concept, but about the tools you use, such as open source software or making your own electronics. It is also a very collaborative environment. Being part of a community that is open to sharing knowledge is an eye opening experience that helps you get rid of the old-fashioned idea of the artist as the sole creator of their work. 

LS: I studied Fine Arts in the Netherlands, in a super good program, which involved a lot of theory, so we read Deleuze, Foucault, Haraway and many others as part of our studio practice, and I think that set the foundation for my ongoing studies at Elisava Design School in a Master’s Degree in Art Direction and New Narratives. I do feel that there’s a gap between making and keeping with a critical speculative practice that is really valuable in any artistic research. In that sense, it has also been interesting for me to be immersed in a space that is really focused on functionality and communication. I’d say that this has led me to be more receptive or more agile, so I can sense what it is exactly that I’m disrupting or trying to disrupt eventually. I also find it valuable that my classmates are from different nationalities, which brings an intersection of multiple cultures, that helps a lot in working with the concept of new narratives.

Cruda Collective. Re-Rooted. Displayed at Zaragoza Outlet as part of the SMTH + Niio Open Call. Photo: SMTH

ReRooted presents an interesting take on the patriarchal notion of masculinity from a wider perspective that connects with the notion of rewilding ideas and avoids traditional imagery about masculinity to suggest addressing this subject from the perspective of living beings and natural systems. It is also connected to a workshop activity. Can you elaborate on the context and intentions behind this audiovisual artwork?

AG: In this artwork it is important to mention our collaborator the writer Virginia Vigliar, who hosted a workshop titled ReRooted: an ecological approach to masculinity. It is in the context of this workshop and our conversations with Virginia that we decided to create this video. It takes elements from discussions we had with participants in the workshop, with some quotes making it into the video itself. It was challenging for us to decide which imagery to use, since we wanted to disrupt traditional views of masculinity.

“We need to reconceive masculinity as not being patriarchal per se, and explore those micro stories of masculinity that are hidden.”

Laila Saber

LS: We spoke a lot about how we are all affected by the patriarchal archetype of men and the patriarchy. Virginia’s approach in the workshop is to uproot myths in our stories surrounding masculinity, and rethink them. Actually, we came to say reboot it, because we need to reconceive masculinity as not being patriarchal per se. For the visuals, we decided to focus on microscopic imagery and then macroscopic images, from the cosmos. And in bridging those two, we were trying to reflect on how masculinity has its macro stories, which form a big corpus, but also micro stories that, perhaps, are hidden, and you can’t really see until you zoom into them.

Rolin Dai: escapism as connection in an ever-changing world

Pau Waelder

This interview is part of a series dedicated to the artists whose works have been selected at the SMTH + Niio Open Call for Art Students. The jury been selected at the SMTH + Niio Open Call for Art Students. The jury members Valentina Peri, curator, Wolf Lieser, founder of DAM Projects/ DAM Museum, and Solimán López, new media artist, chose 5 artworks that are being displayed on more than 60 screens in public spaces, courtesy of Led&Go

Rolin Dai is an artist deeply interested in exploring new narrative forms by means of 3D images, animations, and various types of time-based media. Born and raised in Shenzhen, China, she is currently studying Photography and Imaging at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her artistic work is characterized by an approach to storytelling that looks for positive messages and explores a variety of aesthetic influences ranging from Bauhaus rationalism and classic animation films to Y2K design. 

Rolin Yuxing Dai. Conform or Not, 2023

In “A fortuitous cosmic afterthought” you express an approach to storytelling that seems key in your work, which is to look for positive emotions and joyful ambiences even when facing difficult subjects. Can you elaborate on this choice and whether it defines a particular aesthetic in your digital art works?

In visual storytelling, I think there’s always an immense power in exploring positive emotions and moments of love and joy even within the context of challenging subjects since it helps to build a deeper connection in a world that often feels divided and tumultuous. Due to my personal preferences, most of my work is situated within a fantastical realm but its thematic essence remains firmly grounded in reality – I reckon that we can only reassess problems from an objective perspective when we step out of the conventional boundaries of space. Overall, I hope my artwork can be not only relatable but also offer an easygoing atmosphere that uplifts my audiences and serves as a catalyst for contemplation.

“Most of my work is situated within a fantastical realm but its thematic essence remains firmly grounded in reality.”

In terms of aesthetics, your work brings to mind fantastic realms such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, as depicted in the 1951 Walt Disney film, digital animations from the early 2000s, Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet, and Vaporwave. Can you tell me more about your influences and the role they play in your digital artworks?

Drawing from a fusion of both my personal experience and academic journey – from my fascination with Y2K style to the Bauhaus aesthetics taught in school – I have always been immersed in various artistic styles and consistently integrated them into my creative process. Thus, it’s hard to define the specific pattern among my works as it reflects a fluid amalgamation of all the influences. However, I realize that a recurring theme across them is the utilization of a vibrant color palette. Notably, I am drawn to the approach of artists like Schlemmer, who employed color not only for its visual appeal but also as a fundamental tool for spatial organization, and thematic expression in his theatrical productions. Consequently, I have combined aspects of his aesthetic into certain 3D works, driven by a desire to try out some new perspectives when combining the old elements with contemporary technology.

Rolin Yuxing Dai. Y2KIDS, 2024

Another subject that appears frequently in your work is escapism, that you connect on the one hand with vintage aesthetics (clothing, objects) and on the other with the need to stay within the comfort of home and let imagination go rather than confront the outside world. This is a common feeling that is facilitated by digital technologies. How do you address this subject?

I recognize my tendency towards escapism and nostalgia, as I believe in the value of reminiscence to remember who we used to be. Regarding the inspiration from the vintage, a significant portion of my artwork includes objects featured in the 2000s, years in my early childhood in which memories are all fragmented and blurred. I’m deeply influenced by the Y2K aesthetic and things that I like today always have a pinch of this aesthetic. Rather than a critique of the rapid pace of today’s information landscape, I view it as a homage to a collective memory or a yearning for a bygone era. Besides, I always find a feeling of peacefulness when wandering off into imaginative thoughts or fantasies since it serves as a repository of all my inner emotions. Thus, either through nostalgia or seeking comfort in familiar surroundings—what can be called escapism—it brings profound energy and meaning as these moments hold significance for me, offering a sense of connection and grounding in an ever-changing world.

“I’m deeply influenced by the Y2K aesthetic. Rather than a critique of the rapid pace of today’s information landscape, I view it as a homage to a collective memory or a yearning for a bygone era.”

Conform or Not?, the winning artwork in the SMTH + Niio Open Call, addresses both the escapism into a fantasy world and leaves open the question of being different or celebrating being part of the mass. Can you elaborate on the concept behind this artwork and its making?

As our life today is marked by hyper-individualism, the distinction between conformity and individualization has become increasingly pronounced, exemplified by the ability of an individual to influence widespread trends, attracting millions of followers, or one may deliberately seek to distinguish himself in a rapidly evolving social landscape. In this project, I don’t want to make a point that either the behavior is something good or bad but more in an open-ended way. Perhaps exploring the potential of conformity for fostering moments of simple happiness amidst shared experiences.

For the creating process, I tried with different 3D assets and built the virtual scenes in Maya. In the first part about the mushroom world, I was inspired by supporting actors in cartoons since conforming is a pretty common behavior among them which always contributes to a whimsical ambiance for the whole drama. Similarly, the portrayal of extraterrestrial life on a distant planet reflects a charming form of conformity amongst its inhabitants. The last scene features typing endeavors and I aim to capture the essence of a prevalent modern-day profession – programmers. Despite the demands, there’s a significant number of individuals dedicated to this field. Many of my acquaintances have pursued computer science because they used to believe a coding career has scope—not just today, but well into the future. Nevertheless, I intend to express that whether we choose to conform or assert our uniqueness, the paramount principle remains to stay true to our genuine selves. It is through this authenticity that we embody our true selves and cultivate meaningful connections with the world around us. After all, the world could be one that celebrates the one; the world could be one that celebrates the mass.

Rolin Yuxing Dai. Monodrama of a Buffon. Courtesy of the artist.

The SMTH + Niio Open Call brings you and four more artists the opportunity to have your work displayed on more than 60 screens in several shopping malls in Spain. What is your opinion about this kind of project, that aims to bring digital art closer to a wider audience in public spaces?

I think by presenting the digital work in a physical venue, it avoids the phenomenon of algorithmic audience segmentation because each viewer can experience a first-hand engagement. It will establish a deeper connection with the audience that differs from other digital engagements via handheld electronic devices. Given the thematic focus of my work on human dynamics, the audience somehow plays a role akin to the characters in the piece as the work serves as a backdrop for them. Besides, when our artwork is placed in diverse locations and spaces, additional layers of significance might emerge from it, enriching the overall meaning. 

Rolin Dai’s Conform or Not displayed at Max Center (Bilbao) as part of the SMTH x Niio open call. Photo: SMTH.

“Presenting the digital work in a physical venue avoids the phenomenon of algorithmic audience segmentation because each viewer can experience a first-hand engagement.”

You are currently majoring in Photography & Imaging at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. What has the school brought to your artistic practice? Which opportunities can be created from this and other similar institutions for emerging artists?

During my time in school, in addition to mastering photographic techniques, we were encouraged to experiment with emerging technology to produce innovative artwork. From a technical standpoint, I was trained a lot related to the field of post-photography such as 3D modeling, animating, and scanning through the use of a variety of software. I also found the cross-disciplinary setting of our program especially beneficial for me as it allows me to delve into diverse subjects extending beyond visual arts, including liberal arts and science. This comprehensive approach allowed me to draw inspiration from other fields, thereby enriching my creative process and the development of ideas.

“I found the cross-disciplinary setting of our program at NYU Tisch especially beneficial for me as it allows me to delve into diverse subjects extending beyond visual arts, including liberal arts and science.”

In your photography and video work, there is a marked interest in people, relationships and being different. You address these subjects with care and sensitivity, can you tell me more about your approach to photography and video as a means to tell these stories, as distinct mediums, and also in connection with your work with digital technologies?

In my approach to creating photography and video content, I find myself more of an observer role rather than that of a creator, especially when compared to my work in 3D art as those traditional mediums often involve a closer and more immediate interaction with my subjects, either through verbal communication or eye contact. Regarding its connection with my digital artwork, I usually try to apply my photographs as references for my 3D creations. I also feel that certain visual narratives are better conveyed through non-traditional mediums, prompting me to explore new ways to expand the possibilities of storytelling. 

Rolin Dai’s Conform or Not displayed at Fan Mallorca as part of the SMTH x Niio open call. Photo: SMTH.

Disordinary Beauty, a work in progress (part 4)

Domenico Barra and Pau Waelder

DISØRDINARY BƏAUTY is an ongoing art project by Domenico Barra that explores ugliness through glitch art. The project has been developed as a series of NFTs, with a new phase taking place on Niio as a work in progress, in which the artist will periodically upload new artworks and accompanying documentation. Here in the Editorial section, we are publishing email exchanges bringing light into Domenico’s creative process and the ideas and influences behind this project.

Follow Domenico Barra’s work in progress on your screen in DISØRDINARY BƏAUTY: art canon

Fourth ɛʍǟɨʟ exchange

from: Pau Waelder
to: Domenico Barra
date: Feb 8, 2024, 8:48 PM
subject: Re: Disordinary Beauty #04-05 on Niio

Hi, Domenico!

It’s been a year since we started this collaboration and I am deeply thankful for your unwavering commitment to creating new artworks and your generosity in sharing them in this series on Niio.

So, let me get to the questions! (in attachment) I explored your blog and found a treasure trove of content there.

Please let me know if anything is not clear, I know the questions are a bit long, so please bear with me 🙂

Best wishes,


from: Domenico Barra 
to: Pau Waelder 
date: Feb 12, 2024, 11:14 AM
subject: Re: Disordinary Beauty #04-05 on Niio

Hola Pau, qué tal?

Thank you so much for finding the time to read my blog and prepare these questions.

Taking part in the Art cast series for Niio has been essential, it is allowing me to expand my DB🥀🪞 project and explore more the aesthetic of portraits and the [thorn] sense of beauty, learning about artists of the past, new stories, and also test new video codecs. I have a long list to try, my FFmpeg is on fire. I must say that I hope one day to see some of these works exhibited in a gallery, maybe, who knows. I am also looking forward to adding audio, the next video will have audio.

I hope you will find my answers to your questions interesting, and thank you so much for this opportunity. It’s an honour and pleasure to share my thoughts and stories with you. Great respect for that. 



Domenico Barra. DB a̶r̶t̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶o̶n̶ | a̶f̶t̶e̶r̶_̶g̶e̶m̶i̶t̶o̶, 2023

Let’s start with the portrait of Vincenzo Gemito. I didn’t know about this artist and became fascinated after reading your blog post. This is the second self-portrait in the series, after the one by Carl Joseph Begas, and it is a very different kind of work: a very intimate and mesmerizing depiction of the “scultore pazzo” which makes me think about the internal struggles that all artists go through and the possible connection between madness and glitch, as both diverge from the expected, the system that works and is stable. I wonder why you chose this portrait, did you want to explore these connections? Maybe some self-introspection of your artist persona?

My journey into the realm of art began at a pivotal moment in my life. Back in the day, I had recently embarked on a new chapter by moving to England, mostly motivated by the necessity to face my inner demons, seeking to discover my true self. At the cusp of turning 20 years old, it was my first experience living independently as a foreigner abroad. I needed to overcome my insecurity, anxiousness, and restlessness, I needed to find some peace of mind. Amidst this transition, art emerged as my guiding light, offering a profound avenue for exploring my fragilities and grappling with the myriad challenges I encountered. 

It was during those years that I found out and finally started to face my OCD and experimenting ways to hack it and keep those intrusive thoughts under control, something that finally I managed to do brilliantly. Reverse engineering my brain was one hell of a trip. 

But it all started well before that. The human mind glitches I encountered along the way are quite few. Living alongside my two autistic cousins from a young age exposed me to the diversity of human experience and instilled in me a fondness for the atypical. This early exposure to altered states of the human consciousness also fostered a curiosity within me, driving me to delve deeper into the complexities of human nature. 

“The disability is in the society as a whole, and not the individuals, everyone is a single story.”

Through art, I found solace in embracing the vulnerabilities that define us, recognizing that true understanding stems from empathizing with the struggles of others who are conditioned by a society that is not able to allow everyone to be who they are based on their particular condition. The disability is in the society as a whole, and not the individuals, everyone is a single story. By this I mean that if a society doesn’t manage to be inclusive, enabling people to have a peaceful life, adapting to peculiar necessities, then it is the society having issues and not the people in need of certain conditions to have a decent life.   

My interest in the human psyche was further fueled by encounters with institutions like the old Psychiatric Hospital Leonardo Bianchi in Napoli during the projection of a documentary that was telling the stories happening behind those walls. I walked by this place everyday and that always tickled my curiosity and imagination. Witnessing the resilience and humanity amidst conditions often stigmatized by society reshaped my perception of madness and reinforced my commitment to amplifying the voices of the vulnerable whenever I had the chance to tell their stories. 

The attention towards the reality of a psychiatric hospital became even stronger once I had the chance to visit the dismissed forensic psychiatric hospital S. Eframo in Napoli. It had been redeveloped by a group of activists that now operate part of this building to support minorities and marginalized people offering various social services such as medical assistance, language schools for asylum seekers, entertainment and politics. I remember walking through the corridors and reaching the rooms where the psychiatric inmates were kept and assisted, probably one of the strongest experiences ever in my life. I spent hours reading the messages they left on the walls, it gave me goosebumps. 

“Witnessing the resilience and humanity amidst conditions often stigmatized by society reshaped my perception of madness and reinforced my commitment to amplifying the voices of the vulnerable.”

In the pursuit of authentic artistic practices and driven by inclusivity, I drew inspiration from The Surrealist Manifesto by André Breton, a book I treasure with admiration. It influenced me to the point that I felt the urge to celebrate the wild and untamed manifestations of creativity, probably somehow with the intention to give space to my disorder and exploit its tendency for the absurd. Living in a shared house with friends akin to the surrealists’ ethos, where freedom of expression reigned supreme, opened my eyes to the transformative power of art in fostering connections and dismantling conventions. At the time we were also hugely influenced by a successful series titled The Mighty Boosh and its unusual storytelling. This was an incredible experience because I learnt the empowering potential of art for self expression and self awareness. 

When selecting Vincenzo Gemito for my series on Niio, I was drawn to his tumultuous past and relentless pursuit of perfection—a stark contrast to my own embrace of imperfection, but also being aware of Gemito’s background and surroundings as I walked these same streets of Napoli in my own boots too, I was also shaped by its conflicts and culture. We are both artists, neapolitans. I have known his work for a long time, since I’ve seen it many times at the Museo di Capodimonte, a place we had previously had a chance to talk about, and it felt natural to relate to him and his condition as artist and human.  

Through glitch art, I find a means of decoding the complexities of life, using glitches as metaphors for the fragility and disordinary beauty inherent in the human experience. More personal experiences, such as witnessing the ravages of Alzheimer’s and dementia in people very close to me, have profoundly influenced my artistic journey, imbuing my creations with a sense of empathy and introspection. In essence, my artistic odyssey is a testament to the transformative power of creativity in navigating life’s complexities and embracing the inherent imperfections that define us. 

“Through glitch art, I find a means of decoding the complexities of life, using glitches as metaphors for the fragility and disordinary beauty inherent in the human experience.”

Through glitch art, I seek to illuminate the beauty found within life’s and society’s glitches and celebrate the diversity of human existence. In the first series that gave birth to the DIS/verse projects, DISØRDINARY BƏAUTY | ⚡ BÆUTY IZ CH∆ØZ ⚡ , those hauntingly beautiful generative glitch art portraits are unknown lost souls in the short circuits of society, of life. A reminder that many people stay invisible, unrecognizable, and unknown because society isn’t inclusive at all.

The DIS/verse projects include: Noise Source, Ecstasy of Creation, Witness of Madness, The Beautiful Minds and D.B. | Beauty is Chaos

Gemito’s stare in this self-portrait is so powerful and it resists all distorsions and remains as a haunting presence. How was it “breaking” this image? Did it resist the glitches? Would you say you succeeded?

It was definitely a bit of a challenge to choose the right portrait from Gemito’s extensive body of self-portrait works. Ultimately, I settled on this particular one that I felt captured the essence of what I wanted to convey through my glitch art version. The decision to focus on this specific portrait was influenced by several factors. Firstly, its composition lent itself well to the format I needed considering the constraints of adapting it to fit a screen, allowing me to center it effectively within the frame was an important feature. Gemito’s posture, with his bending and leaning forward, added a dynamic element that I found intriguing and visually engaging. Moreover, the intensity of Gemito’s stare in this portrait struck me as particularly powerful. I wanted to capture and amplify this sense of tension and vulnerability in the final glitched rendition. To achieve this, I deliberately chose codecs known for their ability to heavily distort and break images, pushing the boundaries of visual disruption to create a thunderous effect. In addition to utilizing these codecs, I also employed a generative glitch script to further enhance the explosiveness of the sentiment and of the final composition. 

Despite the chaotic nature of the glitches, I wanted Gemito’s presence to remain palpable and unwavering amidst the pixelated turmoil. His greatness, I believe, transcends the distortions and disruptions, serving as a testament to the enduring legacy. The resulting artwork stands as a visual manifestation of his unstable journey, a poignant reminder of the enduring power of artistic expression and vulnerability of the human mind, so great and so fragile. 

Domenico Barra. DB a̶r̶t̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶o̶n̶ | a̶f̶t̶e̶r̶_̶v̶i̶g̶é̶e̶_̶l̶e̶_b̶r̶u̶n, 2023

The fifth artwork in this series is dedicated to a portrait by the celebrated painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, who is also the first female artist in the Disordinary Beauty project. The portrait you chose is quite special, because it is a commission that Vigée Le Brun had trouble finishing due to the “extreme ugliness” of the sitter, Princess Maria Luisa di Borbone. It is a captivating story in the context of a work exploring beauty and ugliness through glitch art. What drew your attention to this portrait? Since the canons of beauty have particularly been imposed on women, what do you make of this depiction of a woman despised for her apparent lack of beauty made by a woman artist who put her talent into applying a “beauty filter” to her portrait?

Initially, I must admit, I found this story rather amusing. The idea that even a figure as powerful as a queen could be subject to mockery and ridicule due to her physical appearance struck me as both intriguing and somewhat ironic. It highlighted the harsh reality that ugliness is not forgiven – regardless of one’s status or privilege, it can still be used as a tool for discrimination and derision, especially if you are a royal and your status is close to the divine, and beauty is strongly related to the divine. 

I couldn’t help but wonder if Maria Luisa’s royal status played a role in how her appearance was perceived and depicted. Historically, powerful figures often sought to be portrayed not as they truly were, but rather in a way that projected an idealized image of themselves. This was particularly prevalent among royals, where marriages within the same bloodline often led to genetic conditions and physical imperfections, I believe artists were often invited to leave these possible particulars out.

“The idea that even a figure as powerful as a queen could be subject to mockery and ridicule due to her physical appearance struck me as both intriguing and somewhat ironic.”

I presume that for both the subject and the artist, there was a vested interest in creating an image that aligned with societal standards of beauty, and if not perfection at least tradition. This becomes especially significant when considering the vulnerability of women in a male-dominated society, where power and talent are often associated with the male sex, a portrait was also a symbol of power and wealth, it had to be good for the royal and the artist, of course, wanted her work to be at least in her standard, I guess.

While ugliness has long been a theme in art, typically associated with depicting societal outcasts and villains, this artwork challenges conventional beauty standards in a contemporary context. It addresses at some level the use of synthetic solutions, like the ongoing issue of ugliness being stigmatized and filtered out of society even if often resulting in an exaggerated, grotesque version of beauty that becomes rather ugly, I am thinking at some selfie beauty filters, and plastic surgery that most of the time are big time failures.

Of all the pieces I’ve created for DISØRDINARY BƏAUTY | a̶r̶t̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶o̶n̶s̶, I believe this one stands out as the most thought-provoking. It serves as a reflection of society’s obsession with masking imperfections and the consequences of striving for a manufactured version of beauty, and I am not talking just about beauty in the context of beauty, imperfections are filtered out from all sort of images that need to convey an aura of superiority, because that ugly detail can easily be seen as a weakness and the appreciation of artists often relies in their ability to make someone “ugly” look more majestic, beautiful, divine. While I am here writing, I just received an email from a photo editor offering me his service to correct the imperfections present on the headshots published on my Instagram because he could with his editing magic make those portrait photos look more beautiful. That’s a very ironic coincidence. 

Finally, it feels necessary to mention a parallel research that you are carrying out using AI tools,  “THƏ L∆B ØF ∆NØM∆LIƏS.” Here you produce much more unsettling images, which your followers can find on Instagram. Which parallels and differences would you draw between “traditional” glitch and this “AI-powered glitch” of beauty in the creation of machine-assisted ugliness?

The DIS/verse project has been an ongoing journey, constantly expanding as I delve deeper into the ever-growing sphere of aesthetics, particularly as new media technologies become increasingly integrated into our daily lives. My initial foray into AI experimentation began several years ago with StyleGAN, where I was intrigued by the potential of AI to infuse new layers of meaning into artistic works and the actual practice of art and what is means to be an artist in the age of “intelligent” machines. Can artistic intelligence and artificial intelligence create something that is more puzzling and arousing than what we have seen so far in art?

However, as I delved further into AI-influenced artistry, I couldn’t help but notice the inherent limitations that often arise when we become entangled in the very media we seek to explore. It’s a delicate balance between harnessing the potential of AI as a creative tool and avoiding the trap of allowing the medium to dictate the outcomes.

“By deliberately misusing AI tools, I aimed to create images that defy conventional expectations and provoke a deeper engagement with the uncanny.”

My motivation has always been to push the boundaries of what is possible with AI, to transcend the standard modes of use and challenge both myself and the audience to the unexpected. This parallels my approach to glitch art, where the exploration of the unexpected is paramount. I want to put the machine in the condition to generate something where I can lose, or have little, control on it. In most cases of databending I select the glitches I believe are the most interesting, the same happens with the present text-to-image/video apps. I select the images that I believe have some intriguing features. Sometimes it feels like pulling the bar at a slot machine hoping to strike a winning jackpot.

This series titled DISØRDINARY BƏAUTY |THƏ L∆B ØF ∆NØM∆LIƏS”, specifically designed for Instagram, was born out of curiosity and a desire to explore how AI could reinterpret my glitch art works part of DISØRDINARY BƏAUTY | ⚡ BÆUTY IZ CH∆ØZ ⚡ . It all began with a simple question: What would my glitch art look like if created by AI? This curiosity was sparked when I stumbled upon one of my works in an AI dataset used for training models, prompting me to explore further.

Using an AI app called Starry.AI powered by Stable Diffusion, I experimented with crafting prompts to generate images inspired by my disordinary glitch art. With each attempt, I sought to evoke novelty, complexity, and ambiguity – qualities that I believe are essential to true aesthetic arousal, as described by psychologist D. E. Berlyne, an approach that has also inspired Dr. Ahmed Elgammal for his strategy to develop artistic AI models at Rutgers University, a methodology described by Marcus du Sautoy in his book The Creativity Code.

I gradually and intentionally crafted prompts that veered away from the mainstream pursuit of beauty, as most of the AI images online aim at creating images that are luminous, soft, polished, shining, unless candy-coated weirdness, instead I preferred embracing imperfection and ugliness as a counter-narrative to the prevailing aesthetic norms spreading online. I wanted my AI portraits to be raw, rough, cruel, and oddly more realistic somehow than extreme standardized beauty. This exploration also highlighted the biases inherent within AI systems, particularly regarding representations of gender, race, and disability. Tendentially text-to-image apps works well with standard words that mostly recall beauty, harmony, peace, but do start to struggle with words that are a little more offgrid like “disfigured”, “deformed”, “disable”, “arab”, “asian”, “albino”, “autistic”, and so on.  

Domenico Barra. Artwork from the series THƏ L∆B ØF ∆NØM∆LIƏS, 2023

By challenging these biases and deliberately misusing AI tools, I aimed to create images that defy conventional expectations and provoke a deeper engagement with the uncanny. It’s about exploring the limit within the AI system itself while misusing the standard of prompts, pushing its boundaries to generate something truly unexpected and thought-provoking. I also didn’t want to produce AI images that looked glitchy. In a conversation with other glitch artists we all agreed that probably a glitch in these AI apps won’t look like the glitches we are used to. But probably it had to do with something unexpected. This is why I I like to go against the tide. This is why I focused on the prompts, crafting either over complicated prompts, using words that often even get blocked by the AI systems, or using L33T SP34K. Doing the wrong thing the right way. Approaching AI with a glitch mentality. Thinking of prompting as a sort of databending.   

“I didn’t want to produce AI images that looked glitchy. This is why I focused on the prompts, using words that often even get blocked by the AI systems, or using L33T SP34K. Approaching AI with a glitch mentality. Thinking of prompting as a sort of databending.” 

In essence, my goal is to embrace the imperfections and anomalies within both glitch art and AI, blurring the lines between human creativity and machine capacity to create a truly unique and unusual, and eventually disturbing and unsettling, maybe annoying, artistic experience online in the context of a social media, Instagram, that is the temple of staged perfection. Imagine scrolling Instagram feed, or even the page for the hashtag “beauty”, or “pretty” and you come across one of these images. I think this is also a glitch practice, alter the experience of a steady numbing scroll infecting the flow with something that is completely the opposite of what people are comfortably ready to expect. The image itself becomes a glitch on the system of the photo grid and the system of the content experience on Instagram.  

Ronen Tanchum: reality interpreted

Pau Waelder

A contemporary artist, developer and an interaction designer, Ronen Tanchum has developed a body of work that explores the representation of natural phenomena and our perception of reality as it is mediated by the entertainment industry and digital media. At a time in which the attention economy fosters a visual culture based on spectacularity and evasion to fantasy worlds, his work draws attention to how digital technologies, from 3D modeling to machine learning, reshape our perception of the world around us.

In his long-time collaboration with Niio, Tanchum has presented numerous artworks that we are now gradually collecting in a series of solo artcasts, offering a glimpse into the many facets of his artistic practice. In this interview we dive a little deeper into the main subjects of his work.

Ronen Tanchum. Particle Forest, 2022

Your work is characterized by an interest in nature and natural phenomena, particularly the behavior of fluids. This is obviously related to your work in the film industry, but if you look at it from the perspective of your artistic research, what does nature as a subject and fluid mechanics as a tool bring to your art practice?

Yes, this is the DNA of my artworks and what they convey. Ever since I learned computer graphics for the first time and had access to 3D software, some 20 years ago –when I was 16– I was trying to learn the software and to make the computer create something that is believable. This notion always brought me back to study the real world. So, I had to carefully observe the world around me, from the little imperfections of a corner of wall that needs to be reproduced synthetically, to complex natural behaviors that need to be recreated digitally in order to create realistic content. This required a lot of work, but additionally it was not only about making the recreation realistic, but rather a hyperreal, exaggerated reality that made the content visually attractive and engaging. 

“Instead of starting with nothing (a blank canvas) and adding on to it, I start with a lot of chaotic data and I shape it little by little, tweaking the algorithms, refining, and testing again and again until I reach a result that I’m satisfied with.”

During my whole career as a specialist in 3D technologies and simulations I had to recreate a lot of natural effects synthetically, so that they are used in key moments of Hollywood films, where reality is presented as a spectacle. For instance, an effect of clouds covering the sky and then dissipating, that has a narrative role in the film, so it has to be created in a way that looks as realistic as possible while also supporting the narrative. I worked with many natural phenomena, like waterfalls and tornadoes to rain, snowfall, and fire, and I found that the possibility of reproducing these phenomena synthetically within the machine was fascinating. So I continued to explore these technologies while also playing with the boundaries of what is real and what is not, and the way that natural forces and elements behave. Exploring these techniques led me to a deep understanding of the human role in the synthetic reproduction of nature, and how we do not simply reproduce what we observe, but we interpret it. We play with it, we make it more expressive, we manipulate the behavior of the elements, time, and natural forces to give a dramatic quality and visual appeal to something as mundane as a splash of water from a bucket on the floor. 

So my artistic practice has focused on exploring the creative possibilities of reproducing natural elements and landscapes, flora and vegetation synthetically through different technologies,  programming languages, and mediums. Using computer algorithms to create these simulations of nature is quite a challenge in itself, because instead of starting with nothing (a blank canvas) and adding on to it, I start with a lot of chaotic data and I shape it little by little, tweaking the algorithms, refining, and testing again and again until I reach a result that I’m satisfied with. I find this practice very challenging and encapsulating in ways that I could never do with a pen, paper, and ink, or with a canvas, a brush, and paint. I design systems that have a life of their own once the program starts running, so there is also a sense of creating a situation with a certain degree of control, and also letting go.

Ronen Tanchum. FEELS I, 2021

You have mentioned how the depiction of reality in films leads to spectacularity, and that is also something we frequently find nowadays in digital art, with large installations and projections in public spaces, that lead to equating digital art with a visual spectacle. As an artist, how do you see this expectation of digital art being eye-catching?

That’s an interesting question. Certainly, spectacularity is a tool to tell your story and convey or emote feelings. I do believe that art needs to be felt more than understood, and I also see that the spectacular aspect of digital art is there by choice. As a medium that is relatively new and exciting to a large audience, digital art is often perceived in this way, as something that catches your attention, and for artists that is a powerful tool to have in their hands. So, I understand the pull, both for artists and the audience, to expect spectacularity from digital art, but I also don’t feel that this is a necessity. Digital art doesn’t always have to cause a strong visual impact or be displayed in large LED screens. Of course, screens are its habitat, it is where digital art is meant to be experienced. We’re moving into a new age where art is no longer only on canvases, or sculptures, but on different mediums, and also everywhere. The screen is often understood as a digital canvas, but that is only the beginning, there will be many more ways to experience art digitally. 

In my practice, I would say that it is not so much about making art that draws attention, but using the medium in interesting ways. Exploring the possibilities of software, of generative algorithms, 3D modeling, artificial neural networks and so on, to question our reality and our experience of nature is what feels interesting to me.

“Certainly, spectacularity is a tool to tell your story and convey or emote feelings. But digital art doesn’t always have to cause a strong visual impact or be displayed in large LED screens.”

Another aspect that you’ve mentioned is the idea of control. You sometimes work with software that lets you control every element, every detail and behavior. But you also work with generative algorithms and machine learning programs, with which there is more of a “dialogue.” How do you balance your creative authorship with the outputs of these autonomous systems?

A lot of my practices are procedural and generative in nature. So even when I want to create a specific thing and aim for a certain output, I test a lot of methods to get there, naturally. I’ve been building systems and algorithms before releasing them as long format and as something with the aspect of randomness in them before, and I often work with JavaScript, and GLSL, to create long format, generative art, which is not AI. It is a way to release control and let go, so it’s interesting, because at first, I start building towards something and then I find myself thinking about variations of that original intention. To give you an example: a random function gives you a different number every time and then you can use that number to perform visual modifications on the artwork. So, for instance, every time some element appears, it can have a different color or a different size or a different shape. And then I use these somewhat random functions in order to create the output. But this output that you’re looking at lives in a spectrum of outputs: every time that you iterate on the algorithm, there will be a different output. How different that new output can be, of course, depends on the degree of so-called “randomness” you give to the system. So, if I want to get a certain degree of control over this spectrum of outputs, I must limit the amount of unexpected results that might come out of it.

“Generative art on the blockchain is a match made in heaven because here the algorithm is not only producing an endless amount of random outputs, it is creating a series of artworks that people can own and say «okay, this one belongs to me.»” 

I particularly like this method of working, to experience and be surprised by the interaction with the machine. Working with algorithms gives me an opportunity to do something that is not necessarily static. It could be dynamic, or it could be influenced by something and become interactive, or it could be a data sculpture, using real time data, or a data set that you train, and then play with. This is a really powerful tool: generative art and algorithmic art on the blockchain is a match made in heaven because here the algorithm is not only producing an endless amount of random outputs, it is creating a series of artworks that people can own and say “okay, this one belongs to me.” And that  is really interesting because the outputs become unique, but also part of a series, and the owners of these artworks become part of a community. This generates some very interesting dynamics between the pieces of a collection and the owners of those pieces.

Ronen Tanchum and Ori Ben-Shabat / Phenomena Labs. Rococo, 2023

Continuing with the subject of generative art on blockchain, can you tell us about your experience with the series Rococo? How was the response to these artworks?

Rococo is a project Ori Ben-Shabat and I developed together. It is an exploration of how we can reproduce synthetically digital paintings that represent flowers. Flowers, as you know, can come in many shapes and colors, for instance with six or fifteen petals, and that gives us a lot of possibilities, in the form of functions and numbers for the algorithm. Working with the algorithm we created a type of flower that we liked, and then duplicated it a number of times, introducing variations in the number of flowers, petals, and colors. The code itself describes a bunch of spheres that move in space, and while doing so they draw and create the final painting that you see. It is a similar approach to that of a painter who would choose a brush, and a bit of paint, and then perform a series of movements spreading the paint on a canvas with the brush in order to create the image, the gestures of his hand determining the particular shape of the flowers and a certain style of depiction. 

The response was very good. As you know, when you present generative art on an NFT marketplace, you put the code of the system that creates the artwork on the blockchain, then people can explore what the algorithm does prior to minting. Usually, they can explore and see the spectrum of outputs that the algorithm creates, and then they decide if they want to buy it or not. But they actually don’t know exactly which composition they will obtain, which is in a way the opposite of buying a painting. This process becomes very engaging and very surprising and personal, both to the artist and to the collector. It introduces the element of luck and chance into collecting artwork, which is an interesting way to release art. And it also creates a dynamic within the collection: some will be worth more than others, just because more people like them. This is really interesting, and it could be explored endlessly. So for instance, you can have an algorithm that creates an infinite number of outputs, but then only X amount of them are locked to the blockchain, and only those are what collectors can own. 

Your work easily transitions between photorealistic 3D animations, abstract compositions, and what could be described as digital painting: artworks that explore painting as a compositional and stylistic reference using digital tools. Which of these approaches is more interesting? Which is more challenging?

What interests me is to work with the edges, to play with all of them and transition between them. I am very influenced by both traditional art and contemporary art. So in projects such as Rococo, a major goal was to find a way to use code while simulating something as materially specific and expressive as a brushstroke. This could have very well become a generator of perfectly identifiable, realistic, 3D looking flowers, but with Ori we decided that it was much more interesting to explore what the act of painting looks like and find out how to evoke the level of expression and abstraction that a painter achieves applying painting on a canvas, but using computer software.

Ronen Tanchum. The Expressionists ~ Couple #2, 2020

You have mentioned your collaboration with Ori Ben-Shabat, with whom you work at Phenomena Labs, a studio that creates immersive art experiences. How does the work at Phenomena Labs differ from your individual work as an artist?

I founded Phenomena Labs almost 10 years ago with a mindset of collaborating: on the one hand, to develop a collaborative approach to creating with my friends and on the other hand, to collaborate with clients and art collectors in commissioned work. Basically, anything that I do collaboratively takes place in the context of the studio and is presented under Phenomena Labs as a brand and identity. Ori and I frequently work with other artists, designers, and architects to create immersive installations and generative art. This work is generally addressed at public spaces and large audiences.

Phenomena Labs. Moments in Time, 2023. Jönköping (Sweden)

Moments in Time is a fascinating project from Phenomena Labs that connects an architectural space with its environment through real time data animations, in which we see several recurring elements in your work. Can you tell us more about this project and the possibilities of creating art with real time environmental data?

This is a unique project we’ve worked on throughout 2023. The objective was to create a mirror for the vibrant community that is about to inhabit a building in Jönköping (Sweden). We were approached by our client and the architects and we thought about a piece that is alive, and is inspiring the startup community allocated in that building. On a large screen in the lobby, the artwork displays a series of chapters, different compositions that use data in real time. We chose to use a few different metrics and data points for different visual chapters of the piece. Each data point refers to an aspect of the building and its surroundings, as well as the people inside, in order to visualize how the environment and the human activity in the building can change and evolve over time. We used motion sensing to create visual trails from the movement of people in the lobby, and turned it into a paint brush effect where people apply brush strokes on a digital canvas by walking through the lobby, thus creating a visual composition in real time. Then we used weather information to apply wind turbulence on a set of particles displayed on the screen. And we also introduced real time energy data from the building to create a virtual waterfall that becomes a sort of data visualization of all the energy that is being consumed in the building every day. It was really interesting to see that, for instance, the waterfall flows faster and has a higher volume of water when there’s people in the building, and when they go home, it settles and slows down.

Phenomena Labs. Still from a chapter of Moments in Time, 2023. Jönköping (Sweden)

You state that your work is about trying to connect humans and machines, and reflecting on our dependence on technology. Recently, the launch of Apple’s Vision Pro was greeted by enthusiastic customers who gave the world a glimpse of what is to come: more dependency on our devices, that increasingly shape how we perceive reality. As an artist and professional creator of fantastic digital realities, how do you see this relationship evolving in the future?

The launch of products like Apple’s Vision Pro remind me that in our relationship with technology, there is a constant tension between what we are familiar with and what level of innovation we are ready to adopt. This tension oscillates in cycles, so that when something pushes too much into the unknown or becomes uncertain, such as this possibility of really isolating oneself from the world, then there is a backlash. At this point, people long to go back to a simpler relationship with the environment, and instead of adding more layers of digital content to their surroundings, reconnect with nature, or at least with a calming and comforting view of nature. Finding a balance between the two and making the digital environment more familiar is a challenge that may take more than a generation. 

“For me, the question is how to embrace the better aspects of digital technologies without letting them alienate us from the real world or shape our perception of the environment.”

For me, the question is how to embrace the better aspects of digital technologies without letting them –or those who market them– alienate us from the real world or shape our perception of the environment. In this sense, I intend to explore real time data in my work to let people understand and appreciate the world around them, and at the same time visualize the systems and networks that provide that data. It is important to understand that we live surrounded by systems (natural, legal, informational) that we have to think in terms of the environment and our interactions with others and with these systems. Often disruptive technologies are created thinking only in short-term solutions and specific goals that do not consider the world they will have an impact on. But there will always be a reaction from the world, society, systems, etc. Within this constant tension, and back-and-forth reactions in where gradual change, maybe progress, happens. 

Chun Hua Catherine Dong: “My body is a material for my art”

Pau Waelder

Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Meet Me Halfway – part 1, 2021

A performance and conceptual artist whose work spans different media, Chun Hua Catherine Dong successfully navigates the space between an artistic practice characterized by the physical, bodily presence of the artist in the same space and time as her audience, and another one based on the mediation of digital technologies and a distributed and almost immaterial existence. Dong has taken her performance artworks worldwide, combining action with documentation in the form of photographs and videos that often become artworks on their own. She is also exploring the creative possibilities of VR, AR, and Artificial Intelligence in a series of artworks that are still deeply rooted in her research on gender, memory, identity, body, and presence.

Dong has exhibited their works at The International Digital Art Biennial Montreal (BIAN),  The International Biennial of Digital Arts of the Île-de-France (Némo), MOMENTA | Biennale de l’image, Kaunas Biennial, The Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne in France, Quebec City Biennial, Foundation PHI for Contemporary Art, Canadian Cultural Centre Paris, Museo de la Cancillería in Mexico City, The Rooms Museum, Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, DongGong Museum of Photograph in South Korea, He Xiangning Art Museum in Shenzhen, Hubei Museum of Fine Art in Wuhan, The Aine Art Museum in Tornio, Bury Art Museum in Manchester, Art Museum at University of Toronto, Varley Art Gallery of Markham, Art Gallery of Hamilton, among others. She is represented by  Galerie Charlot in Paris.

The artist recently presented the artcast Meet Me Halfway, which collects four videos from her multi-channel VR video installation that explores the perception of time and space in virtual reality and the inability to return to the present from searching the inner world.

Experience Chun Hua Catherine Dong’s immersive VR spaces in Meet Me Halfway

Chun Hua Catherine Dong, The Lost Twelve Years (2015)

As a Chinese-born, Montreal-based artist, the issues of identity, culture, belonging, and distance are present in your life and your work as well. In our globalized world, these issues can sometimes be overlooked, or else exoticized and clichéd, even demanding of an artist with a mixed cultural background to address them. Would you say that there is still a dominant Western perspective on multiculturalism, and if so, how do you address it in your work? 

This is a very interesting question. I can’t speak for others, but it’s natural for me to explore these topics. Living in a different cultural context often prompts questions about one’s identity.  If I lived in China, I would probably never feel the need to deal with these difficult issues. But I immigrated to Canada a long time ago. I need to reconnect with my roots because I feel that something that nurtured me has faded and been forgotten. It is important for me to renew it from time to time. I addressed this issue in my earlier performances. For example, in my performance The Lost Twelve Years (2015) I use a Chinese teapot to pour ink over my head and a squirt gun to shoot ink to my heart and head, which are actions that force me to remember who I am.  

“After living as a «living sculpture» for a long time, I came to the conclusion that it is wise to keep life and art separate.  Now, I state that «I use my body as my material in my artwork» rather than «my body is my artwork.»”

Your body is a key element in your work, both as “the body of the artist”, representing you as an individual and your personal experiences, and as “a female body,” addressing issues of the representation of women in a patriarchal society. When you conceive your performances, how do you weigh these two possibilities?

As a performance artist, my “body as an Asian woman” and my “body as an artwork” frequently change. When I first started doing performance, I considered performance as an attitude, and that “life is a performance, performance is life.” The two were inseparable; thus, my life was always in a performance/artwork mode, or “living sculpture” mode. But I realized that I was quite weary of being my own artwork. It is also harmful to one’s mental health and sanity because the concept “life is art and art is life” could mess up your life. After living as a “living sculpture” for a long time, I came to the conclusion that “Life can be a performance, but performance is not life—at least, not my entire life.”  It is wise to keep the two separate.  Later, I use the statement that “I use my body as my material in my artwork” rather than “my body is my artwork.”

Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Skin Deep (2014-2020). Photographs with Augmented Reality

In your work, we can find on the one hand a direct approach to the body, naked, as a canvas or an object, and on the other hand the body veiled by masks and disguises. What do you find more interesting about playing with the different levels of displaying and hiding the body, maybe also seducing or unsettling the viewer’s gaze?

This is a very interesting question. Yes, there were naked bodies in my early performance work. For me, the body is a blank canvas, and any type of clothing or even makeup can give “identity” to it. Perhaps viewers perceive me as vulnerable when they see me naked, but I don’t feel that way. Being naked doesn’t challenge me but rather challenges the viewers. The power of the naked body in performance art lies in its rawness, it’s a pure form of art. Anyway, who isn’t born naked?

“For me, the body is a blank canvas: any type of clothing or even makeup can give “identity” to it. Being naked doesn’t challenge me but rather challenges the viewers.”

In the digital world, physical distance, the presence of the human body, and even identity tend to be blurred or seemingly erased. For instance, your work Meet Me Halfway is strikingly different from your performance work in both aesthetics and the presence of the body, yet you have incorporated your body in the form of camera movements. How do you navigate the differences between an immaterial digital environment and the materiality of your performances?

Meet Me Halfway (2021) was created during the pandemic. According to reports, many Asian people were attacked in public places during the pandemic. I was afraid of going out. If I had to go out, I wore a big hat and mask to cover myself because I didn’t want to be recognized. This situation subconsciously influenced my work Meet Me Halfway, which is why my body is absent in this work but just camera movements.  I became interested in VR during the pandemic as well because I discovered that VR can help me to escape from reality. VR space is less political, at least, you won’t get physically attacked. You can build your own virtual world in VR and visit it from time to time whenever you want. It is interesting that you mentioned immateriality in the digital environment. Actually, performance art is often regarded as an immaterial practice as well. Because of its immaterial nature, it is very easy for me to shift my practice from performance art to digital art.

Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Mulan (2022)

Following with the previous question, Mulan addresses gender identity through a folk heroine placed in an underwater landscape. What seems at first a scene of pure fantasy contains numerous symbolisms. How would say that a viewer immersed in this VR space can connect with the message you want to convey? 

Gender is an important component of my work. Mulan (2022) was inspired by Beijing Opera. You are right. “Mulan” depicts a pure fantasy scene because Beijing Opera is my fantasy. I used to dream of wearing the Beijing Opera costume and performing on stage when I was little. But Beijing Opera is a form of high art, not many people have a chance to access it. For me, art provides a space for asking questions and discovering; I’d be very happy to see that people have questions when they experience Mulan, such as, “Why Mulan? Why are there two Mulan? What outfit does Mulan wear? What are the names of the sea creatures surrounding Mulan?” If people ask questions, they will find answers.  Sometimes I realize that I am more interested in how viewers feel and think about my work rather than telling them what my work is about. Viewers’ different interpretations enrich and expand the artwork itself.

“I am more interested in how viewers feel and think about my work rather than telling them what my work is about. Viewers’ different interpretations enrich and expand the artwork itself.”

The mise en scène is an important element in a performance, which in your work translates to carefully set up photographs, installations, and VR environments. What is the role of space in your work across the many different media you use?

Mise en scene is a stage. Most of my works are staged. In performance, “mise en scene” can be in any place, including public, private, virtual, or imaginary spaces. Camera frame is a type of stage too because activities must occur within the frame in order for the camera to capture them. If we apply this concept to traditional art, a plinth is a stage for sculptures, and a wall serves as a stage for two-dimensional artworks.

Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Meet Me Halfway (2021). Four-channel VR video installation. Exhibition view at Foundation Phi.

You have stated that you initially wanted to become a painter, but found that performance was more expressive. Yet there is a painterly quality to much of your work, particularly in photography and digital art, besides the use of paint in some of your performances. Which would you say is your approach to painting nowadays? 

Yes, I wanted to be a painter before. But painting has its own limitations because you work in a two-dimensional space, and you must sometimes wait for it to dry before applying another layer. Performance is an expressive medium, I never wanted to go back to painting after I fell in love with performance. My work does have painterly quality, I guess it is because of my painting background. Regarding how I approach painting nowadays, I think it is VR drawing/ painting. It doesn’t limit you in a 2D space like traditional painting, but rather you work in a 3D space. When you draw a line in VR, it is a 3D line, and you can zoom in and out to see your drawing/painting in 3D perspective, which fascinates me.

“I approach painting through VR. It doesn’t limit you in a 2D space like traditional painting, but rather you work in a 3D space. When you draw a line in VR, it is a 3D line, and you can zoom in and out to see your drawing/painting in 3D perspective, which fascinates me.”

In your recent work Out of the Blue, you address your childhood and feature a teddy bear character that has been present in your work over the last three years. Can you tell us more about this character? You frequently use 3D printing techniques to create sculptures, why have you chosen this technique over more traditional forms of modeling and sculpting?

The teddy bear is a symbol of childhood.  With its eyes closed, the bear refuses to look at the world, rather prefers to dream. In my digital art practice, I began with AR and VR, and then 3D printing. It is very natural for me to use 3D printing to make sculptures because 3D printing is a type of digital fabrication. 3D printing is also a practical choice. Traditional sculpture requires a large studio space and special tools, which I don’t have. On the other hand, 3D printing doesn’t require much space; simply having a table or a desk at home is sufficient. Traditionally, 3D printing has been used to make molds or prototypes for further work. However, I embrace its rawness. I use 3D printing as the raw material for my finished artwork, with no additional touches such as sanding or painting. The unpolished raw nature of 3D printing fascinates me because it captures the essence of the technological and digital process, demystifying how artwork is made.

Chun Hua Catherine Don. Solo Exhibition: At the Edge of Two Worlds. TRUCK Contemporary Art, 2022

You have recently started experimenting with AI, first in the photographic series For You I Will Be an Island, and lately creating animations of what appear to be underwater creatures. Can you tell me about your experience with this technology? Which are your objectives when using AI programs? How does working with these programs differ from your VR and 3D animations?

I like AI. For me, AI is more than simply a tool; it’s like having an assistant. I understand that people have concerns about AI. I completely respect that. However, as an artist with limited resources and financial assistance, AI helps me save time and money when creating artwork.  For example, in For You I Will Be an Island (2023) I printed 23 pieces of 2.5 m x 2.5 m AI generated graphics; I can’t imagine how I would do this without AI. I could paint 23 pieces of 2.5 m × 2.5 m paintings, but how long would it take? Or I could use photographs, but where would I find such locations to photograph? I probably can find them if I have the financial freedom to travel around the world to look for them, but how long would it take?  Now AI is able to create animation and 3D objects, although it is not there yet, it is still very exciting. Animation and 3D modeling are often very time consuming and costly. If I have a budget, of course, I prefer to work with creative people, but if I don’t, AI is a good way to go.

Chun Hua Catherine Dong, For You I Will Be An Island (2023)

As we are starting the year (in the Gregorian calendar, and soon the Chinese New Year), it begs the question: what are you currently working on, and which projects do you have in store for the coming months?

Thanks! I am very excited that the Chinese New Year is coming soon. This is the year to celebrate the dragon. I am currently working on a public art project with 35 video displays at Place des Arts in Montreal. I am also working on an upcoming solo exhibition at Galerie Charlot in Paris in April. And I will participate in Montreal’s International Digital Art Biennial (BIAN) in May.

“If I have a budget, of course, I prefer to work with creative people, but if I don’t, AI is a good way to go.”

Niio in 2023: Great art has no boundaries

Niio Editorial

This has been an exciting year, in which we faced challenging situations but also achieved great partnerships, made enormous progress in the development of our platform and apps, supported the work of amazing artists and galleries, and brought video and digital art to a rapidly expanding audience. Our hardworking, multitalented, international team is now celebrating the holidays with their families and looking forward to an even more active 2024. We believe that great art has no boundaries, and we work to make it possible for anyone to access quality artworks on any screen, adding to the efforts that so many art professionals do to integrate art into people’s everyday experience.

In this article, we present to you a quick look at what 2023 has been at Niio, with our heartfelt thank you to all the artists, galleries, collectors, curators, and art lovers who share and enjoy art with us.

Renz Renderz, After the Afterparty, 2022

Artcasts: the distributed exhibition

Through our curated virtual exhibitions we have been able to bring art to the screens of art lovers, collectors, galleries, and art institutions internationally, with unparalleled ease and flexibility. This year, we are proud to have launched 42 artcasts featuring the work of outstanding artists, as well as collaborations with galleries, art centers, and universities.

Here are some of our favorite artcasts this year, but you can find many more by browsing the Discover area in our app.


Niio proudly hosted a collaboration with artists and NYU professors Carla Gannis and Snow Yunxue Fu consisting of a group artcast featuring recent works by artists and NYU students Ren Ciarrocchi, Jessica Dai, Marina Roos Guthmann, James Lee, Tinrey Wang, Yuaqing She & June Bee, Shentong Yu, and Jerry Zhao

In addition to the artcast, we published interviews with the curators and the artists in our Editorial section.

“The Niio platform helps speed up the curation process and reach a wider audience that is different from a physical show curation.”

Snow Yunxue Fu


A collaboration between Niio and Mèdol Centre de les Arts Contemporànies in Tarragona has brought digital art to the public space in the Mediterranean city. A curated selection of digital artworks by our Senior Curator Pau Waelder has been presented weekly on a screen at Plaça del Fòrum, featuring the work of Serafín Álvarez, Mark Amerika, Gregory Chatonsky, Alix Desaubliaux, Frederik De Wilde, Mihai Grecu, Jonathan Monaghan and Yusuke Shigeta.


A very special project we have been developing this year is a collaboration with the artist Domenico Barra on his exploration of beauty in art and the use of glitch as a means of creative expression. We conceived this project as an artist-in-residence format, in which Barra has configured an artcast as a work-in-progress and regularly published new artworks, alongside documentation and preliminary sketches. The project is ongoing and involves a conversation between the artist and our Senior Curator as a series of articles in our Editorial section.

Chun Hua Catherine Dong. Meet Me Halfway – part 1, 2021

Artists: unbridled talent

Supporting artists is one of the reasons why Niio exists. We created this platform to empower artists allowing them to keep and manage their portfolio, easily and securely sharing their work with art lovers, collectors, galleries, and institutions. We are also actively suggesting their work to our Art in Public program clients, showcasing their latest creations on our Curated Art program, and getting to know them better through conversations that we publish in our Editorial section. This year, we’ve launched more than 30 solo artcasts and a dozen group shows, as well as highlighted 47 selected artworks in our Artwork of the Week showcase on social media. In addition to this, we’ve published 30 interviews with the artists in our curated program, as part of our commitment to let our audience know the creators behind the art.

These are some of the artists we’ve showcased this year. We’d love to include them all here, but you can find them in our Discovery area.


Over the last two decades, the Brussels-based Colombian artist has carried out a consistent body of work in the form of interactive audiovisual installations and live performances. Since 2018, Laura is engaged in a series of artworks exploring the environmental impact of neo-liberal extractivist practices in the Amazon basin. 

See artcast | Read interview


An award-winning artist whose work is characterized by otherworldly narratives, Jonathan Monaghan introduces in his animations, prints, and sculptures a critical view of our contemporary society that aims at consumerism and our growing dependence on digital technology.

See artcast | Read interview


Dong’s artistic practice is based in performance art, photography, video, VR, AR, and 3D printing within the contemporary context of global feminism. Dong’s work deals mainly with cultural intersections created by globalization and asks what it means to be a citizen of the world today.

See artcast


Paris-based artist Antoine Schmitt describes himself as a “heir of kinetic art and cybernetic art,” aptly indicating the two main aspects of his work: the interest in all processes of movement, and the use of computers to create generative and interactive artworks.

See artcast | Read interview


Japanese videographer Yusuke Shigeta (1981) has developed a body of work consisting of screen-based and multimedia installations for art exhibitions and museum shows. A Graduate from the Tokyo Graduate School of Film and New Media, he works in animation and has recently become involved in the NFT market, where he finds an additional channel of distribution for his work.

See artcast | Read interview

Ronen Tanchum’s AI Streamers installed at the Mondrian Seoul Itaewon hotel. Photo courtesy of Mondrian.

Public showcases: in the white cube and beyond

Collaborating with prominent contemporary art galleries and partnering with high-end business and hospitality properties is a crucial aspect of our mission to bring quality video and digital art to the best spaces and integrate art into people’s everyday life. We are proud to have developed strong ties with leading digital art galleries bitforms (New York), Galerie Charlot (Paris), and DAM Projects (Berlin), as well as with many other professional art galleries, and to provide curated art selections to some of the most prestigious brands and properties, such as Conrad Hotels & Resorts, The Mondrian Hotel Seoul Itaewon, PENN 11 New York, and many others.

Below are some highlights of a very busy year with wonderful collaborations and promising partnerships. You can find more about our activities on our LinkedIn and Instagram accounts.

Rob Anders presents Niio at the Talking Galleries Symposium 2023. Photo: Cesc Maymó


Niio’s co-founder and CEO Rob Anders was invited to the Talking Galleries Symposium in Barcelona this year. The prestigious gathering of the most prominent contemporary art galleries celebrated a special edition dedicated to digital art and featured talks by outstanding guests Steven Sacks, founder of bitforms, Valerie Hasson-Benillouche, founder of Galerie Charlot, Wolf Lieser, founder of DAM Projects, and David Gryn, founder of DAATA. Our Senior Curator Pau Waelder helped shape the symposium’s program and moderated several talks.


Niio collaborated with bitforms in the gallery’s presentation of the latest artworks by Refik Anadol at the Art SG contemporary art fair in Singapore. The collaboration, following a model that we are recurrently adopting with galleries, consisted in extending the presentation of the artworks at the art fair with a limited-time artcast and the publication of an extensive article about Anadol’s work in our Editorial section.

Two artworks by Eelco Brand are showcased at the reception of the Conrad New York Midtown Hotel.


Initiating a partnership with Conrad Hotels & Resorts, a curated selection of artworks provided by Niio is being displayed at the reception and guest room’s screens of the Conrad New York Midtown Hotel. This stylish luxury hotel offers guests and unparalleled experience in the city which is now enhanced by the presence of selected artworks by acclaimed artists Eelco Brand, Daniel Canogar, and Antoine Schmitt.

Articles: a space for reflection

The section you are now reading contributes to the backbone of Niio’s activities by providing a space of documentation, reflection, and exchange with artists, gallerists, and art professionals, as well as a source of information and discussion around key themes of contemporary art. This year, the way AI is shaping artistic creativity, as well as the role of art institutions in creating a more sustainable art world were some of the main issues we addressed.

Read some of our most commented articles this year and find many more by browsing our Editorial section.

📝 What Is The Role Of Art Museums In The Anthropocene?
A reflection on sustainable exhibition practices in art museums with the contributions of experts Karin Vicente and Diane Drubay.

📝 Is There Gender Equality In The Digital Art World?
We asked ten outstading artists about their views on gender equality and visibility of women artists in the digital art world.

📝 It Was Never About Replacing The Artist: AI And Post-Creativity
Excerpt from the book The Meaning of Creativity in the Age of AI that focuses on the role of computers in artistic projects, from early algorithmic drawings to current AI artworks.

📝 Digital Art, Time, Painting, Sculpture And Consciousness
Essay by guest author Thomas Lisle, an artist with 30 years of experience in digital media who is exploring how painting transitions into a time based medium.

This is just a glimpse of what Niio has been in 2023. We look forward to doing much more in 2024, and we’d love to share our journey with you!