A still from "Greek Green Peppers." Images courtesy of the artist.
Are you there, Pizza? It's me, Facebook.
In combining images of the divine with the unexpected, Canadian artist Carrie Gates creates the kind of allegorical video art that is quickly making her one of our favorite creatives. Her collaborative video, Kisik Acimowina combines sound-responsive three-dimensonally glitched data with old school storytelling from the Cree tribe. Meanwhile, the Prairies-of-Saskatchewan-based artist's Pizzabook piece turns the bland, corporate Facebook template into something much spicier.
She's shown her work in China at the Hacktist exhibition, has a knack for light painting and we recently noticed her in a tribute to the Trekkie world with screenshots. Her GIFs are endlessly amusing, ranging from spaceships to saucy scenarios and abstract explosions of color. The healthy, youthful vibes cross over into her VJ work, in which she brings glitch imagery together with live recordings and music. Even in galleries, she does "song"-formatted pieces and "mini-sets," and has a knack for an endless stream of music videos.
As she gears up for a show in Montreal at Vidéographe, Gates spoke to us about her interest in sound-reactive 3D processing, syncing animations with cosmologies, and divinity in Cree culture.
The Creator’s Project: You exhibit both online and offline. Is there a difference, in your eyes?
Carrie Gates: Living in the Prairies has helped me become resourceful about where and how I show. My turntablism background in the noise, experimental and rave music scenes in the 1990s made club and festal culture a natural environment for me to contribute to with my live VJing. That environment encourages a non-linear way of working, as the audience is so fluid, and you never know what the DJ will be playing next.
Still from "3D Real Estate."
In a gallery, I use a “song” format, with 3-5 minute “mini-sets” of video that can be performed live or recorded for an exhibition. These pieces are thematic and structured, with the music made by a variety of my producer pals. I think it is important for VJs and net artists to take space in galleries because our practices are representative of what is going on with many creative culture professionals.
Online, I also use the “song structure” for my videos, or I show a net art piece like Pizzabook. The audience is really different online because people are often highly educated on the particular nuances of the medium, or equally often almost completely random (especially on YouTube). Feedback seems more immediate, raw, and perhaps heartfelt.
Could you tell us more about Pizzabook, which turns Facebook into a pizza?
The interfaces that we use every day affect our minds in ways that are not always easy to perceive. The corporate “Facebook blue” minimal interface that we spend hours on every week seems like a flattening ecosystem for self-expression on a lot of different levels. I wanted to see if it was possible to disrupt this experience and use Facebook itself as a platform for artistic expression, by changing the interface itself. I chose a pizza theme for Facebook to draw attention to the indulgent banality of the “jpg culture” that the medium seems to encourage.
You collaborated with two other new media artists for Kisik Acimowina, a project about the Cree cosmology. What was made visual, and did you feel there was a spiritual backbone?
Jason Baerg is an Ontario-based Métis new media artist who approached me to work on a video after we had great synchronicity when we met. I had a similar feeling when I met Vancouver-based electronic music producer Michael Red at the Motion Notion festival last year, so my brain got cooking. I had wanted to make a sound-reactive landscape video for some time, so when I received a folder of gorgeous images from Jason and went through Michael’s catalogue, I suggested we create a video for The Wrong New Digital Art Biennale in Anthony Antonellis’ “Young Internet Based Artists” (YIBA) pavilion.
We had some great Skype chats, discussing our spiritual perspectives and how they manifest in our work. Jason talked to us about Indigenous cosmology and how his illustrations reflect abstracted concepts from his traditional background. Michael also works with Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, and in university I was fortunate to study with professors of Aboriginal art history, so we had some really interesting conversations about the cultural context. For “Kisik Acimowina” (translates roughly as “Sky World”), we decided to work with a simple concept of a person journeying through an ever-evolving landscape, seeing the universe unfold before them through a lens of an abstracted Indigenous perspective. We have another phase of this project in the works that will use more structured narratives and a confirmed panel of Elders consulting with us on the entire production, as well as a secret guest for a live performance we have booked for a special event in 2015.
You perform live as a VJ. How are your visuals generated?
I’ve been VJing since the early 2000s and use a lot of different techniques in my work. Lately I have been interested in sound-reactive 3D processing, because the animations are synchronized with the music and there are quite a variety of methods and aesthetics to explore. Related is a custom analogue no-input audio-visual system that I recorded GBs of video from that I remix in live performances. I also shoot a lot of my own raw footage where I style and direct my friends to do performance art-influenced actions that are then remixed into my workflow in modul8. I think it is critical to develop your own visual source materials and techniques as a VJ if you want to develop a unique and memorable style.
Still taken from "Crystalscape"
What music video(s) are you working on next?
I am working on a video for Annie Hall, a wicked IDM producer based out of Detroit. She runs the RSVD vinyl pressing company with DJ Kero and is on the Detroit Underground label. I will also have a new video showing as part of an exhibition in Montréal in April at La Nouvelle Terre at Vidéographe, organized by Brenda Cleniuk from Neutral Ground in Regina. Erik Rzepka and Ian Campbell will also be showing.
What else do you have upcoming in 2014?
Summertime is always busy with festivals - I’ll be playing the main stage at the Motion Notion festival again for sure. Net art exhibitions come together quickly, so it’s hard to tell what’s coming, but I am working on a new piece for Cloaque.org. I’m in the midst of collaborations on other video projects and negotiating a screening in Europe, but they’re a bit embryonic right now. Development for a couple of proposals for projects on a much bigger scale than I’ve worked on in the past is also keeping me on my toes. Although I have created a lot of work over the years, I always feel like I am on the brink of really beginning, and that feeling gives me fuel.