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At Through the Looking Glass, the Soho-based new media art gallery Superchief’s recent exhibition, there were a number of great works and moments. Mark Fingerhut’s live performance with a computer and projector in Superchief’s basement was an hour-long ephemeral masterpiece for those in attendance. London-based artist Claudia Maté’s work of surreal, looping GIFs were as comical and strange as usual. But another artist, El Popo Sangre (a.k.a., Paulin Rogues), stood out even though Superchief essentially plucked him out of 3D art obscurity.
Rogues work takes some familiar new media art tropes—the hyper-colored virtual avatars and environments—and applies a narrative to them to create mesmerizingly beautiful, mysterious and humorous virtual worlds. His work blends science fiction, especially the cyberpunk genre, with literary absurdism and the psychedelic-sexual shamanism of Alejandro Jodorowsky.
The Paris-based Rogues started out drawing, but grew frustrated with the static image. All he wanted to do is tell some stories that he’d written. So he started writing comics, but wanted to go beyond that medium. While studying at university, Rogues discovered Machinima, a hub for videos created in real-time in gaming environments. This was a time when he was also playing a lot of Half Life 2. Eventually, Rogues used the free tool Source Filmmaker to make a video one of his early stories, Rectum 2.
“The purpose was the same with drawing: I don’t care about the technique, I just want to tell my story,” Rogues says. “Then I met a friend at school with whom I founded the UNICORN agency, he showed me Cinema 4D, and here I am.”
Rogues uses different processes and media for each thing he produces, but he typically works with Cinema 4D and Adobe After Effects. For his Instagram pieces, Rogues uses still images or GIFs. He tries to illustrate a sensation, a thought or a moment he lived, which is often a personal purgatory.
“For my movies I have two processes,” he says. “One is about the past. I use an old text I wrote—like Postiche, which I wrote in 2007 and realized this year—so I can make a dialogue between my past and present. Another process is to write new stuff, which I’m working on it right now. I want to [expand] my universe [but] keep the absurd to tell personal stories.”
The desire to tell absurd stories goes back to when he discovered Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain at 16 years old, which he considers a turning point in his life.
“To fall asleep I watched TV with the sound off while listening to music in my headphones because the movies were boring,” Rogues says. “And one night, what the fuck?, Jesus crucified by a dwarf? A guy wearing a white hat making Jesus poop to make gold? I discovered the power of images—their meanings. Jodorowsky just made his reality real. So, this is my goal: making my reality real.”
After taking in Jodorowsky’s films, Rogues and his girlfriend dove into Godard and Kubrick, then psychedelic movies. He also indulged in the works of French surrealist novelist Boris Vian, as well as absurdists playwrights like Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett, the idea being to learn how to exist in one’s own artistic universe with its very own codes.
“Everything was possible. You can express your feelings in so many ways—use any medium you can to materialize them,” he says. “I just chose the virtual worlds because they allow me to do everything I feel.”
While many of Rogues’ still, GIF and video works are sexual, in variously dark and humorous ways, he insists that he never thinks about being transgressive. For him it’s about honesty in creating the images that represent what he feels.
One of the screen-based works at Through the Looking Glass shows a still virtual body from behind as it continuously poops. Rogues says that this was a nod to his past in drawing, which he considers a waste of time. Despite the piece’s vibrant colors, he thinks of the work as an expression of one of his darkest thoughts. But colors are important in Rogues’ work—they are a way to remain optimistic.
“Colors make people happy, [and] I think they often forget to appreciate them because of our actual trend of white/black/grey design we can see everywhere,” Rogues says. “The colors are the memories of the stimulation of happiness when we were kids, when we appreciated everything.”
I want to see [colors] in our adult life,” he adds. “I want to see that on a colored paper, and I can express in one image my darkest thought, so it has to be placed in a colorful environment.”
Click here to see more of El Popo Sangre’s work.