How Nicolas Sassoon Is Making GIF Art Physical

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Nicolas Sassoon, detail from Studio Visit (2013).
Courtesy the artist.

“Why GIFs?,” Opening Times recently asked artist Nicolas Sassoon. Sassoon has been on a three-month virtual residency with the London-based digital media art nonprofit, and has spent the bulk of it working on massive GIFs that span the width of a browser and actually require scrolling. His latest work, Studio Visit, depicts a studio space complete with wall panels, a brick fireplace, and multiple LCD screens.

“GIFs appealed to me for their ability to create seamless loops,” Sassoon replied. He had been using videos in his work in art school, and was already very interested in the loop. Animated GIFs were a natural extension of that interest.

Today Sassoon is one of the most interesting artists working in the field of GIF-making and new media. He shows all over the world and has been included in exhibitions at the New Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the New Orleans biennial Prospect. He is now the first artist resident at Opening Times.

The body of work Sassoon has been producing there is called Pandora, which is the name of the street where the artist has lived, off and on, for the past four years. The series’ title also refers to small actions that have unforeseen and far-reaching consequences, and perhaps even to the darkness of the Internet. Sassoon’s pared-down aesthetic reflects that somber mood.

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Nicolas Sassoon, Mansions (2013).
Courtesy the artist.

“There is a form of darkness in my work process as well as in the environment surrounding my work,” he tells me. “My studio is a very dark space inside a basement located in a city that is pretty dark for eight months of the year.  A lot of my work emerges from extended periods of time immersed in that environment. This lifestyle allows me to project myself into a virtual world, but it also lacks the physical interactions of the real world. A lot of my work tries to give a physical quality to my drawings and animations. The bleakness of my aesthetic is also what I use to give a physical quality to my art.”

That physical aspect of Sassoon’s practice is literalized in his ongoing “Mansions” project, which started in 2011 as a collection of 3D models of gigantic homes made by anonymous users online and then cast in concrete. But there’s a middle ground—somewhere between data and concrete—that these objects occupy as well.

“Computer technologies are a vector of fantasies for architectures, landscapes, interiors, domestic living,” Sassoon says, by way of introducing the “Mansions” series. “The collection of these models was motivated by the unclear outcome of these realistic virtual homes, sometimes designed to perfection and ready to be built. I am interested in the desire behind creating virtual architectures in a way similar to scale models; objects signifying something bigger than what they are, in a transitory state, existing between two worlds.”

Sassoon sees these objects—and computing in general—as similar to the practice of Bonsai or Suiseki, where miniature landscapes become sites of contemplation and embody our ideals. But he approaches narrative elements very cautiously.

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Nicolas Sassoon, SUISEKIS (2014).
Courtesy the artist.

“I usually don’t try to create a narrative within one particular piece, but it’s something I’m becoming more inclined to do now,” he says. “In the past I’ve been trying to provide a contemplative nature to my work online, and I’ve typically seen narratives as an obstacle to this, unless they are very loose and vague. I do see navigation as a form of narrative in itself for the viewer, but it’s the viewer who creates it by their own actions.”

For now he’ll be easing those narrative elements into his GIFs. “If narratives emerge from now on they will be about specific spaces and contexts that I experience in my daily life,” he says, “or about spaces and contexts I’d like to experience in my daily life.”

Explore the fruits of Nicolas Sassoon’s Opening Times residency here.