The body in a digital dimension: interview with Marcin Ramocki

Marcin Ramocki is a Polish-born Brooklyn artist. He began experimenting with new media in the mid-1990s, with digital installations and interactive works on the Web. Some of his best known pieces are Virtual Singer (2000), Torcito Project(2005) and Blogger Skins (2009). His works have been exhibited at MoMA – The Museum of Modern Art (New York), Hirshorn Museum (Washington, DC) and many more istitutions.

On 17 November 2012 he opened his first solo exhibition in Italy: . The exhibition is curated by Chiara Moro in the spaces of ULTRA gallery in Udine and is organized by the non-profit association art ex dono. I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his early experiments with new media, the role of the programmer and his new exhibition.

Filippo Lorenzin:I’d like to begin this interview by asking you to tell us about your first steps with digital media. When and how did you get interested in this topic?

Marcin Ramocki: I was trained as a painter. My interest in working with computers started in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania MFA. I guess I found painting frustrating, mostly because the kind of painting everybody was doing was a very process-oriented, paint-centered modernist stuff… I liked process but not for the sake of process. I felt like I needed more control mapping out my concept. My first experiments were basically paintings on plexi with photoshop images printed on them… I initially used simple printmaking methods like Xerox transfer (which is a supersonic version of lithography) and then moved on to acrylic polymer transfer. So it was post-photographic semi-digital collage of sorts. My work from graduate school was dealing with self-portraiture and body, probably influenced by performer Nigel Rolfe who was one of my instructors, and some peers, like Chris White. Very soon after graduating, I moved on to moving image and Lingo programming.


Filippo Lorenzin: How would you define digital media’s role in your life in the mid-1990s? What are the biggest differences between your relation with them at that time and nowadays?

Marcin Ramocki: Back then my biggest discovery was nonlinear narratives. Stories that could unfold in many different ways, driven by an algorithm, requiring a processor. I found that to be the true meaning of computer based artwork, the essence of it. 1090s were about establishing the boundaries of the medium, formalist analysis: they were very Greenbergian. It is fundamental to realize the importance of early Macromedia Director and verbose lingo for that whole generation of artists, who came out of traditional arts and wanted to work with software art. That tradition is somehow continued with Jitter and Processing, but they are not as approachable… And the dynamics of the art world are different. I think my Director piece Virtual Singer perfectly exemplifies the nonlinearity I mentioned: I turned myself into a random singing machine, where the melody I sing is endless and never repeats in the same sequence. Allowing these narrative fluctuations made me feel like I was an inch closer to reality, as it “truly” unfolds… The generative theme continued with pieces like Telling Time (2003-04) or Japanatious (2001-03), which randomizes all sounds of spoken Japanese into an absurd meaningless poem. I introduced the element of viewer interaction with History/Tectonics and that interest lasted for several years.

Filippo Lorenzin: Do you think your way to analyze these topics depends in some way by the historical period in which you started to be interested in them?

Marcin Ramocki: Yes, clearly. That, and the fact that I come from traditional fine arts… Somebody who studied computer sciences, music or design in the early 2000s would have a very different outlook…I’m inevitably entangled with art history as it unfolded in the 1990s.

Filippo Lorenzin: When did you start programming? Do you think it resembles other artistic practices?

Marcin Ramocki: I started around 1998. And I actually don’t think so… When you write a program you have a very clear outcome in mind, you are finding a solution to a specific task. It is a much more intellectual operation. I found the process of discovery quite appealing: being able to focus on a specific goal allows your mind to become clear, like in meditation. My codes were never professional… In fact they were terrible from programming perspective. History/Tectonics (2003-04) depended on glitches that happened with a specific model of G3 Mac and the slowness of its processor. It needed to be too fast for the processor to work properly. I never commented out my own code and never did anything the same way twice. So it was jazz programming of sorts…

Filippo Lorenzin: Let’s talk about your projects in Italy: you have a solo exhibition called at ULTRA gallery in Udine and did a lecture and a workshop at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice. How did come up?

Marcin Ramocki: represents a new chapter in my work and I’m really excited about it. Beside of the fact that I’m using 3D animation this time, there is a whole new conceptual skeleton. I realized several things about myself: for some, art is a form of therapy; for other, a form of political activism; others choose pure formal aesthetics… All of my work is a form of active philosophical investigation. In the past, I illustrated the progress of my thoughts. This concept resulted in works that were somehow ideological and closed. Now I want to capture them before they are fully form, when all there is is a well formed question, waiting to be answered. I finally know what relationship I want to have with my audience. I watched recently a Youtube video of my friends Judo competition… There was a moment when one of the fighters grabbed the opponent and abruptly shook him, not as an active form of combat but in order to disrupt his balance, uproot him. For a second, the opponent was suspended in a fragile, uncontrolled limbo, the successful attack followed. I’m interested in that state of fragile, uprooted limbo. I’d like to bring my viewer to that place and then leave them to their own devices, where they have to decide the context and write their own narrative.

As far as the subject matter, I’m looking at the symbolic evolution of our body, human body as a concept. How it departs from the material and enters the semiotic. How the internet changes our sense of self, presence, being. The actual animation shows a monumental tag emerging from a red ocean, only to be soon destroyed by the waves and slowly crumble apart.

Filippo Lorenzin: What role does the body – both virtual and “analog” – have in your artistic development? Has it been the center of many your works?

Marcin Ramocki: There are actually several threads here… I guess the most straightforward is portraiture like in History of Narcissism, Virtual Singer, Torcito Project, Japanatious or Blogger Skins (2007). Large part of my documentary work is a form of portraiture as well… Then there is work that deals with body in a more conceptual way, for example Texty (2005), Wakeless GIFs (2012) or the most recent . I also have this obsession about the re-materialization of immaterial symbols… Making physical object out of computer icons or designs. This was the origin of Photoshop Toolbox and Jewelry for Network Administrators, the recent collaboration with Sakurako Shimizu, which is a part of my exhibition at Ultra. This last kind of works really has to do with manipulating the chain of simulacra, forcing the virtual to become analog again.

Filippo Lorenzin: Do you believe that changes in human manifestations of these years should be analyzed in more detail? Let me explain: the Internet and its mechanisms are part of the life of a large proportion of world population, but I think there is a vertical development instead of a horizontal one, without any real critical analysis of what’s going on.

Marcin Ramocki: Of course it needs to be analyzed more, and we are tremendously behind discussing those issues… I don’t know where to begin. I’m not very optimistic, though: it took us 30 years to start seriously analyzing video games.

Filippo Lorenzin: What are your plans for the future?

Marcin Ramocki: If I can find the time and money, I’d like to make one more feature documentary about dream interpretation in psychoanalysis. Those big projects are really rewarding (I made two documentaries, 8 BIT in 2006 and Brooklyn DIY in 2009) but they take a couple of years and a huge financial hardship. Until I can pull another one off I’m super psyched about working with more 3D animation loops.





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