Slowing down with... Nicolas Sassoon
A short interview with artist Nicolas Sassoon
The summer heat is here finally in Madrid from where I write these lines. Sandals, shorts, sunglasses. Fresh drinks, blinds down, shutters closed. A warm breeze. Hopes of a new beginning. The sun in the balcony, lovers in the streets late at night. And your dose of the life and times and ideas and thoughts and inspirations and influences and works of artists. "At last", I hear you think (I do at least). To quench this thirst we've got the amiable Nicolas Sassoon today (Twitter, Instagram, Foundation.app, Hic et nunc, Superrare.co), who has kindly shared some words with all of us. Let's all be proud and grateful to have him share this time with us! Merci bien Nicolas!
Q: What is your background?
A: I’m originally from France, I grew up in the south near Marseille at first and then in Bask Country. I went to a public art school in a very small town in France called Angouleme where I graduated my Masters of Fine Arts in New Media and Communication in 2007. I moved to Vancouver in Canada in 2008, which is where I’ve lived ever since. I’ve lived most of my life in small coastal cities, and I used to do a lot of activities related to the ocean (diving, swimming, surfing, etc), but nowadays I don’t do it as much as I’d like to. An important reason I picked Vancouver of all places was because it was right on the Pacific Ocean and because it wasn’t a huge city.
Q: How did you get into art? Is it your main activity?
A: I was always into painting and drawing as a kid, and also obsessed with videogames and computers. When I turned 18, the only thing I really enjoyed doing was art so I went to art school and loved it. I specialized in painting at first but over the years the transition to computer-based work slowly increased. My art practice in school was also completely different from what I do today. I was mostly working on video installations and interactive works. When I moved to Vancouver after graduating from art school, I took a fresh new start: I began exploring early computer graphics which was something I always wanted to do. I created my first blog in 2009 on BlogSpot, and then onwards things slowly took off. I joined online collectives like Computers Club, founded my own collectives and created new networks based on my new practice. I’ve been a full-time artist since 2010, and got my first gallery representation in 2013/2014.
Q: Which are your artistic influences?
A: Early computer graphics are the most obvious ones. Specifically, graphics from the mid80s and early90s, which are the ones I grew up with, and represent an important moment in computer history when home computers and videogame consoles became mass produced/distributed. In terms of aesthetic experience, I’ve always placed whatever I saw on screens at the same level as my experiences of painting, photography, film, etc. I became increasingly interested in these screen-based graphics for their sculptural, material and pictorial qualities, and also for their limitations, their poetics, and for how relevant they are since we’re spending a good part of our lives looking at screens.
I look at a lot of different forms of abstraction in painting, photography, moving image, optical art, technical drawing, experimental film and animation: anything that codifies/renders something complex through minimal means. That being said, I have a very wide range of interests artistically, historical and contemporary. Maybe because outdoors played a huge part in my upbringing, atmospheric forces and natural landscapes are also a big drive in my practice, especially when it comes to mediate them or render them through a digital animation, through abstraction, through installations and sculptures.
Q: What has the art NFT movement meant to you? Has it changed your art practice? Does it enable you to do something that you couldn't do before?
It’s been a radical change. Screen-based works have always been essential in everything I do, but digital works never had a big commercial success until NFTs. I was fortunate to sell some digital art over the years but it’s never been my main source of income, so I’ve been also focusing more and more on sculptural works, installations, prints, etc. I love doing it all, but animation is definitely my favorite medium and NFTs have been incredible in that they’ve allowed me to fully embrace this aspect of my work. Finding so much support and appreciation for what I do still feels a little bit unreal, but I take it very gladly.
The other radical change NFTs have brought is the number of new friends and artists I’ve met in the last 3 months. I’ve been able to connect with many artists I’ve admired for a long time, and also with new artists I’ve discovered. The community support within NFTs is incomparable to anything I’ve experienced before. I’ve been able to start collecting works from incredible artists on various platforms, something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time. Many people are bringing so much generosity and support into this new space, beyond the economics it is this aspect that I find to be the most exciting and inspiring.
Q: Would you like to highlight any of your works? Any story you’d like to tell around any piece?
A: One project I’m very proud of is WALLPAPERS which I co-founded with Sara Ludy (New Mexico, USA) and Sylvain Sailly (Canada/France). The project always had a double existence online and offline; online as a catalogue of digital patterns displayed full-screen, and offline as site-specific installations made of projections and screens. The installations use patterns from the online catalogue and project them in space, producing environments adjusted to the architecture in context. WALLPAPERS refers to both traditional wallpapers applied to walls as well as digital wallpaper applied to computer desktop backgrounds. By extension, the project also refers to the practice of pattern-making for the creation of traditional/ digital wallpapers and to a wide range of imageries and formats, drawn from the history of computer graphics, decorative arts, and from each artist research.
An important moment in this collaborative project was in 2015 when we created the exhibition Beyond the trees: Wallpapers in conversation with Emily Carr at the Vancouver art Gallery, curated by Diana Freundl & Caitlin Jones. We worked on this exhibition for 3 months, mapping the space, creating the animations on-site during a month period. The exhibition received so much engagement and positive responses when it opened, it felt like we managed to convey a few key things that are essential to us when it comes to experiencing digital moving-images. That’s not something you get to experience very often as an artist, so when it happens you should definitely appreciate it!
Q: Which NFT platforms are you using? Both as an artist and as a collector or passerby.
A: I’m using Foundation, Superrare and Hicetnunc. I’m sure there’re many other great platforms out there, but these 3 already take up so much of my time that it’s hard to get involved in others at this point.
I’ve received an invaluable amount of support from FND, which made and still makes a huge difference. This is the first platform I joined and it feels very special to me. FND is also where I started collecting with my brilliant partner Kerry Doran, and it’s much more accurate to say that my collection is our collection. There are many aspects of FND that I love; the platform constantly evolves by bringing new features, there is a solid community of artists and collectors, they listen to the community and they have a lot of big plans for the future. I think all these aspects are essential for any NFT platform to succeed.
I also really enjoy Superrare as an artist; it’s so vast, it feels significant historically and many artists I admire are on it. I also received great support from SR which I’m really grateful for. The ability to mint GIFs is amazing for me since this will always be my favorite format. Kerry and I would love to start collecting works on SR but price points are usually higher, which is amazing for the artists but makes it a bit harder to collect with our budget.
Hicetnunc is also fantastic, both as an artist and as a collector. The community around Hicetnunc is so incredible and the spirit of the platform is something I truly love. The financial and overall accessibility of the platform makes it much more viable for a lot of creatives and collectors with less financial means, which opens up a vast new field. Even if you end up selling your work for less, the community and energy on Hicetnunc always makes up for it.
Q: What would you like to see in the platforms you use in the future? Would you be interested in having some kind of support towards, e.g., promotion, artists discovery, the possibility of working with curators, functionalities to make collaboration and debate easier? Etc.
A: I would love to see more wealth redistribution from successful artists (many are already doing it) and more initiatives from NFT platforms to close the gigantic gap of access to NFTs based on ethnicity, gender identity, income, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. I would love to see more and more artist agency and less and less gate keeping. NFTs have radically changed power dynamics between artists and traditional art structures/actors. In the artworld, artists often hold very little power and constantly have to compromise with those who hold it. The changes NFTs have brought within those dynamics are immeasurable and still unfolding.
Artist discovery is another big issue I see at the moment. Most artists at an early-stage struggle to find an audience, and shilling your work all day on twitter threads isn’t viable, most of the time all you see is others succeeding while you remain invisible. Some tools and search features to discover artists based on traffic, sales, followers, dates, are starting to appear, but they are developed by individuals and NFT platforms should get better at this. As a collector, I see a lot of interest in following and supporting artists early in their career, it benefits everyone.
Q: Any other artist whose work you'd like to recommend?
Auriea Harvey https://twitter.com/auriea
1x1 (an alias for Stevie J Jones) https://twitter.com/1x1_NFT
Itzel Yard https://twitter.com/ix_shells
Ikaro Cavalcante https://twitter.com/occult3d
Cibelle Cavali Bastos https://twitter.com/cibellecibelle
Laura Brothers https://twitter.com/out_4_pizza
Yoshi Sodeoka https://twitter.com/yoshi_sodeoka
Francoise Gamma https://twitter.com/FrancoiseGamma
Kaoru Tanaka https://twitter.com/v_kaoru
Katia Semenko https://twitter.com/KtSemenko
Adam Ferris https://twitter.com/adamferriss
Maria Constanza Ferreira https://mariacf.com/
Kyle Hittmeier https://twitter.com/KHittmeier
Advan Shumiski https://twitter.com/shumiski
Juanna Pedro https://foundation.app/@juannapedro
Camila Roriz https://twitter.com/cibymili
Gabriel Massan https://twitter.com/gabrielmassan
Lorna Mills https://twitter.com/lm_netwebs
Rodell Warner https://twitter.com/rodellwarner
Alex Gibson https://twitter.com/Alex_N_Gibson
Sylvain Sailly https://twitter.com/NiavlySailly
Sara Ludy https://twitter.com/sara_ludy
Mathew Plummer-Fernandez https://twitter.com/M_PF
Gio Mariani https://twitter.com/eventualghost
Romain Sein https://twitter.com/Ro_mi_nd
Jerome Allavena https://twitter.com/AllavenaJerome
Fizz Pop https://twitter.com/FizzPop87916406
Q: Any artist who you'd like to see in this series of interviews?
A: All of the above…1x1, Sylvain Sailly or Cibelle Cavalli Bastos?
(Marcelo's comment: Nicolas, you've got 1x1 / Stevie J Jones interview already here :)
Q: Any closing thoughts?
A: Thanks for this interview :-) I appreciate it.
Merci a toi, Nicolas!