It is hard to write about Sam Rolfes art. Christian Peterson’s description is a good place to start:
The video he made for Amnesia Scanner(AS), called AS Chingy, is a great example of this. It starts out with a distorted voice speaking incomprehensibly over a heavily textured video which stabilizes back to reality as the beat is introduced. However, this new reality is a mess of organic, digital, neon, structural, and partial features which all seem to have chaotically jumbled into a mash. Then, hands appear, revealing the first person perspective of the video. Just as the bass hits, the figure who the video is focalized through gets thrown off balance. The next minute or so of the video is an incomprehensible scrambling of this figure, who seems to be trying to cope with all the madness that surrounds it. The figure moves as if it is being blown backwards away from the starting point, until the last 30 seconds where it starts charging back to its original position only to end up in a void of black. The last few shots are a reshowing of disrupted images from the start.
As disorienting as this piece is, Peterson’s words ring true; something is recognizable. Picture a large electronic music festival stage with all its lights flashing and the scaffolding, that has been, as Peterson describes, worm-holed into a new universe. Yet everything still functions as it was. The lights react to the music, and the people are dancing, just not oriented how they should be. Just like the turbulent nature of a mosh pit, this figure is being assaulted by countless forces, both physical and auditory. It feels chaotic at best and dangerous at worst. Every partial of matter in the space has been assaulted and rearranged. The result is dizzyingly heavy and near nauseating, but however alien, it feels reminiscent of an electronic concert vibe. This is where Sam Rolfes’s works shine. They are digital abominations which feel relatable, or even, dare say it, understandable.
Just as electronic music can feel like awful noise to some, Rolfes’s art can evoke feelings of horror. However, when asked about the concept of body horror, he says: “That whole body horror thing is actually an issue for me; I’m rarely trying to gross people out or be overtly gory—it’s just that when you use the body as a mark-making medium and contort it as an artistic device, that visceral connection people have to it that I mentioned comes into play and the result is something that some label as scary or intentionally horrific.” His art, like electronic music is not for everyone, but to really sit and experience it is something that not only challenges the mind but questions how our world is understood.
With this piece in particular there is a feeling of an invasive experience. This figure in the video seems to come to its senses only to be curious about it surroundings. Just as confusion sets in, the figure is assaulted and pushed backwards. It is aggressive and seems to reach a breaking point when the figure decides to run forwards. This system of movement is one of the major aspects of narration in the video. It make the figure seem forced around and innocent. This could be hinting at how the rave scene is an assault on the senses.
The music video for FKA twigs’s How’s That was created by Jesse Kanda. It depicts a series of nude female figures who move between mid-air suspension and a chaotic distortion. The figures feel like they melt or blow in the wind as they lose their shape and become almost unrecognizable. Accompanied by lyrics which discuss a feeling of, possibly sexual pleasure, the video distorts the female body and removes all rigidness from it. It becomes nothing more than a texture or material flowing in the wind. With notions like this, the video could be making a statement on how the female body is socially perceived today.
The video’s style of distortion is what relates to AS Chingy. It is an amalgamation of texture, color and unseen forces. As the forms change between detectable and distorted, the viewer finds moments of recognition and tries to piece together understanding. Like Sam Rolfes’s art, the chaos has moments of relatability. The biggest difference between the two is the camera movement. AS Chingy’s camera follows the vision of a figure and is knocked around as the character is. How’s That’s camera is stationary and the distortion moves in and out of frame.
The short film SOLIPSIST created by Andrew Thomas Huang depicts three separate scenes in which an assortment of computer generated objects interact with their surroundings. The first is a pair of dancers who are consumed by strings of objects. The second is an assortment of fish or eel-like creatures formed out of objects, which flash lights underwater to communicate. The third is a pair of humans who are brightly colored on their faces and stomachs. As they pass, they come to a stop, and the colored parts of them flow back like sand in a horizontal hourglass towards each other, only to meet in the middle and lead into the ending scene. The finale depicts these three scenes all dissolving into colored sands which are flown all around the frame. All scenes handle different connections between entities and a reoccurrence of colored sand like that of a mandala. It could be proposing that interactions and relationships are all fleeting and are not anything to be focused on too strongly. Just like a mandala they are built to ultimately be destroyed.
Unlike AS Chingy, this piece does not handle distortion. It is less chaotic and the camera movement is more like that found in How’s That. It does however still extrapolate meaning form a weird or unrecognizable series of events. All of these pieces remain up to the viewer’s interpretation as the meanings are pulled from abstract forms and figures. Regardless of their abstractions, each piece has its own sense of narrative and works well with the accompaniment of music.
With the growth of digital art, abstract imagery has been elevated to a new level. With it comes new forms of experience such as music videos. Computer generated art can express what paintings cannot, but they both reach the viewer on a similar level of understanding. To some, AS Chingy might be digital garbage but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
AS Chingy was shown at:
Amnesia Scanner Live @ Electrowerkz in London on 30.3.2016