I first came across some artwork of Laura Brothers back around 2008. I didn't know her name then, and the sites I browsed at the time--nastynets, supercentral, delicious-- just called it out-4-pizza. It grabbed me immediately, I think partly because it worked with things I knew about but never used in my own creative life. Files that evoked early computing textures, dithers, clipart. She used them creatively, which I had never thought to do until then. To me they were just things of my own computer-past. And that livejournal stuck around; I crossed its path a few more times over the years up until she was invited to join Computers Club. That's when I started actively watching her work. If there was a timeline of my own files I think you'd be able to tell when Laura's influence really clicked with me but throughout all this I’d never talked with her. Never said hi, or asked about her work, or wondered aloud about what she was like. It's a familiar tale online, I think, where the ~person~ behind something can end up ~staying~ behind it if you never make an effort to bring them forward. Instead, keeping them as abstractions--associated weakly with the work they make. It still happens to me today more than I'd care to admit.
However, a few months ago I was running on a particularly good motivational streak and decided to get in touch. To finally break the silence-known-only-to-me. And over to the right you'll see the result of that, what I consider to be a candid and authentic conversation online. It's part of the reason I wanted to post it publicly, to show how easy this kind of thing was [to prove to myself that these kinds of interactions didn't have to be hikes over mountains of expectation]. Laura was kind enough to give her time to answer my (a stranger's) questions as well as allow this to be published publicly and I hope you can draw something from it, as I did.
But for those of you not familiar with Laura's work let me give you my view of it straight and quick. Laura knows the internet. I think it only takes a few moments of browsing her work to recognize she has experience here. Understanding. And for a long time I thought this was just a byproduct of being 'online', part of what anyone would understand as they spent their hours on-the-line. But after seeing a lot of internet art in the last near-decade it's clear to me that some people just don't know. They just can't see themselves or others online, something interferes, and usually their art suffers.
But the thing that makes Laura's work unequalled is, to me, how well she communicates herself as an abstract identity. Laura knows not only what makes a picture digital, I think she knows what makes it part of the internet. When she uses the black browser as her canvas and applies textures to her work that shimmer when you scroll, I see that as an understanding deeper than digital art. It's an understanding of how we interact with things online, the necessary ritual space and use in everyday browsing. In the way she plays with illusion and monochrome I see an understanding of online forms, not just optical oddities. It's as if she senses the masses and absences of being a 'person' online. When she uses repetition and iteration and cloning I see an understanding of online communication, not just digital tools. That iteration and repetition are communicative forms as much as tools to simplify workflow. And when she uses symmetry (and more recently asymmetry) she is, in my mind, creating an altar to life online. Constructing a monolith to herself and her interests in a way tailored for the internet.
And that construction is incomplete. Intentionally, I'd say. Her files seem to acknowledge that there is, inherently, an absence online that carves itself in the art and files we make for ourselves and others spread throughout this medium. The absent part, perhaps the human part, is up for us to ask about in conversation.
I often find myself going through my old work. I think I probably spend as much time looking at my own files as I do looking at other people's files. I am curious if you are similarly minded. Or to put it in another (concise) way, how do you engage with work you've already made? Do you at all?
I look at my old work much less than I should. Really, I don't much at all. I avoid it. I don't like it? I should clarify that "old" are generally things that I made beyond the past year. I DO re-visit things that I drew (sketches, unfinished thoughts) that I never posted and sometimes rework them into a current piece if they fit.
Is there an aspect of revision that sometimes happens after you've already put it out there? I can't recall a piece where I noticed that, but then again computers don't have the kind of cues that physical mediums would. Here, changes over time have to be 'stamped' into the file.
Before I post anything there are probably TONS of variations. Using a painting as a metaphor, you could scrape off layer after layer to see multiple images underneath. And I suppose there are times that I have "spruced things up" here and there in order for an older piece to work in a new context (like for album art, or to fit the context of a show, digital frame, website restrictions, etc.)
That lead me into something I've been really curious about: What is it you get out of making these pictures, why do you do this? I know that's broad. Probably too broad.
Let me try and narrow it by saying I don't need to hear something great or grand, some deep meaning behind it all. If you have it then please do. However, in considering how I (myself) would answer there would likely be a lot of... a kind of 'apple jacks' answering... where other people just wouldn't know why 'I' like it so much. Does that make sense?
I am trying (poorly) to convey an interest in your process, an interest in finding out what makes your mind gravitate towards these images and not something else in life. Like basketball or something. Hopefully I haven't offended.
Really, I just started making this stuff because I liked to do it. I know I know. That's a really bland answer. It’s not going to get any better. Boring talk. But making these excites me. It's fun. I was doing it for myself. I guess I get a little natural high from it. I have a past of making physical art (mostly drawing, attempts at painting). I was always into it. I have a desk job. I sit in front of a computer all day. It just happened naturally. Right now, I don't have a better answer than that. This is the type of question that I am glad that I haven't really been asked in a real published interview because I feel like I have no way to give an answer that doesn't somehow seem disappointing. But I think you could already sense that.
In this new interview (the one I hadn't read before) you mentioned 'the pixel' multiple times. I think you considered it a kind of icon. So I’m curious, for yourself (and by extension your work) what ~is~ the pixel? How does it differ from life's daily forms?
As I type that, I think your interview spoke of it as an exercise in recognizing the edge between representation and abstraction. So how does that interest you? What does it reveal to you? Or to put it in a mystical way, what has the pixel revealed to you?
This may sound weird but because my work is never mentioned without the qualifying "digital," I feel like I have to talk about the pixel as I am being asked about my work and its relation to the particular medium that I use to create it. It’s all just ordered pixels. Right? But honestly, I'm not sure I am really thinking about the medium, about the pixel, when I create. It’s just a tool. A means to an end. But the tool itself inspires me. I guess I never really know why. I just LIKE HOW IT LOOKS. I like the texture. Again. Bad Answer. I know. My answers in previous interviews are my way of attempting to figure out and rationalize my own attraction to the visual quality of digital work. I tend to intellectualize it (art history major). And I know that. But it’s because I really can't place WHY exactly I like to remain within this medium. Or what it is about it that specifically inspires me to create.
Unrelatedly, when I was going through your pictures I started all the way at the beginning. And in other interviews you had called out-4-pizza a kind of safe space. Away from criticism--I think-- a place where you could just post images. To me I sensed an implication that this was no longer the case. That as time went by you became more aware of that watchfulness. Am I wrong to assume that? If I am not wrong, I’m wondering if you shifted that place to somewhere else. I'm not as much curious ~what~ that place is so much as if it exists. In other words, in having the attention of others on your work, had it made you act differently? If so, how?
You are correct. I put more thought now into what I post. A long time ago. I felt like i was just messing around, throwing caution to the wind, and making/posting whatever I wanted. But now I take more time making each post and I make a lot of things that don't ever get posted or get shelved until they are no longer interesting to me. I guess overall I've slowed my output. I am at a major halt right now. There's just nothing that I want to put out there. So no, there isn't really another outlet for me to "post" freely. The unseen work just stays in my own personal collection to be used or forgotten later on.
In moving from your first pictures on out-4-pizza through your most recent ones I began to notice patterns. Or if not patterns, familiarities. One of the things that seemed to follow many of your files was dithering. How does that texture, specifically, interest you? Or does it? Additionally, something I'd refer to as scan-lines seems to feature prominently. Simple one pixel lines given a one pixel space between them. Do these have conceptual significance for you?
Stupid easy answer but I like how they look. And the flickering. The scan line thing is something that I can't seem to escape. I think I first started play with them because they give that broken quality. That old television set aesthetic. I discovered that visually they also have some weird affects when put to use in GIFS. Now I find that I might make a complete work without them, then add that nice translucent layer and I don't want to turn back.
In my mind's fantasy they arrive prominently after a strong moment of realization, a kind of flash moment where, by chance or choice, you look at the end result and it just resonates through your grey matter. I'm building it up, certainly, but I can't help to think there is some interest in it. If not conceptual then perceptual. Either way, I'm curious.
Yes. Pretty much. This is a much more eloquent way of describing it. And it's more towards perceptual for sure.
Another aspect that struck me were the posts of a series. That is, one picture, then a variation, then another, and another. Sometimes these variations seemed to transition through feelings (like order to disorder). Other times they seemed to be divergent. My question in this is whether you see them moving? In other words do you see transitions between them? Or do they act as different discrete objects? I hope my question makes sense. I'm curious why they end up that way.
I think you are seeing what I am hoping to show. Sometimes they are like a consecutive series where an image sort of transforms a little in each variation to tell a story. And sometimes the images are all distinct but I want them to relate to each other in some way. Basically, If I clustered them into one post, under one heading, they are all part of the same story. As to WHY they end up that way, I mostly made them all at the same time, with the idea of a series in mind. On the more practical/honest end of things, and something that I alluded to in the rhizome interview, I'm fairly indecisive. I tend to make a lot of variations before I find what is "the best one" and sometimes I simply do not want to choose. And why should I have to? So I just post it all.
I'm also wondering if you played much with video. Often I see your gifs, which I think you described as 'shimmering' once (or maybe I’m making that up), as being ripe for video. By that I mean higher frame-rate movements and changes. Do you work in that often? If not, how come?
My GIFS are usually pretty simple. I do consider them as twitching/shivering stills. I guess, to me, idea of making full animations is not that appealing and takes the work to a different place. I've never really considered going there, but it's mostly because the desire is not that strong and I currently do not have the technical know-how.
I've pulled out eight examples of what I mean, as well as some ones that resonated with me, and I was hoping you might be willing to say whatever comes to mind about them. I found them interesting and wanted to present them, on thinking about it, in a kind of rorschach-ian way. With you saying anything (or nothing) at any level whatsoever.
Ok. Here we go. Free word association/immediate thoughts.
This one is easy. I made these animated GIFS at the request of a musician who wanted me to play an arts and music festival with him and use my art as visuals. I had made some work for him previously for similar occasions. The idea was that they would look good projected + large, create a cool space with depth, and not murder peoples eyeballs with strobe-y flashing.
So old! Not sure I have much to say about this. I still like the last image.
Good example of using one layer of scans lines shifting just one pixel to make a twitchy animation. Creatures in a corner.
Yuck. Photobucket has compressed this image. I still need to go back and replace a lot of the images that are hosted on photobucket. They seem so old though I'm not sure I care to bother. This image is weird. Made sense to me at the time.
Nope nope nope. I was getting into the quality of disney animation cels.
This is just kind of gross.
All about texture and sad eyes.
The longest of my questions, you spoke about being guarded and initially about maintaining a secrecy to your personal life. Why is that? What is the concern? I have to admit to a bit of confusion, since if the positions were switched I would find it more than welcome. I don't intend to convey anything other than neutral curiosity in this question, so I hope you won't take offense.
Offense not taken. The whole secrecy thing is just sort of how I've always approached the internet. Just being cautious and aware that what gets put out there never really goes away. Not that I have any big secrets to hide. It just feels more comfortable to me. In relation to out_4_pizza, I noticed from the beginning that the mysterious aspect of the blog was part of its appeal to many. No one knew who was making it. I was frequently just assumed to be male (!) and even after my real-life name got tied to it. Some confused/foreign spectators mistook me for a pair of brothers. Lol. I guess I just think that as a person, I'm not that interesting? Not to be self-loathing. More like perhaps it’s not necessary to know certain things about me to appreciate my work.
Second, do you enjoy basketball? Do you play it yourself?
Ha. I do enjoy basketball. I'm not a huge sports fan. But actually if there is a sport that I enjoy watching, it would be basketball. I was on a team in junior high so I actually know the rules of the game and can follow it. I also, once in a while, drag someone to shoot hoops with me. It’s fun. I don't totally suck at it. The balls that appear in my drawings are not really related to this however. I was more in the color, shape, skin texture, court, associations, etc.
Third, you said you were at a "major halt" right now for your creative output. Does that bother you?
Yep. It does bother me. Like any other artist (I think?) I've have periods of feeling uninspired. They come and go. But I'm in a big ol' one right now. It bothers me for a few reasons. But for the most part these two things happen: I start to doubt all my previous work and I miss the enjoyment I get from making new work. Yeah, I'm not liking it.
Lastly, you told me that you were glad no one else had asked you about why you make images as you didn't want to "seem disappointing". And later you said you can't really "place WHY exactly I like to remain within this medium. Or what it is about it that specifically inspires me to create." Why would your responses to me not be viable answers? What about your "own irritating standards" makes those kind of responses not acceptable?
Haha. We are slipping into some sort of psychoanalysis zone now. I suppose saying "I don't know" or "I just like it" are viable answers. I just personally wouldn't want to read that as an answer to an interview question. In my own experience, I generally tend to respect and appreciate art (in any form - visual arts, film, music) much more when there's some decent (maybe unforseen) explanation behind it. You know, so I can look at something and say "OOH. Ok. now I get it". I don't always need this. But I look for it. It's basically why I studied art in the first place. I liked it. I wanted to know about it.
When we chatted you had said that understanding the things you liked about certain pieces had more to do with when you made them and which image it was. In contrast to having a kind of overarching approach to all of your work. Which makes sense to me. So I had asked about your most recent [at the time -R] piece, ZOMEN ZED SED http://out-4-pizza.livejournal.com/69023.html . We didn't have a chance to think about it though. So I just was hoping to start up again where we left off.
I guess I don't know specifically what you are asking me in relevance to this piece - but I think you are still just asking what I like about it? Or maybe what was some of the drive behind making it/ how I want it to sit in the digital medium.
So, this set of imagery, like the other most recent post, was created for a specific project. The work is expanding on some drawings I had begun in January of 2012. Basically, I was thinking about representation of a landscape - something resembling a combination of a decaying mall style plant aquarium and child's playground. It grew from there. I really enjoy the process of building these familiar structures and materials.
I guess this is how I could describe how I made a lot of my more recent work. Building on bits and pieces, locking them together into a complete structure. Going back through older work would probably have a different approach.
Another thing we touched on in our chat was the separation between your social life and artwork 'worlds' so to speak. You said you keep your social life secret from the artworld and vice versa. I was curious--at the time-- as to why that distinction exists for you so I'm bringing it up again here just in case you might've come across anything.
I don't truly think of these things as secrets from one another. That sounds more drastic and purposeful that it really is. I think it's just a natural result of my physical location in the world and the people who surround me IRL. I live in Ithaca, NY. I entered into the "artworld" though the internet and because of that most of the people who know me from this artworld and who i know from this artworld are not within physical proximity. So its just a natural separate thing. I go about my day-to-day life here and don't interact (IRL) with other artistic peers. Like I said during the chat, if I were to move somewhere where I was placing myself more in a real life proximity to people and galleries and all, then 2 would become 1.
As I was looking at the link you sent for 'notes on a new nature' and reading your response I was reminded of a question I never asked. Your color palette. In your response you talked about evoking a "decaying mall style plant aquarium and child's playground." I noticed, around mid-2010, that you began adding color predominantly to your work, am I off base in that?
I don't see it so much as adding color to my work, but exiting my phase of NO COLOR in my work. For a while I was heavily into making simple black and white drawings. I guess I grew out of it over time.
Prior to that I recall many blacks and whites and some tints here and there. After that though it seemed you'd pull a limited palette and really let that 'speak' for lack of a better word. Was there something behind that?
I do take the colors I use into consideration. It makes sense that in producing somewhat abstract imagery, I use color as a clue to what is being represented. I never really meant to adhere to a limited palette but there are definitely certain colors that speak to me that I know I choose to use over and over again. For a while my favorite was something I'd call "flesh" color. It still is I suppose. I would say there are some particular colors that have certain associations and I try to use this to my advantage.
At this point I responded with more of my own backstory and anecdotes. However, I think I did a poor job of maintaining my 'conversation' hat and lost sight of the discussion. As a result the conversation died down.
It's a common thing to
have happen online though, I think. Written conversation takes time and effort,
more so if it might be public. A conversation with a stranger over multiple
days is a draining thing, especially if you are not the initiator. All that to
say I am grateful for the things she shared with me, the insights into her
work, and revelations about some of the struggles she works with.
I prefaced these conversations to her as a personal curiosity that I thought others might like to share in. But in addition to that I would hope this might serve as a motivation for you to get in touch with that artist or artists who you admire. To reach out and investigate your own curiosities.
To get in touch with Laura Brothers, send her an email here