Blending digital and physical worlds
Pioneering digital artist Geoffrey Lillemon works at the intersection between technical innovation and art. As one of the leading artists in the Net.art Movement, Lillemon’s oeuvre has helped build the foundations of contemporary digital art. His work blends digital and physical worlds thereby rethinking modes of representation in an often interactive way. This year, we get to welcome the art superstar to COME ALIVE Festival – and we couldn’t be more excited. We got the chance to catch up with Lillemon and talk about his craft, piece for COME ALIVE, and everything in between.
How are you today?
Good, I’m working on a series of sculptures for the new Bernhard Willhelm collection. We’ve worked together for at least a decade now. We are always on the same trip so we are currently in the sports mood. Always working but making time for exercising and praying against the cold for a new summer.
That sounds really cool. In your own words, could you describe your craft and what you do?
If you look at everything I’ve done, I think I’m one of the lucky few that has been able to keep a consistent art practice and style that goes across commercial and personal work. Occasionally I’ll show in galleries and do the traditional formats to showcase my art. But I really work as a commercial artist. So instead of selling it to a private collector, I’m often selling it to brands. It seems that my work as punk as it is appealing to the mainstream domain. My personal interests are always in line commercially, especially with the fashion and music world which is where most of my work is coming from. In that way, I’ll be like, ‘oh, I’m interested in exercise, bodybuilding and canoeing right now’. And then we apply that to the Bernhard Willhelm collection. Or for example, when I was working with Rick Owens I was into these certain kinds of dynamic slime alien effects and it tied perfectly into our work and needs of the campaign. I would say I’m an artist working with commerce as an art medium, and I’m happy with that.
I’m always looking at new technology, whether it’s virtual reality, code-based, augmented reality or different 3D techniques and I try to do something unpredictable with it. It’s like, ‘oh, what can this be used for?’ I find it interesting to play with unexpected contrasts. It’s almost bad taste playing with high-end technicality that’s very commercial, but then breaking it and putting that in an unexpected domain. This allows it to break the glimpse culture that we’re in because there’s always something off. That’s sort of the Bible that I go by. Right now it’s not interesting enough to simply make a beautiful image, especially in these days of artificial intelligence imaging techniques, so I’m always responding to that and being like, ‘okay, what is the complicated way to make something look rough?’ I enjoy that kind of dialogue and approach to the work. I also have a natural interest in the parallel realities that we’re living in between our physical and digital self. A common keyword with that is the digital twin. With the Witch and Jackbomb. I started playing with the fantasy of the self and self portrait and who we can be in these metaverse spaces.
That’s amazing. As we progress and change with new technological developments you remain so fluid and open. You just do what you love no matter the medium.
A good example of that would be a piece I did recently actually. I put filters on old footage of Audrey Hepburn. There’s something quite nice about it because the way she’s moving her head is very different from when we are looking at our phones. Her movements with those filters results in a kind of romanization of the technology. Instead of it being goofy it becomes more sensual and endearing. Even the funny ones where it takes out her face and just keeps the eyeballs or where she’s bald, there’s still a sensitivity to it because of the way she’s speaking. This is so unexpected because it’s turning old archival footage into the language of selfie culture.
Wow, interesting. You already touched on it a little bit, but could you kind of walk me through your project for COME ALIVE?
It’s called the Witch of Jackbomb. Jackbomb is an energy supplement used in muscle training so to me it represents an energy and mood that started from my experiences in canoeing, I got really into exercise and interested in the idea that maybe getting completely muscular and super fit is the FINAL AESTHETIC. We spend a lot of time in front of the computer challenging our presence in our biological life with the seduction of these nuevo metaverse worlds, getting autonomy over the digital look while often being pale and skinny behind the screen. So I was thinking maybe the next aesthetic and art direction is to become completely shredded like the gigantic beasts that are living in these exaggerated metaverse worlds. That was the inspiration for why I wanted to create an exaggerated self portrait character that is lifting weights and getting really pumped yet maintaining a state of suffering and magic. I enjoy expressing gender fluidity, but also the vulnerability I feel when expressing myself through the presence of an avatar without reality limits. Take for example the crystals exploding out, you can’t tell what kind of genitalia it is, but regardless it’s a great power. So I’m trying to make it an all-encompassing portrait that’s unidentifiable in a way that makes it identifiable to everybody. The witchcraft kind of element of it comes from the electrical power that all of this runs through. I’m trying to tap into that modern day witchcraft to combine these two separate worlds of power. There’s fitness with the power of the body and there’s witchcraft with the power of the mind and spirit. This duality is trying to represent the all-encompassing feeling that is the Witch of Jackbomb.
You’ve made and done so much. Do you have a project or maybe a few projects that really stand out as your favourites?
I come from the older interactive environments of interactive net art websites. There’s something that’s really appealing to me about having engagement and interaction and so there’s something really special about the Parallel Archaeologies project. It uses historical narratives and archaeology with clip art to blend different forms of storytelling that taps into my kind of history as a digital artist. I think the Miley Cyrus work is interesting because of its large scale. To make work that can kind of guide the force of an entire crowd and a pop star pop star has a special communal power that’s the complete opposite of the individual interactive work. I like the extremities of those two different kinds of experiences. I’m also drawn to smaller experiments like the Audrey Hepburn project that don’t take a lot of time – think those projects are always just turn out good. In terms of the fashion work, I mean, Bernhard and I have been working together for the longest time and he and I have a special process in common where we take inspiration from the day’s mood. If the day’s mood is to go canoeing and be in the sun then that’s what the art is going to be. I think that when I look at the work, some of it I look back at and ask myself, ‘oh, wow, that was a really good end product but did I enjoy the process?’ And so now the work I appreciate is more the ones where I really enjoyed that day, where I had my cats on my lap, listened to the music, and made memories attached to the process.
I can imagine! What are you most excited about or kind of looking forward to at the come alive festival?
I mean it’s a great show! Everyone is showing vulnerability and sexual content that’s very personal to themselves which somehow makes it sensitive rather than erotic. It’s super refreshing. There’s a lot of dialogue going on with the sexual expressions that people are curious about, so the festival is supporting that.The festival is really a special space to talk about those issues.
What are you manifesting for the rest of this year?
Well, I was just in Cyprus with my fiance – we’re getting married in October –
Thanks! We were travelling around Cypress and we scanned a bunch of old artefacts that were dug up from the great land of Aphrodites. And so I’m doing a piece called Sweating Artifacts, which is a series of all of the selected historical sculptures that are 3D scanned, and then they’re going to be sweating and getting sunburned by these artificial intelligence suns. I just really like the idea of revisiting history and retelling these stories through digital art as a new way of showing history as opposed to it being a museum. So I’m recontextualizing history for our attention spans and contemporary formats now which I find exciting. And so I’m working on that and I hope that that opens up doors to work with other museums!
Watch the interview 😉
COME ALIVE June 3- July 31
Buy COME ALIVE tickets here
Check out the full COME ALIVE programme here
Images courtesy of Geoffrey Lillemon
Words by Ella Paritsky