ANTIVJ: ‘It’s almost like visual impact is dictated nowadays’
ANTIVJ is a European visual label representing, producing and promoting the work of digital/media artists working at the intersection of art & technology. Their practice as artists and technologists spans from installation to performance work, large-scale to intimate, often as a response to place & space, to light & architecture, code & motion. Focused on exploring new formats of experience and experimenting with new forms of narrative, the label has been recogniSed for developing and delivering projects that don’t exist. We talk to label manager Nicolas Boritch about the ins and outs of the visual label.
Can you talk about the genesis of ANTIVJ?
ANTIVJ started around 2006 in Bristol where I was based at the time. It started out of an encounter of four artists based in Paris, Brussels and Geneva and myself. All interested in experimenting with new ways of using light.
It’s interesting that it’s called a “label”, which is quite unusual for a visual collective. Does it mean that you try to function as a music label?
Yes, it is definitely similar to the idea of a record label. I grew up in the nineties, surrounded by labels like Warp, Skam, Mego. It’s always been a strong influence because they were gathering exciting artists, but with a very strong artistic direction, identity and aesthetics. At the same time, each artist fit within that direction with their own personality. That’s the idea we had with ANTIVJ when we started: to have several artists, each with their own personality, approach, background and tools, but with something in common in terms of the aesthetics they were interested in, the formats they wanted to explore or the tools they wanted to experiment with. A few things brought the artists to collaborate together in the first few years: the use video projection as a light source, the use of their surroundings as a canvas rather than sticking to the screen, a common interest for restrained aesthetics, which was actually also heavily influenced by the technical constraints of the time, a certain appeal for abstraction and optical illusion as a way to play with people’s perception.
The whole VJ movement has changed over the last ten years. What is your position towards it nowadays?
The answer kind of lies in the title: ANTIVJ. The four original artist co-founders all had VJ backgrounds. The name was a bit of a joke, but it was also about the fact that clearly our starting point was to get away from that scene and what it represented at the time for us. They did do some VJing in the most usual format – in a club, a festival, on stage, on a screen, having to follow whoever was playing. But what we were interested in was to explore everything else: to not use a screen, to not fill the gap for someone else’s performance not knowing who it was nor having a chance to develop an idea as part of a longer collaboration. VJing as we saw it had too many artistic and technical constraints which is why we have always focused on installation work regardless of the scale and the format.
I consider them to be equally important. And in 90% of the time, they are both created from scratch, simultaneously, often through a back & forth process. It may sound obvious, if not simple, but it is about trying to create something that becomes one, rather than putting something on top of each other. A lot of the time people are aware of the visual elements and impact, but not so much of the sonic counterpart. For example in film, music and sound design can often be the sense that your brain believes the most, even if you are not aware of it.
Are you open to new members? How does the membership base work?
We’ve been lucky to be so extremely busy for the first 5, 6 years, focusing on our own projects, that it didn’t leave much time or thought to include new artists and collaborations. Managing the whole label and artists by myself surely didn’t help! Some people may perceive ANTIVJ as a collective rather than a label because for a long time, the number of artists was set. Recently, I’ve started to include new projects and artists, for example the French director Xavier Chassaing who worked on a full 3d animation film which we are hoping to develop into a VR experience at some point. We’re also working on a rather ambitious collaborative project with two astrophysicists, the mysterious sonic act Dopplereffekt, and a team of coders who are developing tools and software to create visualisations of real scientific data. The idea behind this project, which will premiere at TodaysArt in September, is to create a hybrid performance between a scientific lecture and an immersive live audiovisual experience about the the beginning/end of the universe, the cycle of stars, the dark energy. There is also a number of new projects and artists that will be announced in the near future.
Over the last 10 years, technology has changed a lot also in connection with how artists work. How do you view this development and also the convergence between various fields: science, technology, and the arts?
One of the main things is that technical solutions evolve constantly and very quickly. For example, when we started doing architectural projection projects the work flow was very tedious, yet basic. Looking at it now, it was fairly ridiculous, actually. We had to put the projectors in front of the building and use Illustrator in full screen to re-draw the architecture of the building by hand, with a mouse. From there you would have a 2D sketch of the building, which would be your base to create your content. But you would have to be sure that the projectors would remain and be set-up again, in exactly the same place. Nowadays there is a lot of software that does this almost with a single click, which is great. On the other hand, over the last few years, I’ve personally had the feeling that technology had taken over “digital art” and more generally the contemporary art scenes. Too often showing us something like a tech demo rather than art. Today’s global frantic race for innovation doesn’t help. And lately it has felt quite natural to me and the artists I work with, to actually slow down a bit and take time to let things grow and mature.
Could you talk about the ANTIVJ projects involved in SHAPE?
“Mécaniques Discursives” is an ongoing collaborative project between Yannick Jacquet, a media and video artist, one of the co-founders of ANTIVJ, and Fred Penelle, a Belgian artist and printmaker. They have developed this almost jazz way of collaborating where they both have their own language, codes and techniques, and mix the oldest technique of reproduction (print) with video projection, each time starting from scratch and improvising on location. Another project is a new audiovisual installation called “Remote Memories” by Yannick Jacquet. It includes a very panoramic screen made out of 40 thin wooden boards and a series of vibrating speakers. This piece feels to me like an abstract painting that seems to be morphing in slow motion. The sound was designed by another long time collaborator, Laurent Delforge, with the idea to use vibrating speakers broadcasting textures and frequencies through the wooden boards to try and give the installation more physicality. We are also working on a live performance version, using the same set-up, where Laurent will be performing with a series of custom-made vinyls with a different frequency/texture pressed on each record.
Can you talk about your new label, ANTIVJ Recordings?
The idea dates back 5 or 6 years. We wanted to have a platform dedicated to releasing music and sound design originally composed for installation or performance work. To start with, quite logically, we are going to release music by ANTIVJ collaborators. The first release, which is out now, is called “Ecume”. It is a collection of 8 musical pieces by Thomas Vaquie, a longtime composer for ANTIVJ projects, and it comes out as a double vinyl. The idea is also to put a lot of attention to releasing carefully crafted physical objects. Which is why we wanted to make limited runs of very limited objects, such as the resin-cast edition of the album. I am also interested in exploring new ways of presenting and releasing music. Obviously nice vinyl editions, but also physical objects made out of concrete, a 3D print, an audio book, or even an application.
Why is this physical aspect important?
Everything we’ve done has almost always been ephemeral. It’s part of the magic, but it can also become frustrating sometimes. Site-specific work is temporary in most cases. You work for six months, present a ten minute piece, and then it’s gone. There’s also a contradiction between what we do (working with space) and the medium we have to show it to a larger audience (a small video on your laptop). Making a book for example, to document a work, can help show other aspects and ideas. Making a physical object can also be part of a natural development for artists to be able to present ideas in a different way – projects they can exhibit and sell.
It also creates a different relationship with the audience.
We recently did a small release party in Brussels for our first release on ANTIVJ Recordings. We decided to exhibit the different steps and processes used to create the artwork of the album. We also organised a listening session. The idea was to wait until it got dark and put the crowd in complete darkness, have them sit on the floor and listen to the whole album. This is another idea which is at the core of ANTIVJ. The kind of music which I’m interested in for ANTIVJ Recordings is music which is very visual, cinematic and narrative-driven, created with the visual element in mind, but having a capacity to exist on its own. We are interested in creating experiences where there’s absolutely no visual interference and the music is the tool for creating visuals in your mind. It’s almost like visual impact is dictated nowadays – all the bands and DJs have to have visuals – the more flashy and harder, the better. It feels saturated and very empty. You can see things in music too, you don’t need to be told what your imagination can create.