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New Spaces: The Digital Worlds of Sabrina Ratté

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We sat down with Sabrina Ratté, the Montreal video artist making waves across the worlds of 3D animation and installation to discuss the Canadian premiere of her new piece, Aires, exhibiting at our Centre for our Fall season.

Most of your work I feel, including Aires, is in the pursuit of creating new kinds of “environments”— where do you get the inspiration for creating these would-be spaces ?

My work has evolved to become more and more architectural, and a wide range of inspirations have led me there. I would say that my interest in architecture has always been strong but I developped it more consciously in the recent years. My videos are often informed by my personal experience of my surroundings; I like to drift into cities for hours, especially at night where lights create more surreal ambiances. I also had the chance to visit many sites, from La Cité Radieuse by le Corbusier to the “Villes nouvelles” surrounding Paris. The impression one gets when visiting Les Espaces d’Abraxas for example is quite strong. It is a confusing mix of dystopia and utopia, a reality out of science fiction, and this idea is central to most of my work.

I project a lot into architecture, and this way of interacting with my surroundings led me to investigate the way I project myself into images as well. I aim at creating a virtual space that would translate the impressions I get when visiting particular physical spaces. Doing so, questions on the notions of the virtual and the physical arise. For Aires, I was inspired by Mies Van Der Rohe’s work, and the idea of creating a disjointed space to be visited in a contemplative way. During the process, the house became more abstract and the identity of the space shifted. My videos are always the result of a general idea of what I would like to achieve confronted with the limitations of my tools.

How much of that is tied to some kind of fantasy for you ? Would you want these spaces to exist in reality ? Are they places you would want to inhabit or are they better off left to imagination ?

Part of me would love to see these architectures exist in the physical realm, but the limited access to them -only through a screen- creates an interesting tension. The illusion that a space is within reach when it is really unattainable incarnates the ideas of utopia/dystopia, which are central to many of my videos. I believe that this tension would be lost if these architectures actually existed, it would become an entirely different project. This said, it would be a next level challenge!

Were you ever interested in becoming an architect ? If so, what made you not ?

I am definitely fascinated by the work of architects. In the same time, I appreciate the freedom of thinking about architecture and creating spaces without being limited by the constraints of practicality.

I feel like, as in Aires, there are a lot of examples of juxtaposition in your work: the natural vs corporate world, being the example here. What is it you’re trying to achieve through confounding these disparate ideas together in your work ?

Corporate spaces are strange places, especially lobbies. I see them as some sort of no man’s land, with no other purpose than transitioning between exterior and interior. You know they are built for humans, but a lot of the time there are nobody in them. The security is felt as a ghostly presence. I see them as ambiguous spaces, completely abstract, some sort of white canvas. This blurry identity of spaces is something I aim to reach with my videos; creating a vaguely recognizable architecture while leaving it undefined. Architecture takes a lot of its meaning by the way we project things on them. During the making of Aires, an ambiguous ambiance started to emerge; it was both cold and peaceful, rational and supernatural; Aires imposed itself as the mix of a sanctuary and a corporate space while remaining mysteriously anonymous.

A lot of your work has been shown in the public realm. How do people normally react when you activate an installation of your’s within those kinds of spaces ?

My work takes another meaning when in the form of installation; it creates a dialogue with the room it is installed in, like an extension of the physical space. My videos seem to work particularly well in corporate settings. For example, the commission I did for Dolby in 2016 could have been seen as a reinterpretation of their lobby (without it being intentional). Even my solo exhibition at Young Projects in Los Angeles was close to this corporate ambiance, as the gallery looked like some office space from the 70s!

I can’t say that I think much art nowadays, especially in the realm of video or digital art, feels particularly “futurist”— but somehow your’s does. Just wondering if there are any references to the past in your work that maybe viewers might be unaware of, and if not, how do you keep your creative gaze focused forward ?

I am extremely inspired by the past, probably more than anything else. Pioneers of computer and video art were my school and my first inspirations. Artists such as Lillian Schwartz, Steina and Woody Vasulka, Laurence Gartel, Toshio Matsumoto just to name a few, were key to the aesthetic I first developed. Later on, I dove more into architecture, such as Le Corbusier, Bauhaus, Ricardo Bofill, the science fiction of Cronenberg, Philip K. Dick, Verhoeven, J.G Ballard, and more recently constructivists, surrealists and abstract paintings are my main inspiration. So I would say that if something futuristic emerge from this set of inspiration, it would be the result of mix influences from various periods of times.

What else is coming up for you in the future ?

I am moving to Paris in a few weeks. I will be showing some new pieces next month at the New Forms Festival in Vancouver as part of the Wallpapers series organized by Nicolas Sassoon Sara Ludy and Sylvain Sailly. In November, I will have some work displayed at the Variation Media Art Fair in Paris. A project of installation in France is also in the air, as well as other exhibitions still unannounced . I am now starting to work on a new project including sculptures and videos, which sets a new direction with my work. More news soon!

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