Nicole Ruggiero is a Brooklyn-based net and 3-D visual artist and co-founder of the Post Vision collective. Working with the themes of technological disassociation and digital reality, she makes saturated pieces resonant of the 90's memorabilia. We met her at her studio and talked about her newest VR work No Esc, which she exhibited with at Small Editions and then Superchief Gallery, internet romance, and witch house.
Tell us about your “Slide to Expose Recap” exhibition at Babycastles?
It was with Molly Soda in March. Molly and I have been talking a bit and said that we’d love to collaborate. I wanted to have an AR component because a lot of my work is digital and I wanted to bring it out in real life. We were discussing different concepts and I brought up the idea of digital intimacy. I know Molly has created bedrooms before so this idea of a bedroom manifested where you can walk around and scan various objects.
How was it working in AR?
We reached out to the Berlin-based team Refrakt. We worked on it with them for about four months, creating the assets for all of the digital pop-ups so you could go to this exhibition, download the Refrakt app and download the exhibition within the app. In total we had about 30 items that could be scanned. You had to walk around the room and figure out what you can scan and what brought up a memory of digital consciousness. Essentially we wanted to explore the things you might hide or keep private, and expose them. We really wanted to parallel that your bedroom and your device are similarly intimate spaces. Even when you are in your bedroom and seemingly alone, because you have your device on you, you are never actually by yourself.
Are you continuing with the bedroom theme now?
For now I am. I put together a team to do a VR experience called “No Esc.” It was first piloted at this festival called Internet Age Media (IAM) in Barcelona in April and then was shown at “Four Steps to Self-Help” at Small Editions with you guys in May. We are soon showing it at an Wavelength Exhibition in Beijing as well. My team includes a Jeremy McKeehen who is a 3-D artist, my friend Prashast Thapan from Babycastles, Michelle Cortese who is in between VR and the art side, and Calvia Pia who did the sound. We want to do some projection mapping as well. I think it’s important to have something besides the headset and more of an environment you are actually entering.
So what’s “No Esc” about?
All of my work is about social media and digital technology. In the “No Esc” piece you start off standing in front of this giant phone on the floor in a extremely vibrant pop-colored room. Someone is frantically messaging you. On the phone, on the computer, even on the TV. Music is frantically playing and changing in the background.
The whole idea is getting bombarded by notifications and technology. Your whole life is essentially online and the piece is about the difficulty of disconnecting. The vibe is a bit of a throwback to 80’s and 90’s. I like the nostalgia theme in my work because I feel like it’s cool to look at a time when the internet started becoming more social and more accessible. There are different posters on the wall like pulp fiction. A sequence from “Final Destination” is playing on the TV. The vibe is dark but cool, kind of like “maybe I partied too much and need to stop.” The whole thing is really chaotic, everywhere you look - nothing is easy, this one person is still frantically messaging you, your mom is calling, etc. Finally after about three minutes these weapons drop from the ceiling and you can destroy all of your devices. A screen of white comes on and you get transported to this serene environment.
What have you been working on most recently?
I’ve been really into making things that are more tied into real life. It’s very difficult to make something that is gritty and dingy because 3-D work is naturally very clean and perfect. I’ve been challenging myself with trying to make things more realistic. During the month of August I really want to focus on doing more photo and video compositing as well as bringing more realism into my digital pop aesthetic. One of the most important things for me is bringing emotion into digital technology which is usually viewed as sterile and cold.
What software are you using?
I use this 3-D model software Daz3D, I don’t model them, I use them as a resource. Sometimes I edit the skin maps of the model in Photoshop and paint onto them. I then render everything out in Cinema 4-D using Octane.
Whose skin is that?
Daz has models that are scanned to created the skins for the figures. You can check out this article that talks a bit more about that:
While I don’t love the male perspective in this article, it does give some insight on the programs and the way the figures work.
Your “dat boi” phone piece was very popular.
I made a meme reference to that and a bunch of people noticed it and got excited. It’s about social frustration and being over talking to someone and them blowing you up. I’m a net artist and I make art about social media so I’m on social media all the time. It gets really frustrating and there are times when I don’t want to talk to anyone. I get at the very least 5-10 random people messaging me a day, most of the time I enjoy this but some days I need space. I’m on there because of my work and necessity as a freelance artist to be available and network and there is a lot of garbage and nonsense messages that I need to sift through. I love people who follow me and appreciate my work but sometimes I need to put my phone away. So I have been making work about that. But honestly most of the time I love being online and talking to people.
Social presence will always be a paradoxical loop of sorts. What are other themes are you working with?
Another thing I’ve been into is the idea of fakeness and plastic. I actually just came up with a really good idea that I’m excited to execute...
I’ve also been doing is I started working with a few photographers, challenging myself to be more present in my work and I feel like that has been really important as the next step because i want to visually represent who I am, not just with a character but physically. I also want to picture other people interacting with my digital models as well.
Have you done performance or modeling?
I have modeled and done some recorded performances but I haven’t really don’t anything live yet. I recently did my first nude shoot as well. There are very deep boundaries there because it poses the question of whether something is porn or art? I am always thinking about how something is representing me? I am in a place in my life where I want to cross new boundaries, learn new things, learn new techniques, and find my limitations.
What’s your favorite piece that you’ve worked on recently?
I worked with my friend Johnny on this piece that has a very 60’s vibe. I dressed up, I found the Rihanna paper magazine, we really placed the props for this. Afterwards composited this model into it which was very difficult to get the lighting correct. The whole idea behind this is confronting, the figure is supposed to represent your projection online - this is me confronting the digital being that is one with the screen. I am serious and fearful while this being is curious as we as humans once were when we first started using internet.
I love how a lot of your work deals with interpersonal relationships in technology. How sometimes it makes it easier and sometimes more difficult. Is being accesible good or bad for our personal relationships. What do you think?
I don’t think it’s either/or. I think it can be good or bad depending on how busy you are and if the other person can understand that. I do think that the increase in awareness (almost in a surveillance way) gives more of an opportunity to get to know a person’s behavior and whether or not that behavior is complimentary to yours or not.
Tell us about the Hana doll piece you made and how it dealt with consumerism.
The whole thing behind the Hyperculture Hana doll is that my friend Michael and I were doing it in response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We wanted to create something that commented on capitalism but was ridiculous in a way. It was made as a joke for people to step back for a second and think about consumption and why these “holidays” exist. The doll was influenced and largely marketed to internet subcultures.
If you look at my posts I tag a lot of these groups such as #pastelgrunge, #pastelgoth, stuff like that. Other tags are Witchhouse, which came before Vaporwave, and Seapunk was in the middle. There are a lot more than just those. Personally, I really dislike being labeled within these groups because there is a very limited set of ideas within these categories, but I do think that the people who congregate under these hashtags are largely influenced by the internet and really enjoy internet artwork. Though I think vaguely applicable, most artists who make artwork online today definitely have grown from these terms and continue to develop and establish new cultures online for people to follow.
Did you have any intention to see the doll?
We made this doll with no intention of selling it. We put it at a ridiculous price of 10,000 GBP and using GBP because we were riffing off PC music, which is from England, which my work gets related to a lot. It was all kind of like a silly joke, just for people to think about.
Who is she based off?
A lot of people think it looks like me! I was also making fun of myself. I was wearing a lot of pastels and consuming a lot of things at the time.
So are you a witch house fan?
I was listening to mainly russian witch house a lot a couple summers ago, haha. It isn’t my main genre of music, though.
What is your commercial versus your art practice?
Commercially I do a lot of music videos and branding work and visuals for entertainment events, I also do ads for brands that usually run on social media or online. My degree is in graphic design. I went from that to 2-D motion graphics to 3-D motion. I worked with MTV for a few years and left to pursue my freelance practice.
If you had one way for your work to be viewed, what would it be? What’s the hierarchy: physical or social media?
I like that social media is interactive and I can talk to people and people can view it whenever from wherever - that’s my default of how I start a conversation. However I think it’s also really important to bring digital work out into the physical realm, I’m constantly thinking about that as well.
In a traditional setting people can have their work in a gallery and not have the direct catalogue like we can now on Instagram.
I think it depends on how you want to value your work and who you want to define that value. I think having both is ideal.
Your run a collective called Post Vision. What is it?
It’s a net artist collective that focuses on creating a stronger connection between a digital artist's work and their idea behind it. I think meaning is commonly lost in the digital realm, so this is a platform to reestablish ties with the artists.
What are some upcoming projects for you?
I’m going to be doing a bit more photo compositing and focusing on doing some animation projects by myself for the next month or so. I will probably be throwing a VR show in a couple months. Other than that I’m taking a short break from thinking about big projects, after working on "Slide To Expose" and "No ESC", I want to focus a bit inward for a while. Though if there is anyone out there that wants to work with me in a few months I am definitely down to chat :)