by Manu SharmaJun 25, 2021
The words appear painted over a pale yellow rectangle that divides itself through the middle, as both halves curve along the interior of an arch that shapes into the wall. On either side of the arch, lie two lenticular weaves in deep monochromes of green and red, drawing the viewer’s gaze to the yellow frame in the middle. The painting on the wall emanates a lightness, that is then affirmed by the words that it carries. A sense of contemplation enters, subtly.
The above haiku - RR haiku 274, was one of the definitive exhibits at the Dutch-Brazilian artist Rafaël Rozendaal’s 2019 solo exhibition at Upstream Gallery in Amsterdam. The words underscore the mood that permeated through the exhibition, under the apt title of Discrete Objects. From websites and haikus, to lenticulars and weaves, the show exhibited a variety of media that manifest Rozendaal’s artistic practice. Explaining this multifarious approach of his, he says, “All the works come from the same source: Me. I try to play with materials and contexts and see what happens. Each time it’s my personality bouncing into another material”.
Born to parents who are artists themselves, Rozendaal was introduced to art and the culture that surrounds it at an early age. He remembers how there was always material around, and lots of encouragement that allowed him to understand his own inclinations. Alongside regular visits to museums and traditional interpretations of art, Rozendaal emphasises the role that TV cartoons played in shaping his worldview. He claims how his work “exists somewhere in the space between Mickey Mouse and Malevich”.
“I always liked moving images, especially the animated ones, but I was not so interested in narrative, I think for that reason I loved the computer. It offered a way of creating generative moving images, meaning that you can create movement that never repeats itself, the feeling of a waterfall or fountain, endless and meaningless. The internet seemed like the best place for those moving images. Infinite distribution, no gatekeepers,” says Rozendaal, defining the virtual world as an insatiable ouroboros that expands and contracts, churning a vast array of information and media, all while establishing a sense of accessibility for all.
The biography section of his website describes him as an artist who “uses the internet as his canvas”. But over time, alongside a rapidly changing virtual topography, Rozendaal admits how his online practice has changed as well. What started as a fascination with websites and domain names slowly evolved into incorporating different materials and forms to put forth an argument that often skirts the thin line between the virtual and the physical. This dichotomy alongside questions of accessibility form the crux of Rozendaal’s politics, as he regularly makes work for the internet as well as galleries. In the 20 years of establishing an internet practice, Rozendaal oscillates between demarcations and definitions to ask what gets called ‘art’.
In 2010, Rozendaal began a series of one-night exhibitions where different people from around the world became curators of their own shows. The work titled BYOB or Bring Your Own Beamer, echoes the democracy of the open source, to explore the medium of projection as well as exhibition. “BYOB was created to find a simple way of curating internet art. All my friends were creating moving images and everyone owned a projector. I thought: what if we all got together and brought our projectors. It was fun. After the first event, the idea was open sourced so that anyone in the world could create a BYOB exhibition. So far there have been 450 editions around the world”.
Through his practice, Rozendaal has established the internet as a medium in itself, different from sculpture or painting. He strongly believes in the internet having its own formal characteristics, describing his practice as “exploring the visual opportunities of the browser”. Using the flat, two-dimensional nature of the virtual image, Rozendaal has extended beyond the online to approach a variety of contexts with equally varied media. A browser extension such as Abstract Browsing, that turns any website into a colorful abstract composition, reminds the visual aesthetic that then echoes through the vividly patterned compositions of his weaves. A framed lenticular, that mimics motion and alternates between a composite of images, brings to mind RR haiku 259 that reads ‘Slowly realizing-comprehending-understanding.’
Furthermore, large scale works such as Much Better Than This in 2015, translates a website by the same name, to find a physical domain for the moving image piece that shows the silhouettes of two faces kissing, synchronised over the many electronic billboards that define Times Square, NYC. When explaining, what he desired from the work, he says, “I see it as being similar to the way you experience music. You might listen to a song at home, sing it in the shower, listen to it while jogging or driving, and see it in a concert later. All those experiences are additive; they add to the song becoming a part of your life”.
As technologies replace and get replaced, for Rozendaal some things remain constant like his tryst with websites, which he feels to be more permanent, than temporary media trends. When asked about the future, he says how he tries not to imagine any future given the present circumstances, finding greater solace in the present. He is currently working on a big book of digital drawings, an AR app, more websites, a museum show, enamel works on steel, Plexiglas works and believe it or not, “much more”.