Digital interlinkage: visiting the worlds of American glitch artist Sky Goodman

New media artist Sky Goodman engages with a wide swath of creative inspirations and techniques in order to create an artistic vocabulary that is entirely their own.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jul 28, 2021

Some believe that glitch art is, at its core, queer, introspective and a celebration of difference. While these themes are certainly apparent within the work of Sky Goodman, a video artist based in Chicago, IL, what will likely draw viewers into their oeuvre first and foremost is the fascinating digital landscapes they craft. Collectively, the artist has titled these as the Tangla Landscapes, and often places them in a series called Willow World. They tell STIR, “I think Willow World is an expression of my love for nature and the pastoral. Every day on this planet is a gift and I have always been drawn to the details in the natural world. I also like the way we can find ourselves mirrored in nature.” They continue, highlighting a possibly prescient link between nature, humankind and technology, saying, “The roots of trees are like neural networks in our brains or the veins of leaves look like the veins in our body.” While these pieces from the artist’s wide and varied body of work carry some aspects and aesthetics of the aforementioned glitch art, as a whole, they transcend any narrow understanding of glitch as a medium, and must instead be seen as a culmination of Goodman’s various artistic predilections and thematic preoccupations. Indeed, their work generally rejects easy placement into any one category, and while this is its greatest strength, it also makes it rather challenging to discuss. At first glance, one may be tempted to unthinkingly assign it to the larger body of glitch practices, but a deeper exploration of the artist’s work will undoubtedly reveal that what we are dealing with here is not a case of an artist entering a body creative whose bounds are pre-established and its purposes preordained, but rather a practitioner engaging with a wide swath of creative inspirations and techniques in order to create an artistic vocabulary that is entirely their own.

A self-portrait by the artist | Sky Goodman | STIRworld
A self-portrait by the artist Image: Sky Goodman

Discussing their creative journey, Goodman tells STIR, “As a child I always drew and doodled. Often I would get into trouble at school for drawing cartoons instead of paying attention in class to my assignments.” During their youth, they would also hold a fascination for the computer hardware advertisements that they found in malls, and go on, saying, “I came of age in the 1990s, with the birth of the home computer. I remember going to a store named Spencers when malls were still a thing, and falling in love with posters of surreal landscapes merging with outer space.” Later on, these interests would begin to coalesce during their time at college in the early 2000s, where they began using watercolours to create abstract comic strips. However, it was in 2014, whilst watching the Football World Cup on their Mac desktop that their screen would glitch out and the artist would quickly find themselves more preoccupied with taking photographs of the coloured pixels on the screen, as they roiled and blended with each other, than with resuming their viewing. And thus, Goodman’s creative direction as a glitch practitioner would begin. They explain, “This led to finding the Glitch Artists Collective and becoming a part of a rich community of net artists, hackers, and creative coders. Glitch appealed to me because it felt like a queering of the art world— to have images be “broken” or “othered” and to find the beauty in that, spoke to my soul.”

01 min watch Willow World: Sentient Waves | Sky Goodman | STIRworld
Willow World: Sentient Waves Video: Sky Goodman

Once within the glitch world, Goodman would quickly take to various iOS apps for glitching. These include Glitche, Matter and Union. They add that what they found to be one of the most liberating aspects of this medium was the ability cellular phone apps gave them to continuously engage with their practice even when they were travelling, and they managed to create an entire exhibition series on a train from New Orleans to Chicago.

01 min watch ‘Thanatopsis Celebration’, a strangely compelling departure from the artist’s usual color palette | Sky Goodman | STIRworld
Thanatopsis Celebration, a strangely compelling departure from the artist’s usual colour palette Video: Sky Goodman

Discussing technique, Goodman opens up by mentioning that there are so many moving parts to their process, it is still very much mystified to them. They point to a certain spirit of adventure, saying, “The most authentic thing I can say is that my desire to create and explore new techniques keeps my process ever fluid. I used a program called Gravity Sketch to sculpt a landscape world. There are different brush strokes and primitive objects you can use in this software so it really feels like a mix of painting, sculpting and 3D modelling inside virtual reality. Then I export the .obj file and import it into Blender. There I add textures to the world. After I have textured my world, I pan around it to create movement, a loop, or small video. Sometimes music is added, sometimes not! Just depends.” Finally, in some cases, the artist will often attempt to keep a long-running thread between the individual pieces in Willow World moving, by turning the entire world into a .mp4 file, and projecting it onto a 3D monitor in a subsequent piece within the series. To add to the interplay between the artist’s work, the opposite is also true: they will often look through older work in order to produce a digital image or analogue capture they created years ago, and add it into their currently ongoing project, in pursuit of a certain retrofired aesthetic.

01 min watch Mountain and Sea | Sky Goodman | STIRworld
Mountain and Sea Video: Sky Goodman

Goodman has been a member of the erstwhile Shrine multimedia collective, which ran from 2015 to 2018, and undertook multimedia events and performances in Chicago. While they are not currently a member of any group in the strictest sense, they are actively working with various artists on multiple projects, and their practice can be found online under a number of different creative avatars. Their work has also been exhibited at various avenues, including Tate in London and at various galleries across the United States, in Brazil, Argentina and in Europe. They have big plans for the future, wishing to create music and environments in VR, so that others may interact with them. They are also playing with the idea of creating a line of prints with augmented reality features and look forward to continuing to work with other practitioners. Goodman ends our interview by referencing the same spirit of inquiry that has been crucial in the building of their oeuvre. They say, “I like to leave space for what is unknown! So, I am excited for what I cannot predict now but know is inevitably on its way.” 

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