Exploring the vivid and alien world of Gabriel Massan

Brazilian digital sculptor Gabriel Massan subverts colonialist stratifications through their decentralised lifeforms.

by Manu Sharma Published on : Feb 13, 2021

Digital sculptor Gabriel Massan (they/them) creates some of the most vivid and captivating artistry to be found within the broad ambit of new media art practices. Originally from Nilopolis, a small city in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the artist currently lives and works in Berlin after having established themselves as an emergent digital art practitioner during the time spent in Sao Paulo. They steer clear of placing their work within strict genre clubbings, thus allowing them to “browse different spaces at any time”, a decision that has opened various exhibition and professional avenues to Massan. They have worked with several major brands and have displayed their work at the Berlin Art Week, ArtRio and the Sao Paolo Fashion Week, to name a few. The artist currently has their work on display at Vienna City Hall.

02 mins watch Aonde você quer chegar | Gabriel Massan | STIRworld
Aonde você quer chegar Video: Gabriel Massan

Massan was well into their degree in social communication when they became interested in audio-visual art, subsequently receiving a scholarship to study video installation and video art at an art school in Rio De Janeiro. It was at this time that they became acutely aware of the fact that positions of power within the art institutions of Brazil were predominantly occupied by white folk. They tell STIR, “My presence was limited by a role that did not encompass all my subjectivities as a human being. In the search to detach the image of myself from my artistic production, I decided to create my own world, governed by my own expectations, dismembering my body from my mind”. This exercise began with illustrations and 2D animations for Massan, but they quickly discovered the potential of 3D sculpting, using it to meld together colours and forms they explain as being inspired by a variety of artistic and aesthetic groupings: cyberpunk culture, 90s videogames, anime cartoons, Brazilian comic books and old fantasy movies mostly from Japan. Additionally, Massan is also preoccupied with how the media and the adjacencies that they engage with interact with society in a grander sense. “Before I started my research in 3D, I used to register the mountains of garbage that spread through my city and its surroundings. In it, I found pieces of mechanics, drawings, computer remains, paintings, and the composition of these discards crossed me in a very specific way. Robot advertising posters and toy store inserts called my attention as well. The last time I remember doing this visually was when I was in an exhibition about one of the vehicles used to explore the moon. Everything that translates a reorganisation of society and life as it is into a state of decentralisation of the human figure fascinates me,” they add.

Avidrado | Gabriel Massan | STIRworld
Avidrado Image: Gabriel Massan

Continuing with Massan’s influences, at the opposite end of the psychic realm they are creating, lies their love for insects and primates. Here too, they express a particular preoccupation with extracting elements from the physical forms and behaviours of the plethora of insects and monkeys they keep pictures of, in order to examine each for what it is outside the bounds of rigid and definite classifications. They say, “There is an incredible variety of details, movements and textures in each one. Each species is formed by such unique and interesting traits, that I end up wanting to translate this beauty into what I create”.  

Brasa | Gabriel Massan | STIRworld
Brasa Image: Gabriel Massan

This act of decentralising the physiclaities and movements of their faunal subjects, along with their larger mission to perform the same process with mechanical parts, human traits and communicative paradigms has allowed for the creation of a stark and hybridized visual language that seeks at once to locate and celebrate that which typifies each tiny thing that enters Massan’s world, but to also repurpose it, and in doing so, eject it from a system of stratifications. Much of this tie back to Massan’s awareness of the abject colonialism that defined the creative and intellectual world they inhabited in Brazil. They explain, "I correlate my need to create signs or translate my desire to externalise figures to the fact that I am not precisely aware of what my cultural heritage is. In my genealogical tree, I cannot go any further back than my grandparents. This is because when Brazil was colonised, most of the indigenous tribes were decimated, and their knowledge, often only transmitted by speech, was erased. With the onset of slavery, African immigrants from different tribes were mixed with the Brazilian indigenes, and their heritages too were lost along with their freedoms. Come democracy, the inequalities inherited from this history have not been tackled and reverberate until today; 500 years later during the time of my existence, which makes me incapable of feeling a sense of belonging because of my forced mestizaje”. “Mestizaje” as Massan uses the term is drawn from ‘Mestizo’, which is a term used to denote a person who belongs to a mix of European and indigenous American descent, and as they seek to extract, enhance and celebrate the individual substrates that compose their subjects, so too do they seek to locate within themselves that which makes them an individual outside the bounds of colonial hierarchies and classifications.

AF | Gabriel Massan | STIRworld
AF Image: Gabriel Massan

The artist tells STIR that their creative process generally begins with them sketching or writing down rudimentary ideas that take shape through experimentation in digital sculpting software. They mention that some projects have seen them create and integrate over 20 individual sculptures. All of these are then painted and layered onto blank templates, which Massan then shapes into their backgrounds. After processing and rendering these pieces, the artist then gets to work on final edits and adds in lighting in order to draw focus on individual elements within their stunning compositions. However, Massan’s work is still not done, and after this point, they will typically undertake a rigorous process of testing out the possibilities of their work within an exhibition space as and when such an avenue emerges. This includes engaging with installation and augmented reality setups, and Massan expresses interest in collaborating with sound artists in the future in order to create installations in virtual reality. This is likely the result of a proactive approach to the shift in exhibition paradigms caused by the current global pandemic. They also mention that they are very eager to undertake their first institutional solo exhibition and that they are currently developing a critical research focus for the same.

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