by Manu SharmaAug 18, 2021
When discussing digital art practices, one runs the risk of viewing this broad body of artistic undertaking in much the same way as other traditional forms of expression. This will lead to two oft-encountered errors: first and foremost, it will manifest the need to view digital practices within the framework of genre or technique-related groupings, and consequently, will result in a denial of the versatility of practitioners and the interchangeability of the tools and methods at their disposal. Secondly, discussions built upon a false premise such as this, will often fail to take into account the possibility, and indeed, fast-growing incidence of such artistic undertakings being built within a dialogue between the tangible and digital space. With these considerations in mind, the artistry of Indie digital artist and creative coder Stas Sumarokov, who hails from Velikiy Novgorod, Russia, is a perfect reminder that digital artistic practice is fundamentally the practice of discovery, and that it is fluid, freely moving between the various systems and processes that are available to the practitioner, and above all, is capable of seamless interaction with the physical and tangible.
Sumarokov does not possess a formal education in the arts, however, he has been involved in varying capacities within the contemporary arts scene of his hometown from 2008 onwards. This has included immersing himself within dance, theatre, improvisational practices as well as a whole host of art engagements chiefly grounded within community. He says, “I did it for about 10 years and that is a huge period of time, especially when you are in your 20s. So, it has had a great impact on my artistic vision and relationships with time and space. During this time, I travelled a lot to different festivals, workshops and other events, which were mostly in Europe. I ended up living in many artistic communities and residences, so art became a very important part of my life.” Whether it was through his travels and associations with other artists, or simply an inward development, Sumarokov would begin to be fascinated by digital arts practices and the creative potential they held. A major push in this direction, however, would not come until Sumarokov’s involvement with his community’s practice dwindled. He explains, “I began moving towards digital art for two main reasons: first, our city dance community fell apart and second, I noticed that a combination of stage performance and projected visuals was becoming increasingly popular. So, at first my aim was to learn how to do real-time visuals that could be combined with dance or theatre performances, but eventually, I switched to abstract visuals without data from human movements at all.”
Looking at these earlier pieces that were built through human tracking is critically important within the frame of our discussion. However, they illustrate perfectly Sumarokov’s preoccupation with the fluid motions of the human physique. He says, “Even though the last three years have been spent mostly on digital visual art, my understanding of composition and timing comes primarily from the stage rather than from visual practice,” and this is quite plain to see. Within the above piece for example, Sumarokov’s subject’s motions are distinctly performative, echoing those one might see in interpretive dance, and quite possibly Butoh; a Japanese dance practice Sumarokov has some experience in. The subject’s motions are also quite apt, and form a perfect base for Sumarokov’s motion-tracked water droplets, mingling together in seamless fluidity. Through pieces such as this, Sumarokov attempts to bridge human motion and digital effects by locating a middle-ground wherein the latter feeds off the former. While much of his work at this point falls under the category of experiments, these are nonetheless valuable in complicating discussions around digital practices where art critique is concerned, and for many artists themselves, presenting what is perhaps, a fascinatingly new approach to think through.
Discussing technique, Sumarokov says, “My most preferred software is TouchDesigner, primarily because it's probably the best tool for real-time visualisations. It allows me to capture dancer movement, do something interesting with it, and project the result onto a wall behind the dancer with minimal delay. Also, I use the GLSL programming language quite a lot. When I work with motion data, I am using either Kinect for skeletal tracking and creating 3D point clouds or just a camera from my smartphone to capture video and stream it to TouchDesigner.” In keeping with the assessment made earlier regarding the value of Sumarokov’s work as a demonstrative tool for other artists, he has begun a YouTube channel which he uses to impart various techniques to prospective practitioners. Sumarokov seems to enjoy his practice of discovery, and says, “Honestly, I see myself more like an art and algorithms researcher rather than an artist, because what I usually do is explore some tool or idea for a couple of weeks or so, while it's still fresh and interesting for me, create a few artworks based on it and move on to something different. I am not particularly interested in making finely polished works with a consistent artistic style, which is probably something that comes from my improvisational dance background.”
Discussing the future, Sumarokov admits he is unsure where his artistic experimentation will lead him, but mentions that he is interested in moving further towards the NFT art market, which he has already begun to do. He explains, “NFTs will certainly change the digital art world. I hope more artists and collectors will choose clean NFT alternatives with smaller carbon footprints. I did it myself and I am very happy about that decision.” However, his greatest role may in fact be that of a discoverer and a teacher; a practitioner who paves the way for others like him to build upon. He is also keenly interested in the growing augmented reality integrated art trend, and humorously, ends his interview with STIR on this note: “I hope I will find my place in the AR world as well, as that would return me to my starting point: capturing reality, performing an artistic intervention based on it in real time and projecting it back to reality.”