by Manu SharmaFeb 17, 2021
Israeli digital renaissance man Ofir Liberman is of the opinion that we, as a species, have lived within virtual reality since the conception of language. As communication models evolved, they did pull us further away from the realm of Gaia, and thrust us ever deeper into a world of memetics and semiotics. The artist attempts to bridge this schism by creating his work entirely through digital avenues, yet curiously, grounds it within explorations of nature and the ‘real.’ He tells STIR, “Though I work almost exclusively in the digital medium, my concern is reality”. Continuing with this, he describes his creative mission saying, “I am on a quest to find technology that connects us to reality and wakes us up from virtuality”.
As a child and adolescent, Liberman would engage with art extensively. “Ever since I can remember, I had a different view on things and lots of untamed spirits running wild within me. Music and painting took a crucial part of my adolescence both serving as identity-builders and sanity-keepers,” he informs. Hailing from Tel Aviv, he would find himself at the centre of a prolific nightlife culture during the early 90s, and began his artistic career as a DJ within the much-celebrated Israeli rave scene. After spending more than seven years as a DJ, as well as a stint as a label manager, Liberman decided to join an art school in order to expand his experience-building skill repertoire. He mentions that the most interesting course he encountered during his time in college was one where he learned Actionscript for Flash, and through this, was introduced to coding. He remembers feeling creatively liberated, and thinking “Now I understand what computers are about, and now I can work with them”. After he graduated, Liberman would work as a UX specialist on consultation for various start-ups in Israel before he went on to found Soulbit7, a mobile gaming studio, along with his partner Dagan Shtifman. Soulbit7 would run for four years, and is responsible for the first AR (augmented reality) mobile game on the iOS platform.
However, since 2018 Liberman has been using TouchDesigner, which he believes signifies a breakthrough in his work. It was a moment of jubilation, with artist and tool coming together seamlessly, and he remarks “That was it! My dream platform at the tip of my fingers. It allows for audio-visual mixing, and you can build complex software architecture without writing a single line of code”. Additionally, TouchDesigner allows for live coding, which gives Liberman the ability to mould his experiential artistry in real-time. Through avenues such as YouTube, Liberman learned to perform complex operations, and by the sum of these processes, developed his own unique visual style over time. Calling his work a “Zen practice”, Liberman continues to apply TouchDesigner to his professional and personal projects, and has several works on display in public spaces, on mobile applications and within corporate lobbies of a more subversive taste.
Regarding Liberman’s aforementioned visual style, much of the artist and designer’s work sits firmly within the ambit of glitch art. This, in itself is by no means unique, as the glitch or machine error is a matter of great preoccupation among the digital artists of our time. Yet, Liberman’s take on this multifaceted creative element, that is all too often misread as a matter of simple aesthetics, goes much further and more nuanced than the surficial explorations many stop at. Connecting the glitch to his quest to perpetuate reality, Liberman tells STIR, “The glitch is nature’s way to call us back from virtuality. For example, in the analogue medium a record scratch is a wake-up call for the here and now, and similarly, COVID is a glitch in our socio-economic system”. Not one to shy away from critiquing those who apply glitch techniques in a thoughtless manner, Liberman adds this sombre meditation, setting himself apart from the crowd: the digital realm is a new layer of virtuality that is so detached from reality that it becomes hard to find indexes anymore. For this reason, digital glitches want to look like analogue glitches, and digital artists inject them superficially in their practice. For me, the glitch is a portal to an uncivilised space where I can show how empty our life is now”. In order to help me better understand this, Liberman invokes the simulacrum: An entity that serves as an image or simulation of another entity, yet, is not in and of itself an iteration of the host. Through this model, it becomes clear that digital glitches all too often act as a simulacrum for their more chaotic and unruly analogue counterparts. To truly further this genre then, the artists preoccupied with digital glitches must do as Liberman does: they must utilise the glitch as a building block for carefully constructed visual languages; modes of creative communication that possess no pretensions of appearing random or purposeless for the sake of mere aesthetics.
Interestingly, Liberman speaks quite warmly of his time spent in quarantine. “COVID was nice to me! I devoted the first two months to learning new skills, and then I looked for fresh avenues to exhibit my work at. I guess for digital artists the web really is the best gallery,” he mentions. This is certainly true, as many digital artists the world over have had less trouble adapting to the present paradigm than artists who work purely within the real and tangible realm. Furthermore, many online collectives and digital avenues have sprouted in order to bridge the gap between creator and audience, and artists such as Liberman, acting proactively, express a desire to collaborate with other practitioners. At the same time, the artist also looks forward to life post-pandemic, and ends his interview with this humorous and prophetic statement: “I have a lot of plans and projects that are in the works. It feels as though I am sending my own virus places, and when the world is going to open, my work shall welcome people to a new reality”.