- 26 APRIL 2023
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Technology is the most unpredictable landscape. An interview with Tabitha Swanson
Tabitha Swanson (@tabithaswanson_) is a Berlin-based multi-disciplinary designer, creative technologist, and artist. Her practice includes 3D, animation, augmented reality, digital fashion, graphic design, and UX/UI.
Commercially, Tabitha has worked with brands including Vogue Germany, Nike, Highsnobiety, Reebok, Origins, and others to create beautiful work in the creative tech and design sphere.
Artistically, her work is used as a form of therapy, often composing questions rather than answers, and trying to faintly touch the unseen edges of human existence.
She has exhibited at Miami Art Basel, Fotografiska, Transmediale, Mmmad, Cadaf Arts and more.
Good morning Tabitha, I would like to start this conversation by discussing one work of yours that you posted on your Instagram feed with the caption “𝑽𝒐𝒍𝒖𝒏𝒕𝒂𝒓𝒚 𝒄𝒓𝒖𝒄𝒊𝒇𝒊𝒙𝒊𝒐𝒏 🦂 ”. I find it very compelling the fact that the same object is repeated twice and in one of the two versions some luminescent signs make their appearance. One of the many possible interpretations is that crucifixion itself, as every other technology, besides the material infrastructure, presupposes a whole semiotic habitat (allowing the sacrificial dynamic in this case). Also, before hearing your thoughts, the cross has been displaced to the beach, which might be quite an unexpected site for such an event. Why such a choice?
I wanted to impose the object in an unexpected place. Something that was so deep and slightly cursed and full of ancient symbology from many divinations in a serene, peaceful and beautiful beach, juxtaposing those two elements.
One of your series is called “cabinet de curiosité” and among the weird objects displayed there is a futuristic animal closely resembling ouroboros, the serpent or dragon eating its own tail. Supposing this is the actual reference, what is the connection between time (read eternity), technology and nature? It is surely telling that it is immersed in nature and standing (resting?) on grass; also nature is cracking through the glass-like fiber it is made of as the sprouts growing all over its body demonstrates.
The series “cabinet de curiosité” is one of my favorites. Within it, I included a lot of mysterious objects and things that I found curious, objects that had relevance between many cultural backgrounds and referred to ancient symbology and mythologies.
I think that at the end of the day everything goes back to nature, even though we have separated ourselves from it, as a civilization, through technology, convenience, and itemized processes. However, nature will always win. For me the ouroboros-like entity symbolizes the way things will come back to themselves, with a similar dynamic governing nature itself.
Many of your 3D creations take the form of landscapes and while this might be inherent to the medium itself (what better use of tridimensional design than creating entire new worlds instead of single elements?) I still wonder where this interest for landscapes comes from.
Sometimes I work with people, but I do find that landscapes can often be more universally relatable and I don’t think it’s inherent to the medium itself. Since the dawn of art, people have been painting landscapes, prior to fine art, people were communicating through pictograms and etchings on cave walls. I think landscapes can tell a story and lead people through a place to experience, one step at a time.
The marriage between fashion and new technologies (3D, AI, AR and so on) will be a lasting one. How do you foresee this relationship evolving?
The match between fashion and new technology will certainly be a lasting one. I think that this relationship will grow more pragmatic with time, and while there will still be flashy things as they are now, we are currently in a period of novelty. I think that in the future far more mundane actualizations of this relationship will occur and we’ll see things such as:
● Very accurate body measuring apps for fashion to help with sizing.
● AR technology allowing people to look at the plumbing through their phone and immediately know what to fix or what to check.
● AR apps that allow people to look under the head and through their phone and learn each part and how to work with them.
Your work has recently been featured in the “POSTGENDER” exhibition which was held at Vellum LA from January 26th to February 12th. When it comes to art and gender, I have this belief (and I know that I repeat this all the time) that transness is the lens through which art articulates the world, not in its themes of course, but certainly in its methods. So the title of the exhibition might point towards the overcoming of both gender binarism and our compartmentalized way of classifying artistic outputs.
In regards to the work with POSTGENDER, I think what you say about the topic at large is true; we’ve started, and will continue to go through an even larger cultural shift where the compartmentalization of different aspects are no longer as relevant and we will see things bleeding into themselves from different areas.
I think something interesting about the metaverse and digital art is the idea of freedom, but I don’t think that it will be a utopia as we are led to believe. I think that the companies that control the metaverse will continue to have absolute power, at least until specific policies say otherwise, and they will continue to use AI bots to delete what they don’t like, even if it’s not right to do so. I know many people who have had their entire accounts deleted for showing part of a nipple or even less.
I think we have to be very careful about the power that we give different corporations to dictate what is okay and what is not. Once our lives shift even more online and the digital space becomes a source of livelihood for many individuals, such deletion incurs severe financial detriment. Safe, private spaces can always be created, but taking back autonomy from corporations who serve as governing bodies online is much harder.
«Future with no teleology or points of reference» writes Preciado about the trans body: does this apply also to technology?
I think that’s an interesting thought when applied to technology. I think we should never have technology with no points of reference; rather, while building our technologies we should always keep in mind people and humanity and the freedom to grow and develop. We should also never be naïve about the intentions of large corporations. I think that we’re about to enter an extremely exciting period that is impossible to fully predict long-term.
Interview by @base.materialism