Interview by Bob Bicknell-Knight
Originally published in the first issue of the isthisit? magazine in March 2017
Roxanne Gatt (b. 1989, Mosta, Malta) lives and works in London, and is also known by her pseudonym Roxman Gatt. She is a multidisciplinary artist whose work encompasses, text, painting, 3D, video, sound, photography, installation and performance. Roxman’s research explores sexuality, identity and women within popular culture contexts. Mundane aesthetics and the internet become both a tool and a trigger to produce work.
In this exclusive interview artist Roxman Gatt talks to artist and curator Bob Bicknell-Knight about online spectator-ship, our attachment to our personal devices, love letters to the internet and body augmentation.
Bob Bicknell-Knight: So, do you want to start by talking briefly about the work that you're currently producing, the ideas and the forms that are coming to fruition, and how that relates to your artworks relationship with the internet?
Roxman Gatt: I spend quite a lot of time in the house since this is where my studio also is. Often I create work inspired by the domestic life and how I inhibit the space and in a way find ways to subvert that. Very recently I have been creating these small performance pieces titled Sexual Healing. I am quite intrigued by the idea of the artist alone in the studio, but not really alone. I could go on for hours or even sometimes days not verbally communicating to anyone, however I would have emailed and been active in multiple conversations on iMessage and been around the world just by some clicks and taps on the keyboard.
Also these performances are being posted Online so despite not performing for a physical public audience, I am still being faced by an audience somewhere in the Online space. The basis of my work is text. I am interested in how technology and the Internet have somehow ‘transgressed’ the traditional poem. I create poems that are made up of a combination of my ‘own’ phrases [mostly lovelajf & domesticlajf} as well as texts taken from articles that I come across Online, be it legit news, hip-hop or pop songs, sex ads, technological jargon etc. and eventually translate them into sung tunes where I often visualise into videos. I eventually want to experiment with disrupting the text in a way that data and technology interferes with the text itself without losing any emotion.
Roxman Gatt, short kid, 2016.
Courtesy of the artist.
B: So with these works you’re performing for the unknown spectator who inhabits the web, acknowledging the presence of the internet and globalised society you’re interacting with whilst being hidden away afk in your studio. I enjoy how your work is translated through different mediums, beginning with a poem and ending with a music video, which to me comes across as a way to illustrate the gluttony of the internet, releasing the poem online which traverses the net, picking up detritus along the way and returning as a video piece… Emotion seems to play a big part in the work, creating an intimacy with the screen and in turn the audience that you’re performing to, how do you think that’s interpreted through the screen when viewed online compared to in an offline setting?
R: The internet has become more of a tool or something that can’t be ignored, it is inbuilt inside me like religion is. It is not really an option.
The emotions as you have noticed do play a big part in the work, in fact it is these emotions that make the work. I cannot imagine myself expressing all these different emotions by restricting myself to just one medium. It just isn’t possible in my work. Even though the emotions would have been contained for a while the work in itself is quite spontaneous. It almost feels like I’m vomiting my emotions, everything is expressed very quickly and the medium finds itself. I have been thinking about these performances for a long time, and whether or not they should be taken to a physical space and performed live. I have learnt not to see or think of the screen as a filter. I still get very deep emotions through a laptop screen / speakers and keyboard, and that is what I hope to give back with my work to the online audience. However, I am planning on performing live because I am intrigued how my awkwardness and other people’s awkwardness would be felt in an offline space.
Roxman Gatt, Heart Drives, 2016.
HD digital video with sound.
Courtesy of the artist.
B: At this point I guess we’re so familiar with our devices, these objects that have been anthropometrically designed for us to utilise and evolve alongside, they may have even become a different sort of filter, one that allows us to be even more connected to an artwork or close friend, more connected than real life. Even though the net has definitely become a tool that can’t be ignored, a lot of your art feels like a love letter to the internet, reminding me of artwork made at the very beginnings of the internet in the late 80s and early 90s, rather than the present day negativity that surrounds a lot of ‘post-internet’ art due to widespread surveillance among other things, what are your thoughts on this?
R: I do believe that these devices / filters allow us to sometimes be even more connected or make it possible to express something even deeper than irl, and it’s kind of obvious because communication and expression via devices have somehow surpassed communication and expression ‘face to face’. In one of my songs titled Heart Drives I write ‘muscles in my hands have become stronger than my own words’, 'I’m emotionless when confronted by skin flesh I feel so comfortable staring into tiny pixels instead.’ This kind of explains how I feel. But no I wouldn’t say that my art is a love letter to the internet as such… [ maybe the internet drives me to write these love letters to the url and irl world.]
B: I really like those lines, not just for their poetic beauty but how they capture how we as a race are slowly evolving ourselves through the continued development of our phones. I think this condition of surpassing afk language is best exampled when looking at the rise of emoji’s in our text speech, and the reduction of language used online to mere acronyms and ghosts of vocabulary… From what you’re saying, and by exploring your work, it feels like you’re critiquing how comfortable you are with this technology whilst wanting even more from it, an oxymoron of sorts, what are your thoughts on developments in technology like Artificial Intelligence, and does this factor into any of your work?
R: Artificial intelligence is not an area that I know a lot about and I’m not really looking at it in my work, however, I am really intrigued by its relationship with art. It feels that in certain fields such as healthcare or transportation for instance its likelier to understand how A.I. would function however with art it becomes less simple I feel. I think it is exciting times and I’d love to see the level of consciousness that a machine will adopt by feeding from us humans.
Roxman Gatt, Phantom Vibrations, 2016.
HD digital video with sound.
Courtesy of the artist.
B: I asked about your interest in AI partly because of your collaborative piece Phantom Vibrations, a video that sees future-like beings inhabiting a technology rich space, uploading their emotions to their MacBook’s and posing for an unseen camera, depending on the internet and the tech that surrounds them, what was the inspiration behind this work?
R: Fuck … I have no idea why I say it doesn’t feature in my work because yeah look at Phantom Vibrations. I think I just can’t really see the difference much anymore – machine / human data / emotions … The inspiration for phantom vibration is the perception that one’s mobile phone is vibrating or ringing when it is not ringing, and was inspired by looking into internet disorder and my fascination with how obsessive I had become as well as others around me with our devices and refreshing emails and pages and checking messages. I wanted to merge the world of the device and the human into one, the human being inside device or human being the device or device being the human, something like that.
B: I think forgetting that it does look into those ideas of AI reinforces the statement you made earlier about the internet being fully integrated within you. For me, it’s a piece probably more focused on artificial augmentation, a fictional idea born from science fiction novels which, if you were to take Donna Haraway’s stance on the matter, has already been fully implemented within our society for many years’ now. What do you think of science fiction, does it come into your work, or is your art firmly rooted in the now, which continues to resemble a realistic dystopian novel anyway as we continue further into 2017?
R: I would definitely say that my art is pretty much about the now, I feel it is all quite real, but there is maybe an accelerated focus on certain gestures / actions / ideas / relationships between technology and the self, where the question of what is real and what is not? becomes blurred.
B: So, what's next for you, Roxman?
R: So… I am one of the 14 Associates of Open School East of 2017, which is based in Margate. I will be doing this for a whole year, so exciting times. I will also be showing work with the Malta Pavilion at the Venice Biennale later this year, which is really cool.
What’s next …. I just want to continue making work really, add new tabs to my emotional browser, keep refreshing my pages, clean up my heart drive and fill it with harder and softer data’s.
Roxman Gatt, It smelt of dead sex, 2016.
Oil on canvas, sock, digital print.
Courtesy of the artist.
Bob Bicknell-Knight is a London based artist and curator working in installation, sculpture, moving image, net art and other digital mediums. Online and offline surveillance accompanied by the consumer capitalist culture within today’s society are the main issues surrounding his work in association with current and future utopian environments, the continued automation of our daily lives in relation to the internet of things and the various cultures associated with online communities. Recent curated shows include The Museum Has Abandoned Us at State of the Art in Berlin, The Choice of a New Generation at The Muse Gallery in London.