Artist Nicolas Sassoon, born in Biarritz, France in 1981, publishes the majority of his work on the Internet — but his concerns extend far beyond that. A member of the online art collective Computers Club, whose retro-videogame-style introductory video he created, Sassoon makes GIFs, Flash animations, prints, and projections. His output shares a certain overriding tone — a kind of dreamy, contemplative isolation, like a sailboat drifting alone on a shifting ocean. It is this aesthetic that makes Sassoon's work so piercing, and what forms the backbone of "TIDES," his recent solo show at the online-only gallery space Bubblebyte.org.
As revealed in his elegiac, bordering on melancholic, personal Web site (its title, You Make Me So Happy, is spelled out in flickering letters and channels of pixelated flowing water), Sassoon tends toward a quiet monumentality. His animations take place in tiny voids, each a singular, looping action sealed in a vacuum, whether it's a floating square cresting loops of waves, a room with a flashing laptop set on a desk, or rotating models of small trees. In every piece, Sassoon finds poetry at the interface between nature and technology, and in using the limited means of the computer to depict the inexhaustible complexity of the natural world — much as he does in the new work, "TIDES."
The series of six video works on display at Bubblebyte were inspired by the artist's recent stay in his hometown on the coast of France. They show different points in the tidal cycle: "RISING" and "MIDHIGH" through "LOW." Close up, the pop-up animations read as intersecting sets of tiny lines moving slowly against each other, like an Agnes Martin canvas set in inexorable motion. Moving farther away from the computer monitor, the lines coalesce into moiré patterns that form smooth sets of waves in a split-second optical illusion. Some of the waves move quickly, flowing toward one corner of the screen or another like the far ocean seen from ashore. Others are placid, evoking a foamy lick of water rising softly up an unpopulated beach.
"TIDES" makes a good companion for Sassoon's wall-size "Fidji" (2011) projection, which was included in "Notes on a New Nature" at Brooklyn alternative space 319Scholes, an exhibition exploring digital art's relationship to the idea of landscape and the natural world. "Fidji" has a physically massive scale, where the "TIDES" pieces only exist (as of yet) in the browser window. Yet both works reduce physical natural phenomena into digital abstractions, using only the most minimal of literal references. "Fidji," with its falling churn of blue stripes, has the dynamism of the waterfall it mimics, while "TIDES" uses the simplest of visual means to create a sense of the relentless, massive movement of the ocean.
It's easy to level the charge at a large body of Internet art that it's too cheap, too ephemeral, and too driven by inside jokes to mean anything to a wider audience. For better or worse, the work of artists like Ryder Ripps depends on a world of cultural vocabulary that only a rarified group of the mega-Internet-savvy can pick up on. Sassoon bucks the trend: it will still be possible to look at "TIDES" in years and decades to come and still feel the same impact and the same organic resonance. This is digital art built to last.
Nicolas Sassoon's "TIDES" is on view at Bubblebyte.org from November 5 to December 1, and will not be accessible after that date.