Guest Artist Robert Seidel on Supernova and the Lineage of Digital Animation

Robert Seidel poses within his installation "Tarnish," at Understudy, in conjunction with Supernova.
Robert Seidel poses within his installation "Tarnish," at Understudy, in conjunction with Supernova. Photo by Thadeaous Mighell
Robert Seidel is careful to note that he’s not a digital animator, though he does make use of video and other newer technologies to make what he calls “moving paintings.” These works reconcile the gap between fine-arts practices, early experimental filmmaking and modern new-media manifestations, including video projection and equally experimental aural backdrops.

Why is Seidel a guest of honor at the 2018 Supernova Digital Animation Festival? The Berlin-based artist, who as a veteran brings context and weight to the event, is not only a featured artist of a related installation at the Understudy incubator whose work will also adorn the September 22 fest’s downtown LED screens and CU Boulder’s ATLAS Black Box Theater a day later, but he’ll also help determine the winners of Supernova’s annual juried competition with a trained eye. It’s because he’s got cred in the field of new media while retaining a diverse artistic background.

We asked Seidel to share his aesthetic and ideas with readers getting ready to embark on the Supernova experience.

click to enlarge Robert Seidel, still shot from "sfumato." - ROBERT SEIDEL
Robert Seidel, still shot from "sfumato."
Robert Seidel
Westword: What makes Supernova stand out from other fests?

Robert Seidel: It’s great to see a diverse body of work in a city, in different places and spots. It’s a good way to expose people to a certain kind of art...when they were not planning to see it. It’s a good mix of veterans and students.

What’s your personal genesis as an artist?

Without knowing, I wanted to become an artist. I first studied biology and then started doing my art along the way. At a certain point, I decided to find my own way and become an artist. I started out with experimental film, which led to installations and outdoor projection.

What drew you to the digital arts?

I don’t consider myself a digital artist. I would just call myself an artist. My creative process is actually very analog — people get labeled, so I get a label. To broaden that perspective, some projection work is created digitally. A strong component of such work is technically enhanced or transformed. But I try to connect that to things like nature and architecture to keep a deeper accessibility on the flat screen.

What or who were your influences as an animator?

Early on, I was influenced by experimental filmmakers like Maya Deren, who was trying to extend reality — to tell stories in her films. With technology, we can now do things that were impossible twenty years ago. Having a projector and putting it wherever you want is something new and fascinating. The big screens of Supernova have only been around for maybe fifteen, twenty years. They’ve been using them longer in Korea and Hong Kong, but it’s still rare here. It also opens up a different perspective on possibilities for artists.

click to enlarge Robert Seidel, "Tarnish," 2018. - COURTESY OF ROBERT SEIDEL
Robert Seidel, "Tarnish," 2018.
Courtesy of Robert Seidel
How does this blend of technology and unfettered creativity reinvent art for modern times?

I see two tendencies developing: There are artists who start out with digital media and don't really know the history, so they explore possibilities without reference points from the past. I have an interest in painting and sculpture, so I’m trying to bridge these concepts. My sculpture and projections start with something
static, developing slowly and progressing in painterly strokes to allow an art audience to connect. It’s not just to make something that’s a spectacle or edgy.

What are you showing at Understudy and Supernova?

We built a narrow structure in the Understudy space that looks completely different from the usual building. There’s one projection that’s almost unaltered and another projection that’s reflected through the mirrored interior of the space. There is also a modulation of light and motion happening around the structure, setting the mirror foil into motion in a sparkly space that vibrates and breathes and transforms over time.

My short “sfumato” will be projected on four screens at Supernova, so different angles of one artwork can be seen scattered throughout the city. Again, this is a very painterly work which has several thin layers of color derived from the sfumato painting technique. Even though it’s a short, it’s quite slow, with no narrative — more like a natural environmental or the extension of a moment.

How would you describe your work to someone who’s never seen it before?

I’m interested in creating something unexpected that blends into a space to create an environment. You have to take the time to look at it; it has several layers, and it’s not just about the artwork, but it’s also like a moment in a particular space, a way of extending nature through technology.

See work by Robert Seidel during the Supernova Digital Animation Festival as part of the following shows and programs:

Tarnish, site-specific multimedia installation by Robert Seidel, open daily from noon to 7 p.m. through September 29, at Understudy, 890 C 14th Street, adjacent to the Colorado Convention Center.

Select animations on downtown Denver auxiliary LED screens, featuring Robert Seidel’s “sfumato,” from noon to 8 p.m., Saturday, September 22, in rotation at 15th and Champa streets, 16th and Champa streets and 14th and Arapahoe streets, and as part of the Supernova Special Election 2018, Invitational Program, noon to 8 p.m., Saturday, September 22, at Skyline Park, 1600 Arapahoe Street. Free.

“Hattlerizer 4.D” and “Fulcrum,” 5 p.m. Sunday, September 23, Roser ATLAS Center, 1125 18th Street, 320, University of Colorado Boulder: Abstract animation and audiovisual performance featuring Supernova guest jurors Max Hattler and Robert Seidel, with Ryan Wurst. Free.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd