Sometimes you just stumble upon a piece of art that so strangely provoking, so bizarrely disaffected, that you aren't really quite sure what to make of it. And one of the best recent examples of this sort of surreal, alienated work comes from 918, the anonymous digital artist behind a couple of viral, digitally-rendered narratives that garner their power from their dreamlike aesthetic and acute sense of existential dread. Combining elements of bleak, suburban life with an Internet's-worth of philosophical texts, 3D art inspiration and the infinite scroll of indifferent youth in search of something meant to provoke. An exercise in exploring the weird, unconscious spaces of the mind in a way that borders on the taboo, we were instantly fascinated by 918 and their work. Below we talk to them about everything from CGI porn to online existence to everyday mundanity, not to mention how ennui feeds into all of the above.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your practice -- do you have an IRL art alter-ego or is your presence strictly confined to the online world?
My ventures into visual art have been pretty much confined to the online world. My main interest is what can be done in the digital medium that can't be done anywhere else.
Tell me a little bit about how you make these stories -- what programs do you use, do you sketch the stories out beforehand, etc.?
The stories were made by staging and retexturing 3D objects found on the Internet in a program called Sweet Home 3D, which is actually interior decorating software for homeowners. The human figures were made with software called Makehuman. Blender was used for some posing and editing. I didn't sketch anything out beforehand, I just mentally plan the scenes out. When I get into the software I can play around with the composition and camera angles until I'm happy with how it looks. The process is basically a dialogue between the ideas I have in my head and how they actually end up looking when I try to bring them into fruition.
Are the stories a new development in your artwork? Poking around your Internet presence, I can't seem to find previous stories aside from a few written narratives and one-off render still lifes.
This type of visual storytelling is a new development in my artwork. I have written fiction of varying lengths in the past, but found it very difficult to get people to read any of it. Text all looks the same at first glance and there's so much of it on the internet. Once I started dabbling in visual digital art, it occurred to me at some point that the techniques I had learned could be used for the purpose of storytelling. Sweet Home 3D could be used to build virtual "sets" and Makehuman could be used to create posable characters. I have always been interested in comics as an art form, so it seemed like a logical next step.
There's this sense of bleakness and alienation that runs through your body of work, can you talk a little about that?
I tend to have a very pessimistic worldview, so I think that the bleakness and alienation is a byproduct of that. I have always been drawn to art that conveys a bleak worldview, as well as art that makes me feel dissociated or numb. It's a way to escape from the mundane suffering of everyday life without trying to cover it up with some kind of brittle, shiny optimism.
This sort of feeling of existential alienation seems to be a predominant theme in the work of a lot of digital artists -- why do you think this is the case? And how do you think utilizing digital mediums plays into this all?
I do think that the digital medium works very well for conveying these feelings, so it does make sense that it would be a common theme among digital artists. 3D imagery often ends up in the uncanny valley whether you want it to or not. One of my inspirations for making these comics was browsing through CGI porn on DeviantArt. In that case, people are attempting to make erotic content but the end result becomes highly unsettling, both because of medium and because of the strange perversity of the content. I think that the internet is inherently alienating because it allows people to interact in an unnatural way and have access to aspects of human psychology that they don't normally encounter in the "real" world. At a certain point this feeling of alienation becomes something that people seek out and try to purposefully induce and amplify. I think people would rather feel alienated and dissociated than simply bored.
Before you published your first story, you seemed to be pretty under-the-radar. Did your followers explode after posting the first one/it being shared a ton? Why do you think people have gravitated so strongly to the stories you've made?
I did have a small following on Tumblr and on Facebook, particularly through the "N e w A e s t h e t i c" fb group prior to the release of the narrative works. My followers definitely swelled after the first story ("Birthday"), and then drastically exploded after the second story ("First Day"). I think that the narrative format of these stories is what made them so accessible. A lot of people have no interest in purely abstract "art for art's sake." I am also happy to discover that a people out there have the same interest in dreamlike narratives that I do. Admittedly there seems to be some portion of my audience that finds it silly and absurd and is sharing it for that reason, but I take no issue with that. There is always an audience for weirdness on the Internet, though individuals may like it for different reasons and interact with it in different ways, with different degrees of ironic distance.
What else do you have in the works? Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I hope to continue to make these sorts of narrative pieces, time and inspiration permitting. I also have a similarly surreal short novel sitting around that I would like to release to the public at some point, though I'm not sure in what form.