Following the release of their zine "Struggle Sessions", digital artists Sam Rolfes and Tim Saccenti are teaming up once again with online retailer Bleep to bring us their most recent collaboration, SUI: A Journey in Self-Realization. This larger than life, loose-leaf print book includes mesmerizing prints featuring model and actress Sui Nakashima as their muse, and explores themes of body, identity, and bondage through eye-catching images. Having worked with artists such as Flying Lotus, Mykki Blanco, Danny Brown, Charli XCX, and more, Rolfes and Saccenti are no strangers to turning exploratory thought into a distinct reality. We chatted with Rolfes and Saccenti about their relationship with Bleep, themes explored through the project and how this is not your average coffee table book.
Sam Rolfes: It's hard to say, but probably around a year. Tim and I would pause to work on other pieces, so this project carried over past those.
Tim Saccenti: Yes, it took about a year from when we first went into the studio to start testing our technique with Sui and when we had our first printed test copy in hand.
SUI's available for pre-order on Bleep. What made them the right fit to distribute the project?
TS: Their aesthetic and overall futuristic approach to things is a great fit. Sam and I's previous print collaboration Struggle Sessions was distributed by Bleep so it was a natural match for us.
Describe the process of choosing the final images. It must be like picking amongst your children.
TS: We print out everything we have, hundreds of variations, see what we like, and from there take those images and edit them. Sometimes we collaged the prints together to see what worked while other times it was purely digital exploration.
SR: It has to be very quick and immediate. We both work expressively and freeform in regards to responding to whatever hits you in the moment because that's what lasts. We kept sending things back and forth and progressively distilling and elaborating on the form, trying to build some loose, surreal narrative among this large collection of images.
What would you say are some themes this print book explores?
SR: I always come from the body as a mark-making tool, seeing it as a useful canvas to use as an entry point into an image. So much meaning and gesture embodies identity, and we use that to explore the mutability of the human form. We honed into a dual vision of the human form and reality in this visual vocabulary into how we can create and find these small visual elements as our cast of characters.
TS: We read a lot of contemporary philosophical writings about technology and identity. A lot of times our projects have a philosophical text alongside it written by Steven Graf. This process of creation and destruction, fragmentation of identity and confusion reflects the modern internal crisis. The themes of bondage also symbolically mirror these issues.
It seems very relevant considering the current political climate.
SR: It feels like there's more urgency and importance. I don't think either of us are just interested in making psychedelic/sci-fi images.
TS: These images and the approach itself couldn't not have existed even a few years.
How did you connect with Sui to model for this project?
TS: We met when I cast her to be in a series of films we created for a recent Depeche Mode tour. She's a fantastic actress and model and has a very unique look that elevated our vision. She's always pushes the limits during our shoots. We started seeing her as a kind of icon image, a kind of transcendent character and that drove the initial inspiration to make this series.
SR: I met her on set and we became really good friends. She's a really fascinating person.
Most people immediately think 'coffee table book' when talking about art collections. How did you shy away from that?
TS: Well nothing seems more ego-driven than a giant coffee table book. We wanted to continue the themes of, as [Douglas] Rushkoff calls it, "Digiphrenia", the faux-present digital world crashing into physically present analog world. These aren't traditional images per se so we approached the design in a suitably non-traditional manner, rather than a standard coffee table book.
SR: Plus it's the actual size of a coffee table.
So how does it feel to have this project finally complete and ready to distribute?
SR: We've been holding onto these images for a long time and we've hardly been able to show them to anybody, so it's very satisfying to put them out to the world and see how people respond to them. To finally get this out there as a public dialogue that we've been having in private for so long, it's refreshing.
TS: In this age of uncertainty, having a physical object that existed solely in our imagination and have it appear in front of you feels like practical magic. So, excellent.
Sui: A Journey in Self-Realization is available for pre-order on Bleep; order your copy here.