Artist Profile: Sabrina Ratté

Sabrina Ratté's video, Activated Memory, is featured on The Download this month.

Still from Activated Memory (2011)

On your tumblr, you quote Phillip K. Dick's "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later," wherein he presents his thoughts on "reality" from his perspective of a science-fiction writer whose job is to create universes in his novels and stories. Does your video work represent the reality you see? Are you attempting to make the viewer see reality as you see it?

I believe that Philip K. Dick is a master at questioning reality as we see it. When I first read Ubik, I was fascinated by the way Philip K. Dick would call in to question the basic structure of reality and disturb the meaning that we give to our everyday life. Diving into his world can cause a huge life crisis! It made me realize that we need to take certain things for granted or have faith in a « reality » that we choose in order to go on. (While being aware at the same time that this is only one choice among an infinity of others.) Doubting that we live in 2011, or being unsure if we are dead or alive can be very dangerous - and yet these questions can lead to very interesting lands if well managed. Philip K. Dick is dangerous in that sense. Are we in someone’s mind ? Are we dead ? Are the objects around us really concrete or can they melt in another dimension? Will this elevator go back in time if I step in it? The fact that he writes these ideas into a science fiction context allowes him to go further into his reflexions and gives him the opportunity to build these incredibly complex and convincing universes. I was thrilled when I discovered his work because that’s what I see when I read or watch science fiction.  It’s a way to approach reality from a completely different perspective, and it reminds us how ignorant we are when facing the world as we think we know it.

To address more directly your question, I see « reality » as raw material for my videos. In my everyday life, walking on the street or doing anything banal, I see myself being constantly driven to details, colors or atmospheres that seem out of place, fantastic or that I find simply aesthetic. When I look at sunsets, fluorescent lights, windows, trees mixed with architecture, empty spaces, landscapes, etc. I see so many ways of interpreting them, it’s almost infinite. Video is a way for me to create different meanings by transforming and juxtaposing these elements of reality into my own confined world. With time, I seem to have developped the reflex to translate almost instantaneously those elements of « reality » into video images. But making videos is also a way for me to dematerialise the world, make it abstract and even more disorienting. It’s fascinating to see that light can become tangible, that the objects can melt, and that I have the possibility to create unpredictable landscapes that could only exist in this kind of space. In that sense, Philip K. Dick is a huge influence on my work.

For The Download, you're debuting Activated Memory, a video based on photographs from different parks in Montreal. Do these parks have personal significance?

With Activated Memory, I was driven by the idea of animating photographs. I was also interested to go back to a more concrete kind of imagery, having explored a lot with abstract video feedback and feeling a little lost. I wanted to work with recognizable spaces. Parks have these very simplistic visual elements, which are basically trees and grass. It is also one of the places in the city where we can see more of the sky and therefore where the light can be very beautiful. So, I was first attracted to make this video based on parks because of their aesthetic aspect. This project took on another level during the process, as it is the case with most of my videos.

In the making of Activated Memory, I discovered a lot of beautiful parks, which I didn’t even know existed before. I became extremely sensitive to their architecture, their dunes, the way trees were disposed, their bridges etc. The way everything is calculated provides an almost surreal experience ; an idealized version of life, too clean and too perfect. These parks reminded me of the way I conceptualized forests as a child ; trees perfectly laid out on beautiful green grass with soft rays of light passing through the leaves. I’m most certain that this image was built based on fairy tales. I also see this video as a kind of a fairy tale, protected by a fragile glass. Or some sort of hologram of an idealized memory.

How does sound influence your visuals? Do you often start your process by listening to a composition?

Music is crucial in helping me give rhythm to my videos. I often search for a particular pace/mood. Roger Tellier-Craig has made the music for all of my personal work. Our process is very organic and it’s different for each project. For Activated Memory, I was deeply inspired by David Borden’s track Enfield In Winter, from his album Music For Amplified Keyboard Instruments. I liked the pace of it, the repetitive structure and the dreamy aspect of the piece. It was almost exactely what I was trying to achieve with the video, except for the melody ; in my opinion it tainted the images too much. I wanted something more subtle, more discreet. Roger always gets what I have in mind and surpasses it. I honestly never experienced such a good collaboration before.

Your work often transforms natural environments and landscapes. Not much unlike the "Layouts" in Dick's novel, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, your landscapes transform into hallucinatory playgrounds. Are the images in Activated Memory akin to a simulated reality?

As I said before, I’m very interested in translating the fantastic elements that I see in my surroundings into video images. It is almost the same process as when we idealize a moment, we create some sort of visual representation of it in our mind and we forget the details that don’t make sense with our interpretation. In that sense, I like to believe that we all live in a simulated reality. When I looked at these parks, I was seeing way more of the fairy tales of my childhood then the « real » parks. So that’s what I ended up with in the final result of the video. It is the portrait of the forests I was seeing, and not of the parks themselves. So I’d say yes, it is definitely a simulated reality.


Age: 28

Location: Montreal

How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?

I remember making videos using my parents’ video camera when I was around 8 years old. I also remember making drawings on television with Mario Paint when I was about 10. As for computers, I never had one at home, so I started using them when I was about 17.

Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?

I began to be more serious about video editing around 19 years old, when I started university. I was editing with Final Cut Pro, which I still use today. A couple years ago, I started to use Modul8 for live video projections as well as for visual experiments. I also use a VCR, a television, a small digital camera and a big VHS camera. I like to experiment with the limitations of the tools I use. I also like to be surprised by unexpected results, so I try to provoke accidents by mixing different techniques together.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

I did a BFA Specialization in Film Production in 2005 at Concordia University, in Montreal. I am now about to complete a MFA in Studio Art / Film Production at the same university.

What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

I  use traditional media only occasionally. Although, I did work with super8 and 16mm film and I had the chance to edit my films on a Steenbeck back in university. I also did photography and developped film in a black room. These experiences made me realize how much digital softwares like Photoshop or Final Cut Pro are based on traditional medias. It is the same thing with analog video synthesizers. All those mediums have inspired the interfaces, filters and tools included in Softwares like FCP.

Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?

I am the visual part of Roger Tellier-Craig’s electronic music project called Le Révélateur. I make the videos, the live visuals, the press portraits and most of the album covers. This is my main project beside my personal work.

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?

I used to work as a freelance photographer and videographer making promotional videos and filming concerts. This was a very good learning experience, but I found that most of my creative energy would go in it. I still make contracts occasionnally, but ideally I would like to find a job that could use my skills and interests without interfering with my personal work. I don’t know yet if this exists.

Who are your key artistic influences?

Everything that’s on my blog. . Science fiction, architecture, 3D animation, early computer art, Doris Norton.

Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?

I mostly collaborate with musicians, though I recently gave some footage to Tom Scholefield for a video he is making for Kuedo.

Do you actively study art history?

I am very interested in the history of video and computer art. I research anything I can find on this subject, but I do so randomly, in my own way. I am mainly attracted to the visual aspect of this history ; it is a great source of inspiration for my work. These researches also lead me towards painting, animation, and electronic music. Everything is intertwined.

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?

I recently was deeply inspired by Jean Epstein’s text L'intelligence d'une machine, in which he writes beautifuly about how cinema destroyed our illusion of time and space. I also admire a lot of his films which reflect gracefully his theories. I am also interested by Lev Manovich’s ideas about digital cinema and how today we can consider cinema as a form of animation. I like the idea of a blurred limit between all mediums.

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?

I am very interested in the concept of online galleries, and different artistic manifestations on the web. When I first started to make videos more seriously, I was posting them on the web as a natural step of my creative process. Doing so, I gradually got in contact with many platforms where it was possible to display artworks and even create some. I am very impressed by the way all this is evolving, it feels like the beginning of something I can’t even imagine.