Cosmic coding with Ari Russo and Psychemagik

We talk to Russo ahead of his collaborative one-off London show filled to the brim with found footage, old deep cuts and 3D graphics

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“A self-portrait of Ari Russo in VZ”Courtesy of Ari Russo

Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist Ari Russo is going heavy on the tech for his latest project. A one-off collaboration with UK music producers and remix mavericks Psychemagik, titled Cosmic Code. The latter – who have made compiling "obscenely" rare records and samples their lifes’ work – will be combining their collection of 70s and 80s private press records with Russo’s manipulated material. Once a “background hobby”, Russo’s image mining has led to possession of a deep archive of visuals, pulled from 1000's of found VHS tapes and laser discs. Pegged to take us on "a visceral journey through the unknown”, a live camera feed will process Russo’s images in real-time using his self-made programming code ‘VZ’. Led by the sounds of Psychemagik, the 3D visuals with then be projected back into the space, allowing for an immersive experience that is said to blur the “imaginary with reality.” Below we catch up with Russo to talk self-programming and sensory overload as he showcases an exclusive selection of video stills from his archive ahead of tomorrow night’s show.

What can we expect from the event?

Ari Russo: An intense sensory-overload projection that synthesizes 3D graphics, surreal found footage, VHS material and live cameras.

You call it an ‘improvised’ performance – how spontaneous can we expect this to get?

Ari Russo: It's extremely spontaneous. Maybe on the same level as a free jazz performance. I go in with almost nothing and react to the feel of the room, the music, the people who are there. Of course, like in music, not coming in with a set arrangement can lead to more moments that don't work as well, but because the software is flexible I can ease off and use less defined images, allowing the music to become the focus until I recover from my lull.

How did the collaboration between you and Psychemagik come about?

Ari Russo: Early this year Cedric Bardawil, who curates the Something in the Attic shows, had seen some of my work and was generous enough to get in touch about doing an event. Cedric in turn contacted Psychemagik who were looking to do a DJ set of older deep cuts. The found footage aspect of my video work seemed like good common ground for us.

You’ve been working hard on your video mining project OfficeFern, how did this come about?

Ari Russo: I began gradually collecting thriftshop/abandoned VHS tapes back in the late 90s as kind of a background hobby. A couple of years ago I decided I should digitise my collection. I wrote a program to semi-randomly extract stills and very short animated GIFs to make that process even more productive. The images posted on OfficeFern were the ones I liked the most. But my collection of footage goes far beyond what's shown there.

Do you have any favourites? What makes them so special?

Ari Russo: There's some neat looking images up there but having only been responsible for extracting them, they're not terribly close to the heart. One definite exception is this one. Aside from the absurdity of an Edward Hopper-style image of a man in a bondage costume, it relates to an adventure I had where early on, the tapes that my circle of friends collected were more dramatic movies, as opposed to educational videos and things like that. The movie that this image is from (Shotgun (1989)) was one of the more unusual ones that we discovered in that era. Around 2000, I tracked down the star of the movie and we faxed him a post-it note, which eventually led to us having a beer with him at his house.

Could you tell us about VZ and the MIDI programs that you are using to collaborate your visuals with Psychemagik’s audio?

Ari Russo: VZ is a video processor program that I created to use for these shows. One thing that VZ does is generate 3D graphics using analog video input. That conversion process can be modulated using audio input, MIDI, or a touch control program on my phone.

A few years ago I created a suite of programming libraries that enables people to use MIDI with a programming language called Ruby. VZ uses some of these libraries to enable it to use MIDI.

During this show, I'll feed a mix of live camera and VHS footage into VZ while I touch-control VZ with my phone. I can also code during the show and actually modify the program as it runs-changing how the audio and controls modulate the video.

As a multidisciplinary artist why do you feel it's important to mix up mediums and formats as opposed to staying true to just one?

Ari Russo: I feel like I'm working on a single project. It just has shifting elements that reach across visual art, music and technology.

Cosmic Code is curated by Something in the Attic and will take place tomorrow at London’s Ace Hotel in Shoreditch. Advance tickets are available from Resident Advisor. For further updates, join the Facebook event here

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