Let's Get Digital

Self taught digital artisty Mitch Trale explores 3D spaces and collages with his creative technology

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Digital artist Mitch Trale interrogates the limits of technology and perception with his pseudo-3D online spaces and collages of appropriated web content. Self-taught Oakland artist Mitch Trale’s done what many dream of – breaking out of the confines of the 9-to-5 “professional office guy shit” to forge an alternate internet identity across the horizon of digital art. Repurposing the programming skills he picked up developing early mp3 sharing apps, message boards and image dumps, in 2009 Trale decide to branch out and explore the way users see and shape the internet with a series of experimental online artworks. To date, Trale’s work has employed a range of techniques encompassing generative HTML drawings, Javascript hacks and GIF collages. His palette of references spans flavours of op art to pioneers of early electronica like Jean Michel Jarre via the conceptual environment installation pieces of Brazilian visionary Cildo Meireles.

Among his most notable recent works is Gallant Apparatus, a series of interconnected online spaces staged as an interactive digital homage to Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. The piece threads together Trale’s ongoing interests in interstitial states and the dynamics of online spatial experiences which he injects with a sense of insatiable wonder. With several breakthrough exhibitions last year, notably the performance-based Avatar 4D group show in San Francisco and the collaborative Something New collection in Chicago, we decided Trale was long overdue a phone call. Dazed Digital chatted to the understated and energetic 30-year-old and quickly realised it was all about the love of the process.

Dazed Digital: What were you doing for the 28 years before you started making art?
Mitch Trale: I started programming as a kid and moved towards web technologies around 1999.  I’m pretty much self- or friend-taught in almost everything I do.  I had a bubble company in 2001 that melted with the rest of them. The next eight years or so I spent on some professional office guy shit, building intranet applications, video games, ad engines, whatever.  And after hours I’d make community hang-out sites for my friends. After a while I figured I’d built up this broad toolkit of programming languages and knowledge about the guts of the Internet and that I could apply those techniques in a more creative way.  I haven’t flipped to art in a full-time way yet, but in the last year or so I’ve been able to focus a lot more of my energy on that, which I’m pumped about.

Dazed Digital: Who and what would you say your big influences and inspirations are?
Mitch Trale: I really didn't think about making art in a critical way until 2006 or so. Around that time, I read Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees - an excellent book by Lawrence Weschler about the contemporary artist Robert Irwin - and it fucked me up in a pretty cool way. There's a real clarity to the depiction of Irwin's process of progressive inquiry, and it broke the terms and goals of art open for me. Suddenly I felt like asking questions, and working towards the answers through my own weird modes of coding, was a fair way to create.

I was also really interested in Irwin's work with scrims - these thin, gauzy materials, which he hangs very deliberately, and which can add this incredible volume to our perception of a space. I think that a lot of modern web aesthetics have roots in this kind of alpha-channel obscurantism, and that the techniques we use to create an illusory depth on the page point to a certain shared yearning. I think there's a real desire for a truly goggle-less 3D interface to the web, and that in some ways we feel like we're owed this progress, and that it should be here by now. But it's not, in a functional sense, and so we approach it through 3D approximation and digital trompe-l'œil - drop-shadows, CSS opacity and z-index, modal dialogs, tunnel animations and so on.

Dazed Digital: Tell us about Gallant Apparatus – how did that idea evolve and what was involved in creating the piece? Mitch Trale: Gallant Apparatus consists of four environments. Three of them are built from photos taken of Kusama's installations, which are mirrored and mapped onto a pseudo-3D environment. The original photos were appropriated from press releases, Flickr, wherever, and then edited and integrated into the code. The fourth environment is my own, and is a kind of skeletal space, where these other images can be accessed and projected. In specific terms, I'm working to make pop art, both reverent and irreverent, using found objects and new techniques. I'm interested in encapsulations of small time and experience, into forms that can be shared and understood quickly as cultural shorthand.

From the beginning, the piece was conceived as a digital homage to Kusama, whose work I think is so solid. I understood that there were often time restraints placed on the viewers of her installations in gallery settings, which is a practical affordance but also a frustrating one, because it's so tempting to want to slow down and really spend time in her spaces. And so I hoped that by putting these digital reworks out there, people could be as patient as they wanted when it came to seeing the delicacy of her mirror interactions.

The panoramas I make, Gallant Apparatus included, aren't really 3D spaces. They're somewhere between 2 and 3, as the viewer's position in space is fixed. For me this can create a sense of entrapment, once I orient myself in the scene and realize that for as much control as I have, I'm still very limited in my choices of what to see. I think this parallels my experience online, where I crave new information and new contexts, but am limited by my conception of the web's real size and boundaries. That is to say that while the web is finite, it's effectively infinite in scale and scope, which I will always find a bit disheartening. Like no matter how hard we surf, we're all only ever staring at these iceberg tips made of cat videos, you know?

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