Damon Zucconi on the many ways “the conditions of production are going to make themselves visible” in art
Multi-disciplinary artist Damon Zucconi talks us through working with software and text programming, as well as collaborating with long-time friend Arca.
- Joey Levenson
- 2 June 2021
“The obligation to work within a specific tradition is a strange one,” Philadelphia-based artist Damon Zucconi tells Its Nice That. The multidisciplinary artist has a long and expansive portfolio across a myriad of mediums – he’s essentially quite hard to pin down. Yet, whilst Damon’s works sprawl across many subjects, there is a quotidian and deeply intelligent life breathing through each piece. “Some people choose to ignore what's in front of their own eyes,” Damon says on his multidisciplinary approach. “And that isn’t to assert the primacy of deskilling or something,” he clarifies.
For Damon, it is simply that “the notion of dividing any kind of labor into specialties that exist independently of one another is a fiction”. It’s this commitment to keeping his frontier as expansive as possible which has also kept the creative from dwelling too much on a visual signature language. “I've seen that the more I work with programming, the more text plays a role in things.” Damon’s frequent use of programming, software, and text has cropped up in a number of his works, and he believes the increasing infiltration of text in his works is only a natural extension of his proclivity to programming. “The conditions of production are going to make themselves visible,” he explains. But, it seems that what’s most surprising and exciting to Damon is how “these textual modes of working will translate into other realms...how processes developed for one use will map onto something new”.
Generating a specific “approach” to any which work remains squarely “external” for Damon, something he believes should be “separate from the self [and] regarded with a healthy amount of skepticism”. This skepticism comes in handy when the creative approaches the more utilitary mediums at his disposal. “I try to avoid technology for its own sake,” he says of his reluctance towards art relying on the novelty of technological experience. “There's a race to rotate through the same bag of stock art historical gestures with the new toy that I would like to avoid.” It was, however, the dawning of the age of the internet which sparked and facilitated his keen talent in programming and software. “I started making websites in the 90s when I was very young, taken with the idea that I could construct a public space from my home,” he recalls. This notion of public space is another clear point of departure for a lot of Damon’s work. Often, his online pieces operate as if the idea of a public exists as a cultural form, somewhat of a practical fiction present in the modern world in a way that is distinct from earlier society. Damon notes, however, that “websites [quickly] became a form of their own rather than a container for something else” and remains steadfast in his commitment “to think and work in public.”
Recently, the artist also worked with a process of UV curing ink on alu-dibond, producing beautiful disorientating pieces that evoked the feeling of a Monet as done by the Matrix. He tells us the works are composed using “different populations of images,” that came together from a software he wrote. “The software operates by taking sets of images, enlarges them to cover a given dimension uniformly, cuts them into grids, then walks over that grid, taking a piece from each image in turn.” If that may sound as complicated as does engrossing – that’s because it is. But the final result, he tells us, “is a composite of everything in simultaneity without any changes in opacity”. And, for his most recent show at JTT, Damon used this method “on-model photography from a luxury fashion e-commerce website,” gathering cropped anonymous images of torsos that demonstrate “the ephemerality of clothing,” and their distinct temporality.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Damon is a frequent collaborator and long-time close friend with the dynamic eningeer-focused musician Arca. “We’ve been close friends for a very long time,” he says, recalling how they met in New York many years ago. “She’s been like family ever since.” There’s a noticeable love shared between the two, as Arca has called on him a number of times to collaborate on both her visual and musical endeavours. “We will frequently bounce ideas back and forth,” he says. “There's no rush, but sometimes things stick”.
Most notably, Damon constructed an evermorph text for the video to her single Nonbinary. The text displayed the lyrics on-screen in a way only Damon could conceptualise, and together with Arca they even generated an online platform where fans could make their own versions of the evermorph text online. As for what inspired that work on Nonbinary, Damon points to this idea in word recognition that, “once you become familiar with a word, you begin to recognise it based on its overall shape rather than reading the letters individually.” Taking this concept, Damon found that “using an alternating case is one way to disrupt the natural process of reading: recasting words into dynamically shifting shapes, which allows us to read them as if they were new”. It’s a beautiful and unique way of applying word recognition to the iridescent gleam of coming in to one’s own new identity, and the subsequent re-examining of the human condition that comes with. And that, essentially, is what keeps Damon’s work so distinct.
Damon Zucconi: Fata Morgana (Copyright © Damon Zucconi, 2010)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.