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Artist Sara Ludy on Lucid Dreaming, VR and the Digital Sublime
Sometimes spectral, sometimes sublime, the work of American artist Sara Ludy sits in the space where the digital and physical coalesce. Over the past 20 years, her multidisciplinary practice has explored concepts of immateriality, consciousness and virtuality. “I like when abstraction and familiarity collapse in space and architecture,” she explains. “Something uncanny emerges, where comprehension of the self is suspended and all feels alien.” Her work reveals as much as it conceals, splicing open our fixed realities and layering colors and worlds as if they were opalescent sediments. In the interview that follows, we spoke to Ludy about lucid dreaming, the sublime, VR, hauntology, and the work that she created for this edition of Taupe.
Could you share an overview of your background and your practice as it stands today?
My practice weaves the everyday into natural and simulated forms through physical and digital mediums; creating a networked, non-hierarchical space, and body of work that points to the interconnectedness of everything. I’m interested in the nature of immateriality and consciousness; dreams, visions, psi, virtuality and how they transcend space and time in their infinite mutability. I make work that relates to my knowledge and experiences of these things.
I’ve been working with new media for more than 20 years. I attended SAIC for painting, and left with an interdisciplinary practice focusing on video, sound, and 2D animation. After graduating, I embarked on many creative lives working as a video editor, interior designer, composer, VJ, and lecturer. I have also incorporated many new mediums into my practice; 3D, VR, AR, websites, AV performance, sculpture, photography and installation. Through all these years and trajectories, I still consider myself a painter.
From your Instagram, it seems that you’re interested in natural expressions of the sublime. As someone whose practice shifts between the physical and the virtual, is there a connection between these places – their textures, their colors – and the works that you create?
The connections between place and material are largely unconscious and happen naturally. For instance, last summer I made a VR environment where you sit on a dark round platform in the middle of a silvery lake at night. The horizon is populated by distant boats illuminating the water and the sky is filled with colored orbs and ice. A few months later, I went to a glacier lagoon in Iceland and was struck by how much this place resonated with my VR environment. When synchronous moments like this occur, the sublime shows up, collapsing the present and providing a new perspective on what it means to be alive.
I experienced this a lot where I grew up, Bluemont, VA. It’s a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, among Mount Weather, Civil War ghost stories and the Appalachian Trail. You can sense its history in the soil and air; resonating through the hills, humidity and isoprene. The land is ancient and the scents are musky. The skies are soft, yet filled with violent storms in the summer. It’s sublime in a seemingly supernatural way, until you realize it’s all completely natural and everyday.
Is there such a thing as ‘digital sublime’? If there is, what does it look like?
The digital sublime emerges from a collectively built hyperobject that globally connects our nervous systems. It networks and multiplies, creating a refractive space where we are the reflection and receiver of awe. It may be falling in love in cyberspace, a cryptocurrency crash, or watching a deepfake in the middle of a hurricane before the power goes out. It happens within and among digital space. Soon we’ll shift into a quantum sublime, where locality becomes even less relevant.
Space appears to be both a topic and medium in your work, could you tell us about this and the role of architecture and world building in your practice?
I like when abstraction and familiarity collapse in space and architecture. Something uncanny emerges, where comprehension of the self is suspended and all feels alien. The sublime does this too. I think of space as consciousness, passing through and around matter. It's the occupant of everything and everything is its occupant. Form shapes the experience of space/consciousness whether it be a rock, a dream, a sound, an architecture, a world, or anything else. Space surrounds these forms, as a vibrating stillness; a presence that is seemingly familiar and infinite.
Dream House is a large-scale project that translates the landscapes of your dreams and sacred sites into 3D architectural renderings. Could you explain this project, and how you give form to something as nebulous and intangible as a dream?
Dream House is modeled after epic dreams; all encompassing total dreams that are indistinguishable from waking life. In these dreams I had full spatial awareness where I could read, contemplate, ask questions, experience linear time and dial a phone. When dreams are like real places, they’re hard to forget. I started modeling them years later, because I was curious about what it would be like to re-experience them.
Dream House is mostly a hobby project, like building a basement train set. Sometimes, works come out of it, such as Alien (Wall mount) and the video Dream House. Currently, parts of Dream House are in my VR aviary, which is also a hobby project.
When you are creating these spaces, what are your reference points for color and materiality? Are these the colors you dream in? If so, what do you think they mean?
As basic as it is, I feel my way through the process where colors and materiality emerge from memory. It’s all very intuitive. I like experiencing colors as they are, without attributing meaning. However, Jung might say these particular dreams, through their colors and archetypes, are showing me that consciousness exists in all illusions.
In works like this and the VR extension of your apartment you are essentially splicing a fixed reality, creating a secondary world that mimics your interior world or expands upon what is lived. What is your interest in this collapse or overlap between the digital and the physical?
Building the aviary is a hobby, just like Dream House. I’m building a massive world to hang out in, where some elements occasionally show up in my practice. I’m interested in the banality of it all, post physical/virtual, where hybrid languages and space just are.
Could you tell us a little about the artwork, its colors, and whether/how it relates to concepts of immateriality, consciousness and space?
This work engages with all these ideas. I’m simulating a presence that emerges through immaterial means and space. It begins by transforming a 3D mesh into a topology; a geometric body that remains intact with the ability to take on any shape by moving its points. I begin with this idea as a metaphor for infinite possibility. I sculpt the mesh until something interesting appears, then move it through various programs where it becomes multidimensional in concept and form. It’s finished when it evokes a familiar feeling.
In all of my paintings, whether they are rendered digitally or with a paint medium, assume a prismatic quality. It’s how my eye balances the composition. I want something to feel like it has a presence, still and alive, and this is one way I attempt to accomplish that. My favorite moments in painting are when many different colors have the same value, it makes things feel tangible. Another characteristic I’ve noticed is how hotspots and halos have been appearing, like afterimages from perceiving things on a screen. They’ve also been showing up in my oil paintings, as imprinted artifacts of my altered perception.
I’m always seeking ways to free up constraints in my practice through intuitive processes. This expands possibilities. Even in my VR practice, I contextualize it as a hobby because it frees it from strategy. However, it can be difficult to sustain a flow state of intuition. Our conscious mind wants to take over and name things so we understand our relationship to it. When you refrain from that tendency and appreciate something for what it is, that moment becomes the essence of being and that is what I’m after.
Rosie Flanagan is a Berlin-based writer and editor.
Sara Ludy is an American artist working in a wide range of media including video, sound, animation, VR, AR, websites, audiovisual performance, sculpture, painting, photography, and installation.