#tomgalle & @moisesnotfound will be part of a VR artist residency with @superbright_ next week curated by @lindsayahoward 👩🏼💻stoked to work around other artists @sam.rolfes @jennifermehigan @rothbergrothberg @pascualsisto 👨🏼💻👩🏼💻👨🏼💻Join us on Friday 3/17 from 7-10pm for the closing party 🌈🌈🌈 link in bio
In some way it feels impossible to start the introduction to this interview. Mostly because Tom Galle still now suggests the idea of an enigma even after having had an earnest and, above all, genuine conversation with him the past many days over Gmail. Online, Galle seems unreachable. Perhaps immaterial, especially in his hyper-contemporary mannerisms which repeatedly exhibit a type of intentional plasticity that could never find home in an offline setting. Or, so it seems. Coming face-to-face with the NY artist’s work and extensive online presence on Instagram, steers an immediate focus towards the implications of Internet culture, its intangible yet somehow affable infinities, how everything feels so personal within the impersonal while rejecting all of it at once. There’s a silent, growing complexity within Galle’s elaborate “not-just-selfies,” the way he acquaintances technological devices in quotidian narratives of human life—i.e. his VR Tinder performance on NY’s subway; a recent IG post showing the buttons of a keyboard placed on the naked chest of a woman—surveying anonymously the approximating trajectories of societal nature, including those of his own. We are physically evolving in our reality. And he hints at how. Yet, beneath this perfect edifice of unsentimental irony that constantly references the far-away future of a post-internet era, there is someone authentically tangible—sometimes unbearably so—who has dedicated a lot of his time to meditate the world’s ever-expanding dimensions. Galle is smart and empathetic; like many or some of us, an innocuous recluse who has found an additional home within the often-more-comfortable arms of the Internet, properly living a life of the 2000s.
Since recently you’ve taken on new ways on how to express your concepts on Instagram with 3D compositions, objects, as well as fashion. The end result serve carefully constructed scenes. Installations, really.
Just like a lot of artists working around internet culture today, I use social media as my main output platform. So I always want my work to be consumable on these platforms. It should be visually and conceptually iconic, intriguing or confrontational.
My work is concept-centric and recently I’m leaning more and more to visual expressions through photography for example. 3D is coming more and more on my radar. It’s a way of creating compositions that take away the limitations of real life. There’re more and more tools available that make it much easier to make work in 3D, like gaming engines, affordable 3D scanners, VR, animation tools etc. This opens up a ton of opportunities for expanding my aesthetic into these terrains.
Next to that, I’m working on a few pieces that are installation-based, experiential and object design. I think it’s very interesting to explore how memetic content can be experienced in other ways than through a social feed, while keeping them internet-friendly.
It’s important for me to constantly be on the lookout for new technologies and platforms. However, it’s extremely important to not fall in the trap of ‘using technology for the sake technology.’ The way I talk about VR in my work isn’t jumping on the bandwagon and creating VR art without thinking. Rather it’s creating conceptual representations using VR. Whenever we use VR, the project has to justify using the medium.
In your work, Internet culture is present at all times. Its disquisition poses an almost inevitable pull.
I’m fascinated by the Internet and digital cultures in general: The way we use technology and its platforms, the memetic content that emerges from the internet. I think this is a very interesting time for conceptual artists working around the internet. We get a constant stream of content from the internet at a never seen before pace. New platforms and technologies emerge daily, as well as memes that can spin completely out of control. I often wonder if people realize the quantity and types of content produced by these subcultures, it’s exhausting as well as it is fascinating.
I’m obsessed with looking at how all these things shape us and our behavior, and somehow try to disrupt these patterns. Years ago we would have never accepted a concept like Tinder and today it’s all normal, so why not project an ironical futuristic view of Tinder in VR - a performance stunt we did last year. It’s using these new platforms in adverse ways, aiming to make people reflect on it, feel something about it. Looking at how people reacted in terms of Tinder in VR really hit that spot. We got tons of reposts and reactions of people who felt all kinds of things, positive and negative.
You could have chosen hundreds of different apps for the VR performance. Yet, you chose Tinder. Might Tinder be one of the most straightforward examples of where society is at?
Tinder and VR are both some of the most confronting evolutions in terms of what a technological future could look like. By combining them, we sort of created a performance that projects us into an absurd future of people toggling through options for finding lovers in their own immersive worlds.
It was a conscious choice to not show what’s actually in the goggles, leaving it up the the viewer's imagination. We wanted to confront people with this concept, while giving them space for imagination of what that actual experience could be, in an intend to make it all the more intriguing.
I can’t help but think we’re becoming less and less ‘human’ with VR being on the rise. I find many of our new interactions greatly alienating. Somehow we seem less and less compassionate, and the presence of loneliness is encouraged only further. At this point, however, it also seems completely unproductive to dwell too much here. Our physical reality has already begun to change, and will only continue doing so.
I think human needs probably were the same say 50 years ago as they are now, but the way they get fulfilled changed drastically with the internet and will change even more with new technology being developed.
I would guess that people always had the need to communicate, but when the telephone or even the cellphone were invented, human connections suddenly went through a drastic change. The internet has a similar effect. From personal experience I can say I have few specific IRL interactions with friends on a daily basis, but many online interactions with online ‘friends.’ People online I communicate with on a frequently but almost never see IRL. For me, it gives me a feeling of loneliness. Through online interactions our needs for human connection are fulfilled in a more immediate and intense way, but in the end are much more shallow and empty. All these developments are extremely interesting subjects to work with.
VR is for the moment still very niche and limited to temporary entertainment/gaming experiences, but the ambition for the near future seems to be big. Facebook for example wants to create VR chat rooms where friends could hang out from the comfort of their own home. All these inventions will contribute to a more shallow, less real human connection. These new developments are simultaneously fascinating as they are scary, and I’m interested in making thought-provoking work around these developments.
Just taking another look at your website and your overall online presence, there are so many things you’ve done! It makes me think about your statement on content constantly being created. Personally, I’m uneasy that there’s so much being put out there. In many ways it advertises and supports this idea of quantity, and not quality. I’m not suggesting that you apply to this ideology; I’m also exhibiting my personal jealousy towards those who manage to create seamlessly, around the clock. I’m a terribly slow thinker. Maybe it’s also mostly a matter of time, how time has morphed into this new dependency, grown strangely more conscious of itself while also being continuously abstract.
I think this comment is spot on and something I see a lot of people struggle with. As artist working with and for the internet today we have a constant stream of inspiration and change, as well as our own platforms for expression with our own audiences. This can be as much a benefit as it can be a burden.
A year or two ago we use to mainly make websites and apps, and recently I felt that social media became so important that I shifted my work and aesthetic in that direction. Who still goes to external websites from Facebook or Instagram for example? Whenever I see peers make website-based work I now get a vintage feeling, as much as I still like the work.
So where I used to code a lot, I’m now using photography, video, 3D modeling & animating etc. as skillset to output on social media. And even if I make something in a different media, I will always think about how it will manifest itself on social media. While this is going on, I keep thinking about what the next thing is and keep experimenting with new types of technologies and expression. My creative output evolves with it.
At the same time it can be very exhausting. I feel that my mind completely adopted this way of working. On instagram especially I made some kind of persona of myself, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new ways to express myself. Conceptual instagrams photos for example can be made in a day or even a few hours, and my studio is filled with technology and props, you can see how it can become an exhausting practice.
In reference to the intentional creation (supposing it is intentional) of your persona, would you say your IG represents a realer version of yourself, or the contrary? Does it actually matter, if we are real or not? I guess this very also exemplifies another personal conundrum, how the Internet has compiled a space for genuine expression, simultaneously consenting the surge of artificial identity. But then again, every identity—whether online or offline—is both fictitious and sincere.
I think the persona is just one of the ways I choose the express myself on social media. It obviously is me; it’s based on my sense of humor, my aesthetic and my ideas. It’s simply a channel through which I express my ideas.
Social media is for the internet as much a platform as a stage for a comedian for example. The comedian will use the stage to let his persona express his ideas just as much as we use social media platforms to express ours. That’s where it also becomes interesting. When people go to a theatre or art gallery, they know that they’re in a context of entertainment or art, but my work can appear between a post about friends new dog and a fake news article or something. The context is completely different. The social network is basically made to construct an image of ourselves and share our daily lives, where I tend create one that translates my ideas, humor and aesthetic.
Social networks do allow us more and more to create ‘superficial’ versions of ourselves. In essence we can craft into detail what we want the world to know about us. While that’s true, I do think that even without the internet we already did a lot of that. We decide how to present ourselves to the world, how to appear, what to do / learn to become who we want to become. Social media did intensify or magnify that, and maybe the shift that social media is making is that it becomes more about how the other sees us than how we see ourselves, as it leans to constantly look at ourselves through the eyes of others. Again, these all are very interesting subjects to work around.
Many of your IG posts contain some kind of ‘selfie.’ Does a selfie in some sense also pertain to building trust with your audience? Trust being one of the most fragile existences among the Internet, as online existences are perhaps publicly exhibitory, but still anonymous as we can’t experience them physically and therefore validate their actual existence.
I rarely post ‘just’ a selfie, but I often play the main role in the photos or pieces I post. In my case a plain selfie isn’t really part of how I want to express myself as it doesn’t have much conceptual value, so I also don’t get a lot of reaction from my audience when I do so.
To me it’s important to be part of my work wherever I can, as it helps continue building my persona and identifying it with my work. At this point I feel like the two are inseparable, I think that my aesthetic became pretty straightforward and consequent that if i’m in it or not it often has a strong ‘Tom Galle’ feeling.
You might not guess it when you see my work, but my whole life I struggled with intense public/social anxiety which often confronts me to questions like “how come I feel zero anxiety posting these weird images of myself that sometimes get seen by thousands, but speaking in front of 15 people is difficult.” I think on one hand this has been a driving force for me, the internet allowed an outlet where I didn’t have to confront a live audience (when I was younger I wanted to be a comedian), yet allows me to express my ideas often to thousands through other media.
While my ideas often express how I feel about the subjects mentioned before, I rarely show the ‘real’ me in the sense that regular people do on social media. So I don’t feel anxious about expressing myself online, as it’s very much an artistic expression more than anything else.
I feel similar in terms of publicly presenting my work in a physical realm, the anxiety that goes along with it. It’s funny how IG has provided me with a safe enough space where I’m able to unfold organically while bypassing the typical anxieties that run parallel with being physically present in the public eye. But wouldn’t you agree the further we dive into these online existences, the further we step away from our physical presence, and therefore actually feeding further into this social anxiety of presenting our work, our ideas in real life?
Definitely. But it’s not all negative. It still offers the opportunity to confront us with audiences, even though it feels like there’s more distance. In my case it’s been a huge help. I’ve been able to become an artist with a steady output of work without constantly having to force myself into things that make me very uncomfortable. Also it allows artists a platform for expression that could then lead to other things. I got asked to do a few shows in the past and at the end of the year. My friend Moises Sanabria and I have our first solo show together, so we’re thrilled.
I would say that we have the luxury to see these things, so it’s up to one to stay ‘internet healthy.’ Social media can fulfill a role to help us present work. At the same time it’s important to keep pushing ourselves and not stay in our comfort zone. I’m sure that even before the internet people found ways to escape not being social and stay in their comfort zone. But today the internet strongly encourages the comfort zone behavior which makes it harder for us and requires a more disciplined approach to get out of it.
What do you think about this idea of the lonelier we get, the more we consume?
Generally speaking, I like to think that things today are much more designed to push us in certain directions or even control us than we think. We like to think that we have free choices. It’s a free choice to spend $800 on a mobile device or to use Facebook. But are we really free in those choices? To not take part internet today would be to not take part in a huge part of society, especially for younger people I think it’s just impossible. As a result, these devices and platforms now basically know more about us than we know about ourselves, and use it in ways that could also be seen as attempts to control us. They create super efficient consumer behavior by offering us the things we need when we need them, and make it easier than ever to own them.
If you think about it, Facebook is designed to be addictive for its users. It’s designed to be direct and impulsive. We get instant gratification from likes and comments and messages, a behavior that can leave us with feelings of emptiness just like a casino player, for example. If the right ads then pass by and it’s easy to purchase, those things give the same type of gratification. I would be surprised if all this is a coincidence, and in a way they turn us into addicts, not only towards consumption. They do make it difficult for themselves though, the human brain will always want more and more, how will they be able to fulfil that increasing need for gratification? You can see their efforts by suggesting emoji replies or suggesting all these pre-designed posts ready to share. It starts feels a bit desperate, to be honest.
Personally I think it’s up to ourselves to keep it our online interactions healthy. I’m not sure I’m doing it right, but I know I’m not a social person, so it’s about forcing myself to go out to the right events and meet up with people rather than staying behind my screen and use messenger all night. Even though it’s the more gratifying, comfortable choice.
Well, for now at least, it’s still a seemingly endless quest, whether we are actually more ourselves, or less.
In a way the internet might take away that social buffer that would hold us back from saying something. I find it easier to express my opinions online rather than in IRL discussions with friends. I might say things online that I wouldn’t in those discussions just because the social context is so different. Isn’t that why people say ‘don’t read the comments?’ In those parts of the internet it feels like people’s worse (or best?) ideas come out, exactly because they’re taken out of their social context and speak freely. It’s like whatever gets said behind walls now finds an outlet. It obviously also applies to positive aspects, the amount of tweets or posts with provocative but important information are endless.
You’ve also started to concentrate on other contemporary subjects, such as corporate oppression.
These day it’s impossible to not be somewhat affected by society, especially with everything that is happening in the US. I’m fascinated by corporate oppression and how it has such a strong influence in our everyday lives, so there will be more if that in my future work. I’m experimenting with these new media and also new conceptual grounds, so I'm working on new pieces that come from different angles, conceptually as well as visually. I think it’s interesting to work around the ambiguity of those corporate symbols. They represent a brand with values, usually very human and positive, and place them in contexts of control and oppression.
Does this interest also has something to do with your Belgium upbringing?
Coming from Belgium, a socialist democratic country, I find it very confronting how corporations designed a system to control everything in this society, from education to healthcare to international policies etc. To me it feels like it’s designed in a way where we think we feel free, but actually live in something closer to a totalitarian state ruled by corporate institutional power. And those who don't comply by or speak up the rules are often marginalized.
While every country struggles with corruption, what strikes me the most is the utmost extremity and openness of it. It’s like they became a caricature of themselves and stopped caring what people think, since they think people can’t do anything anyway. Everyone seems to (to some extend, at least) know what it’s going on. But there seem to be a general feeling of hopelessness or not knowing how to deal with it. There are hopeful signs too of course, Bernie obviously is one of them.
The well-too famous phrase, ‘Ignorance is bliss.’
While this is obviously true, it’s a quote that focuses only on the personal responsibility to stay educated and not on the active efforts from those in power. Those very people who actively try to prevent us from staying educated and get a more objective view of the world. At the same time, it’s interesting to see more and more efforts to bypass these common circumstances. New websites emerge from everywhere, providing news while purposefully bypassing state-owned news outlets and their invisible rules. Start-ups that focus on providing relevant information, while filtering fake news, etc.. These are definitely interesting and challenging times.
Images courtesy of Tom Galle
interview LARA KONRAD