Saiman Chow’s latest piece, a title sequence for the Berlin based Ciclope Festival, is an acid trip down memory lane exploding with combinations of color, texture and cultural touchstones that are uniquely his own.
We start in a blasé corporate cubicle that is immediately torn open by a waterfall of endlessly replicating browser windows, reminiscent of a Windows ‘95 Solitaire victory. These windows become the vector for a subsequent journey through paneled bamboo basements and black light aquariums, a desktop bacchanal boogie and a Swiss chalet at the core of a panda planet. The method in the madness is Saiman’s striking visual language, marrying elements of mid ‘90s net aesthetics and early ‘60s psychedelia with a lo-fi 2D animation approach to create psychic landscapes that vibrate on a celestial frequency.
“I started by creating several complex illustrated scenes that could serve as potential settings for the sponsor’s names,” said Saiman. “Within that structure, I used looping and gif style animations to populate the scenes and give them a sense of a glitch filled internet gone awry.”
Keeping time in the chaos is a track by Brooklyn based sound house Antfood. Their hyper dense soundscape blends K-pop, hip-hop and quazi trap rap vocals for a perfect aural analogy. Antfood Creative Director Wilson Brown says of their process, “We started with a plethora of related Moog and Arp2600 basslines, three drum machines and a live drummer, and then just kept on adding…We requested everyone to write a vocal performance in their native tongue for each sponsor, and, well that is what happened.”
1 // Maybe it’s just the basement scene and the Nirvana album on the floor but I get a ‘90s vibe from this work so lets start with a short answer question to break the ice, Nirvana or Pavement?
There’s no debate in my mind, it’s definitely Nirvana! When I first immigrated to America in the early 90s, I felt disconnected, isolated and confused because of the cultural barrier, plus my English was not strong. I was having a hard time adjusting to my new life and making friends. I then discovered MTV and subsequently Nirvana. They were totally mainstream at that point but compared to Hong Kong Pop love ballads I was spoon fed all my life, this was the part of American culture I finally connected with. As cliche as it sounds, the teenage angst, frustration and alienation in Nirvana’s music resonated with me despite the fact that I didn’t understand much of their lyrics at that time.
2 // The landscapes you generate in your work, both commercial and personal, always have a bit of a psychedelic or surreal edge, where does that come from? Are they derived from spaces you actually inhabit (your own desktop, your living room, etc)?
I wish my living room was painted in psychedelic patterns with shag carpet and mushroom chairs! If there’s one era I can travel back in time and live in it would be the mid to late 1960’s. I think that moment in American history is really fascinating to me, such cultural and social paradigm shifts were in play, as the result the music and visual language that was created was very unique.
3 // You sent me a PSD for this project (I believe it was the aquarium shot) that had something like 1300 unnamed layers which I thought was truly incredible and inspiring. Do you feel like you seek out a kind of controlled maximalism in your design? The things you make have a real care and specificity living inside of what is sometimes, on the surface, chaos so I’m curious to know if that is something you actively consider as you start working.
The 1300 layers of chaos is just a reflection of my poor organizational skills. There are probably hundreds of layers of useless information that I’m just too lazy to delete. No, I don’t consciously seek out to work in a maximalist way, It is just the nature of my process. In fact, I’m very aware of my tendency to over think and over complicate things. For this project I set out to limited myself to certain design rules, color and composition. When I begin designing I do start out with a rough idea in my head and then I begin building elements intuitively. I found that I make better work by just doing/ reacting, than trying to create a perfect sketch, its more fun to improvise and let the work evolve.
4 // You cast a wide creative net. Can you talk a bit about your influences? K Pop and Manga seem ever present to me, especially in your personal work, but I know there are others as well. What’s on your mind lately and what, if anything, influenced this piece specifically?
Recently I have been thinking about my personal history as a Hong Konger and first generation immigrant. Hong Kong is a unique hub that is driven by captialism and consumer culture. Every time I visit back home, I notice there are more and more mega shopping malls. I am saddened by the disappearance of the historical buildings and unique culture that makes Hong Kong such a special place. I have been influenced by this shift and have made work that deals with the worship of status and personal consumption. The original idea for this piece started around the intersection of consumerism, hoarding and impulse buying topped with a large dose of absurdist humor.
5 // Finally, you’ve found a good home at Blacklist. Can you talk a bit about that relationship and why it has been important to your process?
Agreed! For me working with good/ genuine people is very important. The nice folks at Blacklist, like Adina and Andrew actively support me and my work, always looking out for my best interest. They have a great support system for their directors and nurture open creative projects like Ciclope Festival.
Saiman Hustlin’ in the studio