In a dreamy and ambiguous landscape, iridescent amoebas surround the ruins of obsolete electronics. Brilliantly coloured fungal growths cling to the edges of discarded circuit boards.
This luminous and posthuman scene is from “Inflorescences” (2023), one of the three works that make up artist Sabrina Ratté’s Active-Sites show at the PLATFORM Centre for Photographic and Digital Arts.
Based in Montréal, Ratté is an interdisciplinary artist who creates immersive digital environments that incorporate the ruins of architecture, technology and nature. Active-Sites is her first solo exhibition in Western Canada.
Inspired by video and computer art pioneers like Woody and Steina Vasulka and Lillian Schwartz, Ratté began her practice by experimenting with video synthesizers and developing a distinct style.
“I got more invested in the electronic nature of video,” Ratté said during an artist talk in conjunction with the show on Oct. 21. “In a video feedback ... it’s like a camera is filming its own image back and forth, creating this very beautiful abstract luminous shape.”
Throughout her practice, Ratté has cultivated an aesthetic that has evolved as she has incorporated new forms and mediums.
In Active-Sites, Ratté follows the Anthropocene to ambiguous conclusions, a future in which human life is completely absent, but plants and organisms thrive. The show features a mix of 3D animation, video and interactive installation, giving shape to a speculative landscape in which the boundaries between organic and synthetic matter have dissolved.
The earliest of these works, “Floralia” (2021), depicts a future in which fragments of then-extinct flower and plant species are preserved in a tomb-like virtual realm.
“Floralia” was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Ratté was researching the Anthropocene and looking for ways to reflect this in her work – to “stay with the trouble,” she said during the talk, nodding to eco-feminist philosopher Donna Haraway.
All three works in Active-Sites share a common orientation toward the Anthropocene while reckoning with the afterlife of the technologies humanity creates.
“It was very important to show these three pieces together,” Ratté said. “I feel like they’re part of one kind of state of mind.”
In “Objets-Monde”(2022), an interactive video installation, the viewer is immersed in a glimmering post-apocalyptic landscape. Scattered across the space are the remnants of vehicles in the process of being reclaimed by nature, resembling ancient ruins. Viewers can pan across this scenery as beams of light glisten and move through the metallic topography.
While Ratté has meticulously constructed these resplendent speculative fictions, the details of these futures are conspicuously left unarticulated. Despite this opacity, and the absence of human life in Active-Sites, her digital environments overflow with feeling and affect.
During the artist talk, Ratté cited the sublime, an aesthetic condition of immeasurable beauty and terror, often elicited through the immensity of nature.
It’s a quality that flourishes in Active-Sites, which seeks to exceed human scales of space and time and finds beauty in the unfathomable.
Active-Sites runs at PLATFORM Centre until to Dec. 2. Visit platformcentre.org for gallery hours. Activated Memory: Short Films by Sabrina Ratté, a screening in conjunction with the exhibition, will take place on Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Dave Barber Cinematheque. For details, visit davebarbercinematheque.com.
Published in Volume 78, Number 08 of The Uniter (November 2, 2023)