Text by Tamar Clarke-Brown
New World Agency™
Artist Gabriel Massan uses digital tools to fabricate critical fiction grounded in lived realities. Across a multidisciplinary practice, they work to build bridges to understanding, combining storytelling and world-building techniques, to create digital sculptures and virtual ecosystems that simulate and narrate stories from the Black-Indigenous Latin American experience.
Beginning their career in performance, including stints in the underground Noise scene, moving into video art and animation, before embracing the digital world more broadly, across 3D animation, digital sculpture, AR, games, sound, and interactive installations, the artist produces work characterized by intricately textured, animated, 3D sculptures they call “sculpture-actors,” that carry their own “performances of life.” Since 2017, following the conscious decision to remove their own body from the frame, the artist has been obsessively crafting and creating digital life-forms that archive and enact unique scripts, devised between themselves and close collaborator Carlos Minozzi, who works with Massan in developing bespoke animations. What experiences have shaped them? What materials have marked their path? The answers to these questions are reflected in the unique digital textures and skins of each sculpture, almost like topographic maps. For Massan, a process that began as a simple exploration of the potential of 3D software ended up fulfilling a deep need for them to externalize the symbols, signs, and feelings from their own experience; and the sculptures function in many ways as monuments for the artist, representative of a part of their own memory, consolidated through the process of giving shape and form.
While Massan’s early sculptures are glassmorphic, warped and kaleidoscopic, recent work incorporates more ceramic, rocky and natural textures and colors, following the artist’s investigations into environmental histories and contexts, with each sculpture being like a cartographic record of its own navigations. Deeply inspired and fascinated with maps, cartography and especially the Mappae Mundi, Massan is preoccupied with how life marks and shapes us equally, and how the inequalities and challenges of the territories we move through enact their own transformations; on the shape of our bodies, minds, souls and which path we take next.
With early studies in Social Communication, core references including cult 1990s Anime series Serial Experiments of Lain, and ongoing research into the biomes of Latin America and Africa, in many of their works, Massan renders realities of disconnection within diasporic cultures, with environments characterized by disparate island bodies or land masses. In the artist’s first game, Iroko (2019), developed online during the COVID pandemic, a central player mechanic is jumping across the voids between these islands to access video works from a number of collaborators—an exercise in chasing connection. Much inspired by academic Denise Ferreira da Silva’s notion of “negative accumulation,” the pervasive cycle of precarity for Black individuals and difficulties in achieving sustainable growth or stable ground, in the multichannel video installations Continuity Flaws (2023) and Continuity Flaws: The Loophole (2023), filmed from multiple perspectives, we can only watch as characters perform a repeating cycle of connecting and disconnecting with each other as they jump across a hostile landscape; forming and losing connections at equal speed.
Much inspired by life/social simulation games like The Sims—a genre that studies and models the social interactions between artificial lifeforms—Massan’s latest project, Third World: The Bottom Dimension, a collaborative PC video game, exhibition and Web3 tokens on the Tezos blockchain, expands their ecosystemic view on the realities of life and emergence in the global present. Commissioned and developed with Serpentine Arts Technologies, which focuses on supporting and pushing the civic possibilities of advanced technologies, it was originally devised as a ‘consciousness-raising’ tool, with conceptualization and development that began during the Bolsonaro regime in Brazil, which fundamentally decimated life for many, especially Black, Indigenous and queer people. The game experiments with what it might look like to stay connected—or committed perhaps—to the unfolding of an ongoing story, to the revelation of different modes of navigating the same question. In this case, how different artists consider the ongoing ramifications of the colonial and capital project in Brazil, and how a game might be able to facilitate that ongoing investigation. As an experiment in decentralized storytelling, it further explores how digital infrastructures can build agency, foster change, nurture and distribute a constellation of perspectives.
Massan describes the game project as a worldbuilding platform and ‘bridge,’ and being so keenly preoccupied with the imbalances of justice, unequal distribution of resources, possibilities and access in the world, and the fundamental impossibility of a single or ‘master’ perspective, this multi-level game, built in Unreal Engine 5, explores the Black Brazilian experience through multiple perspectives. Weaving in the practices of featured artists Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, Novíssimo Edgar and LYZZA, each level is an artist-led episode within an ongoing fabulation—an ecosystem and lore designed by Massan. Each level presents an episode from another dimension within Third World, coming from the perspective of another featured artist, who gives voice, character and life to Massan’s sculptures, history to their environments, and distributes their tale across narrative videos, dialogues and collectibles. While the first level, Igba Tingbo, devised by artist and trained clinical psychologist Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, restages a moment of first ‘colonial’ arrival, and explores the relationship between land, spirituality and the body, alongside the player’s openness to othered knowledges, the second level, Sòfo, devised by Novíssimo Edgar, is a more frantic and survival-focused encounter, that elucidates the challenges of surviving in increasingly toxic environments.
Massan considers the game itself a technology; with the capacity to change the way we see. A game—a medium that centers the experience of player agency to navigate, and develop a logic that moves them ‘successfully’ through the experience—asks us to pay attention to how our experience is developing, to the moves we’ve made; the process of building a body, of texturing a self. Especially, it’s about how every moment of connection is an equal opportunity to unlearn old ways of being, being in touch with so many other possibilities of how else to navigate and develop, of establishing a “force-field of possibility through these moments of connection.” As an early adopter of Web3 technologies, and of their decentralized operational logic, for Massan the game also offers a longer experiment in losing control of their own creation—with sculptures and environments narrated and programmed by other minds—and to see what life they take on thereafter, how the story continues with even more minds to untangle the problem.
GABRIEL MASSAN (b. 1996, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) is a Berlin-based artist renowned for employing ‘fictional archaeology’ to craft immersive worlds. Utilizing 3D animation, digital sculpture, and interactive installations, Massan’s work scrutinizes inequality within the Latin American context. Noteworthy achievements include awards like Dazed 100, residencies at Cité internationale des arts and ETOPIA, and critically acclaimed solo exhibitions at Serpentine Galleries and Outernet Arts. Contributions include showcases at Centre Pompidou-Metz, The Photographers’ Gallery, and Julia Stoschek Foundation.
TAMAR CLARKE-BROWN is a Curator with Arts Technologies, Serpentine. Her work centers on alternative mythologies and diasporic practices, with a special focus on platforming underrepresented and overlooked imaginaries. At Serpentine, her work involves commissioning new artworks, events, research and R&D projects engaged with experimental worldbuilding and exploring the untapped civic and social potential of technologies.