Surf or Sink?

Taietzel Ticalos’ works straddle the line between humor and serious questions addressing digital existence through gifs and animations. A view into the screen window of her digital studio.

Interview with Taietzel Ticalos — Mai 31, 2017

Taietzel Ticalos, studio visit »Surf or Sink?«, 2017
»remnant«, Taietzel Ticalos

»There will be always an ethical challenge attached to progress. My questions are just funny reminders.«

The Twitter-account of the artificial user Taietzel Ticalos wasn’t originally started to create digital art. It rather served as a platform for images and gifs initially created as a side effect of learning digital tools and applications by herself starting with Photoshop. Taietzel Ticalos’ works consists of simultaneously comic and serious questions addressing digital existence and are visually accompanied by animations of bodies, virtual spaces, but also quite a few references to art history. Currently she also publishes on the platform Newhive – which provides a digital environment allowing her gifs to stretch out and to add audio elements because, meanwhile, her practice involves more techniques than cutting people out with photoshop.

Judith Engel: The question »What is the purpose of my online existence?« caught my attention on your Twitter account and I wondered how you became interested in the format of asking these questions through texts and images?

Taietzel Ticalos: After I became conscious of my user status, it was actually a natural outcome to question this new side. I chose Twitter as the playground for the project and irony to highlight the paradoxes of my personal user experience. When it happened, I was just starting to learn how to use the programs I’m working with, so attaching a gif or an image to each post was more of an exercise to keep going.

Taietzel Ticalos, studio visit »Surf or Sink?«, 2017

Taietzel Ticalos

JE: When did this happen and was it connected to the creation of the user »Taietzel Ticalos« (as this is an artificial person, isn’t it)?

TT: Sometimes I feel Taietzel Ticalos is a project all its own. It grew online with each account, since I was using the name as my official id everywhere. Though the name has a funny meaning in Romanian, people took it serious and often linked my real persona with it. Now, after years of using it, I don’t see Taietzel Ticalos as something artificial; it identifies a part of me – the playful one that gives me freedom to learn and to experiment.
I was already Taietzel Ticalos when I started posting my works.

JE: Do you differentiate between online and offline existence? If so, how does this work?

TT: Unfortunately, I am very aware of the distinctions between virtual and real existence. I wish I could see the in-between line more blurred. Dissociating like this just perpetuates a fear of acting online; in other words, I see myself more as an undecided and passive user, the type that deactivates/reactivates or deletes accounts.

»I don’t see Taietzel Ticalos as something artificial; it identifies a part of me – the playful one that gives me freedom to learn and to experiment.«

JE: How does your work develop aesthetically? Where do, for example, the references to art history come from or why have they been included? Are there sources of inspiration for your work?

TT: The use of appropriation comes from my lack of artistic education. My first project evolved from the desire to understand, relate and react to some of my favorite Romanian artworks. Through different programs, like Photoshop, Processing, KeyShot or Cinema 4D, I conveyed them into the digital space, frame by frame. The technique developed from 2D to 3D, as I improved my skills.

Taietzel Ticalos, studio visit »Surf or Sink?«, 2017

»no reply«, Taietzel Ticalos

JE: What is your original background? Has your decision to playfully educate yourself in learning to deal with these technical application been influenced by this background?

TT: My background is in philosophy and it reveals itself in the outcome, but I connect the whole process of learning technical requirements to my curios nature. My friends also had a strong influence; because of them I became interested in art and digital. At the beginning, I volunteered in some galleries and then I coordinated for a year the cultural program of the Center for Visual Arts in Bucharest with my friend Gabriela Mateescu, with whom I also co-curate the mobile group Nucleu. Two of my best friends, Tristan and Vlad Anghel were already doing digital art then, so it didn’t take long for Gabriela and me to follow the same path.

JE: Would you consider yourself an artist?

TT: Haha, but everyone is an artist.

Taietzel Ticalos, studio visit »Surf or Sink?«, 2017

»minoritarian choreography«, Taietzel Ticalos

JE: Would you consider your practice as educational? Not only in terms of your own education towards learning all the application, but towards triggering a critical perspective on digitized culture through asking questions?

TT: No, for me questioning is more of a natural reaction. I am not deliberately critical and I never assumed an educational role. Right now, my practice is way too intuitive and personal.

»Internet just intensifies the feeling of loneliness, makes you realize how much time you spent alone sitting in front of a device.«

JE: Somehow Restless Threads reminded me of philosophical issues coming out of enlightenment thought – like »What can I know?, How can I act?« The human subject, that has become virtual seems to find itself in a digital surrounding where questions can be asked again. Questions of how one can deal with the notions of responsibility for one’s own actions. Do you see any potential in being an enlightened/ethical citizen of the internet?

TT: I think it’s subjective and it depends from user to user. Internet can generate as much confusion as enlightenment, it’s up to us if we surf or sink.

JE: …Or get caught in something as many of your digital characters. They seem to be lonesome despite being in or belonging to a crowd. Is this how you perceive online existence?

Taietzel Ticalos, studio visit »Surf or Sink?«, 2017

»tied up«, Taietzel Ticalos

TT: It’s more about how I perceive existence. Internet just intensifies the feeling of loneliness, makes you realize how much time you spent alone sitting in front of a device. Most of my characters are trapped in their environment; the movement takes place around them, while they are captured in static moments. They reveal themselves to me like this, unable to escape, but also not struggling to get out from this state. It’s true, they are lonesome, but they accept their condition.

JE: Do you consider users, citizens of the internet, as the ones who actually have to face also the possible »ethics« of the world wide web when asking: »Is it wrong that I enjoy cutting out people in photoshop« or »Could blocking be defined as virtual murder«?

TT: New ethical questions emerged as the technology developed. There is actually a list of 10 Commandments of Computer Ethics created by the Computer Ethics Institute. Now we problematize the ethics of Artificial Intelligence. There will be always an ethical challenge attached to progress. My questions are just funny reminders.

»The consumerist society treats users both as products and as customers and I believe we are past that naïve stage of seeing Internet as an independent and free space.«

JE: I often had to chuckle when scrolling through your work as there is a certain awkwardness and irony attached to them. What role does humor plays for your work and for encountering all these questions?

TT: Humor is a good trick to make heavy feelings look easy on the outside. I see it as a powerful tool for handling reality. Starting with the name I chose, Taietzel Ticalos, it’s obvious humor plays an important role in my work. For me, twisting serious topics in an ironic way just makes it more accessible to engage with them.

Taietzel Ticalos, studio visit »Surf or Sink?«, 2017

»insomnia«, Taietzel Ticalos

JE: The way the questions are asked in Restless Threads you can get the impression that users still have the possibility to shape and create the space their online-identities inhabit. What is your perspective on users as creators versus users as a data source for algorithmically determined offers accelerating a system of consumption by offering the things you not even knew you desired?

TT: We are aware now that we provide collectable data through our phones and browsers without being actually logged in as users. Submitting to the terms and conditions of the information empires is just a form of agreeing to give away our personal data. The consumerist society treats users both as products and as customers and I believe we are past that naïve stage of seeing Internet as an independent and free space. My data is the price I pay for collecting information and, in this vicious circle, learning how to inhabit the online space it’s one way of fighting back.

Taietzel Ticalos, studio visit »Surf or Sink?«, 2017

»graceless«, Taietzel Ticalos

JE: Have you yet found answers to some of the questions, especially the question of the purpose of one’s online existence?

TT: You can play with words and meaning and distort them in a post-truth reality, soak them in sarcasm and watch how the virtual existence builds itself as a ground for endless confrontations and answers.

JE: Are you working exclusively online?

TT: Keeping it exclusively online is a challenge, as the real space demands materiality. I’m trying as much as I can now to keep my works screen based, but it’s a bit hard to exhibit them in galleries only like this.

Taietzel Ticalos, studio visit »Surf or Sink?«, 2017

»basic knowledge«, Taietzel Ticalos

JE: Are there opportunities to exhibit your digital work especially in Romania and in general?

TT: Younger generations are engaging more with this medium, but right now there are few galleries opened to work in this direction. Also, we lack a homogenous context/scene for it. Though there are some strong examples, like the art group Kinema Ikon, it still feels remote.

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