Interview: Gabriel Massan & LYZZA

Interview: Gabriel Massan & LYZZA

The audio-visual collaborators discuss world-building, identity and decolonising spaces in the digital and offline realms.

Gabriel Massan and LYZZA both want to build new worlds, but it’s up to us to figure out how to navigate them. This shared conviction from the scene-defining CGI artist and DIY wunderkind is foundational to Third World, a multi-level, “offline metaverse,” which Massan describes as a “consciousness-raising game that explores Black indigenous Brazilian experience.” Commissioned by Serpentine Arts Technologies and featuring Web3 integrations built on the Tezos Blockchain, the game explores ignorance towards the outdated notion of the “third world” while drawing from ideas of shared cultural memory, speculative and fictionalised archaeology, and the construction of virtual ecologies around how we feel, rather than how we live or how we are represented. Third World also serves as a platform for an ever-expanding team of artists, developers, and critics, including Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, Novíssimo Edgar, Carlos Minozzi, Masako Hirano, Marcinho Manga, Ralph McCoy, Alexandre Pina, and LYZZA, who not only created the soundtrack but worked on every bit of sound design across the entire game.

Taking cues from academic Saidiya Hartman’s notion of “critical fabulation,” a practice of including fictional detail alongside factual material in order to expand, develop, and add specificity to writing about Black history, Massan and LYZZA use their experiences as markers to guide their own exploration of the worlds they seek to build, not as a map for those that follow them. By immersing players in systems designed to replicate the inequalities and injustices experienced by both artists throughout their lives, their work invites us to rethink our relationship with the world around us, a process of communal narrative crafting that, in Hartman’s words, functions as “a way of naming our time, thinking our present and envisioning the past which has created it.”

This feature was originally published in Fact’s S/S 2023 issue, which is available to buy here.

LYZZA: Gabriel and I worked on Third World simultaneously; he was building the world as I was creating the sounds separately. Working with sound design prior to this, I would usually receive finished material and then work through that, but at this point it was so abstract, there was nothing except for mood boards of what the world would look like. We really do like the same kind of references.

Gabriel Massan: Cute and disturbing! I always want to bring everyone that inspires me to co-create, to imagine themselves in a different reality. I want my friends to experience a world that is not based on their identities, to rethink everything in a way that is not really related to us or the way we are.

L: That’s what I found so interesting about working on this video game together! I had no idea what the final project was gonna look like, I just had notes and keywords from you.

GM: I didn’t want to bring any specific sound references as the game’s not based on the idea of representation, unlike the first game I made with artists from rural areas in Brazil, which was for young children living in favelas. This time I knew I was working in Europe and that my audience was mostly white, so I didn’t want to give them my identity for them to play with. This was my way of exploring the ignorance towards the concept of the “third world.” How can I criticise how people navigate the world itself? We are entering this era of digital worlds and we’ll probably be navigating those worlds with the same concepts and in the ways we are navigating the real world. How can I make a world in which you’re thinking that you’re doing one thing, but you’re actually being portrayed in another? I like to disturb and to annoy and to cause discomfort, because this is something that I feel almost every day. I love to make things that don’t really make any sense, for you to find the sense in yourself. Sometimes this sense is problematic, because you are problematic! This is what I like to reflect in my work, this nonsense that in the end is not senseless, it’s meaningful.

L: Through the removal of sense you create space for people to fill, that’s the only way you’re gonna be able to find yourself in a world where everyone is tied to their physical identity. It’s not just Black people, it’s everyone. The only way to get people to actually find out who they are is by removing this sense of what the world wants to put upon us. Some people think that my music is uncomfortable, but I hope that everybody can listen to it. I do like to rustle some feathers, but more to expand your horizons and make you question things. I don’t necessarily want people to be disturbed. If you are, maybe there’s a reason for that, you can figure that out by yourself. What I love about art is being able to create something that is critical, but still finding some way to reach out your hand to people and let them into that critique. My rift with the music and art industry is that the digestibility of the finished product is valued over certain conversations that should be had. Artists get forced into a system where everyone has to understand their work, leading their audiences to stop questioning it completely, which then creates a very homogenous culture. That’s how a lot of things slip through the cracks.

GM: We live in a world where everything needs to be explained. Everything needs to be digested.

L: I always think about this when it comes to our work. Within fine art it’s acceptable to make people uncomfortable; it still can be considered great art. This is what I struggle with in music—for some reason everything has to be liked. I don’t necessarily make music that’s supposed to be digested to a point where you like it; it’s supposed to make you feel something that is not always enjoyable. That’s what is really cool about your art as well, it does definitely make you feel things. A lot of visual art, especially 3D work, is so commodifiable and so easily turned into a product. It can very quickly become something that’s supposed to look super pretty, all smooth and bubbly. A big part of what makes your work uncomfortable is that you take the time to include so much texture.

GM: But at the same time I’m using cute colours and cute drawings. It creates some confusion, which I like.

L: There’s so much power within that. I have always loved not knowing what’s going on, when you have no context. You remove the sense, you like it, but you don’t know why, so you have to question it. There’s this moment of the question that makes both our works so intangible and we find each other in that. It’s been really nice to find someone that creates work that allows me to explore worlds without having to relate to stuff that already exists. That’s what I love about sound design, you’re creating sounds that are non-existent in our current realities. It almost forces you to explore in a different way, to move in a way you haven’t moved before. Our work gives people the space and the freedom to create their own story. It’s funny that neither of us is trained; it’s probably the reason why we’re creating these new references instead of taking from what we’ve been taught. We have to explore ourselves to be able to even get to the point where we’re at today, because who’s gonna teach us!

GM: When I started I wanted to create situations and scenarios that were close to me. I wanted to talk about violence without using the same old images of violence, I wanted to talk about race, or racism, without forcing the topic. I was trying to replicate what was inside my head, or inside my heart, but in a way that wouldn’t feel triggering for people, or triggering for me. When I started to do video art was when I first started to see myself as an artist. At that time I was always talking about topics that were much bigger than me, trying to represent the other’s perspective, but I realised that I just want to tell my own story without needing to call it out for everyone, that I’m not everyone’s saviour. Now I really want to create beings and objects without a strong connection with humankind, or even signs and symbols that we use as a society. It’s a way to tell stories without leading with prejudice.

L: For me, making music is actually the only space and time that I have to not be political. I’m able to explore these more complex sides of myself outside of how the world might view me, because my existence in this world is always politicised. Through my music I want people to understand me through complexity and connect with that feeling of being understood. Being born in Brazil, moving to Europe, being part of the Afro-Latino diaspora, and also coming from quite a broken family, I think I never knew where I belonged. In Europe especially, being Black is such a different thing. When I first moved to the Netherlands people would make comments about stereotypically African American things because the concept of Blackness is such an Americanised idea, but my Brazilian side was completely overlooked. People group you together with their ideas of what Blackness means and you lose parts of yourself. Within my music, it’s just been me trying to piece together these parts and exploring how I feel. I have to create these new sounds to feel like I’m telling my own story and have other people relate to that, that’s how I truly feel seen. Every genre has been touched by Black presence or history and because of that I did not feel like there was any space for me to say what I wanted to say without being tied to these historical movements of sound. So, I guess I make my music for myself, but I really appreciate how that in itself translates to people who also feel the need to be connected or understood; they can relate to that part of my creation. It’s just wanting to feel like you belong to something, I think that’s where the world building comes in.

GM: When you put our work together, we’re both talking about self-expression, but in a way that is complex and abstract.

L: Neither of us is really seeking to tell people what to think about our work. We’re not telling people how they’re supposed to perceive it.

GM: The lack of direct paths makes the work intangible, which is a word that you always use about sound. I think my work is also like that, but what defines both worlds is the technique. When it comes to thinking about colonialism, it’s really how this or that cannot be put inside a box. Our work dives in a different way, it can’t be described as only one thing, like: this is Black music, or this is a Black artist. This is something people normally struggle to understand.

L: That’s the only way in which I feel that my music gets colonised, when people try to frame it within my identity above anything. White artists specifically get so much more space to create art from whatever point they want to. When people describe me as a Black artist, I sometimes want to ask: At the end of the day is my work only worth a conversation about my physical identity?

GM: Should we always say these things? Should we always carry them? Even though we are not bringing these topics to the centre of the conversation in our work, institutions usually do—those in charge are looking to POC artists to bring this conversation inside their institutions. They start to apply this pressure—we need to talk more about Black culture, we need to talk more about Indigenous culture, how can we portray this? How is your practice decolonial? When I’m creating, I’m creating based on my own history. My existence in this space is already decolonial, the way I’m making art is already decolonial. Everything that I’m doing is already decolonial, so why do you need to ask me? Why do institutions need to put pressure on me, to ask me about space and explain to me how important it is?

L: It’s like, bitch, I’m here! That’s how I’m decolonising this space.

GM: It’s really hard to navigate. Immigrating to Europe relocates your mind. Changing cities is one thing, but changing continents changes your whole history. When I came to Spain in 2019 for my first residency, my art gained a bit of distance from my personal experience. I started to think more about the emotional side of it, the memory of my culture, what culture was for me. How can I write my own story? I don’t have any access to what came before my grandpa and my grandma, I just know they came from different areas of Brazil. I started to rethink how I can access my own history. My unconscious vision for creating pieces comes from this need to see symbols and images that I can relate to, drawing this map of things from my past that I now have the power, through creativity and technology, to bring back. It’s this constant exercise of trying to redraw my history, to get closer to the past and critique it. I don’t know how many sculptures I’ve made, but it all feels like archeological research. Saidiya Hartman has this term in her practice, “critical fabulation.” You take real facts and write a story by putting fictional writing into it. I think in the same way, but way more fictionalised.

L: I feel like that’s probably the whole reason why my music sounds the way it does. As opposed to you, I think I’ve always very much known who I was, I just had a really hard time feeling able to relate truly who I am to the world because there are so many perceptions that are put upon my outside shell. The only way for me to dig deeper within that is with music and sounds. I create music that feels logical for me to make, it’s a creative expression of me taking in my feelings, my surroundings, and how I feel in the moment and then converting that into sound.

WORDS: Henry Bruce-Jones
PICTURES: Reece Owen

PHOTOGRAPHER’S ASSISTANTS: Dominik Slowi, Kamila Banks
STYLING: Lucy-Isobel Bonner
HAIR: Yuho Kamo
MUA: Charlie Murray
PRODUCTION: 180 Studios

This feature was originally published in Fact’s S/S 2023 issue, which is available to buy here.

Read next: Interview: Tschabalala Self

The post Interview: Gabriel Massan & LYZZA appeared first on Fact Magazine.