VMAN Art: Jon Rafman

VMAN Art: Jon Rafman

How Jon Rafman web-surfed his way to a Balenciaga collab and redefined the art of trolling.

How Jon Rafman web-surfed his way to a Balenciaga collab and redefined the art of trolling.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

This feature appears in the pages of VMAN41, our Spring/Summer 2019 issue on newsstands now!

As the models marched into last fall’s Balenciaga show, a 360° video installation spun an arti cial, Windows-98 blue sky over- head. The LED rmament, which coursed with multicolored techno-sludge throughout the show, left guests, as one writer put it, “stunned for a good few seconds” (an eternity for Fashion Week). It had taken Jon Rafman two sleepless months to build—starting that spring after he bumped into creative director Demna Gvasalia at Art Basel.

The blue sky, Rafman says, symbolized the “blue screen of death,” a predecessor to Apple’s rainbow wheel. “I thought it would be funny and jarring to have this epic instal- lation and start off with a [malfunctioning] computer,” says the Montreal native. His impulse to troll can be traced to so-called “pro-surfer” net culture. “We very seriously considered ourselves professional Internet surfers,” he says. Fashioning himself as a neo “ aneur,” Baudelaire’s term for one who wanders the streets for inspiration, Rafman would extract landscape fragments using Google Street View, clicking between the surreal (a buck running down the highway) and the cursed (a car crash). “I was always interested in the [web’s] darker underbelly,” he says. “I think artists have always explored the margins of society.”

Jon Rafman

That outsider status informed his later branded work for Gvasalia. Of his kinship with fashion’s foremost troll, Rafman says, “I believe both Gvasalia and I share a disre- gard for the hierarchies of high and low cul- ture. Our work collapses irony and romance into one...and [he] gave me complete and total creative control, literally.” For inspira- tion Rafman drew from his years plumbing the web’s vast repository of subcultures, from primitive instant messaging platforms called “multi-user dungeons” to LARPing, a combination of cosplay and live-action role- play. “Partly what I liked about the Balenciaga installation, and a lot of the virtual spaces I’ve explored is that they’re more honest because they reveal their own simulated- ness and arti ciality.”

Following his high-fashion debut, Rafman intends to wander more virtual worlds of his own creation. “In the past I’ve explored vir- tual worlds as an online voyager,” he says. “[Now] I’m trying to create my own vast virtual worlds from scratch.”

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