We run an online magazine, so of course, we’re interested in what’s happening with art on the web. Every other Wednesday online gallerist, founder, and curator of Digital Sweat Gallery, Christian Petersen, selects a Web Artist of the Week.
New York City artist and designer Nicole Ruggiero has her thumb on the pulse of popular, contemporary internet art. Her work succinctly reflects the overarching aesthetics and emotional obsessions of a rapidly expanding community of young digital artists. The world that Ruggiero documents and fabricates is one where the distinction between on- and off-line personas is increasingly blurred. There is a distinct sense of a new, evolving reality lurking within the hyper-reality of her slick, pastel-neon compositions—a vision manifested by a generation of artists whose lives have been entwined with digital experiences since their formative years. Ruggiero tries to be as “authentic as possible” both “online and IRL,” which could act as the perfect manifesto for this rising, global wave of contemporary internet artists and their followers.
she was looking directly back at me and she said my name quietly…almost as if it was hers too… (Collaboration with Johnny Komar), 2017
Christian Petersen: What were you like as a kid?
Nicole Ruggiero: As a kid I was really curious and hyper and loud. Both sides of my family have artists and musicians, and my dad was a musician, so he really encouraged my creative side (though didn’t think it was a useful career path). I really liked cartoons and refused to watch “real people shows.” The closest movie I would get to live action was Mary Poppins (which was half-animated). I was also really into anime, especially Pokémon, and would cry if I missed an episode.
ur my click-bait baby girl, 2017
CP: What are your earliest memories of using the internet?
NR: I remember when we first got the internet, my great uncle (who lived with us) got this weird internet TV thing. It was like MSN or something and I remember being like “this is weird and boring,” but then I figured out how to go into chat rooms on the internet TV and started talking to people in chat rooms. It was so bizarre to me but so intriguing. I got really excited and shortly after that I convinced my family to get AOL for the computer. I used the computer fairly often before then but after we got the internet I was obsessed. It went from being an isolated experience to being a shared experience and I was so into that.
CP: How has your relationship with the internet changed since then?
NR: LOL I don’t know that it has much. I’m still really social online. I primarily use the internet to share my art and connect with people, all of which has been part of my process since early on. I think the platforms have changed as have the complexities of the internet but the reason why I use it has stayed constant.
Virtually Real (Collaboration with Terrell Davis), 2016
CP: What were your early experiences of making digital art?
NR: I started getting really into drawing when I found different online forums on which I could connect with people and receive feedback. At first I was just drawing anime characters from manga like Ranma ½ and .Hack and some video game characters. I was really into JRPGs [Japanese role-playing games] and drew a lot of characters from Kingdom Hearts. I would scan the characters and then outline and paint them in Photoshop and then post them online to get feedback.
tie me up daddy, 2018
CP: What was the first online community you felt part of?
NR: Probably those forums I was talking about. I went onto this forum called “IcyBrians” as well as Deviant Art and Gaia Online. I also was on LiveJournal, Xanga, and Myspace a lot too.
CP: What online community do you feel part of now?
NR: I think the community I’m part of now is more nebulous, half IRL and half online. My friends, collaborators, and colleagues occupy a space somewhere in between digital and real. I say this because I think our lives are heavily integrated with presenting online an authentic self, so I think we all try to be seamless with who we are in both realms.
hey i've been thinking about you...yeah...mhm...can i call you later? wanna cyber ??, 2016
CP: When did you first start to understand the profound impact that the internet was having on you personally?
NR: About two years ago is when I first started doing 3D. At the time my roommate kept calling me an “internet person,” to which I responded “doesn’t everyone use the internet???” It sunk in around the same time that the internet was really important to me and why, so I decided to make work about it.
CP: What was the first work you made about the internet?
NR: The first formative piece (which I think still might be my most reblogged piece on Tumblr) I made that was influenced by internet subculture and chatting online is this 3D still grab from an animation I was doing. It’s an image of a woman’s hip and hand with the caption “running my fingers down ur skin, I can feel every inch of u.”
CP: How would you define the term “Internet Art”?
NR: Internet Art, to me, has two definitions. The first would be any art that is primarily promoted and shown online. The second definition would be any works that are inspired and influenced by the internet and online culture.
limewire virus, 2017
CP: How much does nostalgia influence your work?
NR: Nostalgia is a huge influence to my work. Recently one of my collaborators, Molly Soda, and I hosted this AIM chat for the closing day of AOL Instant Messenger. It was actually the same day that Net Neutrality got struck down. So we talked a lot about that and we also talked about how we used to use the internet and things that really affected ourselves during that time. We had about 50 people in the chat talking about things like getting Limewire viruses, the y2k crash, “scene queens” from Myspace, etc. After that I had a lot of really good ideas about art pieces I could make.
Goddess Sphere, 2016
CP: How would you describe “net art aesthetics” and their evolution?
NR: Oh wow, I feel like this is a difficult question to answer because there are so many different areas of “net art” so I’ll try to give an example instead. When I first started making work I really looked at what unique hashtags people were making to describe different aesthetics. For example “cybertwee” is an online community whose members describe and curate its own specific aesthetic style in art and fashion. The cybertwee style contains a lot of pastels as well as light/playful themes. I think subcultures like this (as well as meme subculture/trends) influence more current and critical internet art as its being created.
can you call me later...? text me? idk can I just see you...for minute? please ?? just...let me know, soon okay?, 2017
CP: What prompted you to start working in 3D?
NR: It was suggested to me as a competitive way to get ahead in the motion industry, and being competitive in NYC is important, aha. So I decided to learn it, really just for technical purposes, but then I wound up falling in love with it.
T_T (Collaboration with Kevin Cornish), 2017
CP: Net art has become a popular creative medium for young feminist artists—why do you think that is?
NR: Well, if this is towards me, I consider myself a feminist but I don’t consider myself a “feminist artist.” I think, however, net art is a good way for many different kinds of people to express their ideas in a forward-thinking manner without having to be pre-approved by a gallery or institution. You can read into that however much you want.
CP: Do you think your work is political?
NR: No, I don’t.
bad mood, 2017
CP: Do you feel an emotional connection to the “people” you create?
NR: I definitely feel like when I pose a figure, I am putting a lot of emotion into the expression of their body and their face to give them a “voice” or a feeling, a vibe. In this way I feel very connected to them, yes.
CP: How autobiographical is your work?
NR: I would say that I am most directly influenced by impactful emotional events that me or the people around me are experiencing, so in that way it is autobiographical.
Offline Portrait (Collaboration with Abi Laurel and Toshi Salvino), 2017
CP: Is there a distinction between your online persona and your IRL persona?
NR: Not really, no. I try to be as authentic as possible online and IRL.
CP: Do you ever feel an urge to disconnect?
NR: I think I’m just really social. It’s really rare that I’m like “ugh I want to get off of the internet.” I love talking to people online and IRL. There are times, however, when I don’t want to talk to certain people, so I’m avoiding the internet but more so just avoiding that person/those people. I did experience a pretty intense period last year during which I was caught up in a really toxic situation which affected my internet usage and relationship with it for months. Generally speaking though, I really like being online.
The New iPhone XXX, 2017
CP: How would you describe your relationship with your phone?
NR: I’m on my phone a lot, LOL. But when I’m hanging out with people IRL, especially one-on-one, I keep my phone put away unless I’m referencing an image or something to the person I am hanging out with IRL. I do check it periodically, though, to make sure I haven’t missed anything mega important either.
CP: Is there a distinction between your commercial work and your art?
NR: Depends. Sometimes I get commissioned to make artwork and sometimes I get commissioned to make work for a brand. When I do work for a brand sometimes the art direction is shared and it’s not only my vision. However, with my artwork, I usually have full control over the direction, or if it’s a collaboration it’s a mutually shared direction and agreed upon.
CP: What have you discovered through collaborations with other artists?
NR: This past year I learned how to work both in augmented reality and virtual reality, which would not have been possible without the help of some wonderful collaborators and teams. ❤
CP: How do you think the work you do and contemporary internet art in general will be perceived in the future, perhaps as a document of early internet life?
NR: I think it will largely be a document for the culture/feelings/usage surrounding our devices and technology. I primarily focus on socializing through the internet and tech, so I like to explore what this feels like, what emotions it evokes. I like to document the subtleties that often go unnoticed but are or have been really formative to what is memorable to the online individual. Sometimes this looks like drawing from real life experiences and making that digital, and sometimes it involves pulling from digital experiences and making them realistic. That is also why I like 3D as a medium; it’s very in between IRL and the digital.
Self-Portrait (Ad Commission Mimicking Pulp Fiction Poster), 2017
CP: What else do you have coming up?
NR: I’m going to be starting a portrait series very soon, which is going to be a long-term solo project exploring individuals’ earliest and most memorable personal experiences online. I’m aiming to have a print component and a 360-video component for that project.
I’m also going to be starting a collaborative clothing line as well which I’m really excited about too ❤
(Image at top: I’ll wait forever, 2017)