Russian doll of virtual reality

Marjan Moghaddam with her digital Paintings "Shot in Iran" and "David and Goliath", (both 2012) at Main Line Art Center in 2015
Marjan Moghaddam with her digital Paintings “Shot in Iran” and “David and Goliath”, (both 2012) at Main Line Art Center in 2015

Covid-19 and the social distancing it involves are intensifying transformation of the art world towards the digital sphere; XR, AR and VR are finally taking control. One artist at the forefront of this development is the Iranian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Marjan Moghaddam, the “First Lady of Animated Painting”.

Her latest collection uses motion capture of improvised performances, which she applies to her characteristic bodies, created in virtual worlds with 3D computer graphics (3DCG), to tackle the political, global, feminist, and cultural problems affecting the fourth industrial revolution and late-stage capitalism.


Marjan Moghaddam´s digital bodies represent a new style of figuration in the post-millennial era that represents what she calls neo-humanism.

What would this neo-human world look like?

For Moghaddam, digital reality seems to represent a space of opportunity not necessarily larger than the “real world“ but empty in a new, different way.

It is a place where the world still needs to be built and where a more equal and tolerant world can be created.

Her art could not be more relevant in a time in which the pandemic is exposing long-tolerated inequalities.

In this interview, Moghaddam reflects on the vastness of the digital, the end of the future, the role of metaphysics and feminism in the digital era.

Empty Spaces

In the digital world and virtual reality, the space of possibility for artists is not necessarily larger, but empty in new, different ways. What is your vision for that space that your work invades?

I deal with space in a highly hybridized way, its digital, physical, mixed reality and/or XR (Extended Reality), mimetic and now also semantic with AI Spatial Computing.

But for me artistically and creatively, the immateriality and plasticity of the virtual allows for everything that the physical previously limited or constrained, artistically.

And my vision is to explore the meta narratives of these new evolving forms aesthetically, technologically, conceptually and also metaphysically.

Your signature Digital Bodies created with 3D CG techniques move in virtual worlds and tackle politic, global and feminist issues. Which vibration of this increasingly complicated world is causing your world to falter most currently?

Identitarianism, and the way it’s tearing apart our global and local communities online.

I’ve done a bunch of pieces with Sloterdijk’s Homo Immunologicus, as these heightened reactions, specifically with my Spharen figure as animation, print, AR and VR starting in 2012, and even my first #arthacks on Instagram in 2016.

Marjan Moghaddam, Spharen Immunologicus, Kinetic AR Installation, 2018, RowanUniversity Art Gallery
Marjan Moghaddam, Spharen Immunologicus, Kinetic AR Installation, 2018, Rowan University Art Gallery

The AR version was exhibited at the Ulm museum Skulpture Into the Unknown (2017), AR activations at the National Cathedral and also as Autonomous in the Smithsonian (2018) commissioned by Halcyon Arts Foundation.

Feminism in the New dark age

James Bridle, author of “New dark age. Technology and the end of future” has said that the distance that appears to be created by the screen does not in any way protect us from real embodiment and subsequent symptoms. Do you agree?

Yes it doesn’t protect us from embodiment and its subsequent symptoms, but we’re not always looking for that protection, there’s that too.

Let’s talk about feminism. Your GlitchGoddesses transport the theme of the objectification of the female into the digital world. What was the urgency behind creating these goddesses?

The Trump presidency, the Women’s March, and my own personal frustrations as a woman dealing with inequality on a daily basis, in the art world mostly. I had explored feminist ideas in between other pieces, for decades, even back in 1988-90 I did a series of computer animations based on feminist matriarchal Herstory which was eventually exhibited as PMS at the East Village Helms Degenerate Art show in 1990.

And I followed that up with AI females with dermal fractal pigmentations with their Post Humanist extensions in the 90s and 2000s (Siggraph 1998, 2000, 2003).

Marjan Moghaddam, GlitchGoddesses at Frieze NY 2019 arthack
Marjan Moghaddam, GlitchGoddesses at Frieze NY 2019 arthack

So, it’s been decades of going back to the female form to explore the embodiment of the female with digital means. Then with Scab (Siggraph 2009 CAF) I exhibited my first motion-captured digital bodies with improvised performance and in a CG style that was very new and original back then, including a new female design, which I then further evolved with my Of Revolutions collection (2010-2015) with a whole Venus and her Muses suite of large format prints and animations, an also Shooting Venus.

So digital embodiment of the female, was a longstanding dialog I had in my practice that I kept going back to in each era while responding to a combination of personal, local, and global exigencies.

And each era has its own take on feminism, that’s what I find fascinating, because it’s an evolving phenomenon.

Mind the glitch

Your GlitchGoddesses defy the existing female shape in art. Your figures are animated between slender, heavy, young, old, pregnant, curvy, stylized and abstract. They could be seen as a new style of figuration in the post-millennial era. Are digital possibilities a curse or blessing for identification of the female identity?

I like art that straddles the line between a curse and a blessing, btw 😉

The GlitchGoddesses were born organically out of my Net Art practice, in a stream of consciousness way.

I was exploring an artistic embodiment of the female form as an aesthetic, digital, and conceptual meta narrative of our time.

These figures are defined by digital plasticity which is exaggerated and further contextualized through my original and distinct aesthetic style of figuration and character animation, and I’ve termed this approach to virtual embodiment as Chronometric Sculpture which blends the ideals of Animation with that of Sculpture.

Hacking art (af)fairs

For instance, the #GlitchGoddess of Art Basel Miami who went viral is all about aesthetic appeal, whereas the Bunny from the Frieze and Armory hacks is a visual mischief maker.

Then there’s the Glitched Odalisque from 2017 who appears in a lot of my pieces while responding to an art historical genre of the seductress Harem Girl be it in 19th century French or Qajar Persian paintings, as a way of decolonizing the sexualized bodies of women of colour.

For the last Art Basel Miami #arthack I introduced Glitched Fae.

An anime influenced and also a sculpture I exhibited with AR activation as the maiden state of the Triple Goddess, loosely based on Greta Thunberg, and the new Lordes, who is somehow moving visually beyond the boundaries of the others.

I’ve since used comments about the body and inequality posted directly from the posts that went viral on the internet as the voiceovers for the AR activations stepping out of prints and sculptures at curated exhibitions.

The mirror world

So the digital screen is a mirror of our world, one that reveals who we are. So who are we?

I’ve been asking that question through many pieces over the years, starting with Contemplating Chaos, my fractal projected 3d avatar GIF animations which I did as the featured artist for the launch of the DOTCOM Gallery and International Forum for the Digital Arts in NYC & the early internet sponsored by Prodigy Inc. (see it on Wayback machine, 1996).

More recently I did a Mobile Selfie Portrait (Winner Audience Choice Award at Microsoft and Humanity Conference, 2013), which was a figure in the Selfie pose made up of mobile devices and the screens were all my surfing cache and personal chats.

That was also the digital version of me I wrote about in an essay I published to the same show and conference about how I had become a Hero of A Thousand Faces, digitally.

Then there was “The Breakaway God of Revolution: I am Not Crowdsourced” (2014) an animation I did in which the figure sketches itself with an embedded poem about sentience, free will, agency, AI, God and the ghost of my deceased brother Dr. Baback Moghaddam who was a renowned pioneer in AI and machine vision.

So, what we are is a question I ask every few years with a new project.

Marjan Moghaddam, Non Binary Nude Glitch, Hacking Sarah Lucas at the New Museum
Marjan Moghaddam, Non Binary Nude Glitch, Hacking Sarah Lucas at the New Museum

But I believe we are non-physically based consciousness (based on the Biocentrism of Robert Lanza) and we’re now also pulling away from the physical with our own creation of a digital and virtual Mirror World, which is really starting to feel like the nested Russian doll of identity and reality.

Things are getting very interesting, either as a profound and sublime experience or an empty and hollow feedback loop, which is usually the case with the technology in my experience, it can go either way.

Marjan Moghaddam, Glitched Odalisque at Frieze London 2019
Marjan Moghaddam, Glitched Odalisque at Frieze London 2019

Which of the following (fire, earth, water, lust, space) would you choose in relation to your work or yourself, and why?

I will pick three – Fire, Space, Lust – because I like trinities (like the triple Goddess).

The world is currently in one of the most difficult crises in decades. In your opinion, is the crisis more of an opportunity or a challenge for the art world?

There is a huge anticipation that XR, AR and VR will finally take over precisely because of social distancing.

Some are excited that the art world itself may be changing dramatically physically, in ways that can create new opportunities for artists where none existed before.

Whether any or all of this pans out or not, I don’t know.

But one thing is clear, that many changes were already happening before, brick and mortar Department stores and galleries were already closing before Covid 19, automation and AI was already on track to replace many workers, and museums and cultural institutions were already lagging behind contemporary culture on the net in ways that were threatening their relevance and survival.

So what Covid 19 may do is to accelerate a lot of these changes in dramatic ways.

Not all changes will be good, but some may turn out to be in the long run.

Which projects are you currently working on and what can we look forward to in 2020?

I’m keeping myself completely open, because part of what I do is to also redefine form for art through the digital.

The #arthacks were a way of doing that while radicalizing and democratizing the exhibition space, and now I’m curious to discover other ways.

Of course I have AR/VR shows coming up that I have to do pieces for, and more #arthacks, but outside of this basic premise, I’m keeping everything else in my art practice totally open for these new forms and pieces to emerge.


Header Photo: Marjan Moghaddam, Baissier in Mary Boone, Arthack

Author: Inga Nelli