words by Philipp Vogt // all artworks courtesy of SA-PO // portrait by Christiane Mader
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” — Philip K. Dick asks in the title of his classic 1968 sci-fi novel. In a post-apocalyptic setting he explored the question what it is that separates man from machines.
In the book, Dick’s protagonist – a human bounty hunter – sets out on a seek-and-destroy mission to eliminate androids that have gone off-protocol. In order to identify and track down the renegades he uses techniques to test the robots for that one quality that they don’t possess – empathy.
Some 20 years later, this plot was used as the screenplay for 1982 cinematic gem BLADE RUNNER, a sci-fi movie classic. And in 2014, two digital artists from Berlin inverted this theme in a smart move. In their art it’s the machine who turns on the viewer, putting us humans into an empathy test.
SA-PO is the acronym of artist duo Sven Sauer and Igor Posavec. Their digital artworks appeal like movie stills straight from Hollywood blockbusters. That’s no surprise when you learn that Sven is the famed special FX master of productions such as GAME OF THRONES, Oblivion, and Melancholia, to name only a few. Next to the EMMY for the most acclaimed fantasy series of all times he holds an Academy Award for Scorsese’s HUGO CABRET under his belt. His partner Igor brings solid 20 years with a focus on computer game design to the table, amongst his achievements some classics of gaming history.
“Our art references symbols of our modern media world. Symbols that are not rooted in our own experience but instead in images from TV and internet.”
The fact that half of the duo is a decorated Hollywood specialist is quite an important side note. What struck me first when looking at SA-PO’s works is that these guys are fantasy-creators-turned-artists – and not the other way around. Understanding the professional expertise of the two – designing fantasy worlds for people to immerse in – is key to understand these guys’ artistic ambition.
In their digital artworks the duo confronts us with movie-like scenarios that hold a hidden message or element. Quoting from the artists’ statement, their images are intended to disturb. What seems like a playful scenery is supposed to cause disruption upon realizing that there is more to the scene than meets the eye.
SA-PO reference symbols we have experienced only through media, not personally. It is not the artists’ intention, however, to discuss political topics. Instead, SA-PO try to extract the symbolic power of these topics as presented in the media, and center the experience around “our expectations that we have built upon these symbols”.
“When we see the person kneeling at the fence in Guantanamo we see an image filtered by media. An image that digs deep into our conscious without us having proof of its existence. However, our art is not about topics like Guantanamo – but about the power of symbols presented to the public, and the expectations we build upon these symbols.”
“In MEMORY PROTHESIS we see an ancient being on a beach that has lost all traces of life. There’s nothing human left here, and what seems alive is not made to endure…”
“Our rusty giants seem friendly. But upon reading the title of the artworks the viewer is puzzled. Something is wrong… and the pictures start to transform. ‘Gridlock’…”
I can totally lose myself in the worlds created by SA-PO. However, I feel explanations are needed to move beyond a cinematic experience. Intended references like Guantanamo were too far out for me to catch. The hints were either too subtle (Guantanamo) or too cute (Godzilla, see below) to have the desired effect on me.
Maybe the symbols just don’t work strong enough in my subconscious. Or maybe they do without me noticing? I believe it’s the cinematic appeal that prevents me from feeling real discomfort. The artistic ambition and highly conceptual approach are limited by the chosen medium itself. After the curtains close it’s just a movie after all…
And movies are what these guys are best at. From a creative standpoint I’m mind-blown. The storytelling is fantastic. These are the most skillful digital works I’ve had on my screen so far. It’s important to note that our gallery doesn’t do justice to the genius in SA-PO’s compositions (try clicking the pictures for a higher resolution). The originals are 180x120cm Lambda photo paper. You would need to see them in real life, and you’d be blown away by the level of detail. The 3D modeling, textures and lighting are nothing less than world-class.
Both of SA-PO’s bespoke series have already been exhibited in 2014. Today, we are showing you the full range again, proudly premiering three new ANDROID DREAMS along with some behind-the-scenes footage exclusively to the WITNESS THIS readers.
You can buy all of these as art prints from Paris-based gallery Sakura.
Unsettling or playful?
Let us know in the comments below how SA-PO’s art works for YOU!
Witness ANDROID DREAMS exclusive new works & making-of sketches by SA-PO.
“The peaceful sleeping giant who attracts PYRRHUS DREAMS transforms as soon as we recognize the Abu Ghuraib inmates’ clothing in the dreams. Images that were spread over the internet…”
For more digital art check out this feature here.