Carla Gannis

When will digital art be considered a part of the art historical canon? Carla Gannis’ work reimagines historical masterpieces with digital iconography, inserting digital art into the heart of art history.

Bronte Isabella  |  Ed. Peter Traynor  |  24 February 2021

Carla Gannis for Agora Digital Art

Carla Gannis (b. 1970, US) is an American artist who lives in Brooklyn, NY. She produces transmedia works that consider the uncanny complications between grounded and virtual reality, nature and artifice, science and science fiction in contemporary culture — inviting viewers to experience life “through a digital looking glass” where reflections on power, sexuality, marginalization, and agency emerge. Gannis’s work has appeared in exhibitions, screenings and internet projects across the globe. Recent projects include “Portraits in Landscape,” Midnight Moment, Times Square Arts, NY and “Sunrise/Sunset,” Whitney Museum of American Art, Artport. Gannis received an MFA in painting from Boston University, and currently, she is an Industry Professor at New York University (NYU) in the Integrated Digital Media Program, Department of Technology, Culture and Society, Tandon School of Engineering. She is also a Year 7 Member of NEW INC, in the XR: Bodies in Space track.

Current Event

22 April – 28 August 2022: Fotographiska Tallinn, Estonia

Carla Gannis, The Garden of Emoji Delights (2014) © Carla Gannis. Courtesy of the artist.

What’s next?

As an outgrowth of Carla Gannis’ wwwunderkammer, Telematic Media Arts is pleased to present, The Archive to Comean exhibition – both on-line and in the gallery – of short time-based works that address questions of loss, memorialisation, crisis, and re-invention, through the lens of contemporary networked culture and digital media.

The current crises we confront raise fundamental questions about what we value and want to preserve as we work to recover from their ravages and build for the future.  How will we memorialise those whose lives have been lost?  What could do justice to the fact that so many have died needlessly, as a result of government inaction and political manoeuvering, or worse, as victims of racist terror and state violence?  How can we redress the unequal distribution of suffering and work to dismantle systems of oppression?  What histories demand to be foregrounded and what legacies should be left behind? What have we carried with us as we’ve withdrawn into isolation and emerged in protest? What are the sources of precariousness and resilience in our personal and collective constitutions?  What kinds of work do we honour as essential?  What do we need to preserve our sense of well-being?  What novel modes being and relating have we developed to maintain our social connections?  What do we hope for the future?

These are questions of the archive, which both founds and sustains the authority of discourses, institutions, and practices. They concern the construction of memory, knowledge, experience, and power; and they present themselves now, amidst these crises, as both problems and possibilities: revelations of the previously unconscious contradictions in our way of doing things, as well as opportunities to re-orient our attainment to the world.

Carla Gannis’ wwwunderkammer appeals to the 16th – Century “Cabinets of Curiosity” to consider the uncanny complications of grounded reality and virtual reality, nature and artifice, science and science fiction in contemporary digital culture, while building virtual worlds, founded upon de-colonising, post-human, and feminist archives.  The Archive to Come, accordingly, opens these concerns to consideration by a broad field of other artists, inviting them to construct archives of their own, to reflect upon the correlative issues of historical trauma and displacement, and to consider how the digitalisation of memory has changed the experience of what we remember – indeed, memory and experience themselves?

Women in Digital Art: Carla Gannis, wwwunderkammer - Agora Digital Art
Carla Gannis, wwwunderkammer, 2020, documentation of Virtual Reality installation, ©CarlaGannis, Courtesy of the artist and Telematic Media Arts

Did you know?

Carla Gannis started incorporating digital elements into her painting-based practice in the late-1990s and hasn’t looked back since. Gannis’s fascination with the iconography of our ever-expanding digital landscape is seen throughout her oeuvre. Her work draws inspiration from not only networked communication, emerging technologies and speculative design, but also cultural, literary and art history.

In 2013, Gannis received widespread attention for her emoji re-imaging of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. Gannis said, “I mix works from the canon with contemporary imagery, sometimes as parody, sometimes as a reflection of human tendencies, ideologies, or societal constructions that have ultimately not changed for centuries. And then again, sometimes my mashups speak to what has changed culturally as a result of our digital revolution.”

Featured Projects

The Garden of Emoji Delights (2014)

Carla Gannis, The Garden of Emoji Delights Triptych  (2014)  video © CarlaGannis, Courtesy of the artist and TRANSFER Gallery

Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights explores the ideas of profanity with his fantastical and horrifying creatures. The works’ symbolism, particularly that of the central panel, is thought to embody ideas such as conflict, desire, humour, darkness, the absurdity of human existence, earthly and cosmological conditions, and the linear nature of life to death. Gannis’s take on the painting infuses contemporary iconography – in the form of Emojis. Emojis are, arguably, as pervasive now as religious symbology was in 15th and 16th Century Europe. Gannis positions Emojis as a form of hieroglyphics for the digital age, acting as a system of symbols that offer an emotional shorthand for virtual communication.

Gannis uses digital paintings and animations to explore the dynamics of virtual reality, including the escapism it provides society and the way this affects everyday life, and her use of bright colours gives this work a pop-culture feel. When describing this work Gannis stated that, “Emojis add a new flatness to the iconography of the past, emptying it of controversy and replacing it with something akin to Murikami’s Superflat aesthetic questioning the ‘sins’ of a contemporary consumer culture.”

Carla Gannis, Portraits in Landscape (2018), 3-channel HD video installation, 2:36. Soundtrack by Michael Lee. ©CarlaGannis  ©MichaelLee  Courtesy of the artists and TRANSFER Gallery

Portrait in Landscape, Sunrise (2018)

Portraits in Landscape is a video animation that epitomises Gannis’ artistic style. In this work, she fuses art historical imagery with contemporary technology, taking smartphone and selfie culture to a satirical extreme. The bubble-gum-coloured animation sugar-coats a rather mocking message. The video features three central figures backdropped by a twinkling, cartoon landscape, all engrossed in their phones and only looking up occasionally to snap a picture with said phones. The stylisation of the figures is inspired by the 16th-century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who is known for imaginative paintings in which collections of objects – such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish and books – are arranged to form recognisable portraits. Rather than using static organic objects, Gannis composted her figures with thousands of animated emojis. Portraits in Landscape comments on the duality of inhabiting digital and real spaces simultaneously.

Carla Gannis_DADEA_01_EuropeanBison
Carla Gannis, DADEA 01: European Bison (2020), Archival Pigment Print, 106.7 × 106.7 cm © Carla Gannis  Courtesy of the artist.

DADEA Series (2020)

Carla Gannis’s current artistic production infuses political and environmentalist messaging with the themes of her earlier work. The works in the Do Androids Dream of Endangered Animals? series began as a collaboration with the AI platform, when Gannis trained the AI to generate “skins” (i.e., texture maps for 3D models) of imaginary at-risk animals using images of endangered species. The background of the work is a combination of architecture with flora and fauna from all seven continents stitched together, to create a technology and nature hybrid background. This series teaches AI about life in the “real-world”; particularly, life that will likely not exist in the future.

Agora Talk

21.04.14 Agora Talk 22 Carla Gannis - wwwunderkammer for Agora Digital Art

Discover wwwunderkamer the solo exhibition that was transformed into a social VR by Carla Gannis / C.A.R.L.A. G.A.N. With original music by R. Luke DuBois

►► Article by Isabella Helms Curator and Moderator:  Carla Gannis’ Cabinet of Curiosities

Studio visit

by Radar Channel (2020)

Carla Gannis, wwwunderkammer (2020) © Courtesy of the artist and RadarContemporary

Key achievements

Gannis has received many awards over her career. Notably, her augmented reality artist book The Selfie Drawings was awarded the Founder’s Award from the 2016 Lumen Prize.

Recent shows

Solo Shows

wwwunderkammer, A Solo Exhibition by Carla Gannis and C.A.R.L.A. G.A.N., Telematic Gallery, San Francisco, CA, 2020

A Subject Self-Defined, L’unique, Normandy, France, 2020

Midnight Moment, presented by Times Square Arts, Harvestworks & The Streaming Museum, Times Square, New York, NY, 2018

Portraits in Landscape, presented by DAM Gallery, Sony Center, Berlin, Germany, 2018

Lady Ava Interface, Sunrise/Sunset, Whitney Museum of American Art, Artport Commission by Christiane Paul, New York, NY, 2018

Group shows / Festivals

Pieces of Me, group show at Transfer Gallery, Los Angeles, USA.

Synthetic Corpo-Reality, curated by Julie Walsh, MEET Digital Culture Center, Milan, Italy, 2021

Dream Within a Dream, curated by Jessica Davidson, Artsy, New York, NY, 2020

PAF Olomouc 2019 Film Animation and Contemporary Art, Oloumoc, Czech Republic, 2019

Avatar Poetics, curated by Sean Capone, Rochester Contemporary Art Center, Rochester, NY, 2019

SCREEN IT, Stadstriennale, Jasselt Genk, 2019

SPAMM Philosophy, Esposito Mapils Gallery, Napoli, IT, 2019

Bitforms Los Angeles, ROW DTLA, Los Angeles, 2019

Iconicity, Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, NY, 2019

Re-Figure-Ground, Arebyte Gallery, London, UK, 2019


2021 Garden of Emoji Delights at Fotografiska Museum, Stockholm, Sweden. 

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