Interview Laura Cabiscol
Zaiba Jabbar is an award-winning director, independent curator and founder of HERVISIONS (est. 2015). With over a decade of experience in the film and media sectors, her curatorial practice with HERVISIONS is an investigation into how people in the margins are using technology to create art outside of traditional contexts and making space for themselves in the digital environment.
Jabbar was curator in residence at LUX in 2018 and is a board member of Abandon Normal Devices. Jabbar studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins in London and was soon drawn to the magic of moving image. After graduating, she started working as a director for music videos and commercials.
It was the frustrations that she experienced working in a white male-dominated industry, together with the art that she was discovering in solitude through social media, that led her to look into post-internet art and post-internet aesthetics, wanting to explore more femme-focused moving image practices. That culminated in her founding HERVISIONS, a multidisciplinary platform that supports and promotes non-binary and female-identifying artists working in new media.
She is particularly interested in the intersections of art, technology and culture. Very distant is now the promise of the internet as a genuinely democratic space. Still, Jabbar’s work looks into how people in the margins use the tools that they have access to create and imagine new possibilities.
Her project Face-Up, a pop-up exhibition part of Tate’s “The Lives of Net Art” showcase, was an exploration of face filters, visual bias and “new beauty” that highlighted how accessible Augmented Reality has become, thanks to the big techno capitalist companies.
She’s been keeping busy during this lockdown period, working with arebyte Gallery on a project titled The Art of no Likes, which, like many of the other things she does, is interdisciplinary and very experimental. It will be a year-long shapeshifting research project that tries to understand the economy of like and the standardisation of popularity that we have been conditioned to look at through social media platforms.
It’s a critique of the systems that she and all of us have been inhabiting while trying to understand what the alternatives are. At the same time, exploring whether we can exist in or out of this system and what that would look like.
The freedom to create spaces, narratives and imagined scenarios outside of our realities is an intrinsic part of the redefinition of our future. Jabbar believes digital art is a promising tool for this, as it allows for independence and control over one’s expression, and it has the potential to go viral quickly. Therefore distribution and giving it the correct exposure plays a significant role in it, and why the work of platforms like HERVISIONS is so important.
As a curator, your work lies at the intersection of art, technology and culture; could you tell us a bit about your background and what inspires you?
As a curator, my background is pretty atypical, I studied graphic design at art school, and I was one of the youngest people in my year on the prestigious Graphic Design BA course at Central Saint Martins (London).
A class that changed my life! It changed how I saw the world because it was very concept-driven, and it made me realise I was alienated in some ways and made me feel a bit different from others. It was there that I discovered animation, advertising, design, photography, and illustration as career-building mediums of artistic expression. I also loved the rotoscope cameras and experimenting with film.
The manipulation of feelings and moods that could be created through sound and image colliding in an entirely constructed process is something I find deeply compelling and empowering. I still love graphic imagery very much, but after graduating, I got into directing videos. My approach to filmmaking (looking back now) I would describe it as expanded graphic design.
It was also kind of the natural progression or evolution to shift from a discipline like graphic design to directing because software and cheaper equipment to make moving images more accessible. The equivalent now is artists working in sculpture, filmmaking or painting and then transitioning into VR, augmented reality or coding, for example. This shape-shifting in response to our surroundings has never been easier for the likes of the millennials and Z generations, and technology is informing these shifts.
I was always drawn to animation and experimental film, which filtered through to my work as a film director specialising in music videos, fashion and commercial video content; I was always trying to blur words and definitions to create new forms of storytelling.
I’m a bit of a format rebel, and I’m inspired by all things intersecting. One of the first films I was obsessed with was La Jette by Chris Marker – a film made entirely of photographs (and the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s film 12 Monkeys). In perspective, it was this combination of stills making moving images with sci-fi themes that are still prevalent to inspire my work today.
My earliest memory of “art” inspiration was the most profound because you wouldn’t call it art; it was a device, a “zoetrope”, I discovered on a school visit to London’s Museum of Moving Image. I found the mechanics utterly compelling and fascinating. From there, I was forever drawn to the magic of a still image morphing into a moving image. It’s magic and speaks to the inner child in me. My love of experimentation fuels the methodology of my practice as a facilitator, thinker and maker.
How and when does the interest in the crossover of these different disciplines come about?
My formative professional career as a filmmaker and director in London played a huge part in these interests. I’m always putting things together from disparate worlds I experience and my life observations. When I was working as a director, I always wanted to draw on a wide range of references and resources informing my filmmaking.
Through directing, I developed this interdisciplinary practice that was still trying to blur the boundaries of space and time by universe-building using installation, art direction, animation, styling, CGI and collaboration as methods and skills to make stuff and the development of my visual language and taste and has massively influenced my practice. Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed different aptitudes of the accessibility of technology democratising art-making.
My art school and filmmaking background have seen the shift from shooting on film to affordable professional digital recording. That happened around 2014, which spearheaded a whole influx of DSLR self-shooting communitIes, then cameras on our phones, then HD video and apps on smartphones enabling social media meta culture to reach new audiences instantly.
The ability of accessible filmmaking on phones to augmented reality and the access to 5G things will move faster now. It’s a testament to the importance of the evolution of accessibility of creative tools.
However, controversial techno-capitalist endeavours are enabling creative means for people otherwise who would not have the means of self-expression. Take Facebook’s Spark AR or Snapchat lens studio, both software programmes developed to make augmented reality filters. It’s controversial because they own everything you publish, and through this facade of creativity is a much sinister data capture colony occurring.
But as a self-taught director, physically owning a camera and editing my projects gave me the independence to create and make what I wanted to.
I think this is when these ideas of making, documenting, creating and adapting through shifting socio-political landscapes are why these crossovers must happen, and I am a product of those shifts, I guess! I think things triggered in my head when I gained my residency at LUX; I understood the significance of what I was doing as womxn moving from directing to curating work in art tech and culture and its intersections.
You are the founder and curator of HERVISIONS, a multidisciplinary platform supporting digital experiences and contemporary short-form moving image made by non-binary artists and artists that identify as women. What are your main aims behind HERVISIONS?
To democratise the experience of art by helping to reform, inform and re-define a new language of communication through digital practices. As a working-class WOC, I try to disrupt and innovate cultural spaces and give exposure to people on the margins and gender minorities.
The speed and process we experience art and information, in general, have changed, and HERVISIONS is an evolving response to the tools of the trade and artistic practices out there.
I started HERVISIONS because the art I discovered through social media was made by emerging artists using technology outside of traditional methods of filmmaking to blur digital and physical realities. My background as a video director working for nearly a decade with moving image in media sectors continues to inform my practice now.
I’m fascinated by the explosion of short-form moving image like gifs/video loops that power our attention economy online. And obsessed with how we experience visual fodder as a digital organism with its micro-climate and how it simultaneously exists as a bi-product of social platforms. This passion fuelled my investigation into why I was following so many women in this sphere; I felt a duty to find a way to celebrate, support and promote these artists who often don’t have the privilege to call themselves artists.
My directing career pre #metoo movement taught me how important and powerful this independent artistic expression is in guiding our digital viewfinders, often through self-publishing. My vision of taking this art from the small screen to wider audiences has been at the core of my belief system: A personal mission.
The story of HERVISIONS began with the aim to democratise the way art is experienced and viewed, moving away, but not eliminating, the white cube space and white male-dominated spaces by making it more accessible through the lens of marginalised people.
This was achieved through a host of exhibitions, events, pop-up workshops, panels and meet-ups and discussions exploring the physical and digital and how those worlds become interactive and entwine.
Because access -without a doubt- brings new possibilities to those that wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to gain insight into new ideas and new ways of seeing the world that go beyond their usual parameters.
I try to connect things that don’t belong together as an investigation to understand the world that exists amongst this activism. There’s something very democratic about the materiality of digital, but also very undervalued. I saw how photographers were always paid more than video directors; it’s an exciting value system I’m compelled to explore.
What are your main achievements so far, and what are you planning to pursue further?
It depends on how you scale achievement. I’m incredibly grateful for all the support I’ve had from a variety of institutes, and people and the breadth of projects and opportunities that I’ve been lucky to pursue.
Since launching HERVISONS, I made a visual podcast to coincide with the rooftop launch of HERVISONS in Downtown LA at the standard. I commissioned a series of looping video works on female intuition for i-Ds Fifth Sense x Chanel platform, the “Making you”, with an exhibition and immersive VR installation at Second Home in London.
I also gained a curatorial residency at LUX in 2018, and I commissioned a 360 moving image work for Mira Festival adidas 360 dome. In 2019, I curated the online exhibition Slipstream for Isthisit?, a printed series of works for Important magazine’s Advance or Remain issue and participated in the first-ever augmented reality face filter exhibition at the Tate Modern as part of the LIVES OF NET ART programme.
For Tate, I devised and conceptualised the format of using Facebook spark Augmented Reality, with a workshop where curated digital artefacts and OBJ FILES were donated by artists to be recycled in the workshop. During its duration, we created unique AR face filters for visitors alongside the exhibition of pre-published face filters activated by QR codes and moving image exploring visual bias and new beauty.
Last year Hervisions took over ART NIGHT London with digital artworks exploring unrequited love and “searching” for self and love.
The artworks showed as small installations with works displayed on devices and pre-existing screens that lived in the technology shops and continued to be the first-ever takeover of GOOGLE HQ in Kings Cross. Suspended Power, the three-day takeover, brought together international artists to advocate for a diversified representation of identities across digital platforms with an accompanying exhibition devised for the London College of Fashion politics and design season.
For Boiler Room, London I collaborated with Gloria (Gaika’s new signing) on an installation and AR filter called ‘skin’ to digital power consciousness and explore re-birth and a new mantra to enable shedding one’s skin. And in late December last year, I curated an installation about connectivity in the digital world for CADAF Miami during Art Basel.
I recently had an online residency at arebyte gallery, working on a project called The Art Of No Likes, which looks at the economy of likes. I’m also back at LUX with a three-part programme called Out of Touch, questioning touch in a post-touch world, where you can try untouchable realities via your mobile devices.
We can suggest we might find auditory cues of kinship in a bird song or sensory potential in a quantum computer’s entanglement probes ways in which screen-based dialogues remediate the lack of touching in the absence of physical connection.
What are, in your opinion, the challenges of redefining gender we are facing nowadays and how digital interfaces and altered realities can play a role in it?
Gender minorities are not fully represented in digital spaces. Most tech giants still support biased infrastructures. We need more awareness of intersectionality.
it’s easy to be romanced and assume that technology has shown light on new forms of redefining power in a post-modern world because social media, new tools of communication and access to more shared space of information online, have enabled a larger dialogue to occur.
However, we know that a lot of facial recognition can’t register a black womxn’s face, for example, and Google Translate is inherently sexist, automating sexist biases.
The real challenges we face are looking to the top of the pyramid, who are the gatekeepers and the policyholders. How can we empower these obfuscations? Until recently, master and slave were the terminology used in computing and other technical contexts.
There are huge challenges ahead of re-wiring these subjugated systems within globalisation. Ideally, we need to create space for ourselves outside of techno-capitalist data sets. Focus on the IRL.
Recontextualising the format of how we are viewed outside of corporate constructs. Skeuomorphs of the future will no longer be on our computers, phones or any type of screen. We will be breathing them in and feeling them as the tech becomes more entwined.
Obviously, education and access to skill-building need to support how we engage in the new mediums, as this will play a vital role in redefining our awareness of gender minorities. I think homemade code and apps are the future for pioneering and queering these systems to create safe spaces. Then hopefully, truer representations that are genuine will ensue in these hybrid digital spaces.
What would it be your biggest curating extravaganza?
That’s a fun question! That would be telling! Well, it’s hard to know what will come, especially now with COVID. I embrace problem-solving! So the bigger the problem, the bigger the extravaganza. I enjoy working closely with teams of practitioners and artists, so I think anything like on an international level, I guess!
What is your chief enemy of creativity?
Budget, schedules, and stamina.
You couldn’t live without…
My curiosity, dedication, and WIFI!