Sam Cannon makes everything look beautiful in an unconventional way. With her looping GIFs and video work, the New York artist transforms the female body, offering a powerful exploration of femininity in the digital age. Her latest piece combines footage from a trip to New Zealand with previously unreleased work, to create a black-and-white montage rooted in nature. That juxtaposition of natural elements with a digital undercurrent flows throughout all of Cannon’s art, but The Glacier is the Center of the Universe is her first foray into longform narrative. Inspired by pioneering artist, Joan Jonas, the imagery showcases Cannon’s skill with self-portraiture, while also transporting the viewer inside the female experience. By covering her face and manipulating her body, Cannon reframes the inherent sexualization of the female form, at the same time, crafting imagery that’s undeniably stunning. Equally radical and refreshing, The Glacier is the Center of the Universe, highlights Cannon’s ability to combine detail with dissidence to deliver unapologetic work with its own transcendent voice.
View stills from the video, exclusively for BULLETT, and read our interview with the artist, below.
Tell me about The Glacier is the Center of the Universe.
This project started while I was on a trip to New Zealand. I work with a lot with self-portraiture from day to day, and this was the first time I started shooting videos of my body in nature—most of the time, I’m working in my studio shooting myself. So I became really interested in that process and how it felt.
Why do you focus so heavily on self-portraits?
When I first started photographing myself it was just a matter of convenience, because I was always there. Especially with some of the more in depth video collages that I do—it was just much easier to direct myself and understand the different types of positions and movements. But the more I did it, the more I became very interested in the performative act of self-portraiture. A lot of times, the final image is so incredibly different from the raw footage that I’m shooting, and that really helped me work through what I want the final image to be—to live in the situation while I’m shooting it.
I know this piece was heavily influenced by Joan Jonas. What is it about her that inspires you?
I’ve always been inspired by her work—it’s impossible to be a woman working in video art and not be inspired by Joan Jonas. When I came back from New Zealand and realized that I wanted to incorporate some of the new footage with footage I’d previously shot in the studio—I immediately thought of her piece, Reanimation. The piece is about Iceland, but she didn’t shoot it there—she shot it in Norway, then came back and remixed it with some of her old footage. I started thinking about her and her work, and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to create a love letter to Jonas and the inspiration she’s given me over the years.
What themes do you explore in your work?
When describing my work, I always say that it’s about the manipulation of time, space, and the female form—that’s definitely true with this piece. Also, one thing that has become really consistent in my work lately is the use of liquid. That’s really important to me because, as a video artist who’s working in collage, I wanted to find a way to cut and paste these women’s bodies together—but the process of collage is really violent and it felt wrong to want to make this work about women’s bodies using a traditional approach.
Why did you start using it as a medium, then?
I used to work as a retoucher, and part of my fascination with manipulating bodies came from that time, being very bored with the way women’s bodies were manipulated. So my approach to it was like, ‘Okay if I’m going to manipulate my own body, or someone else’s, I’m not interested in making her hips smaller and her breasts larger. But I would be interested in making her breasts into eyeballs or giving her eight legs.’ It started out more as a way for me to use those technical skills in a way that I found interesting, but then it also became about manipulating time and the way we perceive it—creating these moving images as if they’re continuing on indefinitely, even if they do have a start and end.
Is there a reason you wanted to make this piece a longform video, as opposed to your usual GIFs?
I was just bored my own traditional workflow. Also, I realized these images weren’t necessarily stronger if they lived by themselves, which is how I normally approach motion. But the thing that’s been most challenging, is just reminding myself that that’s the case. In a way, I’m having to forget all the things about motion and photography that I am really in love with, and come at this from an entirely new perspective—even if it’s more a traditional one.
But it’s not your traditional perspective. Have you enjoyed the process?
Being a young artist who primarily creates and shares work on the internet, most of the work that I do, I create and share very quickly. It’s nice to be able to take a step back and take my time with a piece—not share it with the world, and really reflect on it for a longer period of time. But it also feels very unusual.
As an artist who does share their work online, is it frustrating when platforms like Instagram delete your work?
I don’t feel angry about the fact that the videos keep getting deleted off of Instagram. None of my frustrations are against the platform specifically—I’m more curious about why people feel the need to report them, and I wonder what it is about the work itself that someone would find offensive, especially when there are so many images that are violent or show someone’s body as a sexual object.
Does the internet affect your process?
I like to think that I make work that is inspired by the internet, and not necessarily for it. But there’s a lot of permission you inherently have when you’re creating and sharing work online, which can be a good and bad thing. You might feel very emboldened to share something or to create a persona—in a way, it can be curated, but I also think that can lend itself to creating something unique and special you maybe wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in a physical space. In the beginning, women were really excited about the idea of the internet being this anonymous space that gave them total freedom, but in actuality, it became a place where women were very attacked. I want to fight back against that, and create the utopian genderless space the internet could have been.
Does sharing your art online change the way people engage with it?
Being a digital artist, I have to constantly defend whether or not what I’m making is actually valid. But the history of photography was people screaming that it wasn’t art, and it screaming back, ‘Yes I am.’ So I always come back to that and realize perspectives change, and I find it very exciting to be someone who others might say is not an artist—that just makes me feel like what I’m doing is new and if anything, that’s a good thing.