Gabriel Massan
Photo by Hick Duarte
Emerging Masters

Gabriel Massan: “Anything is possible”

Short Profile

Name: Gabriel Massan
DOB: 1996
Place of birth: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Occupation: Artist

Gabriel Massan's new exhibition and video game, Third World: The Bottom Dimension, is powered by Tezos and presented by Serpentine North from 23 June to 22 October 2023.

Gabriel, how is it for you to exhibit your art in a digital gallery?

You know what? It’s actually very cool because as artists, we have way more freedom to redesign the space or rethink the setting. There’s no restrictions, there's not even any gravity; there's no space limitations. It’s more democratic as well. I’ve curated some group exhibitions in digital galleries, and in that case, I got to bring artists from all over the world. Instead of placing them based on who was more influential, or who was doing art for longer, I just put them all into the same space. And then everyone in the show needs to work together to make the show happen because this is a lesser known way of showing art… We create this relationship between the artists, and that’s really fascinating.

And as a consumer of art? Do you like experiencing art in that way better than in a physical gallery?

I wouldn’t say better! I like galleries, they're really open and accessible to the public, whereas with digital spaces, it can be hard for people from other generations to access or navigate them. But a physical gallery is just there, you know, anybody can come in, for better or worse. At the same time, with digital galleries, I do feel like I have more space to concentrate — I don’t have to leave my home or get dressed or go on public transportation, I can stay in my comfort zone and look at the art piece, rather than going into a new space that might influence my mood or my thinking.

“Everything and anything is possible — especially if we work together toward something. This is what fascinates me with digital art.”

How has your relationship to the digital space evolved over the years? You first started out doing digital sculptures, right?

Yeah, I was doing free sculpting and digital sculptures. And then while I was in Spain doing an artists residency, I started to realize that maybe I could rebuild a certain connection with my heritage in Brazil. The process of colonization means that many people from my country don’t have access to the documents of their families. For me, it means we can’t track anyone from before my grandmother. So I don't know the origins of my family at all, and I got inspired to create some free sculptures and forms about a search for identity. I started to work on 3D compositions with even more sculptures, and then creatures, objects, and then situations, landscapes, and entire worlds. And then I did my first game. It’s just kept getting bigger with building metaverses and writing narratives, and that’s when Serpentine approached me to make Third World: The Bottom Dimension, a multi-level, single-player PC game, exhibition and participatory digital tokens powered by Tezos.

It sounds like a massive undertaking. What was the process like building something like that?

It’s huge, I mean at the beginning of this year I was developing things from conversations that started in 2021. I’ve done everything from writing the narrative to describing the playability, and then I designed a lot of it myself, so I was doing the creative direction, the sculptures, the films inside the game… We had a team of 10 people working together on this, and it’s a lot because you’re all depending on each other, everyone is relying on everyone else’s dedication and responsibility. But the process is really nice, it was an open source experience, we had a Discord group where everyone could add in references, show images, and find solutions. So it's not a project that I can even say it’s mine alone because everyone was truly doing their own part.

It seems like the digital art world is a lot more collaborative than the traditional art industry because you’re all learning the same technology together.

There's also digital artists who are working on new technologies, and I love that because it makes me think that everything and anything is possible — especially if we work together toward something. This is what fascinates me with digital art: even when you're doing it by yourself, sometimes you’re still using techniques or technologies invented by someone else. And that’s really nice.

Apparently when you first started out making digital and 3D art in your native Brazil, there wasn’t much of a scene for what you were doing. It must be nice that that’s changed a bit.

I mean, in the beginning, no one understood me! All my friends, they were artists, but they were mostly doing performance, painting, sculpture, fashion, things like that. When I started to do 3D art, people didn't know what I was doing and it was a long time before I could already connect with people from all over about this. Even after moving to Berlin, I can still feel that disconnect sometimes because, for example, in one show that I did, I was the only black Latin artist in the whole group. It really made me question myself at first. But then I started to realize that because of who I am, I have do what I’m doing. There is no one else telling my story or standing up for my narrative and the things that I believe. So I felt that I had to be that person for me.

Do you think your path or journey would have been the same if you had stayed in Brazil?

I don't know. I mean, when I think back to the years after graduation when I was living in Rio and trying to apply for jobs, it was really hard. I had to cut my hair. I had to lie about my hobbies, I had to lie about who I was and try to be someone really normative and focus on corporation… It was a moment of crisis for me. If I hadn’t moved away to make my living in the art world, there was a huge possibility of being killed in Rio, because it was a really serious situation for kids like me at that time. My friends there were all suffering from police brutality, or inequality… So I guess I was lucky to be able to choose the right path at the right time, one that allowed me to continue to exist, it kept me alive.

How often do you go back to Brazil to visit? Your family still lives there, right?

In the beginning I was missing Brazil a lot because yes, I have family and many, many friends there. I’ve been back twice, and it was really different. Now I'm not missing it that much, actually. I’m trying focus more on myself and the things that I want to accomplish.

How important has your family been in this journey of finding yourself?

I think in the beginning was really hard for them to understand what I was even doing with my art. I wasn’t raised in a life of going to galleries and museums. So for them to understand what an artist was… And then digital art is a step even further away. But it’s okay now, they’re on my side and they’re cheering me on. I'm really happy where I am and with what I'm doing. I have no regrets.