Can our IRL and digital lives be separated?

Conversation with Suzannah Pettigrew

Suzannah Pettigrew is a multi-disciplinary artist based in London, UK. Since graduating from BA (Hons) in Fine Art at Byam Shaw (CSM) in 2007 she has exhibited work in solo and group exhibitions, both in the UK and internationally, as well as curating and producing shows in London. In 2011, she co-founded an artist-led gallery and studio complex in East London where she curated an exhibition program of solo and group shows from emerging artists across video, painting, and sculpture until 2015. Pettigrew has worked across production and exhibition installation for an array of world-renowned institutions and independent galleries in addition to working on special projects with global brands, musicians and visual artists.


What message/ideas do you want to convey with your work?

I want to convey a feeling of movement and navigation, using art to respond to our respective environments and understand each other’s intersectional narratives, in order to cultivate a collective consciousness.
Communicate the frisson and friction between reality and fiction. Explore our autonomous utopias and transgressive exchanges, emulate the experienced eroticism and aspirational validation. Layer, splice and re-appropriate imagery, rituals and materials through a series of processes. Seize and re-assign until there’s nothing left. Simultaneously manipulate our encounters with screens in spaces and the spaces within screens. Imbue a sense of relentless anticipation that something else will arrive.

As a multidisciplinary artist, how do you perceive art in the digital age?

I perceive art as expansive and democratic in the digital age.

You said that your practice explores the exchange between online and offline realities in post-human society, what drove you to focus your work on that particular theme?

Hyper-sensitivity drove me to interrogate how I was navigating my environments in post-human society. I wanted to explore the layering and points of tension in online/offline and digital/physical spaces. How the exchange of language, behaviors, and semiotics impacted my relationship with myself and others. In the ’90s my father was involved in a generative music software company. I have no doubt that this approach to technology and creativity found its way into my subconscious. My current questioning centers around the following: Can expansive technology in post-human society alter our understanding of the form of contemporary artistic mediums and open their parameters? Can we decode the mediums and exchange identities/transcend into fluid identities? Does this movement between online and offline spaces destabilize our ​sense of conditioned boundaries? What does the in-between space sound, look, feel like and how do we navigate it?

So, according to you, can our IRL and digital lives be separated?

Much of the world is constantly moving between online/offline spaces, there are opportunities to experience them independently but they are always connected. IRL and digital lives are interweaved and both spaces are reflected with elements of each other. A case study: my iPhone died last year and I couldn’t leave the house because I didn’t have Google Maps and couldn’t navigate a physical space without online access, my IRL experience is reliant on digital tools. The space in-between where behaviors, language, and semiotics are in transit and intersect is fascinating. By emulating and abstracting our contemporary merging in my practice, speculative future worlds can be imagined and ways of evolving with technology can be presented. Keeping in mind our digital lives will exist beyond our physical ones.


Can you tell us about The Difference Between (a Mirage and Realness)?

The Difference Between (a Mirage and Realness) 2017 was conceived as part of Touch Sensitive program curated by Cairo Clarke at Guest Projects.
The body of work consists of movement diagrams for each of the six sequences, a video installation and live performance with film/photography documentation based around a screenplay with three acts:


Act 1: IRL + Representation
Act 2: Digital + Communication
Act 3: Representation + Communication


The acts explore reality in online and offline spaces using my interpretation of the Hegelian Dialect as a basis for the structure of interrogation in the screenplay. A pre-recorded performance was projected into the space, where the screenplay is performed. The projection layers over the performance, creating a phasing pattern. The movements within each act are based on the navigation of the singular / our collective relationships between the online (digital) and offline (IRL) versions of myself/ourselves. All acts were imagined by me and portrayed by a performer, by way of phasing our ideologies of the themes that I presented. This initiated my interest in cross-discipline research and installation. I developed the work while I was living between London and Paris. I had been introduced to phasing patterns by Christophe Chassol through the music of Steve Reich and later discovered the choreography of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. When I made The Difference Between (a Mirage and Realness) I was struggling to grasp what informed my sense of reality.

I felt digital spaces accelerated my neurosis and IRL spaces often didn’t stimulate me in the same way. They created multiple points of tension which I wanted to explore. Revisiting the work now, two years on, it’s clear that our IRL and digital lives have informed our perspectives of ourselves and each other to the extent that they can’t be separated. I’m planning to develop The Difference Between (a Mirage and Realness) and write the screenplay for the next three to six acts.

Is there something you want to add?

Thank you to Cairo Clarke for the commission and curating Touch Sensitive, Simon Donnellon for performing, CKTRL for the soundscape and to Guest Projects for hosting the first iteration of The Difference Between (a Mirage and Realness).



Extracts from the performance here
. ​