“In a time when our digital lives take up most of our reality, my work confronts and renegotiates our relationship to the real and the strange”.
Mikaela “Mik” Stafford’s digital paintings are something else. Examining one of these is like gazing into a far-flung galaxy. Peering into the maze of chaos and colour of her latest series PROXIMITY, it’s as though aliens are trying to get in contact. Either that, or some cultures on a petri dish have gone flipping mad. “I get a lot of people saying “it reminds me of…” and “I don’t know where to begin…” which I love. I think because digital art in the grand scheme of contemporary art is still so new, people are beautifully puzzled by it”.
What PROXIMITY navigates is feelings of hope, optimism and abundance, aiming to reimagine fantasies of the natural world. Mik is particularly interested in the intersection between the physical and virtual worlds. Building artwork without borders, she spawns microcosms that feel as if they have a life of their own. With this style of art comes freedom and breadth, which has allowed her to collaborate with a range of different creators, from ceramists to florists and even jewellers. “The aim is always to make reality all the more bizarre through digital intervention”, what she likes to call “sprinkling the impossible with the familiar”. Through this process, Mik is trying to demonstrate how peculiar our individual realities can be.
Initially, Mik thought it’d be nice to live out her days deciding which artworks would be hung in galleries. However, the dream of art curation gave way to her real joy – generating her own works. “I started painting, which I then animated using Microsoft Powerpoint (lol). This is what got me into projections and making installations and the ball just rolled from there.”
Before the god awful virus took hold, Mik was already earning her keep by designing installations for festivals, raves and club nights. When I ask about why her work seems to gel so well in this environment she is quick to answer, “spaces like this require a feeling of immersion, my installations are typically large scale and light-based. I’ve always been interested in public art and exhibiting my work outside traditional gallery contexts”.
When COVID struck, artists everywhere had to adapt. For Mik, the logical next step was the digital world, “I sat down at my computer every day and watched YouTube tutorials on Cinema 4D software. Computer interface doesn’t come to me intuitively at all and at the time I only had rudimentary Photoshop and video editing skills. I literally started from the bottom”. This journey of discovery proved to be limitless for Mik, “There’s always a way to make what you imagine in my software because you’re not restricted by usual obstacles like gravity or the physical limitations of materials. The universe that you build is essentially infinite both spatially and creatively.” This is seemingly both a blessing and a challenge for her, given she is a “self-proclaimed maximalist”.
Perhaps this is why with Mik’s work, I’m always asking myself, “How?!” The formations, colours and evolutions are so farfetched, you can’t help wonder how they came to be. Funnily enough, the process shares parallels with that of a film set or photoshoot.
“You first place your floor and walls, position your lighting and camera, then sculpt and model your scene within that”.
From this point forward, it’s an organic approach – an artistic free-for-all, if you will, “I rarely have an end goal or resolved outcome in mind”. Mik starts with a shape, deciding if it’ll be a bright or dark universe and then leaps off, “I definitely enjoy the spontaneity of it all”. Often a universe will be completed in a day and other times it can take weeks. Drawing inspiration from the natural world and sci-fi theory, she hones in on the opportunities of a cyber-physical future – a place where nature, humans and technology work in harmony. As global and ecological crises run rampant, Mikaela’s art looks to a future where this symbiotic relationship can help in alleviating the strain.
Interestingly, Mik has shaken up the concept of artist versus artwork, featuring in some of the far-off places she brings to life. A kind of experiential method. Most recently, she has teamed up with fashion designers pourhommepourhomme (Ella Haines and Chris Rawson) to deliver a wacky astrology calendar that embodies the traits of our star signs through costume. Thus far, we’ve been introduced to Aquarius and Aries.
Stafford’s artistic horizon is fantastically busy. Accompanying her PROXIMITY animations is an installation that will live at Counihan Gallery in Melbourne from April 17th to May 26th 2021. Speaking on the physical extension of the series, Mik explains, “the work is a kinetic mycelium that I’ve made as a tangible extension”. What’s more, her creations have caught the eyes of local councils. So much so, she’s been commissioned to provide artwork to be printed on billboard skins and scattered across the city. If that wasn’t enough, she is also working on a colouring book for both adults and children and will be releasing a handbag collaboration with Hello SiSi by the end of next month.
When Mik dove into this frontier of expression, she always hoped of merging new talents with old ones. Seeing her experimental 3D environments cross over into real-world projects is super rewarding. Operating in this boundless digital space is unforeseen terrain, that Mik is joyfully navigating for us.