Sappho goes Digital

Sasha Katz is a Moscow-born, Athens-based artist, working primarily in the medium of 3-D art, with elements of gif-like animation which brings her detailed renderings to life. Since the beginnings of her career in the mid-2010s, Katz was interested in the so-called Pixel art, which is characterized by an angular quality of the depicted objects. In fact, her early works were not necessarily pixelated at all and only some had a Minecraft-like block quality to them. They had certain sharp cleanliness to their style, which has remained in Katz’s DNA until today. Their allure has been appreciated by Dunkin Donuts, who commissioned simple animations including the colourful, angular doughnuts. Her early works were centred around the themes of nature and technology interacting with each other, with delicate rose tulips and lavender growing out of Apple keyboards and computers. The muted, pastel colour palette contrasting with the detailed depictions of plants had a comforting a universal allure, landing the artist collaboration with Tumblr in 2016.

In 2017/2018 Katz was engaging more and more closely with detailed depictions of objects, starting with pieces of technology, plants and flowers which were present in her early works, she was importing those elements into new, more elaborate environments, playing with patterns and textures, for instance evoking the patterns of Persian rugs lying on the sand or hanging from car’s trunk. While interest in the intersections between natural and human world remained, she was more eagerly exploring types of domestic still lives with crinkled sheets and duvets surrounding MacBooks, which positioned as facing each other, appeared to be speaking to each other, almost as an extension of their human counterparts.

When the first lockdowns started in Europe mid-March, Katz’s digital works took the form of subtle animations of snowflakes falling slowly as seen through the units of the sea of a block of flats. While somewhat melancholic, the subtlety of her animations made them peaceful and comforting. Simultaneously, the most significant shift in Katz’s work was taking place – she made the human form the central focus of her works.

While earlier she hinted at this growing interest, including dozens of hands reaching out of the car window or seaweeds peeking from a woman’s bathing suit, a clear new focus has been established. And with what force. To Katz sensuality is a mother tongue. Starting with the early-lockdown work depicting sets of fruits, grapefruits, melons, orange peels, all kept in a muted, pale-pinkish colour palate and adorned with elaborate gold and diamanté encrusted intimate jewellery and captions ‘isolation – masturbation’ and ‘stay home explore your vagina’.

The following series ‘stay home – make love’ showcased a sea of entangled, mostly female, bodies in a truly Rubens-esque manner, decorated here and there with a tasteful gold nipple piercing. The subtle, muted colour palette which Katz has perfected earlier on, is particularly effective for giving justice to the complexity of the human anatomy, with all its curves, bended knees and elbows, pink butt cheeks and soft flesh.

The artist has caught the eye of Burberry and collaborated with the British heritage brand on a series of three, gif-like animated works including figures draped in silk handkerchiefs with the signature Thomas Burberry monogram. Some were embracing or kissing, all disguising their faces with the elegant scarves, while others were having an underwater picnic. After the Instagram campaign for Burberry, Katz dived deeper and deeper into the world of sexual desires, a topic which could not have been closer to everyone’s hearts in the midst of the separation and displacement brought by the pandemic.

The interest in fashion is shared by many of the characters, some wear Yeezy’s, others float in the water in metallic Marques Almeida puffer jackets. The public misinterpretation and censorship of the integration of sex and fashion brings to mind the 2017 scandal caused by the use of real-life, straight and gay, couples having sex in a fashion campaign by a young American brand Eckhaus Latta. Even though the photographs were censored, with NSFW parts pixelated out and limited nudity depicted, the sense of public shock remained. Similarly, while Katz’s characters are 3-D renderings and not real models, her Twitter account remains marked as sensitive, poignantly pointing to the problems of online censorship.

Katz’s digital lovers are, above all, inclusive. In a truly feminist, and stylistically incredibly natural, way, her sensual depictions are body-positive in a non-tokenistic way, the subjects enjoying each other and their company. The artist focuses primarily on the female experience and sexuality, depicting real bodies and fantasies, from shibari to a darker tentacle erotica bringing to life Japanese ukiyo-e. Pubic or armpit hair never come to the forefront or become the theme of her works but are treated as private and natural adornment, reflecting the personalities of her characters the same way that painted nails, lipstick or piercings do.

The femininity of those animations is by no means limited to sex or sensuality. Depicting a curly-haired girl in fishnets and pink bra, proudly holding a MoonCup in her hand, Katz points to various dimensions of the female experience, many of which, like menstruation, have been actively censored in the early days of Instagram. Her characters are full of contradictions, with delicate features and curly hair, while appearing strong and self-aware. Her series ‘Olympics 2020’ depicting two female heavy-lifters embracing and having sex deserves particular attention – Katz has a talent for employing animation to bring out the full potential of the digital bodies from all possible angles. While some of her characters are based on friends, there is no limitation to the careful attention she gives to her subjects. The artist names the poetry of Sappho, the female counterpart of Homer from the island of Lesbos a point of inspiration, interwoven into her approach to female sexuality, preserving the precious allure of intimate vulnerability and experimental self-exploration. Her growing Instagram presence brings the risk of some form of censorship while crypto art offers a more open, unrestricted platform.

Again love, the limb-loosener, rattles me



a crawling beast.

- Sappho

Follow Nina on her Instagram @l.ninka