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Nina Sobell: Bio

Nina Sobell

Nina Sobell is a contemporary sculptor, multimedia, and performance artist who pioneered the use of EEG technology, closed-circuit television, and internet communication in the art world. Early in her career, she focused on experimental forms of interaction and performance, and explored the ways in which technology mediates psychic transformations and modulates the perception of space and time. Her substantial body of work includes live performance and TV, museum installations, sculpture, and interactive video matrices that invited public participation.

Sobell began using video in 1969 at Cornell, to observe spectators' interactions with her sculptures which were placed anonymously in public areas. Immersing herself at the intersection of video and sculpture, Sobell became fascinated with creating psycho-social transformations via video technology, making environments and mobile structures to physically engage the viewer.

The BrainWave Drawings

Her exploration of video's relation to the subconscious and thinking of herself as an electronic medium, led Sobell to conceive of the groundbreaking Interactive Electroencephalographic Video Drawings (BrainWave Drawings) in 1973. Created in collaboration with systems engineer Mike Trivich, BrainWave Drawings enabled two participants to see their brainwaves matching in real time as they watched their own images simultaneously on closed-circuit video.

Sobell's trailblazing work explored the relationship between artist and audience and generated an improvisational feedback loop as the participants silently attempted to communicate with each other. In 1974, Sobell and Trivich installed Brainwave Drawings in Dr. M. Barry Sterman's Neuropsychology Lab at the Sepulveda VA Medical Center in Sepulveda, Ca. There, the installation affirmed the existence of non-verbal influences on communication between two people. Brainwave Drawings opened at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in 1975 as EEG Video Telemetry Environment.

The seminal BrainWave Drawings would establish Sobell as an innovative cross-disciplinary artist who defies categorization and seamlessly blurs the lines between art, sound, video, technology, and performance. The concepts at the heart of her Brainwave Drawings remained core to her work through 2008. Sobell is credited with embracing digital video, internet-based performance and installation long before artists widely used them. Primarily interested in non-narrative work that leaves open the possibility for multiple interpretations, she finds inspiration working across diverse mediums, media, and materials--digital, analog, and organic.

Sobell's Left/Brain Right/Brain (1990) video piece explored the creative process using a two-camera closed-circuit set-up. With one image of the clay dissolved over a live model's head, as Sobell sculpted the model, she forced herself to speak until her right brain took over and silenced her so she could concentrate on the details of the sculpture. She only looked at the model through the closed-circuit monitor set-up.

Conflating Analog and Digital

Sobell continued to conflate analog and digital forms with ParkBench: ArTisTheater (1993-1999), a series of performances that set out to explore and sculpt the boundaries between physical space and cyberspace. ParkBench, on which Sobell collaborated with artist Emily Hartzell, emanated directly from her work in the 1970s, and addressed the physical disconnectedness of the information age by creating a safe place to congregate in cyberspace, an ironic foreshadowing of life during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Using one of the internet's first remotely-controlled cameras to create the first web performance and interactive telerobotic sculpture, she transformed her studio into a time-based public internet installation, Sobell gave visitors 24-hour real-time access, through the eye of the camera, to her work at NYU's Center for Advanced Technology. She then took that camera to the streets in one of the earliest drones in the interactive installation operated by web participants and passersby via touch pads that appeared in the window of Alice Sat Here at the Code Show, the Ricco Maresca Gallery, NY (1995), and later, at the ACM CHI conference as VirtuAlice (1997).

Sculpture as Home

Sobell was and continues to be at home in making figurative sculpture. By 2007, Sobell performed an interactive internet sculpture over Skype for the show "Tina B.", curated by Monica Burian at her gallery in Prague, in much the same way as the 1995 sculpture at NYU. Numerous solo shows and gallery performances followed and focused on visitors' being able to watch Sobell as she sculpted using a variety of materials.

In 2020, Sobell created an online retrospective of her short videos and digital print work, Hindsight is 2020 was curated by Bjørn Magnildøen of Noemata, part of White Page Gallery Network Looking into the darkness with her camera, she made a series of glitched images that emerged like the pervasive coronavirus, unseen until exposed, and revealed in a video coupled with Very Low Frequency (VLF) sounds and her own composition: UNSEEN UNHEARD premiered at the Window Museum in Matosinhos, Portugal, and UNSEEN, a 24-page folio, was published by Louffa Press. Also in 2020, Second Guess Press published What is Between Us, a book of Sobell's ink self-portraits and digital prints from 2007-2019.

Widely Exhibited

Sobell's sculptures, installations, and video art have been widely exhibited and screened internationally, including the DIA Art Foundation, ZKM (Center for Media Art in Karlsruhe), MIT Vera List Gallery, the Getty Museum and Research Institute, the Institute for Contemporary Art, the Whitechapel Gallery, and Acme Gallery, London, the Whitney Museum of American Art, at FIU Behaviour workshop at Documenta 6, part of Joseph Beuys' 100 days, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, Kunst Forum, Vienna, Hammer, Los Angeles, and David Zwirner Gallery, New York. Her works are in video archives, and numerous public and private art collections.

Grant Recipient and Teaching

Sobell is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council for the Arts, and New York Foundation for the Arts, Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art, the British Council for the Arts and the Jerome Foundation for her video installation and performance art. She received the Acker Award in Video in 2021. Sobell has taught at UCLA, School of Visual Arts, New York, and lectured at Goldsmiths College, London, among many others. She was artist-in-residence at the Center for Advanced Technology, Courant School of Computer Science NYU and the Interactive Telecommunications Program at Tisch, NYU, the Bronx River Arts Center and the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada. Sobell received a BFA sculpture and printmaking from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and a MFA in sculpture from Cornell University.

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