We were given a guided tour of the polymathic artist’s twisted world. We still haven’t recovered.
Last week we embarked on a head-spinning VR odyssey through the world of Sam Rolfes. For his residency, Rolfes decided against sending examples of his work, instead allowing us to play through it, providing us with a game populated by characters and environments designed by Sam and Andy, his brother and Team Rolfes partner, for House Of Kenzo, Rabit, Lady Gaga, Matthew Dear and Marshstepper.
The experience was illuminating, hilarious and occasionally quite disturbing. We’re pretty sure the nightmarish Rolfes avatar provided us with some incredible insights into how Rolfes has developed his singular performance practice over the last few years and where he might take it in the future, but it’s entirely possible it was just fucking with us. We might have bitten off more than we could chew with this one.
Stage One: House Of Kenzo
During our first session exploring Rolfes’ world, a puckish avatar, who sounds suspiciously like Sam himself, guides us around a digital landscape created by Team Rolfes for esoteric super producer Rabit and Texan ballroom deities House Of Kenzo for their multidisciplinary performance, Morbid Angel.
Morbid Angel originally premiered at Day For Night Festival back in 2017, a performance which saw Rolfes corralling a glistening stripper angel and a colossal moth outside a 3D-rendered model of Screwed Up Tapes And Records, the legendary record shop of Houston rap originator DJ Screw. By showing us around his digital world, Rolfes allows us to experience some of the other worldly energy of a House Of Kenzo performance.
Stage Two: Return To House Of Kenzo
Taking us through Rolfes’ unique application of motion capture, a central component of Team Rolfes’ performance practice, the Rolfes avatar introduces us to some of these characters, before allowing us to inhabit their bodies and interact with the surrounding environment as we briefly become actors on Rolfes’ digital stage.
Stage Three: Lady Gaga & Matthew Dear
For our third session with Sam Rolfes’ bizarre VR experience, the artist takes a more hands-on approach, finally making an appearance of sorts as he guides us through two unmistakeable music videos bringing Lady Gaga & BLACKPINK’s ‘Sour Candy’ and Matthew Dear’s ‘Bunny’s Dream’ to life.
In both these pieces Rolfes utilises digital puppetry to command a menagerie of creatures ripped straight from an acid-tinged JRPG, using nothing but motion controllers and impressive hand-eye coordination to move deftly through fantasy landscapes, working through stomach-churning airborne choreography made possible by the alien shapes Rolfes brings into being with his 3D animation.
Final Stage: Showdown At The Lake House
In our final session Sam guides us through three of his most important collaborative performances, moving from his show with Justin Talplacido Shoulder, aka Phasmahammer, and Sharp Veins at MoMA, to his collaboration with performance artist Emil Bognar-Nasdor and Marshstepper at Dark Mofo and finally concluding with his performance with dancer Raymond Pinto at Berlin Atonal.
For more information about Sam Rolfes and his work you can follow him on Instagram.