Sandro Kopp: Mediated Presence

The Portraitist Skypes Us Into His World of Instant Impressionism for Frieze London

In a series of stills by Philip Sinden, the artist Sandro Kopp appears with works from Mediated Presence: Skype Portraits and Animal Companions, his exhibition in which human subjects are joined by cuddly friends, opening during London's Frieze Art Fair. The familiar, if blurry, faces of jeweler Waris Ahluwalia, polymath Stephen Fry, and actor Mia Wasikowska are among those to appear in the show presented by cross-disciplinary platform Istanbul’74. Past high-profile models have included designer Haider Ackermann, photographer Ryan McGinley, and Tilda Swinton, the artist’s partner. To Kopp, these subjects are simply intimate friends, some of whom happen to be famous, and the addition of plush animals makes for a natural fit with the themes of companionship in his work. “My stepdaughter always slips little cuddly toys into my luggage when I’m going somewhere,” he says. “Like Skype, they represent a medium of presence and company; it’s like a battery you can charge with your presence and then give to another person.” Building on Kopp’s ongoing experimentation with internet telephony, his latest series distills a greater intimacy between the artist, the sitter and the viewer, with the use of Skype both emphasizing distance and fostering a special comfort zone. Amidst preparations for his Frieze week events, Kopp sat down for a virtual conversation with Skype CEO Tony Bates.

Tony Bates: We’re using Skype in its traditional paradigm, PC to PC, but more and more people now are on mobile phones, smartphones, tablets—we’re even on tens of millions of TVs.

Sandro Kopp: In a way, the whole concept of community is being redefined. What it used to mean—that is, people being close together or connected by family ties—is becoming a much more loosely knit, open idea. We’re redefining society, and I think Skype is one of the ways in which that’s happening. 

Tony Bates: I agree. Growing up in England in a small village, community meant going to the pub to meet and exchange ideas, and I think the power of video is bringing that social aspect back to us. You have this sense of emotion and of connectivity in a way you just can’t with text and emails.

Sandro Kopp: It’s very intimate. The conversation is an important part of my process precisely because I’m painting the person, not the screen. Painting is a form of abstraction anyways, and so are the pixelation and things that happen with Skype. So that piece of the work is done for me, it simplifies my process.

Tony Bates: Abstract impressionism maybe?

Sandro Kopp: I like to say Skype provides you with “instant impressionism” because of its slightly blurry, luminescent presence. It’s not about the still image, it’s about having the person there and trying to capture an actual presence as it is filtered through Skype.

Tony Bates: You’re not simply emulating the studio, you’re getting something out of the feeling, out of the connection and out of the way it’s projected. I feel that really captures the essence of what we try to achieve everyday at Skype: to “be universal, be useful and be wonderful.”

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