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John Sanborn is a key member of the second wave of American video artists that included Bill Viola, Gary Hill, Dara Birnbaum and Tony Oursler. Sanborn’s body of work spans the early days of experimental video art in the 1970s through the heyday of MTV music/videos and interactive art to digital media art of today.

Sanborn’s work has manifested itself on television (“Alive From Off Center”, MTV, “Great Performances”, PBS), video installations (“V+M”, “EAGE”, “The Temptation of St. Anthony”), video games (“Psychic Detective”), Internet experiences (“Paul is Dead”, “Dysson) and multi-media art. He is known for collaborations with virtuosic performers, contemporary composers and choreographers. His oeuvre primarily addresses the themes of music, mythology and memory. Vanity Fair called him “the acknowledged genius in the field.” 

Recent projects include live video/theater performances of “God in 3 Persons”, a collaboration with The Residents, at MoMA NY; commissions from the National Museum of Qatar and Jeu de Paume, Paris; solo exhibitions at Galerie Tokomona, Paris and Telematic, San Francisco; and releases of digital editions through (s)edition.

Sanborn’s works have been shown at almost every contemporary art museum in the world, including the Whitney Museum; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Prado, Madrid; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Tate Gallery, London; and the Seibu Museum, Tokyo. His video works have been broadcast world-wide including programs for PBS featuring works with Bill T. Jones, Philip Glass, Nam June Paik, Twyla Tharp, The Residents, and David Gordon.  

John Sanborn holds an honorary Master of Cinema degree from ESEC, in Paris, and was honored as a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the Minister of Culture of the Republic of France. Sanborn’s YouTube channel has over 20 million views and over 100,000 subscribers. In 2017, the Mill Valley Film Festival honored him with its lifetime achievement award. John Sanborn lives in Berkeley California.

Artwork details:


Fileformat: online interactive

Year: 2019

Artwork description:

A conventional self-portrait is a depiction of an artist that is written, drawn, painted, photographed, recorded, or sculpted; by that artist. The process of presenting a version of self, expresses what IS –reflected by disambiguated reality – transformed by intent and technique. So, the question is; can you define yourself using negative space?

Our definition of negative is emptiness or a void – but as with music or design, the inverse verifies the positive. One cannot know joy without pain.  By creating NONSELF – I offer evidence of consciousness, constructed from the negative space that surrounds me.  It’s easy to state what IS – but the impression made from what IS NOT speaks to what is “not me” as well as our current understanding of “truth”.

While I find inspiration in examining myself (“me”), a more motivating and productive strategy is to search outside “me”; into the diverse and complex set of morals and consequences that are “not me”.  The orbit of “self” constricts growth, so defying the gravity of ego is essential.

By embracing all I am not, my awareness of “me” expands and mutates – demanding that I develop and extend my artistic goals to enrich my voice and myself. In this way “not me” – the unexplored space that silhouettes my identified consciousness – is an enhanced way to adjudicate a portrait of who I am and how I got here.

This is a personal attitude that has political implications – and a political tactic with intimately personal impact. NONSELF relates to storytelling as it describes how we invent ourselves via the stories that we use to form our memories. As narrators, or portraitists, we can be unreliable – or downright liars. We mold how we represent ourselves, and ask that we be taken at face value. Curious then, is how to evaluate a negative impression of a human being.

Part of the amusement value in NONSELF is wondering what is true and what is NOT.

NONSELF is comprised of a series of 110 short videos each of which uses “not me” attributes, attitudes and perspectives to create an inverted self-portrait. They are not lectures or prose, but elusive moments and fleeting feelings captured in video and woven together by audience interaction. 

In our real lives, we are different people every day – sometimes honest, or diffident, or avuncular – depending on so many transient elements. If the viewer does nothing when viewing NONSELF, the videos play in a “random” order. Prompts are offered (also selected using a randomizing algorithm) inso that when they interact, they build their own version of NONSELF – so close to nonsense but true.





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