Stumbling upon Tabitha Swanson’s Instagram is like venturing into a shiny and otherworldly tech heaven. Sexy elfin creatures, meta face-filters, and nostalgic typeface catapulted into a new age; an augmented playground filled with genuine potential. Enter Tabitha, the coolest Berlin-based multi-disciplinary designer/creative technologist I know. The Canadian-born artist expertly skirts between mediums, her well-versed skillset enabling a multi-faceted vision of hot and hellish landscapes juxtaposed fluffy clouds in a Windows XP wonderland. A vital member of Digi-Gxl: a global community of womxn, intersex, trans & non-binary people specialising in 3D, as well as the equal parts fashionable and viral lifestyle brand Trashy Muse, I chat to Tabitha about her upbringing, creative vision and staying sane in iso.
Hey Tabitha! I wanted to double-check what pronouns do you use?
How are you…? How are you coping with a world in pandemic and self-isolation?
I’m doing okay. I think it’s natural to have ups and downs and go through different phases of grief – I definitely am. I live alone, which has its pros and cons. I’m grateful to be safe, healthy, and in a peaceful environment, but I could do with a hug.
Thankfully, I can turn to the communities I’ve fostered online. But on the flip side, I’m taking time away from screens and turning off my devices in hopes of creating a new mindset. In some ways, it reminds me of summers as a teenager when I’d stay with my grandparents, and I didn’t know anyone nearby. I’ve been using the different areas of my flat to break up the space.
I’m also trying to acknowledge my feelings as they come up. I’m a big journaler, so that’s how I’m coping (or trying to) with intrusive/anxious thoughts.
How do you explain to people what you do?
I have a hard time explaining it to myself. I like exploring and learning, and I have a diverse educational and working background in design, fashion, and marketing. After school, I co-founded a creative strategy agency, and then I moved to Berlin and focused more on art and UX/UI. I got really into XR (AR/VR) and 3D animation, and now I’m feeling pulled towards music/sound-based explorations. I’m teaching at Design Akademie Berlin come May (online, I suppose), and I enjoy sharing and facilitating discussions.
What was the first digital artwork you made? Can you show us?
I don’t have a copy of the first piece I made, but here’s something I made in my first or second year of using Photoshop. I was making a bunch of creepy/weird stuff. This is my sister, Tina.
In what ways do you think your upbringing opened the gates to digital design? What gave you the confidence to be a womxn of colour and contribute to the digital/tech industry?
My upbringing was far from the digital design realm. I lived in the middle of nowhere (a village in Manitoba, Canada), and my parents were quite strict – I was rarely allowed on the computer, and when I was, it was primarily for schoolwork. I spent most of my time reading and drawing, but I think creativity is transferabletransferrable between mediums; if you can imagine something and focus on the technical skills, you’re off to a good start.
While my parents don’t work in creative fields, they always encouraged me to work hard at what I wanted. My parents are true partners, and I have a very culturally-mixed family, so watching everyone treat each other as equals helped me understand cultural differences in a lovely way.
We’re now in an age of democratised technology – in the sense of users, not the tech companies, haha. We’re able to contribute more freely in terms of gender expression, sexuality, skin colour and even post-humanism. I think we should be questioning class structures and those who gain capital from these insidious tech companies – it’s the few controlling the many. But with AR and XR, especially, it can feel like magic. You can transcend lived experience and inhabit a new digital body/presence.
Who or what introduced you to XR?
I discovered XR through a variety of inputs both off and online. I’d known about it for years, and when I first started working with 3D (in 2018), it hit me that I could create interactive experiences and take the worlds I was building to a new place. It just seemed like the next logical step.
I read that you try to evoke empathy in your work. How do you achieve this? And what else might you want people to think, feel, or understand?
Empathy is relative, but, I think if you put authentic feeling into your work, others can feel it too. I also like to leave a bit of mystery or something to be discovered; this allows people to come to their own conclusions. I mostly want people to be curious.
What has your creative process been like in isolation?
I’m writing every day and reading a lot. I’ve struggled to work on my 3D stuff, but these things oscillate; I’m okay with pursuing what feels natural. I’ve been getting back in touch with different kinds of creativity and activities that have become somewhat secondary over the years.
I’m obsessed with your work for Trashy Muse and Digi-Gxl, can you tell us a bit about these collaborations?
I collaborated with Trashy Muse on the world’s first digital runway show at Paris Fashion Week last September. And, I’ve worked on several different projects with members of Digi-Gxl, including a residency for Jagermeister and Factory Berlin. The crucial ingredient is a sense of community – sharing information, tips, and support, while also growing your personal knowledge and skill setskillset.
What’s your dream collab?
I’d love to collaborate on some enveloping and odd experiential art. I’d like to create a film one day. Perhaps a mix of film and experience? Maybe they feed into each other?
Yeah, totally. What’s your favourite solo work, and why?
I think the talk I did for TheWrong Biennale because I got to express myself both in words and aesthetic.
You’re also a DJ, what’s your go-to dance track?
Mm, today, it’s this one.
Haha! The last website you visited?
If you had to create a digital movie set, what movie would you choose?
Top five IG accounts?
We share the same love for toadstools, the Matrix, fluffy clouds, elfin creatures and NTS Radio. What’s inspiring you right now?
It’s shifted over the last few weeks. I’m finding happiness in stillness, lighting candles, reading, creating rituals for myself, going on long walks and observing animals and nature. I’ve also been making a real effort to dress in a fun way. Expressing myself is essential, even in isolation.
How do you envisage your life post-isolation?
I think I’ll take many lessons from this time. Mostly, getting back in touch with stillness and extending care to myself and remembering my own heart of hearts.
Before isolation, I was pushing myself to the limit: mentally, physically, and emotionally. Everything in my life was moving so fast, which isn’t a bad thing, but after quarantine, I hope to maintain a better sense of balance; it’s crucial.