Meet the artist behind the dream sets for Madonna’s new tour

The pop idol collaborated with video game designer and world-building artist Gabriel Massan.

Madonna performs during the Celebration Tour at the O2 Arena on October 15, 2023 in London, England. Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation.

Global superstar Madonna has collaborated with up-and-coming artist and video game developer Gabriel Massan to create an immersive stage for her Celebration tour. In the two-hour show, Madonna recreates some of the most iconic moments of her career. for the song Bedtime HistoryFor example, she and Massan have built a multidimensional fantasy world inspired by the original 1995 music video.

Madonna has been producing hit albums since her self-titled debut in 1983, and has never shied away from experimenting with new technologies. An early NFT enthusiast, she collaborated with Beeple last year. However, since the fall of cryptocurrencies, she has been searching for more promising ventures in the ever-evolving world of digital art.

Over the summer, Madonna cycled through London’s Kensington Gardens and appeared unannounced at the Serpentine Galleries to try out Massan’s video game. Third World: the background Dimension, which will remain visible until November 26. “She was really interested in the way I developed dream landscapes,” Massan said. “I wanted to swim and explore and navigate through those different worlds.”

Massan, who recently turned 27, described being “surprised” to receive a direct message on Instagram from Madonna just days later. “I stayed very professional,” they recalled, and it wasn’t long before they flew with their team to New York to meet the star in person. In the space of just 15 long days, filled with daily communication, the pair imagined an entirely new fantastical dimension for the pop idol to inhabit on stage.

“It was a lot of fun,” Massan said. “He has a lot of energy and was always thinking about how the job could evolve.”

Set design by Gabriel Massan for the song. bedtime story performed by Madonna during her Celebration tour at the O2 Arena in London. Image captured from Instagram with permission from the artist.

A fixture of the downtown New York art scene in the 1980s (she briefly dated Jean-Michel Basquiat), Madonna has a history of drawing on the work of visual artists. The 1995 music video for bedtime story was inspired by painters such as Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Frida Kahlo, Madonna said Openings magazine. “There’s a shot where my hands are in the air and the stars are spinning around me,” she recalled. “And me flying down the hallway with my hair hanging behind me, birds flying out of my open robe; “All those images were a tribute to the surrealist painters.” At a cost of $5 million, it remains one of the most expensive music videos ever produced.

Fast forward to 2023, and new emerging technologies have made it possible to create something even more otherworldly. At the beginning of the song, Madonna comes to the front of the stage, which rises into a raised cube. Projectors cover each side of the cube with Massan’s fascinating images, which extend to surrounding screens. As Madonna repeats the chorus’ refrain of “we’re going to be knocked out, baby,” she lies back and writes as if she were in the middle of a sleepless night. Her movements are recorded in real time and linked to a larger-than-life avatar, which represents her consciousness. She repeats the same movements as she floats through the imagined realm of her dreams.

“It’s a special moment,” Massan said. “We wanted to bring something that connected with the memory of the music video.”

Set design by Gabriel Massan for the song. bedtime story performed by Madonna during her Celebration tour at the O2 Arena in London. Image captured from Instagram with permission from the artist.

Massan, who grew up in Rio de Janeiro and then in São Paulo, now living in Berlin, was obsessed with playing the video game The Sims and recorded his sessions to upload them to YouTube. While studying video art at the Parque Lage School of Visual Arts, his interest focused on using 3D modeling software to make digital sculptures and, eventually, Massan turned to video game engines to build worlds in which these figures would live. .

Their biggest project to date has been the only performance at the Serpentine, for which they built a world inspired by their own life experiences as a black queer person living in post-colonial Brazil. “I’m really interested in understanding everything that comes from the trauma of inequality,” Massan said. “How this system is created and how it is developed and adopted by all the entities that arise in the context of that inequality.”

Gabriel Massán, Third World: The lower dimension (2023), © Serpentina. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

In the multi-level single-player game, avatars inhabit a world where a company known as “The Headquarters” mines the earth and extracts its materials, leaving the fragile ecosystem under threat. An important aspect of the game is that players can choose their own adventure, and the game is divided into multiple divergent narratives. Will players explore or invade the imagined world of Massan?

“My main goal was to gamify the sense of responsibility or critique the way we navigate the world,” Massan said. “We are using a technology to provoke new ways of thinking and create empathy.”

So can video games be art? Massan does not believe that the practice now commonly known as “world-building” is much different from the unique styles and vision that have always defined art history. “When I look at Monet, he had a context surrounding everything he created,” they said. “I can really see the world that Monet is building.”

Madonna’s Celebration tour ends its European leg in London on December 5, before continuing in New York on December 13 and traveling across the United States until April 2024. Third World: The lower dimension It is on display at the Serpentine North Gallery until November 26.

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