Sybil Montet is a Paris-based artist, visual designer and 3D art director who uses computer graphics and 3D printed sculpture to bend reality to the point of simulation.
I have been following Sybil since 2017, and her first UK show with Pakui Hardware, at London’s Assembly point gallery. As a 3D art director, she has been working with XL Recording’s Dark0 since 2016, and has been responsible for some of the 3D renders that have become ubiquitous on labels such as Year0001, Night Slugs and Fade to Mind.
Since then, she has surfaced from the underground to work on some high profile commissions, including the album art for Travis Scott’s Highest in the Room in 2019, and, most recently Bad Bunny’s June ‘23 Rolling Stone cover. She has also worked for brands such as Off-White and Rombaut.
I met Sybil in the foyer of the Hotel Amano, Friedrichshain, just opposite Berghain, prior to her performance at Club Transmediale [CTM], an experimental music and visual arts festival held in Berlin which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.
Sybil is preparing for her first exhibition in Los Angeles, Erotic Codex at Honour Fraser gallery, currently on view until June 8th. The group show comes shortly after another group exhibition at Horizon gallery, Paris, and surveys the liberatory affordances of sex and the erotic devices that artists use to harness power in a shifting digital landscape.
3D PAINTING - Numero Art - 2020
Your work's got a large following online, but there seems to be a lot less information about your personal reflections on it. Can you tell me a bit about your creative process?
My work always comes from a place that is primal, instinctive, and intuitive — it almost comes out of a state of trance. I used to work almost exclusively at night time because I enjoyed the quiet, the nothingness. A lot of the time my work comes from a state of psychoactive vision, but at the same time, after having had that initial vision, I have to step away from it, and become more methodological about it. I distance myself from it, try to reflect on it, and in doing this I develop a lot of structure. So let's say there is this initial fulguration, this genesis that can be very violent, but most of my ideological development and the technical work happens in the calm after the storm.
Do you want your work to be theoretical, or do you just want it just to be experiential?
It’s important not to root your practice too much in fancy aesthetics, otherwise it becomes dangerously close to commercial art. I think I have a deeper conceptual grounding than many other artists working with 3D renders. I'm more gallery and exhibition focused, I want to communicate and connect conceptually with the audience in different formats. You just can’t do that with Instagram posts and reels. That sort of thing is cool, but it doesn't capture your attention long enough for you to properly engage with it. I want to deliver a deeper level of immersion, so I’m looking at making something longer form like an art book, and writing more video essays to pair with the renders. But even so, Instagram still feels like the best way for my audience to stay up to date with my practice, as much I’d prefer to focus on creating more strange outdoor happenings.
We’re here at Club Transmediale, can you tell me how you ended up working with musicians?
Music is such a fundamental part of my life, I’m literally listening to music constantly even when I sleep. So it’s only natural my work would gravitate towards that. My most important collabs for me have been with Dark0, Bad Gyal, and Travis Scott.
Dark0 because it launched a forever collaboration, I directed two music videos for him, and in return he composed the soundscape for my upcoming film, Geomancy (out at the end of September) — over the years we’ve become creative soulmates.
The crazy thing about Bad Gyal is that I’ve been a fan of her work since 2016, and one evening I just spontaneously wrote an email to her label, saying I’d love to make live visuals for her shows. They checked my work, we had instant chemistry — after that I produced the live visuals for her world tour. Now, I see kids in South America on YouTube trying to recreate my style because they loved the show, and I find it infinitely cute.
Travis was my first ever album cover — it was incredible to work for such a giant. It really set the mood for my future in some ways — but these days I don’t really know who I’d like to work with, because I’m burning through differences between genres, from disco divas to gabber, you name it.
3D PRINT SCULPTURE - Python Expand - 2023 - Von Ammon Co Washington DC - USA
You’ve just started your own creative agency? A lot of artists seem to be going that way, Metahaven, Sucuk und Bratwurst, Nemesis Global.
For the first year, it was just me, and I had to do everything. I somehow had to balance being the crazy creative and the very boring business person. I can’t believe it, I have an assistant now! But it was very useful for me because my usual personality is pretty chaotic. If I don't structure myself, I can get very absorbed in my work, so I have to have a lot of discipline. To be honest, I hope that as soon as possible, I don’t have to do commercial work anymore, but GPUs are very expensive! 
There's obviously a big overlap of art, music, and fashion in the real world, but often, galleries and museums view art as being in this separate, higher, non-commercial creative realm. What is it like operating outside the boundaries?
It's interesting because all the fashion houses, they all combine it, whereas all the museums, they want to separate it, right? They want everything to come together, but then the museums, it's like, no, it must be art, we don't want anything else! But the problem with bringing together lots of different tribes is it can end up with commodification.
Sometimes it just feels like they are pick’n’mixing different subcultures. As long as it is an authentic collaboration, where artists want to work with each other, fashion can take from art, and art can take from fashion. But it takes quite a lot of education to understand what is just a product, what [is] innovation and what is interdisciplinary fun, there are still a lot of power imbalances.
Do you think it would be easier to get institutional recognition from galleries if you weren't making digital work?
Perhaps in the field of pure contemporary art, what you might call boomer contemporary art. You know, these galleries or museums that are run by curators that are like minimum 50, most of them are very restrained and very enclosed in their way of seeing things. Their vision of new media art is also very, very outdated and very limited to some topics and some special aesthetics. I don’t think younger, more interdisciplinary artists like me really fit with their curatorial vision — sometimes I think I should do some more stereotypical 3D work, that would be more recognisable as something you might see in a gallery space — but it just wouldn't be me! You know, I have my audience and I want to connect and communicate with them — I want to stay true to my creative vision. There are some very cool galleries that are showing my work internationally and I’m really excited to be working with them.
In general though, I think it's still a bit complex to categorise me because I do a lot of commercial work, and a lot of artists don't do commercial work. I have the potential to go in either way, and I don’t think I will ever stop. Because it’s such an interesting balance, when you are only working in the contemporary art world, there is no rule except your own visions, your own sensibility, your relationship to the world and its systems - it can be very self-centred. But when you are working on something more market-oriented you’re always thinking about your audience, and how you can touch their psyche. I think my art practice benefits from thinking this way.
3D FILM - I SCRY - Film poster - 2022
Yes, that's right!  You’ve got a solo show at Von Ammon Co. in DC at the end of the year. What led up to it? What’s the theory behind it?
This show is super important to me because it’s my first solo exhibition, it’s called Arcana. We had loads of  solos with my past project, core.pan, but this one is just me, all my research, all my obsessions over the last 4 years. It’s the ultimate synthesis. I’m so honoured that my work resonates with Todd’s vision. He first invited me for a group show in June 2023, and now my solo will open on November 16th, it's been such a journey!
A solo is really special because you have absolute freedom - in my case the space itself expands the narrative of my work. It's going to be sculpted with light; becoming an infra world where you are immersed in the architecture of the gallery. I’m showing a new moving image piece and a set of 3D printed sculptures, all interlinked by a freeform, symbolist exploration of fictional technologies, like forcefields and mind control devices.
I like to hide little homages to my favourite science fiction masterpieces in my work. I love The Incal by Jodorowsky and Moebius, and [Rendezvous with] Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. But this narrative will extend to places that are more primal, more troubling, and more unstable.
The space itself will appear minimal and ordered, with lots of negative space, but once you get close to the works, or start watching the film, the madness arises. I like this constant contradiction between harmony and chaos, where just because something is elegant in structure it doesn’t mean it can’t be used to explore the most extreme dimensions of the self.
As a post-digital artist, would you rather have a physical space or a really sick website?
Always a physical space. Always. There is nothing as powerful and energy-inducing. And I know I used it before, but this word psychoactive is so important to me because the work has to go deep into your core. You don’t have to touch it, but you need some stimulation: it has to be multisensory. I want to affect your eyes and ears, with sound and vision. I want you to taste it. I think the coming together of the senses really gives the work a kind of presence, you can feel it inside you, a kind of energy.
This notion of energy and aura is very important for me. I think that you can only truly experience it with something that is physical. I’m not very enthusiastic about the Metaverse, AR and VR. You’d think as someone working with 3D rendering and computer graphics I’d be into it more, but for now, I think that the setup is too heavy and archaic. It doesn't work, and I don't like it. I think one day it will be incredible and everything will be seamless. But for now I can do far more in a physical space.
I've always been fascinated by this notion of objects of power. In primitive societies you have the totem, and in fantasy where you have the sceptre, or the sword. For me, this is fundamental. We inscribe culture on these objects. Yeah, culture, energy, power, meaning, emotions too. To me these physical objects can carry a lot more weight than digital ephemera. It can be comforting, but it can also be scary, to know you can wield that much power.
Who are your biggest influences, and whose work should we be checking out right now?
I draw a lot of inspiration from anime and manga - I love stuff like Blame!, GITS, and Gunnm - as you already know I’m really into science fiction, fantasy and gothic literature. I’m also completely fascinated with the power of nature: tornadoes, thunder and volcanoes. I feel like we're really at an interesting point where industrial design is becoming more bioinspired, maybe even reptilian. C.G Jung is a mentor for me, but really the list is endless. In my work I try to merge the factual elements of robotics and AI with the fictional elements of the occult and the paranormal. In terms of living artists, at the moment I’m really into Yunchul Kim, Darja Bajagić and Lu Yang. I’m constantly exploring deeper and deeper in my fascinations, it’s a permanent feedback loop. I like to spend hours researching online, as much as I love having what I call visions when I'm out of the studio, for instance in nature hiking, and ideas flow.
Your work seems to contain different elements of a dystopian hellscape, what do you think the world will look like in 10 years?
Actually, I’m fascinated by continuity. I really don’t think our future will be that different from the past in the sense that horror and beauty will constantly co-exist, there will always be cycles between violence and peace, progress and stagnation. I think technology is the natural continuation of our species. It’s us. It will lead to futures that we cannot even comprehend now, even in like 200 years.
AI is going to be as wonderful as it is threatening, and I pray that we have significantly solid policies in place that it causes more good than harm to people and the planet. AI actually has a huge influence on me and I'll be presenting a robotic sculpture that I’ve embodied to be artificially sentient, at Paris Internationale this October.
I read a lot of predictions by futurists that seek to explore our potential evolutions with tech. It’s just so extreme, even ungraspable for some, the rate of change. I have this hope that with progress, inequalities, violence will decrease, and environmental collapse will stop. But we can be so prone to destruction, I just don’t know if we will be living in a better world, or World War Three?!
Ultimately we are part of a system that exists way beyond us. The universe is a mystery and we are part of it. Life will always be resilient and if we disappear, new species will come. I try to live in the present and only use the future as a fictional source. But if I had the opportunity to live like 3000 years or more to see what life on Earth becomes, I would 100% do it.
3D FILM - Geomancy - 2024 - Upcoming
3D PAINTING - Terraforma Journal cover art - 2023
3D FILM - Geomancy - 2024 - Upcoming
3D FILM - Geomancy - 2024 - Upcoming
3D FILM - Geomancy - 2024 - Upcoming
3D PAINTING - The Arsonist - Cura Magazine - 2022
3D FILM - Geomancy - 2024 - Upcoming