Reexamining the “Real”: A Response to STRANGERS COWBOYS | Izzy Pezzulo

Emily Sasmor’s STRANGERS COWBOYS is a journey that takes place over time, with many different elements, exploring the lives of (unnamed) characters taking place in a seemingly apocalyptic universe. Sasmor’s work is gripping– in a way that the viewer themselves can become lost in the labyrinthine layers of the complex narrative. The six-act “morality opera” is an experience that evokes discomfort, absurdity, performance, humor, and trauma.

STRANGERS COWBOYS is the second, third, and fourth acts of the series, and is the most dense. Viewers are confronted with multiple realties in the work; from a simulated, electric world to a melancholy bedroom. The slow movement of the piece builds a kind of tension that never erupts. The sound in the work is a disturbing nuance that insinuates that something is lurking, waiting to strike. The element of violence of STRANGERS COWBOYS is often heard and not seen, represented in unexpected way that is a part of Sasmor’s visual language.

Every aspect of Sasmor’s world feels intentionally constructed. There is a stark digital aesthetic, but with feelings– the cold, digitally rendered exterior of characters with their own hopes, desires, and dreams. Viewers who wander through the narrative bring their own interpretations to the piece, to decide what is real and what is fake. The jarring experience of STRANGERS COWBOYS is that when the fabricated becomes real for you, it hits hard. You feel the bite of reality in a digitally rendered, barren landscape. The effect of the text in the work adds to this, communicating different emotions and driving the narrative down an uncertain path. The levels of reality in the piece constantly flip back and forth, blurring the lines of the digitally rendered and the real, revealing the seams.

The way in which STRANGERS COWBOYS navigates systemic power structures is unique, with each character in the video personifying and playing out these structures. According to Sasmor, “all things must be reexamined to get to their reality”. STRANGERS COWBOYS asks us to examine again and again, to examine despair, violence – the work asks us to be critical of the real vs. the simulated, or at least notice that there is perhaps little difference.

The Digital America team experienced the narrative of HOTLINE FOR THE LOST in its entirety, and we strongly encourage others to call the Hotline’s number at +1 (866) 235-0682 to see what happens next.

You can view STRANGERS COWBOYS here and read our Digital America interview with Emily Sasmor here.

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Isabella “Izzy” Pezzulo is an artist based in Richmond, VA. She works primarily in video and sound, but her interdisciplinary practice also includes printmaking and installation.

Currently, her work brings together appropriated and original content through video collage/installation to talk about visions of utopia, liminal states, and how the past haunts the present, creating a wealth of interpretations and possible futures.

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