standing still in turbulent times
John, now you're going definitely deeper.
Such existential doubts should remain our biographers' matter for letting them speculating a bit. An artist without an aura of mystery is no artist.
This conversation has yet turned into therapy: we usually do not think too much about such choices - we mean, not too surgically.
As we probably said in the previous story, there aren't fixed rules and, especially when you work together, it's really hard to say how things work. We can't build a system our of our practice. It's based on a few principles, it has a method, but it's flexible. It's a matter of adaptability in a sense.
The friction points we mentioned just pop up in our daily immersion in visual and non-visual contents. They emerge from the unconscious ephemeral "montage" that is our interaction with the Internet and the smart city. The nature of the friction points may be radically different: from politics to games, from gender to history...but, yes, we prefer political topics. Where political is a wide label where almost everything is comprised since the political and the personal are probably the same.
We don't actually "choose" a friction point. We notice it. Then you discuss it because a friction point is just the ignition key of the work. Then you need an idea. There are a lot of interesting subjects and anecdotes that we've never used because we couldn't find the right perspective to deal with them or to deploy them in the proper way, trying to address the right issues.
We should make business with them. Renting them. Like an upgrade of Rob Pruitt's 100 art ideas...
Surely there are some procedural patterns that could be identified in our practice, or some themes that may recur more than once. Some underlying connections, also. This is why we decided to build a huge project that could fagocitate almost all the new work we produced and will produce for some time. It is called "Turbulent Times. Nothing happens in Nice Weather" and we announced it last year.
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Turbulent Times originated from the awareness that we had been working on similar issues, simply declining them in different ways: different stories, different media. We always tried to address the present, our responsibilities as both artists and citizens, or the coincidence of the political and the personal, always paying special attention to the role of images.
Last year we felt that we were more and more revolving around these topics, combining them with "infrastructural" questions as the role of the artist in the art system, the meaning of an exhibition, the possibilities of interacting with the public in some ways, be they negative or positive. And so on.
Turbulent Times is a huge basket, and it collects our new projects. All we do is Turbulent Times, simply declined in different ways. We live in Turbulent Times, we think in Turbulent Times, we act in Turbulent Times, we have sex (Millennials' sex, which is a synonym of rare) in Turbulent Times, and so on...
You mentioned games and the role words and images play in our work. We will wear out the keyboard typing and deleting the answer, now you know man! ;)
Play is fundamental in all we do. We would love to say that we play when we do art, but it's quite far from the truth. Art is serious business. The system is serious business. Even when you look like you're playing. Even when you look like you're having fun. But isn't it how things go everywhere?
It's always like that when you try to chase the big buck.
But, in our modest way, we try to have fun when we can and at least we try not to care too much about labels and good manners. At least in a conceptual way.
The reason why we don't paint with shit on the walls (apart that it already happened in the past because of the genius of Ozzy Osbourne) is that we care about the public. Art isn't a monologue. At least in theory you are an artist as long as you produce a work and that work is meant to circulate.
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This brings us back to your question and the relation of images and words.
Let us just drop a concept here, that we might use later:
the value of images today is determined by their degree of circulation. They don't matter as singularities, but they count as patterns. And our experience of images is always the experience of a complex bundle of text and visuality where none of the two elements can be disentangled without it losing its meaning (and value).
(we're always impressed by ourselves when we can sum up an hour of lecture in three sentences)
We combined text and images in a lot of ways, but perhaps the most interesting one is the less obvious. Or maybe the most obvious, according to your point of view.
Usually, when we mention the image-text relation we refer to the exhibition space (be it digital or physical) and the question of providing an access key to the visitor. Of course, sometimes you can have a key in the work itself and a key doesn't mean to tell everything to the public, to impose your vision. The most stimulating thing about an artwork that works is the fact that it's open to different interpretations, still maintaining its strong core so that you will get the author's intention.
In our case, text is intended widely as additional processual material useful for the comprehension of the work.
In the first exhibitions we tended to provide a lot.
Now we try to be less invasive.
When we combine image and text in an artwork (let's say, when we design a poster), it's not to do with a profound reflection of the meaning of this combination. It's a more practical decision. If a poster is the right device for translating the core of the work, then we use it.
We think this explanation applies especially to "Cool People Pay Happily", exhibited at MACRO in Rome last year.
The movement toward a smoother society is something that goes quite deep into the folds of Western thought. It probably goes so deep because it is a movement that precedes the birth of "Western thought". There's an interesting connection between agricolture and the birth of patriarchy, segregation, exploitation and environmental catastrophes. It is particularly stimulating because agricolture relied on a logic that, translated in our words, aimed at recreating Heaven through a pathological self-reproducing process. On the one hand, a lot of mythological narrations from the dawn of agricultural societies condemn agriculture; on the other, heaven is a concept based on exclusion. Agriculture is probably at the origin of both culture and property, of hierarchy and discrimination. And it never worked fully under a productive point of view. Agriculture behaves more like a virus: it is a program replicating itself and humans are only extensions of it. It proceeds with blind will. We are and have always been its extensions, replicating it and replicating as a species. The dualities of Western thought, both in the humanities and the sciences can be traced back to this. Put it simply, this program aims at deleting all inconveniences. The smoother the ground, the better it works. Cognitive capitalism is just one of the many versions of it, now. We are a frontier, our body is, so why not exploiting it?
We are not so optimist as you, even if we believe that a change is necessary and that we live in a moment where there's a small chance to do something.
We face a crisis of politics. It can't keep the pace with the rising monopolies of Internet. Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet and so on are growing and dominating the web. Concepts as territorialization and deterritorialization are being redefined radically by what happened in the last few years. Not only because we are always somewhere, tracked and monitored. Not only because dynamism has become part of a rhetoric of instability...
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But especially because we are always in a place. The place is Earth. Perhaps the saddest discovery of recent years is that Earth is smaller than we thought. It's unbelievably small. And what we do resonates on all the planet. Billions of people turning ignition keys result in passing 400 parts per million...
Another problem is that we can recognize we need a new system of coordinates for thought, but it may be harder than we think. The Soviet Union tried to build different people, but to straighten things or people you always need violence. Perhaps we're lucky, because the effects of centuries and millenniums of violence are reverberating back a us. It's a psychological violence and maybe it helps. It helps because what we need is literally a dimensional shift (what scholar mean when they say that we should abandon a human-centered perspective). This idea, as many other, are interestingly seeping into pop culture, as in the case of Stranger Things, with all their talking about the upside-down.
But yes, it's what we need.
With the only difference that we should start to think at ourselves in a totally different perspective, we should acknowledge new intelligences, new housemates and so on. It's a non-human politics. An alien politics. Where aliens are the things and the beings that surround us. We ourselves are aliens.
Even Marxism should be revisited because it was deeply based on this rupture between human and everything else. Abolishing nature and culture as concepts, that may be a starting point. Accepting a more fluid definition of things, with no rigid boundaries between reigns, subjects, disciplines.
All of this is probably far. And in the meanwhile we can't sit on the sofa waiting for it. We can't remember who said that hope is a word we should use more often now. Hope not intended as a blind faith in something or someone. There aren't any deus-ex-machina descending from the sky...
the return to the dust bowl
There are no spaceships ready to take us in another galaxy, as in Interstellar. Beside discovering that Earth is small and compromised, we had realized also that our space programs are still stuck in a prehistory of science fiction. And terraforming Mars might be a matter of centuries, if lucky.
Hope is the narrow window of possibility in a desperate situation. No doubt that we are definitely in a desperate moment. Until we have a possibility to do something, to take advantage from it, we should try. The problem is what to do. Often the secondary characters of horror, thriller or sci-fi movies die because they think too much about what to do. Or they don't think at all.
We can't wipe out all problems with a simple gesture. But we can act virally, for instance. Trying to redistribute wealth in a community of interest. Trying to educate other people to do the rest. Nobody knows what will happen in the future, because we can make projections of Earth's behavior but there's always a good percentage of uncertainty. We should try to make our moves in advance. Trying to figure our the worst scenario in order to be prepared, to avoid being shocked. We can't lose time being surprised. We can't think too much at what we've lost. Because we will lose more tomorrow and more the day after tomorrow, and so on.
We're not so much into new technologies. We don't know how to write code. Most of the times, we have a user's experience of technology. And perhaps it's fine. We lose a lot of details for sure. For example, we struggle trying to understand how bitcoin works. But we know that a bitcoin transaction needs more energy of your house in a week or more. That's significant. And you don't need technology to address urgent themes. Social platforms and a huge part of the Internet work through filters, so that it is really hard to build communities. You always create collectivities that already share the same interests and views. Social media polarize us.
[continues, we're still at question n.2, wow]
We can build and we should build communities. But what about the purity of our intents? Maybe they're too pure. Too high.
A good community would be one gathering people with completely different backgrounds. A ground of confrontation. A ground of exchange. A playground. Exactly the opposite of what happens online: think about the problem of dank memes, aggressive or sexist comments, bullying in gamers forums...
We should learn to interact again, but it goes in the wrong direction and it will become more and more complicated in the future.
On one side thus we need to figure out what might happen and be ready to play with it, to imagine counter-proposals that aren't nostalgic; on the other, we should involve people and avoid being too fair.
Unfairness sometimes helps. Nobody is fair with you. Everything tries to exploit you or mine your work or grab your attention or whatever. So, what if you do the same? Who's going to judge you? Who's going to do that if you do it in the proper way?
Perhaps we will end up as the museum chef in "the square". Acting impolitely and creating a shock, grabbing everybody attention for a while. But then, wasting it because we have nothing to say unless: go and enjoy the buffet.
The Internet hive as a collective mind.
First: is it a hive? If it were a hive that would be an amazing similitude considering that its biological analogous is quickly disappearing.
A lot has been written about Internet as a collective consciousness. What kind of consciousness is it? My body is conscious, as conscious is a fly or a bacteria. It's a series of loops, addictive or not, that generate responses. It's just algorithms.
We humans are an incredibly complex version of this, relying on billions of individuals of different species that interact following more or less a shared set of instructions.
Under this perspective we're like cells or bacterias inhabiting a huge infrastructure, half living, half mechanical. The machine part is trying to become less invasive as possible, inhabiting our bodies or other bodies. We are probably going towards a society where machines will be permanently implanted in everyone of us. Machines thinking. Doubling our thinking, enhancing our thought, extending our memories, seeing for us.
But the scary part of this is who do those technologies belong to? We're not in a cyberpunk comic where we custom everything to adapt it to our needs. Most of the people on Earth aren't hackers. So what can they do?
Will they become just automatons of a post-work society, employed as full-time entertained people?
How can we stimulate thinking? Will we still be able to choose for ourselves? To make mistakes? Willingly?
Or is it natural to renounce to our individuality in order to let the collective mind work smoothly?
This sounds as a derangement...sorry.
We totally agree with the end of your "question": "The Internet doesn’t act as a mind (as yet) in the consciously connected way but perhaps exists as a gigantic data sourcing machine which is being mined by certain technocrats through algorithms to exploit capital."
Yet the point remains. Is action possible inside this system? We can't act outside of it, if we want to reach people. And also, we believe you can't subtract to it. It's a challenge, face it. Even if physically you can't face it. Where's the problem? It's everywhere and nowhere. Bitcoins are mined in our computers while we're writing...
We think it's more a call to action and reflection. We should review everything we do and understand what it means to be an artist, a curator, a museum director today. Because our world has a lot of tools that could be deployed. We just need to update them. We can't rely on pre-packed good old stuff. Because it stinks, it's rotting.
TCC's habitat is quite simple. But, as in all habitats, you miss something. You don't really miss it, but you miss it because of your narrow perspective and your specifically designed receptors. Since you don't have suckers, probably you perceive a world that's different from an octopus' one. The same is valid for plants, insects and so on. So, there's always something or someone missing. You realize it when you walk your dog, he/she sniffing everywhere, listening to things and getting excited about something your senses can't catch.
The same applies to cultural habitats. We notice certain things, but there are probably a lot more that we miss, but are fundamental in defining the environment suitable for our activity.
The first thing to say is that we are Italian and we never decided to move abroad, even if it's becoming hard to stay in our country and make art. Italy is undergoing several interesting processes, many of them regressive. Our society is slowly falling back into the fascist nest. You see the darkness coming but it's bright, full of talent shows and lights, parties and economical growth. It's cute and spooky as Google's new camera, Clip.
Making culture or art in such a country is hard. It's hard because there's no money and because generally it is hard to see the point of art.
Especially if you choose to talk about geopolitics or to deal with political issues, your situation is definitely complicated. But you go on.
Watching news programs or reality shows is better than a BBC documentary on the African savannah. The news widget on our iPhones always gives us great surprises. In this moment the most important news is about a guy in Padua whom was refused the last glass of beer by the bartender. So, he decided to bash the bar in with his van.
That's normal. It's Italy and it's funny. Then you go to the supermarket and pay attention at children toys. Lego, for example. And you realize that there are huge sets with policemen and anti-protesters units.
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Then there's our personal life. But we can't talk about that because it's secret.
Then there's the fact that we are monitor-based. In the sense that we spend a huge amount of our time in front of a monitor. In this sense a studio isn't fundamental. You can work from home for most of the time.
And then, there's the people around you, the people in the art world, the residencies, the travels, casual encounters and so on.
But if we had to reduce our environment to the minimum terms it would be a computer (and books, paper ones, for Simone). But we can't avoid the fact that both of us love staying outside of our houses. Be it a wood or the city is fine. Breathing the air, walking on the ground.
If we had to talk about our ideal environment, well. It's hard. But we would like to start an independent space, multi-functional, run by artists and other people. A place where to work and meet people, where to build an enlarged family.
We always go back to network building. When our practice meets highly institutionalized contexts such as museums, you establish different layers of interaction. The museum, for what concerns our project, doesn't need all the information or it doesn't have to manage every aspect of a work. So we establish are the referents for the project, together with a curator, and then there's what we present as "technical stuff or meetings" with "the people helping us in doing the things we need to do". Generally it works pretty well.
In other cases the museum or the gallery wants to be part of the process. You just need to have clear ideas. When you reach the museum you already have quite a clear idea of what you are going to do there, so there's no space for uncertainties or doubts once you start. It doesn't compromise our work.
Often we have to curate for ourselves, because galleries sometimes don't hire curators or because a museum curator is just a supervisor not interfering with you...
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It really depends on the situation. We guess there's no definition of curating even if we feel there's a sensible difference between the ways in which an artist and a curator operate. For instance, we are not that good at PR. A lot of curators are frustrated artists.
In many cases however, often at the intersection of the two fields, you find the most brilliant people ever. Because they don't care. They simply don't care about the definition of what they do.
POIUYT is probably born with such an attitude in mind. On the one hand, indeed, we shared the same questions and urgencies; on the other, however, we were conscious that we couldn't work without abolishing the distinctions between artists and curators inside the meta-collective. Even in defining it we find a challenge. So we end up saying it's a platform for image-based research. It's not a curatorial platform. It's not an artist collective. It's an osmotic entity that welcomes contributions and tries to understand how to build a fertile exhibition model that can't be reduced to a list of artworks without any relation with the space or among them. We started with an exhibition like that, because we needed a starting point to present POIUYT's members. Now we are trying to move on. We made a radio. Now we're developing it and working on the consequences of that approach. We often refer to it as infrastructural procedures, something that is somewhere between the artwork and the display structure itself. Like a symbiont, perhaps.
We think it's all. Enjoy!