maurizio bolognini     |intro  bio  index|

ordina da  Carocci    Feltrinelli


quarta copertina

    Postdigitale
    Conversazioni sull'arte e le nuove tecnologie
    2008
    pp. 120 + 8, cm. 22
    Author: Maurizio Bolognini
    Language: Italiano
    Publisher: Carocci Editore, Roma
    ISBN: 978-88-430-4739-0

     

    english

 

Digimag, 37, 2008:
"Il libro ripercorre e documenta diversi anni di ricerche e scambi teorici di Bolognini con altri artisti, curatori, critici, storici. [...] Il linguaggio limpido, l'urgenza di stimolare il pensiero critico partendo da informazioni, nomi, progetti [...]. Con assoluta noncuranza per confini di contesto, Bolognini mischia il diavolo con l'acqua santa, guru dell'etica hacker e del copyleft con guru del collezionismo, accademici acclamati con enfants prodiges delle modificazioni genetiche. Bolognini stesso ci spiega perché nell'introduzione di questo testo/ricerca. L'arte che si basa sull'uso delle tecnologie è arrivata a una svolta, dopo una prima fase pionieristica. [...] E' quindi questo il momento d far riflettere gli addetti ai lavori dell'arte –  dall'interno dell'esperienza effettuale del producer e non della costruzione teorica del critico –  su cosa significa digitale (si veda la conversazione con Simonetta Lux in cui l'autore spiega in maniera incredibilmente semplice ed illuminante la differenza tra analogico e digitale) e che razza di artista è quello che pensa al funzionamento degli strumenti che usa....." (Lucrezia Cippitelli)

Indice

Prefazione / Preface

1. Postdigitale / Postdigital 
Conversazione con Simonetta Lux
1.1. Analogico e digitale - 1.2. Installazioni come officine - 1.3. Antivirtuale: centralità del dispositivo - 1.4. Artisti, scienziati, attivisti: verso un'arte postdigitale - 1.5. Artisti tecnologici: l'estetica della macchina - 1.6. Realtà virtuale, animazione 3D - 1.7. Attivismo digitale: dal gioco identitario alla disobbedienza civile - 1.8. Festival, musei e la questione dello schermo

2. Macchine programmate: L'infinito fuori controllo / Programmed Machines: Infinity out of control

Conversazione con Sandra Solimano
2.1. Caso, intelligenza artificiale, intelligenza collettiva - 2.2. Il pubblico e il dispositivo - 2.3. Immateriale/materiale - 2.4. Arte e computer - 2.5. Atlas 2 e Museophagia Planet Tour

3. Infoinstallazioni / Infoinstallations
Conversazione con Domenico Scudero
3.1. Infoinstallazioni/videoinstallazioni - 3.2. Reti e disintermediazione

4. Arte tecnica, tecnologica, neotecnologica 
Conversazione con Mario Costa
4.1. Dalla tecnica alle nuove tecnologie - 4.2. L'estetica neotecnologica

5. Arte telematica 
Conversazione con Roy Ascott
5.1. Arte tecnoetica: coscienza e reti di telecomunicazione - 5.2. Immersione e distanza critica: dagli sciamani alle nanotecnologie

6. Bioestetica e arte transgenica 
Conversazione con Eduardo Kac
6.1. Cloni, chimere e creature transgeniche - 6.2. Bioarte, interazione e responsabilità etica

7. Ars Electronica e dintorni 
Conversazione con Gerfried Stocker
7.1. Il Festival, il Museo, i laboratori - 7.2. Tecnologie digitali e sistema dell'arte - 7.3. Interattività, robotica, telecomunicazioni - 7.4. Il Festival e il caso Linz

8. Software, brevetti, copyright 
Conversazione con Richard Stallman
8.1. Free software, copyright/copyleft - 8.2. Software e democrazia - 8.3. Software e brevetti

9. Collezionismo e storia dell'arte 
Conversazione con Enrico Pedrini
9.1. Istituzioni e storia dell'arte - 9.2. Avanguardie e collezionismo - 9.3. Nuove tecnologie

10. Arte, new media, democrazia
Conversazione con Francesca Conte
10.1. Software art, estetica della programmazione - 10.2. New media e democrazia

11. Arte e globalizzazione / Art and globalization
Conversazione WSE meeting 
11.1. Globalizzazione e omologazione - 11.2. Luoghi espositivi


da M. Bolognini, Postdigitale, Carocci, Roma 2008, pp. 7-10

Prefazione

Forse c’è un motivo in più per pubblicare oggi un libro sull’arte e le "nuove tecnologie". Naturalmente queste ultime – non solo le bio- e le nanotecnologie, ma le tecnologie digitali, che sono entrate nella produzione artistica ormai da molti anni – continuano a porre questioni irrisolte, alimentando un dibattito tra i più interessanti all’interno dell’arte. Ma a questo si aggiunge una seconda ragione più attuale: la parte più rilevante dell’arte neotecnologica, cioè quella legata alle tecnologie digitali, sembra ormai trovarsi a un punto di svolta, e tutto fa pensare che la produzione artistica stia entrando in una fase postdigitale, o postelettronica.
Si potrà obiettare che i musei non hanno ancora metabolizzato l'arte digitale, o che i festival dedicati a quest'arte, pur avendo perso vitalità negli ultimi anni, continuano ad attrarre pubblico. E tuttavia diversi elementi evidenziano che si sta aprendo una nuova stagione:
— innanzitutto la stessa diffusione delle tecnologie digitali all’interno della produzione artistica, al punto che molti artisti, anche quelli più lontani dalle suggestioni neotecnologiche, si trovano ad usarle;
— in secondo luogo la diffusione ai margini della produzione artistica (si pensi alla stessa net art, che è spesso indistinguibile da molti contenuti on-line – per esempio su YouTube o MySpace – prodotti da soggetti che non manifestano intenzioni artistiche; oppure si pensi al design generativo);
— infine lo spostamento della parte più sperimentale della ricerca verso altri territori (come le biotecnologie e le nanotecnologie), pur con l’importante eccezione di alcuni lavori di ibridazione di tecnologie digitali diverse.

Muovendo da queste considerazioni mi è sembrato utile raccogliere qui alcune conversazioni sull’arte neotecnologica, tutte condotte nel corso degli ultimi tre anni, dunque abbastanza recenti da guardare alle diverse questioni dal punto di vista dell’attuale prospettiva postdigitale. Alcune delle conversazioni sono legate alla mia stessa esperienza nell’uso artistico delle tecnologie digitali e sono state fatte in occasioni diverse: una presentazione all’Università "La Sapienza" di Roma (conversazione con Simonetta Lux), una mostra al Museo di Arte Contemporanea di Genova (con Sandra Solimano), una al Museo Laboratorio di Arte Contemporanea di Roma (con Domenico Scudero), un’intervista per RAI International (con Francesca Conte), e un convegno sulle identità locali e i processi di globalizzazione della World Society of Ekistics (con Shigeki Nagashima).
Altre conversazioni hanno coinvolto alcuni dei protagonisti (artisti e teorici) del dibattito sulle questioni trattate: il rapporto tra produzione artistica e sviluppo tecnologico è affrontato con Mario Costa, teorico del "sublime tecnologico" e direttore di Artmedia; l’arte telematica e la questione dell’"autore distribuito" sono discusse con Roy Ascott, artista che ha anticipato queste tematiche e la poetica del networking dagli anni Ottanta; l’uso artistico delle biotecnologie è oggetto di una conversazione con Eduardo Kac, a cui si devono i primi esperimenti significativi e la stessa definizione di arte transgenica; con Richard Stallman, coautore del sistema operativo GNU-Linux, promotore del copyleft e della Free Software Foundation, sono analizzate alcune questioni poste dalle tecnologie digitali riguardanti la proprietà intellettuale, il copyright e i brevetti; alcuni problemi del collezionismo sono discussi con Enrico Pedrini, la cui raccolta è considerata tra le più interessanti nell’arco che va da dada, fluxus, minimal art, arte concettuale, fino a tendenze recenti; la funzione dei festival e il loro rapporto con le tradizionali istituzioni dell’arte vengono esaminati con Gerfried Stocker, direttore di Ars Electronica, il centro austriaco di Linz diventato da alcuni anni uno dei luoghi di riferimento per molta parte delle arti neotecnologiche. 
Alcune di queste conversazioni sono inedite, altre sono state pubblicate su varie riviste in Italia e in Francia, ma contribuiscono a tracciare qui un quadro d’insieme che le singole conversazioni non potrebbero dare.

Nell’introdurre questa raccolta vorrei sottolineare alcune persistenti difficoltà nella comprensione di quest’area della ricerca artistica pur straordinaria (per le questioni che affronta e per i mezzi di cui dispone). Ci sono alcuni luoghi comuni molto resistenti nel discorso sull’arte che non si accordano con l’arte neotecnologica. E, d’altro canto, anche la definizione di quest’arte da parte dei suoi stessi attori spesso non ne favorisce la comprensione. In questa prefazione vorrei accennare brevemente a entrambi gli aspetti, in modo che sia chiaro al lettore da quale prospettiva e con quali premesse sono state affrontate le diverse questioni:
— Il primo luogo comune, ancora presente dopo molti anni, è che le nuove tecnologie si possano identificare con la "multimedialità" e dunque con quella eterogenea produzione comunicativa e visiva che – si sostiene – deriva da un approccio ormai indifferenziato alle tecniche, che dalla pop art in poi sarebbero state tutte ugualmente legittimate e messe sullo stesso piano. Mi sembra che questa convinzione, pur radicata, possa valere per le tecnologie di registrazione e riproduzione (audio e video), ma certamente non vale per le tecnologie di comunicazione e programmazione – le reti, i computer –, che implicano una profonda discontinuità rispetto al passato e sono all’origine della rivoluzione digitale, anche nell’arte. E così, per esempio, non sorprende di trovare, anche in mostre importanti, computer usati come tecnologie di riproduzione, per memorizzare immagini o per selezionarle casualmente, e invece ignorati per quello che sono, cioè innanzitutto delle macchine generative.
— Un secondo luogo comune (che discende solo in parte dal primo) è che nella ricerca artistica non ci sia più possibilità di scelta e di radicalità. Tutto sarebbe indifferenziato e agli artisti non resterebbe che esprimersi in modo personale e frammentario. Si tratta di un atteggiamento che ha consentito all’arte nella sua versione postmoderna di accrescere la propria funzione critica attraverso un continuo processo di creazione/distruzione di significati. Ma d’altra parte questo stesso atteggiamento ha portato a trascurare il fatto che le tecnologie digitali introducono nella sperimentazione artistica alcune questioni forti, legate alla stessa natura dei nuovi media, all’intelligenza artificiale, alla democrazia elettronica, al coinvolgimento del pubblico attraverso forme di interazione più sofisticate, alla delega alla macchina di alcune funzioni creative... Non è chiaro come si possa trascurare tutto questo e però pretendere che l’arte sia considerata uno strumento essenziale per la comprensione del presente.

Poi ci sono i riti e i luoghi comuni, non meno radicati, all’interno dell’arte neotecnologica, che ha avuto i suoi spazi (i festival e la stessa comunicazione di rete) al di fuori e ai margini del sistema dell’arte. Mi limito a indicarne alcuni:
— Si tende a considerare l'arte neotecnologica come un'area di ricerca omogenea anche se variegata: software art, net art, telerobotica, installazioni di realtà virtuale ecc. E' vero che quasi tutti gli artisti neotecnologici hanno un denominatore comune: il rapporto autoreferenziale con le nuove tecnologie, che discende dalla constatazione di trovarsi all'interno di una trasformazione epocale determinata dallo stesso sviluppo tecnologico. Ma questo non è sufficiente per identificare un'area di ricerca omogenea. In realtà gli artisti neotecnologici si muovono in un campo polarizzato da tre diversi elementi: 1) il sistema dell'arte, 2) la ricerca scientifica e industriale e 3) l'attivismo politico-culturale sui media. La distanza da ciascuno di questi è un criterio essenziale per capire la produzione artistica neotecnologica: ci sono differenze profonde tra gli artisti "scienziati", gli artisti "attivisti" e gli artisti tecnologici che si trovano più vicino al sistema dell'arte, e di queste é necessario che si cominci a rendere conto. Anche perché, dopo oltre vent'anni di ricerca, i giochi sembrano ormai fatti e si tratta di fare chiarezza evitando che tutta l'arte neotecnologica finisca per avere le etichette, già abusate, della net art o della software art, magari confuse con le proprie manifestazioni più commerciali.
— L’arte neotecnologica viene spesso identificata con l’hi-tech. La mia convinzione è che invece i lavori veramente innovativi non siano quelli che utilizzano le tecnologie più sofisticate ma, al contrario, quelli che si basano su un’elaborazione povera e sullo svuotamento del mezzo, vale a dire sulla sua attivazione a vuoto, sulla riduzione all’essenza, sul funzionamento ai minimi termini, cioè su procedimenti ereditati dalle stesse avanguardie del Novecento. Questa parte della ricerca può non avere grande visibilità perché non sempre produce lavori adatti ai festival, ma è in quest’area che si trovano le cose più interessanti.
— Un altro luogo comune ha indicato per lungo tempo la virtualità come uno degli elementi qualificanti dell’arte neotecnologica, fino a farne quasi un sinonimo. Anche questo può essere fuorviante. In alcuni casi quest’arte è tutto meno che "virtuale": ci sono lavori in cui viene messo al centro il "dispositivo" e questa è la premessa per lo sviluppo di un’arte effettuale che sposta la ricerca sul piano della "realtà" e del suo "funzionamento". Per esempio le mie installazioni di Macchine programmate costruiscono effettivamente dei flussi di immagini potenzialmente infinite, che sono immateriali ma reali, cioè dotate di un’esistenza autonoma dall’osservatore.

Questi sono alcuni dei punti trattati nelle conversazioni. Naturalmente il carattere occasionale di ciascuna conversazione non consente di affrontare tutte le questioni in modo sistematico. Ma spero che il concreto riferimento alla mia esperienza personale e la partecipazione di alcuni dei più straordinari protagonisti della ricerca artistica e teorica, che ringrazio, possano contribuire a far emergere un quadro realistico e non di maniera.   

Settembre 2007

from M. Bolognini, Postdigitale, Carocci, Roma 2008, pp. 7-10

Preface

Perhaps there is one reason more to publish a book on art and the "new technologies" today. The first reason, of course, is that the new technologies – not only bio- and nanotechnologies, but also the digital technologies which entered artistic production many years ago – continue to pose unsolved issues, feeding a debate which is among the most interesting in the world of art. But there is a second more topical reason: the most important area of neotechnological art, that is, the area linked to the digital technologies, seems now to be at a turning point, and everything points to the fact that artistic production is entering a post-digital or post-electronic phase.
One might argue that museums have not yet metabolised digital art, or that festivals dedicated to this art continue to attract spectators despite having lost some vitality during the last few years. Nevertheless, there are various indications that a new season is about to begin:
—  firstly, the spread of digital technologies in artistic production, to the point where many artists, even those otherwise unresponsive to the fascination of neotechnology, find themselves using it;
— secondly, the spread at the margins of artistic production (one need only think of net art, which is often indistinguishable from much online content – for example, YouTube or MySpace – produced by people who have no artistic intentions; or one can also think of generative design);
— finally, the shift of more experimental research towards other territories (such as biotechnologies and nanotechnologies), even with the important exception of some works which are hybridisations of different digital technologies.

Starting from these reflections, I felt it would be useful to bring together in this book some conversations on neotechnological art, all held in the course of the last three years, in other words recent enough to look at the various issues from the present post-digital perspective. Some of the conversations revolved around my own experience in the artistic use of digital technologies and were held on various occasions: a presentation at the University “La Sapienza” of Rome (conversation with Simonetta Lux), an exhibition at Genoa’s Museum of Contemporary Art (with Sandra Solimano), at Rome’s Laboratory Museum of Contemporary Art (with Domenico Scudero), an interview for RAI International (with Francesca Conte), and a conference on local identity and the processes of globalization held by the World Society of Ekistics (with Shigeki Nagashima).
Other conversations involved some of the leading figures (artists and theorists) in the debate about the issues addressed: the relationship between artistic production and technological development is faced with Mario Costa, theorist of the "technological sublime" and director of Artmedia; telematic art and the question of "distributed authorship" are discussed with Roy Ascott, an artist who has been anticipating these themes and the poetics of networking since the 1980s; the artistic use of biotechnologies is the subject of a conversation with Eduardo Kac, the author of the first significant experiments and the very definition of transgenic art; some issues posed by the digital technologies regarding intellectual property, copyright and patents are analysed with Richard Stallman, co-author of the GNU-Linux operating system, promoter of copyleft and the Free Software Foundation; some of the problems of collectionism are discussed with Enrico Pedrini, whose collection is considered to be one of the most interesting in the range that spans from dada, fluxus, minimal art and conceptual art right up to recent tendencies; the function of festivals and their relationship with the traditional institutions of art are examined with Gerfried Stocker, director of Ars Electronica, the Austrian centre in Linz which for some years now has been one of the points of reference for much of neotechnological art.
Some of these conversations are unpublished, others came out in reviews in Italy and France; together they help to paint an overall picture which the individual conversations would be unable to give.

In introducing this collection I would like to emphasise some of the enduring difficulties in understanding this area of extraordinary artistic research (extraordinary because of the issues it addresses and the means it has at its disposal). There are in fact some resilient commonplaces in art discourse which are in conflict with neotechnological art. And, equally, even the definition of this art given by some of its own players often stands in the way of understanding. In this preface I would like to briefly point out both aspects, so that it is clear to the reader from which perspective and on the basis of which premises the various issues have been addressed:
— The first commonplace, still present after many years, is that the new technologies can be identified with "multimedia" and hence with that heterogeneous communicative and visual production which – it is maintained – derives from a now undifferentiated approach to techniques, which from pop art onwards have all been equally legitimised and put on the same plane. It seems evident that while this deeply-rooted conviction may apply to recording and reproduction technologies (audio and video), it certainly does not apply to the technologies of communication and programming – networks and computers – which imply a radical discontinuity with the past and are at the origin of the digital revolution, also in art. And so, for example, it is not strange to find, even in important exhibitions, computers used as reproduction technologies, to memorize or randomly select images, whereas they are ignored for what they are, that is, above all generative machines.
— A second commonplace (which derives only in part from the first) is that there is no longer any possibility of choice or radicality in artistic research. Everything is undifferentiated and all artists have to do is to express themselves in a personal and fragmentary way. This attitude has allowed the post-modern version of art to heighten its own critical function through a continuous process of creation/destruction of meaning. But this attitude amounts to ignoring the fact that digital technologies introduce into artistic experimentation strong issues which are connected to the very nature of the new media, to artificial intelligence, to electronic democracy, to the involvement of the public through more sophisticated forms of interaction, to the delegation of some creative functions to the machine… It is not clear how one can ignore all this and still expect art to be considered an essential instrument for the understanding of the present.

Then there are some equally deeply-rooted rituals and commonplaces inside neotechnological art, which has had its spaces (festivals and even net communication) outside and at the margins of the art system. I shall point out only a few:
— Many tend to consider neotechnological art as an area of research that is variegated but basically homogeneous: software art, net art, telerobotics, virtual reality, etc. It is true that nearly all neotechnological artists have one common denominator: a self-referential relationship with the new technologies, the result of finding oneself inside an epoch-making transformation determined by technological development itself. But this is not sufficient to identify an area of homogeneous research. In reality, neotechnological artists move in a field that centres on three different elements: 1) the art system, 2) scientific and industrial research and 3) politico-cultural activism in the media. The distance from each of these is an essential criterion for understanding neotechnological artistic production: there are profound differences between "scientist-artists", "activist-artists" and technological artists who find themselves closer to the art system, and we need to become aware of these. This is important because, after more than twenty years of research, we need to get some clarity and ensure that all neotechnological art does not end up bearing the already misused labels of net art or software art, and perhaps even confused with more commercial manifestations.
— Neotechnological art is often identified with hi-tech. My conviction is that the truly innovative works are not those that use the most sophisticated technologies but rather those based on poor processing and depletion of means, that is, on their own empty activation, on reduction to essence, on minimal functioning, in other words, on procedures inherited from the avant-gardes of the twentieth century. This part of research may have a low profile because it does not always produce works designed for festivals, but some of the most interesting things are to be found in this area.
— Another commonplace has long identified virtuality as one of the defining elements of neotechnological art, almost to the point of making the two synonymous. This, too, can be misleading. In some cases this art is everything other than "virtual": there are works which put the "device" at the centre and this is the premise for the development of an effectual art that moves research onto the plane of "reality" and its "functioning". For example, my installations of programmed machines effectively construct flows of potentially infinite images, which are non-material but real, that is they are endowed with an existence independent of the observer.

These are some of the points dealt with in the conversations. Naturally the occasional character of the conversations means that they cannot address all the issues systematically. Yet I hope that the concrete reference to my personal experience and the participation of some of the most extraordinary protagonists of artistic and theoretical research – whom I would hereby like to thank – can contribute to painting a realistic and unmannered picture.

September 2007


from M. Bolognini, Postdigitale, Carocci, Roma 2008, pp. 15-40

Postdigital (excerpt)
Conversation with Simonetta Lux held at 'La Sapienza' University of Rome, Master’s course for Contemporary Art Curators (2007)

[…]
SIMONETTA LUX. Let's try and sum up the changes brought about in art by digital technologies. I'd like to do so starting from your direct experience and in particular from your work with Programmed Machines.

MAURIZIO.BOLOGNINI. I began to program these machines to produce endless, random images. I wanted constantly different images to flow across the monitors. The idea, which I still find exciting, was to create images in continuous expansion. I started in the late 1980s with very few machines, but then by the 1990s there were hundreds of them. In 1992, I also began to seal some machines, programming them to produce flows of images which nobody would see. A few years later, in 2001, I started to hook up these machines to the cell phone network and this allowed me to redefine the 'device', expanding it to include the public and their choices.

S.L. Let's talk about your first installations of  Programmed Machines: if we take this work, for example, what is it that changes with the new technologies?

M.B. As I said, each machine creates endless flows of random images and thus, in some way, generates out-of-control infinities. In this sense the first point to emphasize is that this work tends towards transcending me; it becomes self-sufficient. Initially I am the author of the device, as I set down the rules, but then straightaway I become the spectator of its autonomous existence.

S.L. This also applies to Sealed Computers, although here the machines function without monitors and are sealed (with silicone) to prevent any connection with peripheral devices.

M.B. Of course, this is a different kind of work, perhaps more radical. When I install these machines in the space of a gallery, the images are not visible and all one can perceive is the noise of the machines running, usually distributed randomly across the floor. The gallery becomes a kind of metaphysical factory: it is as if each machine were tracing its own infinite trajectories in a space that didn't exist but was generated by its own functioning.
There are various aspects to these installations which can be attributed more generally to neo-technological art. First of all, delegating to the machine. This implies a self-reduction of the artist's role, but on the other hand allows the artist to expand his action indefinitely. Much has been written about the self-reduction of the artist. Of course, one can object that even with these technologies the artist continues to be present and to express a vision of the world, although this is happening through the creation of devices left to themselves. It has often been pointed out that in neo-technological artistic production everything leads to the question of the marginality of the subject: delegating tasks to the machine, the distributed artist, the giving up of control over the result, for which the artist only prepares certain conditions. On the other hand, however, even in this context, the artist remains at the origin of his/her own work, albeit differently from the past: activating processes over which he/she agrees to lose control, becoming a kind of actor of complexity who takes into account the new conditions without being completely subordinate to them.

S.L. These changes also affect the nature of the image.

M.B. Another aspect that can be pointed out starting from these works is that, with digital technologies, the image becomes increasingly autonomous. The development of the technological image, from photography to generative art, traces a clear line of development: the static image becomes dynamic, it becomes a flow, a process, which as such is open to the effect of external events, including the participation of the public, thus transforming the artist into a spectator of proceedings that have been set in motion and made autonomous.

S.L. We also find the term virtuality used in relation to the image.

M.B. Yes, but perhaps this introduces a more problematic aspect. First of all, we need to be clear about what we mean by the term virtual, which in this context may refer to different things. There is the virtuality of so-called electronic space, there is the virtuality of images generated by computerized processes and, more particularly, of three-dimensional representations which use immersive technologies (so-called Virtual Reality), creating simulated environments which the user can explore interactively. There has been such an emphatic use of this term, especially in the past, that all new media art is often identified with the virtual dimension. Frank Popper himself used the expression 'virtual art' to talk about 'the present high-resolution version of technological art'. But in some cases this can be misleading. Often neo-technological art contains very little that is virtual, and one could in fact maintain that the new technologies favor an effectual art, which goes beyond representation and also tends to move away from the symbolic and metaphorical plane. If there is still some point to distinguishing between artistic research and the culture industry connected to the new media, what especially characterizes the former is the centrality of the device (the machine, the network, the interaction structure of the participants). The most interesting part of neo-technological art focuses on the physiology of the new media, their functioning, their technical configurations; whereas the narrative told by the media, content and representation belong above all to the culture industry.

S.L. Can you explain more about what you mean by effectual art in relation to your machines?

M.B. Perhaps I should try to compare works which use digital technologies with other previous works. For example, in attempts to explain my Programmed Machines which produce images indefinitely, reference has sometimes been made to Manzoni's Line of Infinite Length (1960). Compared to Manzoni's work the flows of images produced by these machines are 'real' in the sense that they go beyond the pure intellectual stimulation and have an existence independent of the observer. This is why I talk about my installations of programmed machines as 'factories', where the work of the machines tends effectively to construct parallel universes which are non-material but real. It is as if the new technologies allowed the artist to overcome certain limits, almost to transcend, in some cases, the separation between reality and imagination.
Some interesting points when reflecting on this aspect, comparing before and after in the new technologies, can also be found in some writings by Yves Klein. A few months ago I put on an exhibition in Nice and one of the works was ICB (Interactive Collective Blue), the initialism for my interactive and 'democratic' blues, which, as I was in Nice, recalled IKB (International Klein Blue). So I read some things by Klein and in particular the Chelsea Hotel Manifesto, where he wrote: 'Would not the future artist be he who expressed through an eternal silence an immense painting possessing no dimension?'
Here we have everything: silence, the infinite sequence, the different spatial dimension. Obviously Klein was referring to his own work, but it is (perhaps by chance, as often happens in art) a prophetic statement which can be more properly applied to the new technologies. The correspondences with some characteristics of my Programmed Machines may seem surprising, although it really only depends on the fact that the idea of silent, immense images in continuous expansion has always been one of the aspirations entertained by artists. Creating universes… Klein expressed this using words like 'silence', 'eternal', 'immense'. These machines work in silence (and in some case blindly, even denying the spectator the opportunity to view the images produced) and work uninterruptedly, in time and space, generating unbounded images. The difference is that my machines actually produce these images. Here we have all the power of the digital technologies, the effect on art (the before and after) of these technologies, which take us beyond the pure metaphorical and symbolic dimension. If we want to continue talking of metaphors in relation to neo-technological artistic production they are then effectual metaphors. Virtual is also synonymous with unreal, fictitious, merely potential, without any concrete existence. One aspect of neo-technological art that I would emphasize is that some of the more interesting works are generative and anti-virtual.

S.L. But this hasn't always been clear, not even to those who deal with neo-technological art.

M.B. The problem is that for more than two decades - also because of the need for funds - part of neo-technological production has grown up on the edges of the art system and of scientific research and the culture industry (animations and three-dimensional simulations, some areas of software art). The incomprehension of the art institutions has done the rest, focusing attention especially on those works which used the more sophisticated technologies of representation/simulation, at times only in search of spectacular results, almost producing an electronic baroque. However, this is not the only direction in which the new technologies are pushing artistic production. I think it is useful to identify at least two directions:
– on the one hand, there is a more narrative, and at times more aesthetic, tendency, connected to the 'virtuality' of the result (images, representation, simulation);
– on the other hand, there is a more conceptual tendency, connected to the 'effectual' dimension of the device and its abstract, poor and minimal activation.
These are obviously tendencies which reflect different sensibilities that are also present in non-technological artistic production, and in this sense they will co-exist. But it is necessary not to confuse them. The centrality of the device is an essential criterion for focusing on an important, albeit minority, side of the research connected to digital technologies.

S.L. Coming back to the production of images and to your own work, how do these two tendencies manifest themselves?

M.B. The epigones of computer art probably represent the most traditional type of production. In the sixties and seventies people began to use systems of computer graphics to produce certain visual results, initially by writing short stand-alone programs and then with plug-ins for existing software. Computer art came into being in a technological context that was different from today. Nevertheless, many artists continue to move in this direction, perhaps only using commercial software, now widely available. Naturally this is a complex story, which cannot be reconstructed by passing hastily from the big computers of the 1960s, which forced artists to work in institutions and companies like IBM, to art on the web, as is sometimes done by people who only want to promote the latter. Between these two moments there is at least one crucial intermediate stage, namely, the spread of personal computers in the 1980s, without which you can explain neither pre-web telematic art nor the distance of computer art from works like mine. Only at this point does it become evident that in computer art the new media are almost always used to do the work of the old ones: personal computers have very clearly shown that digital machines are not suitable for these things, but need to be delegated to make decisions, and need to be used in a self-sufficient, quantitative way, not subordinated to pre-determined aesthetic results. I think that the nature of digital machines brings them closer to dada (despite its aversion to technologies) or to conceptual art. This is why my machines are left to function autonomously. The quality of the images is always secondary; it is delegated to the machine, commissioned from programmers who are not artists, or left to the decisions of the public by means of techniques of collective intelligence.

S.L. For example, it is delegated to the public in interactive installations like Collective Intelligence Machines, where you hook up your computers to the telephone network so that anybody can interfere. You have explained that these are installations which involve the public in a similar way to certain applications of electronic democracy. And in this context you have also emphasized that digital technologies allow us to pre-figure the development 'from interactivity to democracy'. Why do you think this perspective is so important?

M.B. In these installations the device expands to include the public, which can interact by using their own telephone to modify the characteristics of the images, made visible by means of large projections on buildings in the open air. These projections bring together and short-circuit physical space and electronic space, creating an alienation effect that I like to work with. What's more, they are installations which experiment with new forms of interactivity. In art interactivity is often overvalued. Anything that is interactive, however banal, is considered more important. I think that the digital technologies allow us to introduce into art more advanced forms of interactivity, even going so far as to imagine a possible evolution from interactivity to democracy. Up to now interactive media installations have concentrated on human-machine communication (vertical interaction), neglecting any form of collective intelligence (horizontal interaction). I think that this could be now reconsidered to produce a change in interactive art, from interaction to decision via interactive decision-making. In particular I find that some participation technologies taken from electronic democracy (such as real time opinion-convergence techniques) are particularly interesting. These are based upon three main features: recursive structure, feedback and statistical response. In my interactive installations (such as the Collective Intelligence Machines), this means that anybody can continually change their mind and send new input, can see the corresponding output in real time, and in so doing they contribute to 'decisions' that start up new cycles of images with different characteristics.
Art is more exciting when it tries to anticipate the future, and when it embodies a vision that also raises more urgent questions: democracy, collective intelligence (and their technological and institutional apparatus) certainly belong to the great questions facing us. Jacques Attali explains this very well in his Histoire de l'avenir: we should now get used to considering them as essential conditions for survival, just like climate, energy sources and cultural integration. Collective intelligence – this has been clear ever since the first off-line experiments in the 1970s – is not simply the sum of the individual intelligences that generate it; it is a separate device. For this reason in future we will be able to think of works of art produced by devices of collective intelligence which transcend not only intellectual property but the very role of the artist.

S.L. Can you give some other examples of what you mean by the centrality of the device and, what you also mentioned, the slippage of the work beyond the symbolic plane?

M.B. The centrality of the device can be a criterion to analyze many works. Consider, for example, two different installations by Eduardo Kac: Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Genesis. In Essay (made together with Ikuo Nakamura in 1994) a bird and a philodendron are made to communicate with each other. The bird is in a cage in Lexington, the philodendron in a vase in New York. The installation connects them by means of the telephone line: the bird's song is transmitted to the plant, which is equipped with an electrode that registers its response, which is transmitted back to the bird and so on. There is no content, there are no relevant metaphors, there is only the device.
The same cannot be said of Genesis, a complex work, centered on problems of bioethics, where there is a heavily symbolic dimension. In this work Kac modifies a gene in a laboratory, converting the passage in Genesis which attributes to the human species dominion over all living creatures, into a sequence of DNA. The gene is implanted in some bacteria, which are then exhibited in an art gallery. Here, via the internet, the public is asked to decide whether to bring about a further mutation of the bacteria (and thus of their modified DNA), subjecting them to the effects of ultraviolet light.
In this case the symbolic content is explicit: if the public decides to modify the bacteria displayed in the gallery, this also alters the meaning of the phrase in the Bible which in some way they contain. However, it seems absolutely clear to me that what makes this work interesting is not its symbolic implication but rather the fact that the transformation of the bacteria by the public can actually happen: the symbolic dimension, although powerfully present, becomes effectual and is conveyed on to the plane of reality.

S.L. I'd like to put what we said so far into the broader context of the neo-technological arts. Let us recapitulate. The points you have made concern: the transition from the 'virtuality' of the symbolic dimension of art to the 'reality' of installations based on the functioning of 'devices', including the audience; the possibility of expanding one's own will and acts indefinitely; the progressive self-determination of the image (from photography to generative art); the introduction of more advanced forms of interactivity, to the point where it becomes possible to imagine an evolution from interactivity to democracy. All this, you say, also implies a redefinition of the role of the artist, who tends to become a creator of devices and a spectator of their autonomous life. How far can these characteristics, so evident in your work, be generalized to apply to the art connected to the new technologies?

M.B. They are characteristics present in various cases, although not all of them and not always are they in the forefront. First of all, we need to consider different areas within neo- technological art, and the definitions in use – which generally only make reference to the technology employed: net art, software art, robotic art, etc. – do not contribute to clarity. Lev Manovich distinguished between Duchampland, that is, the contemporary art world, and Turingland, that is, digital arts and research into the aesthetic possibilities of the new media. In his view, we should not expect art from Turingland which will be accepted in Duchampland. I only partially agree with this. I think it is necessary to emphasize first of all that neo-technological artists do not belong to a single homogeneous research area (even though they have many things in common, first and foremost among which is the self- referential relationship with the new technologies, held to be at the origin of epoch-making transformations, which are not only economic but cultural, aesthetic and political), but they move on to territory which is centered upon three main elements:
– the art system,
– scientific and industrial research,
– media activism, in other words, politico-cultural activism in the media.
I think that the varying distance from these three elements can be important in providing a realistic description of neo-technological artistic production: there are significant differences between artists-scientists, artists-activists and technological artists closer to the art system (not only do they have different training and different technocultures, but also different sources of funding and different artistic production). Of course, this does not mean that some artists cannot be situated in a number of different zones on this notional map. However, I still think it useful to refer to this map so as not to reduce neo- technological art, or new media art, to an all-embracing definition.
Nowadays people tend to put all these things together: aesthetic research and technological research, the poetics of networking, experimentation with codes, the aesthetics of error, the alteration of interfaces, simple communication via the media… And the (few) reconstructions of this artistic story are still very partial, as they try to bring everything into their respective fields, at times with commercial distortions and manipulations. If you read certain reconstructions of new media art which start from a particular facet of media activism, you will not find Antoni Muntadas or Eduardo Kac, to take only two examples of important artists. Instead you will find eToy, Jodi or the RTMark group. In others it will be the opposite. Or else you will find, placed in the same context, activist artists who deal with free software and open source, or who manipulate and deconstruct existing software, and scientist artists who deal with artificial intelligence and Virtual Reality. What is the relationship between Jodi's manipulations of the browser and Casey Reas's software art? Hardly any.
Certainly the reference to the new technologies of information and communication, or of the manipulation of the body, and the acceleration which these have forced on cultural and social mutations, remain the background for everybody: the internet, telepresence, telerobotics, virtual reality, augmented reality, biotechnologies… All this disrupts both the operating conditions of cultural production and our material existence. It also implies a reconfiguration of the aesthetic experience and its driving role in culture. But these reflections are not enough to identify a single homogeneous area, and in fact can now apply to much of artistic production, which has now entered a postdigital phase.

S.L. Why postdigital?

M.B. Because the first, pioneering, self-referential phase is coming to an end. One might say that the importance of the media cannot be exhausted in such a short space of time; this is demonstrated by the 160 years of life of photography, the 100 years of the cinema and radio and the almost 70 years of television. The same will apply to the digital media. However, various elements show that a new postdigital age in art is about to dawn:
– First, the pervasive presence of digital technologies in artistic production, due to artists who do not necessarily see themselves as belonging to neo-technological art: for example, the use of programming tools like Max, Pure Data, vvvv (Vier Vau) and Processing to manipulate audio and video data is now fairly common.
– Second, the spread of aesthetic content brought about by the new technologies on the margins of artistic production: what difference is there between certain artistic works which use GPS (Global Positioning System), or which use visualizations based on registering certain processes (traffic, electric consumption etc.), and, for example, the maps which represent in real time movements in the city of users connected to the cell phone network, which some local administrations - including Rome - are commissioning from MIT in Boston? Or the social mapping which New York teenagers use to trace each other with GPS downloaded onto their cell phones at 3 dollars a month? Or again, what difference is there between certain works of net art and some content on-line (so- called user-generated content) produced and circulated on the internet by users who are not artists? Not to mention the growing integration of software art with design: generative design has now left the experimental phase and is trying to produce concrete things, like some algorithmic architecture projects for downtown Warsaw. One might say that this too is digital art, but certainly it belongs to a different phase, the diffusion phase, no longer to art as advanced experimentation, as a free zone in which one moves at the limits of meaning. When the results are transferred to cultural production or even to the practical sphere, the most interesting task of art is completed.
– Finally, although I think this is a less important aspect, one ought to consider the shift by more experimental research not only towards the hybridization of different digital technologies but towards other technologies, in particular bio- and nanotechnologies.
[…]

S.L. Let's take up again the distinction between artistic production more connected to scientific research and to activism in the media and work by artists who seem to you to be closer to the art system. How can we identify the latter, and what do they deal with?

M.B. The list is long: connectivity, interactivity, simultaneity, redefinition of presence beyond notions of time and space, new sensorial configurations, and especially the nature of the new technologies and what this may reveal about our present state. What these artists have in common is not so much a question of the things they deal with as the way in which they do so, which can be traced back to the aesthetics of the machine, the device activated in a way that is abstract, empty and without content. This is a characteristic which perhaps has its origin in the experience of the avant-gardes of the twentieth century, and which corresponds to the effectual and anti-virtual dimension of the research I referred to earlier. But here I would like to say something more, thinking especially of the artists I know personally: it seems to me that this minimal activation of devices, reduced almost to pure phenomenality, can only be explained by making reference to their artistic training, to practices of art, to the aptitude to limit oneself to the essence, discarding anything which goes beyond what is strictly necessary. On the other hand, it would be difficult to imagine that an approach of this type, which usually uses lo-tech resources, can be adopted by artists with a predominantly scientific training, who would not do so because of their research interests and probably the incomprehension of the scientific community itself.

S.L. Let's talk about this tendency of neo-technological art and its relationship with the art that came before it.

M.B. This relationship is not always evident. Some aesthetic research connected to the neo-technologies points immediately to the art that came before it: I am thinking, for example, of certain technological modifications of the body that seek to mark the beginning of a postbiological transition (after all, it is but a short step from body art to Stelarc's posthuman body connected to the internet, or its 'third arm'); or one can think of some works of net art, which may allude to Situationism, or to Fluxus, or on a more banal level, of the neopop of videogames. But in many other cases the relationship with the history of art is more complicated, and probably can be understood only by considering the centrality of the device and the aesthetics of the machine in terms of the 'desemantization' of the work. Mario Costa has provided an interesting contribution on this, emphasizing that some technological artworks tend to become impersonal, minimal, without symbolic implications, almost objective. These are characteristics which are not only to be traced back to the influence of artists like Naum Gabo, who combined the artistic and the scientific dimension, or Laszlo Moholy Nagy, who understood the centrality of techniques, but to Duchamp himself, who introduced thought into art, and subsequently also to certain forms of conceptual art…………



from M. Bolognini, Postdigitale, Carocci, Roma 2008, pp. 41-50

Infinity out of control (excerpt)
Conversation with Sandra Solimano, on the occasion of Maurizio Bolognini's one-person show 'L'infinito fuori controllo', Villa Croce Museum of Contemporary Art, Genoa (2005) 

[…] SANDRA SOLIMANO. It is almost as if your works were experimenting with two extreme situations in relation with the public. There are interactive installations, like CIMs, where the public is considered part of the artwork; and then there are installations, like Sealed Computers, which seem to want to exclude the public even as an observer.

MAURIZIO BOLOGNINI. These are the extreme conditions that we experience with digital technologies: on the one hand, maximum exclusion, like spectators watching processes conducted autonomously by the machine, and, on the other, maximum inclusion, thanks to the most highly developed forms of connectivity and interactivity. This applies to both communication and information technologies: the aesthetics of communication makes you face up to the ambivalence of electronic space (connectivity space and collective intelligence on the one hand, chaos and the marginality of the subject on the other); while the aesthetics of programming obliges you to face up to the contradictory consequences of delegating decisions to the machine, which puts limits on the subjective dimension of the artist but, on the other hand, multiples possibilities and expands actions to infinity.

S.S. In your Sealed Computers, where the absence of the monitor precludes vision, spectators find themselves in a situation of infinite possibility. But a different condition applies when you connect one of the machines to a projector or to an LCD (as in IMachines, which represent the start of your work). What changes when a projector is present in your installations? And then, what changes when, as in the CIMs 3rd series, you connect up computers and cellular phones?

M.B. Harald Szeemann asked me the same question some years ago, talking about an installation in Switzerland where a single machine was connected to a projector while the others were not. My first reply was that by connecting up that one machine I was putting the audience in a position to understand the working of the installation without any need for explanations: the installation could have been abandoned anywhere and everybody would have understood. But I realized that there may also have been another aspect: the visibility of the images guided and harmonized the audience's imagination. By attributing the flow of images of that one machine to all the others, those present had to imagine similar flows and become almost part of the installation. I think he agreed.
Certainly the role of the public is different in interactive installations such as CIMs, where the connection to the cell phone network allows anyone to modify the working of the machines and the characteristics of the images. CIMs 3 represents the most recent development of this series. In the previous versions the public (each person using their own telephone) was able to interfere with the working of the machines, making the images evolve (in the CIMs 2 variant I could also observe and re-shape the process from a distance). Apart from sharing these characteristics with the previous versions, CIMs 3 is also a multiple installation, made up of various locations that are distant but coordinated across the phone network in one large installation: CIMs 3 is indifferent to the spatial dimension of both the work and the public, and it is able to grow on any geographical scale and without any limits.

S.S. Your Sealed Computers – I remember talking about this with you when you presented them at Villa Croce in 2003 – seem to be in some ways a 'technological' version of Piero Manzoni's Linea infinita. Do you agree with this conceptual reading of your work?

M.B. When I was programming these machines, Manzoni never occurred to me, but I think the reference to the dimension of the infinite is interesting. Perhaps the difference between the cylindrical box containing Manzoni's line and my machines is that the images produced by these latter are not confined within a mental dimension: they are not simply psychic stimuli, they have no illusory character, but effectively they constitute a space of parallel information, immaterial but real. It is in some respects as if new technologies could remove artistic operations from the sphere of the symbolic and allow art to overcome the separation between imagination and reality, displacing us from the level of hypothesis and metaphor to the level of reality. The experience of technological excess is non-symbolic in nature. It is comparable to the experience of the natural sublime. Delegating tasks to the machine implies giving up expression.....


from M. Bolognini, Postdigitale, Carocci, Roma 2008, pp. 51-56

Infoinstallations (excerpt)
Conversation with Domenico Scudero, following Maurizio Bolognini’s one-person show 'Infoinstallazioni', Museo Laboratorio di Arte Contemporanea, Rome (2004)

DOMENICO SCUDERO. Some years ago you started using the term 'infoinstallations' to describe some of your works, both the programmed computers and the interactive installations where you ask the public to interfere with the functioning of the machines. Why do you use this term?

MAURIZIO BOLOGNINI. It seemed to me that it would be able to describe these works as distinguished above all from video installations, with which they were sometimes confused. Of course, both terms, info-installations and video-installations, only define the instruments used, but this is not a totally negligible point. Artists can now have computer systems, networks, so they can use advanced forms of interactivity, remote communication; they can activate processes based on probability and randomness, artificial intelligence and collective intelligence, all of which make it possible for the first time to act on the level of 'reality' rather than its representation. I thought of the term infoinstallations having in mind a video installation by Paik with dozens of TVs, sequences of instantaneous images and deafening noises, which seemed to me a way to exhibit the 'excess' of television technologies, whereas now we were faced with an excess of a different nature, that of new digital technologies, which first was not only based on the playback of images and sounds, and thus went beyond representation, and secondly was not only made up of chaos but of the co-presence of intelligence and chaos. It is this aspect that interests me most about the new technologies. Video art puts you in a more or less controlled sensory context. Infoart, if we want to use this term, compels you to go beyond this dimension and has more to do with the 'functioning' of reality.

D.S. What is the difference between 'old' and 'new' technologies in artistic production?

M.B. There are technologies, such as photography and video (but this applies to analog technologies in general), which may still represent an extension of the artist, who can use them in the traditional, expressive way. This possibility tends to diminish with the digital technologies: networks, computers and other digital devices provide the artist for the first time with something that tends to go beyond him or her [...].
For some time now a certain number of curators who are interested in digital culture have tended to relegate to the background the differences between technological and neo-technological art (if you like, between media art and new media art), often using very reasonable arguments about the need to avoid putting too many limits on the content of exhibitions or on the careers of artists. We can readily agree with these arguments (which are perhaps a further sign of the current postdigital trend), but as long as we do not forget the specific nature of neo-technological aesthetics, which is linked first and foremost to the possibility of delegating our own action to devices that can operate autonomously, enabling us to take on the role of both maker and spectator of an artwork. Computer- based technologies make available something which moves in the direction of transcending the artist, creating a discrepancy and a disproportion between the artist and his/her work. This is what suggested the idea of referring neo-technological art to the aesthetics of the sublime, which, in the 18th century, was linked to the grandeur of natural phenomena. It must be borne in mind that the technological sublime does not belong to video art or media art; it belongs to infoart, or new media art, that is, the art connected with the new technologies.
Generative software art is the most evident example of this. When I program my machines to produce a continuous stream of random images, and then I leave them running indefinitely, the work becomes something which is as much on the side of the artist as on another side, that is, under and beyond my control. In this way the game becomes more complicated but more interesting. It can take place on different levels, including the challenge of art as the territory reserved for the subject, and the redefinition of the role of the artist with respect to technology: in the activation of technological processes that are deliberately void of artistic intentionality (like the flow of random images produced by a machine), there is still a dimension that goes beyond mere sensoriality; here, artistic content does not consist only in producing images as such, but in creating the conditions for a controlled experience of sublimity by means of this production.

D.S. Do you think that the new technologies are calling art and artists into question?

M.B. Apparently everything continues as usual. However, the new technologies tend to drag art onto a different level because, as I said, they tend to create a discrepancy, a disparity, between the artist and his work. And this discrepancy seems to me one of the most interesting part of research on the new technologies. If by programming my machines I can create unpredictable and potentially infinite images, this necessarily shifts part of the work from the level of meaning to that of the devices, and thus of control - or loss of control - over their operations. Then of course this disproportion and discrepancy between the artist and his work may reflect others, as in some great game of mirrors: the discrepancy between us and complex societies, or even the more overused discrepancy between us and the physical world, the difference being, however, that in this case the situation does not get completely out of our control: technological excess is partly controllable, so we can undergo experiences, we can enable and disable the process, turn on and turn off the machine. In short, it is a version of the discrepancy between us and the reality that for the first time we can contemplate and reduce to experiment and spectacle.
[…]

D.S. How much of this research do you think still falls under the categories of art? What is art for you?

M.B. I don't know how essential it is to establish whether it is art or something else. The important thing is that it finds space in the art system. I have always thought of art as a convention. There are places and roles, in other words, there is a system that sustains and reproduces this convention. But there are two very interesting things about this system: first of all, the level of listening and the ability to listen (I can do the same thing inside or outside an art context, but in the former it will receive unparalleled attention; there is a great sensitivity and an unrepeatable capacity to listen); also, there is the fact that art is recognized as a field of experimentation and research in which complexity and contradiction are admitted. In art I can do things that are unsustainable; I don't need unambiguous, consistent, rational meanings. I can take shortcuts, I can try to broaden the order of things with new ideas, new thoughts. And I can do so without using words, which are always linked to what already exists, with all its limitations. The only condition is that the result has to be striking; it must excite and surprise you. These are the points that probably still allow artistic research to be a way of gaining knowledge and transforming reality, as well as being a critique and an adaptation.

D.S. And what do you think about the current role of the artist? What is the difference between an artist and another type of researcher?

M.B. The idea of the artist we are accustomed to in the West now may seem old, but it is very comfortable, and I don't know any artists who would give it up willingly, because it affords you the privilege of not having to rationally justify what you do, not having to give convincing explanations, which involves an effort that inevitably becomes a constraint on your work. In short, we come back to what I said earlier about art as a free zone, a more open place for experimentation removed from the constraints of the practical sphere......

 


from M. Bolognini, Postdigitale, Carocci, Roma 2008, pp. 113-119

Art and globalization (excerpt)
WSE Meeting on 'Globalization and Local Identity', University of Shiga Prefecture, Hikone, Japan (2005)

WSE. The globalization of art, or perhaps it would be better to say the transformations of art in the globalized world, and the influence these can have on culture and local identities have been the focus of numerous initiatives. I'd like us to look at this issue here by thinking about both the latest trends in artistic production and the use artists are making of the new communication technologies. The question I'd like to start from concerns the nature of the globalization of art. What do you think is happening, and what are the consequences?

MAURIZIO BOLOGNINI. One thing that is quite clear is that the processes of integration and globalization are not limited to the economy and technology but, as you pointed out, they also affect culture. However, addressing the issue of the so-called globalization of art as a phenomenon belonging exclusively to the cultural sphere would appear reductive. First, because you cannot talk about art without taking into account the art system, that is, the whole apparatus (galleries, museums, Kunsthallen, fairs, auction houses, collectors, publishers) that is responsible for the integration of the cultural and the economic dimension. Secondly, because cosmopolitanism has always been part of art, but this has not prevented the history of art from having its own centre of gravity in the economically most powerful countries. This cannot be left out of account. The initiatives that relate to the global dimension of art are multiplying, but rarely do they focus on the two essential points: 1) the fact that it is a process of integration which is almost always based on an Anglo-American and European model, and 2) the possibility that despite this, circuits could open up within this process that are genuinely multicultural.

WSE. The internet and digital technologies have opened up new possibilities for communication and given concrete form to the prospects of globalization and multiculturalism. But associating these technologies with aesthetic globalization suggests above all hybridization and sampling. Is this what we have to expect from art?

M.B. Artists are always interested in communicating and establishing relationships, and accordingly they see the internet as a powerful tool for dissemination and disintermediation. However, with the internet, aesthetic globalization is not so much a question of the work of artists as the content produced by other users (so-called UGC). The sampling and hybridization of content are carried out by the network itself. On the other hand, we must remember that this trend in art does not only concern the use of digital technologies. The idea of artists as cultural DJs, who engage in sampling, mixing and constantly reworking what already exists, was established several years ago when people began to consider the history of art as an evolutionary process that has reached its conclusion.
This is also the reason why art, its narrative, its branding, are now less tied to the vertical dimension (art history) and more to the horizontal dimension (relations with other disciplines, other existential and cultural contexts). It is true that this fits well with the ever- present possibility of recombination provided by digital technologies, thanks to which all content is always convertible and at hand. But neo-technological art is not limited to this. In my work, for example, the machines are responsible for constantly reworking the content. One of my points of departure is the idea of delegating tasks to the machine. I've never been interested in the hybridization of content but rather in that of the devices, the media. If I want to mix contents I use a machine, and this shifts the meaning of the operation to a level other than that of multiculturalism.

WSE. Zygmunt Bauman has identified the nature of contemporary art in the denial of all canons. Rejecting all current aesthetic method and feeling, artistic production tends to identify with a process of continual creation and destruction of meanings, which has the effect of relegating rules and convictions to a state of transience. This also seems to pave the way for artistic globalization and multiculturalism.

M.B. In its postmodern version art has reduced the tendency to erase cultural differences in the name of an avant-garde that produces universal values. At the same time, according to Bauman, the rejection of all canons has enhanced the critical and liberating function of art, forcing the artist and the public to participate in an ongoing process of interpretation and meaning creation.
It seems to me that this perspective explains much of contemporary art production; however, it leaves out the part, which fortunately still exists, that while not being directly attributable to the idea of the avant-garde, at least owes something to the idea of experimentation on significant issues (for example, the impact of new technologies, from artificial intelligence to e-democracy). Equally, it is questionable whether the continuous creation / destruction of meaning and the denial of canons, which may appear consistent with a project of multiculturalism, are not in actual fact the most Western of cultural manifestations.
One can agree with those who consider contemporary artistic creation as a lesson in tolerance towards unclassifiable and unpredictable phenomena, but also postmodern tolerance, if we want to put it this way, is bound up with Western culture. And perhaps in assuming it as a common denominator one should be more realistic. The exchange between cultures requires a certain degree of relativism and democracy in the relevant context (in this case I mean both the specific context of art and the general context). So the question of art in the global world can be seen from two different perspectives:
– if the democracy one is thinking of is relativistic in the sense that its context is relativistic, and even allows the coexistence of incompatible positions, then the exchange between cultures needs development, time, depth, and in this perspective it is important to protect one's own identity (language, culture, knowledge) without damaging the others. Equally, artistic production should understand the differences instead of erasing them, which is why I think that among the most interesting works are often those that engage with issues of cultural conflict and uprooting;
– but if democracy is to be relativistic only in the sense that everything is equal, this changes things and all that serves globalization is more speed and superficiality (in the literal sense) in order to restore balance in a painless way, using hybridization, mixing, syncretistic confusion.
Both perspectives can be found among artists, but the art system tends towards the latter.

WSE. You mean it tends towards uniformity?

M.B. It tends to gratify the demands of collectionism as it exists. One can hardly expect the economic machine to become innocent merely by virtue of being applied to culture. Contemporary art shifts a significant amount of resources and this makes it the focus of concrete interests. Some argue that the visual arts cannot be compared to the more standardized products of the culture industry, like film and music, that it is a separate chapter in the process of cultural integration and that for this reason the risks of standardization and westernization are limited. But for the last decade one has only needed to attend art fairs to see that the examples of the cloning of Western art are multiplying.
The economic data clearly define the starting situation. In 2001, 92% of sales of works of art in the world were concentrated on the two sides of the Atlantic. If we consider the increasing commercial pollution of the art system and its artificial, but inevitable, selectivity, we understand what it means that almost all activity is in the hands of a few hundred operators in the United States and Europe.
This is sufficient to give a snapshot of the situation and to understand which countries are in a position to determine the directions of development. […]

WSE. Since we are at a conference on ekistics, there is one last point we would like to consider: the galleries, the exhibition spaces themselves are a product of the history of Western art. It is true that we have public art and other experiments, but the modernist gallery continues to be the leading model. […] Your work Museophagia Planet Tour (MPT, 1998-99) involved many art galleries, on different continents. What is the relationship between this work and the globalization of art? And which galleries seemed most interesting to you from this point of view?

M.B. MPT was an action that involved several galleries. In 1998 I took all the objects (furniture, telephones, etc.) out of the Archivio Cavellini gallery, in Italy, which had the effect of devastating the exhibition space. Then I repeated this action in other galleries in various cities (Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Bangkok, etc.). From each of these I took furniture and objects, accumulating an itinerant collection which I transported from one gallery to another and from one continent to another. This work was not about the globalization of art but took it as its background, implying an overall satellite view of the exhibition system.
The galleries I remember with most interest are those in the less obvious places. For example, the About Studio, which in 1999 stood at the edge of Chinatown in Bangkok. The gallery was on the first floor, and at street level there was a room, the About Café, which was deserted during the day but at night was crowded with all kinds of amazing people. Downstairs, the decor mixed various styles, but upstairs the exhibition space was completely empty, white, sterile, as one has come to expect in galleries all over the world. The curators of the gallery were already clearly posing the question of local identity, but they were aware that local and global can be abstract categories, and, in particular in art the local dimension can become oppressive. Another interesting gallery, again in Bangkok, was Visual Dhamma, that at the time was run by a European.
In Papeete (a city of 60,000 inhabitants in the middle of the Pacific), the galleries were all commercial, aimed at a clientele of unsophisticated tourists. The Musée Gauguin was a few miles away, but almost without any works and hidden in the vegetation, it was as if it were not there.
The situation in Sydney seemed to me very interesting. Here, in the late 1990s, the galleries which displayed works by Aboriginal artists (not only the routes of Songlines but, for example, large canvases depicting Cook's sailors about to land on Australian shores, bathed in a sinister light) seemed to be entirely detached from so-called international art galleries, to the point of occupying different neighborhoods. As I walked around covering kilometer after kilometer, I had the impression of a real even if involuntary apartheid. The Gitte Weise Gallery, which took part in my action, was one of these international galleries. It was in a large building which was linked to a history of discrimination and social emancipation. I wondered what would happen if one or two galleries of the other species (those of Cook's sailors, rightly or wrongly regarded as second-class) had moved to the same building. Certainly it would have been a difficult cohabitation.
Even in its postmodern version, art, while it may have given up the spirit of the avant- gardes (which implied hostility towards other art), has not yet got over the need to highlight differences: the art market continues to feel the need to stratify the audience of collectors because, as in the past, it must turn its objects into symbols of distinction and self- affirmation. Distances still matter, in contrast to the global dimension of the processes we are talking about and to the implosion of cultures produced by the new communication technologies.



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