maurizio bolognini     |intro  index|

Maurizio Bolognini
Maurizio Bolognini, Untitled (Tahrir), infovideo series, interactive installation, 2011.

Maurizio Bolognini, Terri C. Smith, Art and new technology 
Conversation following the collective show It's for You. Conceptual Art and the Telephone, Housatonic Museum, Bridgeport CT, 2011

TERRI C. SMITH. Ever since you began your career as an artist, more than twenty years ago, you have dedicated yourself to technology and, in particular, to technology flows. In relation to your work some have also talked about the 'aesthetics of flux'. Where did this interest come from?

MAURIZIO BOLOGNINI. At the time it was perhaps not so obvious, but flows are the essence of our techno-anthropological environment, in which presence is expanded and replaced by flows of communication, and form is lost in a flow of images that are continuously changing and multiplying. Even when I first started I had little interest in static, completed images. I was more attracted by the variability and unpredictability of the fluid images that I could achieve by delegating the work to a machine. Using machines allowed me to add the dimension of time to the images, to transform them into streams generated in real time. Similarly, my interactive works used communication flows exchanged with the public, who could be connected to my machines via the mobile phone network.

T.C.S. You seem to also experiment with access in the opposite direction, with your Sealed Computers, creating situations where images are being made but are hidden from view. Can you describe the impulse behind and the context of those works?

M.B. Twenty years ago I started working on the first Programmed Machines. These were computers I programmed to produce endless streams of minimal, abstract and out-of-control images. At that time I also began to seal some of these machines (Sealed Computers) by closing up the monitor buses with silicone, in such a way that they continued to produce images that no one would ever see. In the 1990s I programmed hundreds of machines – some sealed, some not; some interactive, some not – and many of them are still working now.
My prime interest in these installations was to bring out a separation, an imbalance, a discrepancy, between the artist and his work, that was intended to appear 'excessive'. The search for this separation and disparity is also evident in other works of mine from the 1990s; for example, Antipodes and Museophagia.

T.C.S. Some of your installations create interactive flows, in others you bring together generative flows and video. Can you tell me what considerations come into play when you combine elements of film, computer programmed images, and audience interaction? Also, please address how these elements interface. How does this combination exhibit itself in an installation? How do the innate qualities of these components in a mixed flow installation (interactive, generative, video) fit in with your overall art practice?

M.B. In some works, such as SMS Mediated Sublime, I have used the mobile phone network both to enable interaction with the audience and to connect various installations located in different places. These installations generate flows of images which are projected onto large buildings in public spaces and can be changed by anyone sending new input from their mobile phone to the installation.
In other works from the 1990s, the flow generated by the machine was superimposed onto a film projection. More recently, in the Extratime series, I picked up this work again with a different technology; this allowed me to combine the two streams in a more interesting way, and to make interactive installations, in which the direction of the generative flow is determined by the movement of the public, as registered by motion detection devices.  This allowed me to make  different time dimensions to co-exist. Film is made up of movement and time, like technological flow, but it is reiterated time. So in the same installation there is the infinite time of the machine, the finite time of interactivity, and the circular time of the video. In the same work there is also a kind of short-circuit between the maximum concentration of meanings and symbols (film flow) and their total absence (the generative flow of the Machine). This forces the viewer to make a continued attempt to reconcile different and irreducible experiences.

T.C.S. A number of your works, such as Programmed Machines, can be seen as emerging from the histories of conceptual art and Minimalism. More specifically, they take into consideration unique distribution methods, the phenomenological relationship between viewer and artwork, the use of technologies and methodologies from non-art industries, etc.
Additionally, your installations have elements of new media art, a nebulous term that often indicates involvement of the moving image and/or sound, whether digital or analog, as well as other time-based, electronic media. Do you think your work possesses qualities from these two camps of art production? How do you complicate or reconfigure these categories in your work?

M.B. I am comfortable with both terms, although I prefer to use the term "technological art" instead of new media art. I think that art has now become postdigital, as demonstrated by the proliferation of information and communication technology in artistic production. This blurs the boundaries of new media art, which to date has received little acceptance from the art system precisely because it had given itself an identity that linked it to the media. In fact, one strand of new media art is very close to conceptual art, because it sees the new media not simply as technologies to experiment with, but as a theoretical object. Arguably, though, it has failed to distance itself sufficiently from the other strand which is more closely tied up with hi-tech and scientific and industrial research.
But aside from this distinction, I have no reservations about new media art, and I think that the difficult relationship it has with the art system is partly due to the latter's limitations. Technology is a fundamental dimension of our evolutionary story, and tells us much about what we are. The development of digital technologies is something epoch-making, comparable perhaps to the introduction of printing: it is the digital phase of electricity deploying its full potential. It would be surprising if some artists had not tried to delve deeper into the new techno-anthropological environment. In a very short time, the spread of computers marked the transition from the old storage technologies, which were able to record and reproduce (like photography, tape recording, video) to new technologies where the contents are not simply stored but re-created instantaneously, on demand. Now, only a few years later, the internet has added flows of communication and connectivity to the interactivity of computers: first the connection between people and then (with the Web) even between content. The next step is the connection of devices, which will determine as yet unimaginable flows between mental processes and the physical world. You do not need to have a visionary attitude to understand that the new technologies are not only changing habits and social organization but, as they are integrated with language, are beginning to affect sensory behavior and cognition. How could art ignore all this and still expect to be considered essential for the understanding of the present?

T.C.S. New avenues of research have also opened up with regard to interactivity. You have spoken of the transition 'from interactivity to democracy'. Do you think the public's contribution to your interactive works via cell phone shares conceptual art's emphasis on democratic art distribution? I'm reminded of critic Lucy Lippard's quote from her book Six Years (1974): 'Communication (but not community) and distribution (but not accessibility) were inherent in Conceptual art. Although the forms pointed toward democratic outreach, the content did not. However rebellious the escape attempts, most of the work remained art-referential, and neither economic nor esthetic ties to the art world were fully severed (though at times we liked to think they were hanging by a thread). Contact with a broader audience was vague and undeveloped.'
Are you responding to and expanding on these late 1960s and early 1970s conceptual art concerns regarding distribution? How do you see your interactive work moving beyond the 'art referential,' or is that important to you?

M.B. I am not sure I can answer these questions. Many things have changed since that time, both in art and in communication. First, art has been further secularized, and some artists now see the art system more as a "free zone" for experiences and experiments that would not find space in other contexts outside art. On the one hand this might be seen as a waiver of any foundation of art, which is finally considered as a mere (albeit essential) convention. On the other hand, this might be seen as a continuation of the interest shown by the first conceptual artists in new forms of "art" emerging from social energies not yet acknowledged as art (as underlined by Lucy Lippard herself). But I think the implications of these two perspectives are perhaps less important to artists than to art theorists.
Secondly, we are now immersed in a new technological environment that allows much more interesting forms of communication and public involvement. With the development of digital technologies, everything has become potentially interactive; of course this also includes images, which are no longer static but dynamic. Affected by technologies in which intelligence prevails over memory, images too become processes; hence they may be opened up to public interaction. At the same time, the new flows of communication make it possible to have more advanced forms of public participation, from simple interactivity right up to interactive decision-making, in which the interaction among the participants (mediated by the installation device) may give rise, for example, to constantly evolving images.
I have carried out many experiments in this direction, where the focus was on the intersection of generative art, public art and mobile electronic democracy (technologies of participation using mobile phones): vast streams of images projected in public spaces and destined to evolve over time, going off in unpredictable directions decided by the public, who can interact from their mobile phone in a manner similar to certain applications of electronic democracy. I think a generative process of this kind  may be more surprising and obscure than a generative process based only on software. This opens up the possibility of art which is generative, interactive and public; and the SMS Mediated Sublime and the CIM series are an initial experiment in this direction.
 Perhaps this can be explained more clearly if one starts from the notion of the technological sublime.
[...]Of course artworks to which the notion of technological sublime can apply are quite heterogeneous. In my installations, technological processes are activated in a minimal and abstract way. My installations (the Sealed Computers, the Programmed Machines, the CIMs...) are devices that work, and that's it. They don't want to produce meanings and symbolic content. Rather they give rise to an experience (delegating to the machine, distancing from the work of the artist, and the very experience of the technological sublime), and they try to transform it into a theoretical object. 
Perhaps this could be traced back to conceptual art (albeit with a significant difference that comes from the fact that here the theoretical object coincides with the medium and with its self-sufficient functioning). I find it interesting that Sol LeWitt, to express the notion that in conceptual art the idea is more important than the work, and that the execution becomes secondary, has used the phrase: The idea becomes a machine that makes art. Clearly, when LeWitt used the metaphor of the 'machine' in 1967, he had in mind a machine that carries out specific predictable tasks mechanically, not a machine which, like my installations, can make decisions and operate autonomously. Perhaps one might say that, with the new technologies, the idea has partly moved into the machine. For this reason I think that conceptual art, as a self-reflective process about art, now can find delegating to the machine, and the growing distance between the artist and his work, an interesting subject of research.

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