Art in the Age of the Cloud. Interview with Carlo Zanni

As part of the project activities of the Media Theory and Methods class I teach at NABA Milan, Simona Cuttitta, Letizia Mari and Martina Matteucci met with artist Carlo Zanni to talk about his recent book «Art in the Age of The Cloud», published by Diorama Editions.

Simona Cuttitta, Letizia Mari, Martina Matteucci: The structure of your book Art In the Age of the Cloud is very particular. Why did you choose this kind of temporal organization by date?

Carlo Zanni: Time is at the base of almost all my works; it’s a constant, almost an obsession. It makes the artworks possible, and at the same time, it signals the end, the extinction. It is a transformative force that I hope permeates these pages too. The book is like a browser with 40 open windows. It can also be enjoyed in a traditional way, from the beginning to the end, but also by choosing an alternative reading path.

 

Carlo Zanni, Art in the Age of the Cloud, DIORAMA editions.

Carlo Zanni, Art in the Age of the Cloud, DIORAMA editions.

Carlo Zanni, Art in the Age of the Cloud, DIORAMA editions.

Carlo Zanni, Art in the Age of the Cloud, DIORAMA editions.

 

SC, LM, MM: The choice of beginning the text with a personal anecdote about the PS1 exhibit of 2001 was interesting. Why did you make this choice?

CZ: It gives the tone to the book. It is almost a declaration of intent. It contains personal references of a historic event (the last open call made by PS1 for international artists). It is about an exhibit consisting only of video art and it contains a technical anecdote that is paradigmatic for understanding the nature itself of works based on files.

SC, LM, MM: The book starts right away with a discussion of the Internet and new media, citing Napster and the change of perspective that it enabled at a global level, and especially at an economic level. How was and how is your experience of this paradigmatic change in the economy, which is inextricably linked to the Internet?

CZ: Until now, the art world has been impermeable to this change, which involved literature, and most of all the music industry. As for myself, I didn’t experience a great change on an economic level. Online platforms for art sell almost exclusively ‘objects’. There are nonetheless some interesting signals, some attempts that allow for hope. I think that a similar change to that which occurred in the music industry will also come to pass in the art world.

SC, LM, MM: Another important point in your text is artistic production. This too has undergone a radical change, passing from a unique object to one replicable by nature, thanks to new media which have been developed in the past few years. For example, video production is defined in your book as without limits, without borders.

CZ: If a video is transmitted digitally, it exists as a file in its final version, and therefore it automatically becomes potentially replicable and ubiquitous – just as any other file. It requires continual and unreasonable work to treat it as a physical object and preserve that fictional idea of scarcity that is imposed on it in order to justify its high price.

 

Carlo Zanni, Coin.Zanni.Org

Carlo Zanni, Coin. Zanni.org

 

SC, LM, MM: What changes at an economic level? What in the artwork’s usage?

CZ: At an economic level, in terms of sales, none (because the art world still declines everything within the model of ‘unique expensive object’). In terms of usage, obviously the Internet could permit diffusion, and thus the consumption of video art in a more decentralized way. What the art world has difficulty understanding is that one mode doesn’t exclude another. A video (like cinema or music) can be used in many ways, each of which enriches the ultimate experience and meaning of the piece. It’s not true that if a video is created online, it cannot be exhibited in a gallery. Anything but. They are different and complementary experiences. At the same time, it is undeniable that by impeding the circulation of a video, a crime is committed against the piece, which, based on a medium that needs to copy itself and reproduce itself infinitely to exist and manifest itself, has a natural inclination towards ‘transference’ and to being a ‘copy’. I think that the nodal point is to find a good balance and adopt a congruous and sensible monetization scheme. To sell (or try to sell) a video in an edition of 3 at 60.000 euros is not such.

SC, LM, MM: Art, as a bastion of the contemporary era in which it lives, now uses all media available in the world. From television to social networks. How did art’s public change?

CZ: It’s not the bastion. I too thought it was, when I began twenty years ago, and it should be, but it’s only a bastion in a few cases. It’s more a conservative system, and in many cases it’s reactionary, especially its market. (Or its pseudo-market – that is, the myriad of galleries that define themselves as ‘commercial’ but in reality don’t sell, and live off private capital, which I find noble and generous, but in this case such spaces should re-think themselves, and work to create a more ambitious and risky program, from a cultural point of view. To be economically autonomous is a privilege, and a great responsibility, especially in a cultural environment.) I began with the outset of the Internet and the type of public seems to me to be the same. More people now are skilled at technical work, that’s true, which goes hand in hand with the proliferation of bloggers and journalists.

SC, LM, MM: Today, what is the public that we face, and how aware is it of what it creates?

CZ: The public is definitely more erudite, in terms of the ‘technical/technological’. And this definitely helps. But for now the art public is still circumscribed and it is composed almost only of insiders. This facilitates and limits, for two reasons. On the one hand, this kind of public is relatively highly cultured, and this is a good thing. On the other hand, this public has a background in art history and tries to view art through that filter. It always searches for a link with the past, and I don’t think that’s always a positive thing, because it takes away the interest in forms of art that don’t have great pasts. There should be a great interest for new forms of art which have come about thanks to the Internet, but because they have little economic and political returns, this doesn’t happen, because, in the end, the ‘neutral’ interest of the pure researcher is almost never present.

SC, LM, MM: More generally, in your opinion, is the average user, who is now super connected to all kinds of platforms, informed of the media they use on a daily basis?

CZ: The younger generations could be more informed. My generation and older generations came to these media as adults, and they are divided between those who have a deep awareness—perhaps because they were already cultured and they had deep knowledge of preceding media before they saw the arrival of the Internet and social media—and those which were sort of subjected to this technological explosion that revolutionized our daily lives.

SC, LM, MM: How did our experience of the world which surrounds us change?

CZ: It is definitely more mediated. The danger, in the art world, is that Facebook or Internet searches substitute studio visits.

SC, LM, MM: In the horizontal and pseudo-anarchic system of the web, where each user is not just a receiver but can also produce content, is it possible, in your opinion, to receive an education on the media? Is it possible to render the user more aware of what they are using?

CZ: It would be fundamental, especially for new generations, who start off, at a very young age, with full access to extremely powerful, and potentially devastating, tools. My generation had Internet at their disposal beginning in the second half of the 1990s, and as it is more or less as we know it today, since the 2000s, so at age 25/30. It’s a similar story with cellphones and smartphones. We arrived gradually. When a gradual process is no longer applicable (for social, historic, or economic reasons) an attentive educational process towards production/information media becomes structural to the society itself.

Carlo Zanni,ohhhhh ME

Carlo Zanni, ohhhhh ME

 

A very special thanks to Simona Cuttitta, Letizia Mari and Martina Matteucci, to Carlo Zanni, to Diorama Editions, and to Marsellèria Milan.

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