Artissima Live – Interview with The Cool Couple

Following the experience at #ArtissimaLive, Droste Effect is publishing the interviews collected during Artissima 2018 in Turin; find all articles at #ArtissimaLive.

First conversation: artist duo The Cool Couple

The Cool Couple is an artist duo established in late 2012 by Niccolò Benetton (1986) and Simone Santilli (1987) and based in Milan, Italy. Their research focuses on the friction points generated daily in the relationship between people and images. They usually start from micro-themes, specific cases, that become a metaphor for dealing with a whole series of problems. The Cool Couple, represented by MLZ Art Dep gallery, is interested in the relationship with the users of the work of art and all the relationships between the figures within the art system that they believe are essential elements of the artistic practice of all the artists.

On November 2nd we met Niccolò and Simone at the #ArtissimaLive booth and this is our conversation.


The Cool Couple, Emozioni Mondiali, Artissima 2018, MLZ gallery

The Cool Couple, Emozioni Mondiali, Futuristi vs. Postinternet, 2018, video still, inkjet print on fine art paper, Diasec®, woodframe, 65x100cm


VINCENZO ESTREMO – I would like to talk with you about filters for experiencing an artwork: that of the fair in particular. How well do you think a work can be presented within a “walking” context like that of an art fair – and to what extent do you think your work, in terms of proposal and approach, can succeed in doing so, by stopping, somehow, these quick walks from booth to booth?

THE COOL COUPLE –  Inevitably, the work we exhibit here at the fair, Emozioni Mondiali, requires a particular approach to the display, as it is a game station. The stand of our gallery has also been placed in a particular position, near the sofas, so the public not only passes but people also sit down and relax. We are in the heart of the Present Future section.
The installation and the work itself also have an interactive element, thanks to an extremely common device: console and seats. In fact, it there is often a willingness to know more about Emozioni Mondiali by those who approach the stand. Even if paradoxically, in a collateral way, there is always a way to deepen the experience of it. Beyond the “normal” questions of the adult visitors, at some point, the children playing started to ask who the players were. When you work there are things that remain on the sidelines of the research and you know “this could happen”, but it is only when the work is installed and people interact with it that it really happens.

VE –  A way to understand art, almost a quick and short kind of educational process starting from an unusual medium.

THE CC – Well, the works are not really thought as didactics. But they certainly arouse interest. It’s a bit like what happened with Karma Fails. Similarly, here you rely on experiences that are commonly lived outside the context of art. And, through that paradoxically reflective moment, we, as an artist, can actually “hook” you. It’s the trigger that makes the whole project work. This could mean everything, and it doesn’t mean anything in the end. You cannot really produce a statistic and say how much this thing is working or not.


The Cool Couple, MLZ gallery

The Cool Couple, Karma Fails, Flying Mat®, Silence (render), 2016

The Cool Couple, Museo del Novecento, MLZ gallery

The Cool Couple, Karma Fails, installation view, Museo del Novecento, Milan, November 2017


VE – I have a question as a football enthusiast. What is the relationship between art and games, and the ability of events to take you to other conditions of reality? Through video games, attention is carried away from reality…

THE CC –  The videogame is not only the formalization, but the integral part of Emozioni Mondiali. In our opinion, it was interesting to relate the world of gaming and the world of art for three reasons: because there are extremely similar dynamics – self-promotion, for instance: there is an individual who makes an investment on him or herself as if they were their own company, but there is also the whole question of competition and promotion. These topics are present in many areas of the project. And then, there is a whole series of references that touch a very delicate issue that is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles in the fruition of this work. On the one hand, it is a unique experience and, on the other, it has to do with football which, according to a certain stereotyped approach, is the emblem and foundation of pawns, completely passive, that are part of a system of entertainment that elevates and involves them, but that in the end does not provide any chance of emancipation. There was an emblematic case two years ago when Patrick Thistle F.C., a team in the Scottish League, commissioned artist David Shringley to design their new mascotte: Kingsley was an ugly little star man who caused quite a scandal. He scared the children. His head was so big that he couldn’t even wear the team shirt. There was a collision between the world of art and football and many journalists began to write about this mascotte. It was perhaps a symptom of the long wave of strong theories that still see society rigidly structured into cultural taxonomies and hierarchies. We live in a world that is claiming for freedom of expression, but in reality, we are constantly exposed to a very strict compartmentation of society. The figure of the artist is successful just when his practice produces strong frictions in the public – in an environment like football, Kingsley was intended as one of those operations, because of the negative and perplexed reaction in Patrick Thistle’s supporters, while, in reality, Shrigley himself gave a completely different motivation to his work.
For us, it’s extremely interesting, because if there is one thing that’s true, it is that the art system and the world of male association football share very similar dynamics. If you are a football enthusiast in some way you follow the game and you are also aware of the languages that develop within this world: the recognition of a certain football style, the dynamics of the game… the same for art lovers who enter a museum and recognize style and technique of works. In the field of visual culture, only recently attention has been driven to these kinds of dynamics. There’s a new awareness rising, involving the fact that the influence of old theories and prejudices about sports, in general, are still strong.
Today, videogames and football go hand in hand. They move a lot of money and the football professional players themselves play the video game. They even study their opponents’ moves through the simulation provided by it. There are even teams like Paris Saint Germain that hire gamers to use their team in PES’s official competition, dialoguing with them to understand how to improve the performance of the team.


The Cool Couple, Artissima 2018, MLZ gallery

The Cool Couple, Emozioni Mondiali, installation view at MLZ Art Dep gallery, Artissima 2018


VE – Teams are starting to work with professional video-game players, also to improve the predictions of winning on a statistical level. The gamers are able to update the statistics that are taken during a match in order to improve the patterns of play etc. The data analysis in football works a lot. The video game becomes the perfect synthesis for which this connection between reality experienced and reality built or virtual is revealed.

I would now like to ask you this other question about the other works that you have produced and brought to the fair (paintings). They even seem close to the aesthetics of some 90’s soccer jerseys. For example, recently Napoli football team has chosen to propose a uniform that went in 1994. In your stand, there is a repetition of all these cycles and recycles and repetitions of visual and aesthetic.

THE CC – Yes, then trying to make it short, the premise is that our customization process is entirely based on PES2018 editing options featured in the game. The developers have always left this possibility to the gamers, so the latter could overcome the fact that every edition of the videogame didn’t feature many original teams, replacing them with fake ones. Players worldwide collaborate to build the kits in order to let everyone use official names, jerseys, and so on. In recent years, the jerseys’ design relied on jpegs that can be made in Photoshop, increasing exponentially the quality and details of each jersey. You just have to download a square empty layout, open it in Photoshop and then start drawing. This process allows you to reproduce almost everything, like, let’s say, Atalanta’s 1990’s jerseys. The only thing is that the layout you work with requires a bit of understanding because it is a square divided into areas that are meant for the console: it reads them and models those flat areas in 3D meshes. So, the big part of this work was understanding how the layout worked and then conceiving styles and graphic designs for all the teams we wanted to create: the criteria we chose were quite different, trying to combine sportswear styles, a movement’s philosophy, sometimes quoting artworks… Within the limits of what we could do, we tried to respect certain criteria such as chronological ones. Since outside the console, these things exist as abstract patterns that have no relevance to a football uniform, we realized that in the end, we had produced more or less eighty abstract images. At that point, it became obvious to think about the great presence of stereotypes existing in the world of art. The results are hand-painted canvases now on display at the fair. Painting is perhaps the most obvious language quoted when one thinks of art, both at an amateur and professional lever. In addition to this, painting had a strong relation to the chronological period we decided to include in Emozioni Mondiali, since we start from the Renaissance and Mannerism, not only the moment in which art history as a discipline was created, but also the period in which the combination of oil painting and canvas made it capable of traveling. We relied on Chinese websites to which you can send images and they turn them into a painting: as we browsed through the various options on the site, our squares fell into the section of what they called “abstract landscape”. Finally, it has a lot to do with the football world. As if we were two sportswear designers, we drew our jerseys and then delocalized the production. The stills from the videogame also on show at the fair rely instead on all the options available in PES replays, and in videogames in general, that turn you into a videomaker or a photographer. It was useful to bring out a first reflection on the visual dialogue between art and football.


The Cool Couple, Artissima 2018, MLZ gallery

The Cool Couple, Emozioni Mondiali, Documenta HOME, 2018, household gloss on canvas, 145×145 cm


VE – Another artistic work comes to mind with reference to the world of football, that is the portrait that Parreno makes of Zidane: in this modern portrait the relationship between art history and football, or rather the mediatics of football and how football is presented, is also recalled. Clearly there are also many references to cultural studies and scenography. Let’s talk about the way in which you decided to present this work that reminds much of the domestic and familiar context. Not by chance, the ones that approach your stand are many young boys who are going to play with the console.

THE CC – The installation could be seen as a place of abstraction and distraction of the context in which it is exposed through the act of playing. Even at Mambo, where Emozioni Mondiali was presented for the first time, people were taken so out of the context of the museum that they let go of themselves using a language that is much more direct and sincere than what you can have at an exhibition opening. So, for example, sentences like “The Futurists are shit!”… In an exhibition or so you would never say this, but while playing videogames it happens that you simply let go.

VE – The very amusing thing is the overlapping between the football perspective on the game and the artistic one. You can hear phrases that derive from this inevitable overlap between the figure of the artist and the player, such as “Oh god, Boccioni is so slow!”.

THE CC –  There is an impressive liberation of language. Even in art, there are unwritten rules of “bon ton”. For instance, I have opinions, but I feel like I can only express them in a hyper-private context, because even among friends you do not know how much you are in a working context and how much instead you are relaxed and can express your own thoughts. Actually, with a joystick in your hand and your eyes locked to the screen, you are driven by an emphasis that produces comments “out of place”. It’s a beautiful moment because it really breaks up and contrasts with the typical situation of an art fruition, where we are used to wandering around with sheets of paper in hand and pre-packaged texts. Perhaps the world of art is the one that has most of all abandoned the critical aspect and is something we often talk about.


The Cool Couple, Artissima 2018, MLZ gallery

The Cool Couple, Emozioni Mondiali, installation view at MLZ Art Dep gallery, Artissima 2018


VE –  We’ve raised an interesting point, so I would like to compare it to criticism in the world of cinema. In cinema, for example, there is an important tradition of critical figures who then become hybrids, because they become creative actors themselves, or directors, screenwriters, etc. It has been argued that, in the art world, this has been lost: the art critics paradoxically move away from those who make art, moving more and more towards the production of content without content. This lack of knowledge could even lead to inaccurate criticisms, because they are superficial, in the sense that they do not stop to know the whole process behind an artistic creation. For example, your work could be branded as “easy” because it comes with a very attractive interface, an effective contemporary aesthetic, but criticism eventually breaks away from these kinds of things… Now, you have already been involved in other talks at the fair, and we would like to know what you think of these live events, and how much do you think this aspect that we could call performative can enrich and invite the public of professionals and amateurs to approach the world of contemporary art?

NICCOLÒ –  So, I personally say no and I am not a big fan of talks. I got a little disillusioned over time. Attending several talks I always had the impression that they ended up always a bit suspended. Partly because of the shyness of the audience to approach the speakers, partly because sometimes some speakers even do not attend being very well prepared, so you never really get to delve into it. But I think that this lack stems precisely from the approach with a “mixed audience”: that is, for amateurs talks can be the field of new discoveries, but for professionals they can become extremely superficial.

SIMONE – In my opinion the experience of the fair is intense already in itself, because there is always a lot to see and do so talks often find the time they leave. Instead, I find that this dimension (Artissima Live) – where we are actually not doing a talk, we are talking to each other – it could be very interesting. A streaming or podcast production would allow both a live use from those who are visiting the fair or are working or can’t come to Turin, and it could also be an audio archive of materials that can lately be accessed by the public. In fact, it would be especially interesting for professionals who are involved in the exhibition context and perhaps engaged in other areas and who would like to meet and deepen certain topics. Because certainly an interesting point of the fairs is the fact that you can have the opportunity to interact with international professionals from the art world who for a few days are sharing the same spaces together.

VE – More than the talk itself, the interesting aspect is the performing one. As we said before, and in connection with your work, you never expected that the children playing would then ask questions about the history of art collaterally from the names of the teams and players. There is also this sort of update of the various worlds of art and contemporary art. It is very interesting to find these aspects of dialogue and deepening in situations that we could call performative, where the public is involved even more directly, and where the hierarchical scale or sector is completely destroyed. In the end, we must take advantage of these opportunities for spatial, temporal and also social concentration, not so much perhaps for an in-depth study that will certainly take place afterwards, but for an effective circulation of new ways of communicating and approaching.


Emozioni Mondiali, Picasso, 2018, video still, inkjet print on fine art paper, Diasec®, woodframe, 65x100cm

The Cool Couple, Emozioni Mondiali, Picasso, 2018, video still, inkjet print on fine art paper, Diasec®, woodframe, 65x100cm

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by Droste Effect
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