Carlo Zanni: The Sandman and other projects from Mars at Paul Young Gallery

On November 14th, Young Projects Gallery in Los Angeles hosted an exclusive one-day sale event featuring the work of some thirty new media artists from around the world. Because of the exceptional success of the initiative, however, the gallery not only announced the extension of the sale at least until the opening of the next show on December 13th, it even considers to develop it into a long-term project curated alongside regular gallery shows.

Located in the prestigious Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, Young Project Gallery—a 8,000 sq. ft. versatile project space—serves both as an exhibitions platform for video artists and a laboratory for moving image experiments. Its owner, the acclaimed curator, filmmaker, and journalist Paul Young—the author of Art Cinema (Taschen, 2009)—, dedicated his entire career to the investigation and the promotion of video and moving image design as a consistent art practice. Thanks to its high-quality exhibition program and persistent advocacy efforts, Young Projects Gallery is today the most important catalyst for video art on the West Coast. Moreover, it is one of the very few spaces in the world to be devoted exclusively to the circulation of an artistic medium whose commercialization—unlike its appreciation—is still scarcely widespread.

The Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, CA

The Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA, home to the Young Projects Gallery. Photo © Young Project Gallery

By means of this special sale event, Paul Young intends to offer young and established video artists an actual platform to sell their mostly digitally supported creations as they were “traditional” art products such as paintings, fashion design, books, or music. For this purpose, he selected works that would appear in the form of or in combination with an actual object, such as a print, a sculpture, or a publication.

The Project Space at Young Project Gallery

The Project Space at Young Project Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. Photo © Young Project Gallery

One of the most interestingly presented “items” on sale is undoubtedly Carlo Zanni’s new video work The Sandman. This four minute long iPhone video utilizes a highly advanced but yet nostalgic-looking device for video playing known as video in print. Originally launched as a marketing tool, the video in print consists of a small LCD screen mounted into a classic book cover. It is designed to fulfill two different purposes: when used autonomously, it offers the same intimate experience the viewer would get while reading an actual book; when connected to a computer or projector though, it enables a larger audience to watch the video in high resolution. While this technology has grown to a popular distribution method in many business areas today, Carlo Zanni is one of the very few—if not the first—artist to adopt it for the propagation of video art.

Carlo Zanni, Young Projects Gallery

Carlo Zanni, The Sandman (cover and sleeve), 2013, video in print. Photo © Carlo Zanni

Carlo Zanni, The Sandman, 2013, video in print. Photo © Carlo Zanni

Carlo Zanni, Young Projects Gallery

Carlo Zanni, The Sandman (interior), 2013, video in print. Photo © Carlo Zanni

The Sandman shows the hands of the artist scraping the dirt accumulated on the bottom of his computer mouse. This mixture of sweat, dust, and fragments of skin is then collected in a small sample container and labeled with an adhesive tag. Subsequently, the tag is “tested” with an Euro Tester Pen, a marker used to verify the veracity of banknotes. As the transparent ink turns purplish, the experiment shows that the tested paper is not real money. Finally, the container is positioned off screen where a multitude of similar dirt samples—all labeled and tested with the Euro Tester Pen—are stapled on each other to create a somewhat grisly collection of organic remains. The video then restarts from the beginning and so does this seemingly meaningless process of scraping and collecting dirt in a endless loop.



Carlo Zanni (°1975 in La Spezia, Italy) is a digital artist whose practice involves a variety of media ranging from video to sculpture, installation, and photo. But first and foremost, he works with bytes. He spent the last fifteen years of his career exploring the infinite possibilities of the digital universe and using the web to develop what he calls “time-based social consciousness experiences.” Departing from the idea that the internet has become an essential component of our existence with the power of influencing our daily life as well as our behavior, Carlo Zanni uses web data generated by a wide range of websites and online applications to feed the digital “brain” of his works. By doing so, he confers his works a variable nature, as their meaning and appearance change following the update of the information on the web and the consequent afflux of new data. One of his last video works called Iterating My Way Into Oblivion (2010), for instance, is influenced by the periodical changes that You Tube introduces in its Terms of Service. Another video from 2010, entitled My Temporary Visiting Position From The Sunset Terrace Bar, captures the sky of Naples (Italy) at sunset in real time from a webcam. Self Portrait With Dog is a photo from 2008 featuring the artist and his dog taken with (of rather by) Google Maps Street View.  In a similar way, all of Carlo Zanni’s works are based on information and images available on the internet. For this reason, one could consider his visible work (the video, the sculpture, or the photo he develops on the basis of these web data) as the visual feedback or the public interface of the ingenious but invisible digital system behind each of his projects.

In this sense, his latest work The Sandman forms an exception. Although this video is not directly “connected” to the internet, it still marks a milestone in Carlo Zanni’s career as a digital artist. It is an instrument for self-reflection as well as a statement, and it offers a glimpse into both the past and the future of his practice since it illustrates the complex work situation of contemporary artists in general and of new media artists in particular. The dirt accumulated under the computer mouse represents the organic residue of the invisible creative process that occurs in the artist’s mind. Due to the immateriality of the medium he deals with (bytes), the material return he gets from his work is often disproportionate to the exorbitant amount of labor, research, and risk he invests in it. In the video, this becomes clear from the negative response of the Euro Tester Pen, which shows that the tested paper (the artist’s work) is not real money. However, even those works not leading to any financial income for the artist are worth to be cultivated and exhibited, as they contribute to the cultural wellbeing of the entire community bringing new ideas, stimulating debate, and instigating change. As the artist suggests through the title of this work, the effects of these projects—as well as of art in general—on our society are as beneficial as the magical sand the Sandman, a mythical character from Northern European folklore, sprinkles onto the eyes of sleeping children to bring them good dreams.

Apart from poetic analogies and idealistic theories on the role of art in our society, artists like Carlo Zanni do need a material return from their work in order to live. With this purpose in mind, he has recently launched a new project in collaboration with Mirko Rizzi, director of Marselleria Art Space in Milan, Italy, called P€OPLE ¥rom MAR$. This initiative aims to provide artists who work with new media such as sound, video, and web with an on-line platform to circulate and sell their works of art in a download-friendly format and at affordable prices. What makes P€OPLE ¥rom MAR$ an absolutely cutting edge project, however, is the fact that it’s conceived as a cooperative organization:  each time a member realizes a sale, part of the income is redistributed among all other members of the platform, while another small percentage is assigned to the maintenance of the platform itself.

P€OPLE ¥ROM MAR$ was also the main topic of a presentation brought by Carlo Zanni last 19 October at Eyebeam in New York on the occasion of a panel series entitled Performing Change. The event focused on alternative aesthetics and economic models which, just like Carlo Zanni and Mirko Rizzi’s P€OPLE ¥rom MAR$, are designed to rethink—if not revolutionize—contemporary art practices.

A special thanks goes to Carlo Zanni and Paul Young for their essential support in the realization of this article.

Carlo Zanni, The Sandman, Young Projects Gallery, Los Angeles, Novemeber 14th - December 13th, 2013.

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