Explore the Gallery! – unhinging the space

Immersive, interactive and self-generative installation

Center for the Arts, Design and Visual Culture – UMBC University, MD – April 2013

     “Explore the Gallery” is a situation specific installation aiming to articulate the space of the CADVC gallery at UMBC university in Baltimore. This interactive and self-generative installation is intended to create an immersive experience that reflects the peculiarity of Baltimorean public spaces (as I experienced them during my 3 years long stay in Baltimore) in relation to general contemporary public spaces, i.e. spaces that emphasize aspects of mobility and migration, rather than permanence and dwelling. The ephemeral nature of contemporary public spaces is accentuated also by the huge amount of electronic media that are embedded in them. My piece aims to question the way these new media are affecting the perception and use of public spaces (traditionally dominated by the exclusive medium of architecture), as well as social relations.

The installation is made of the following parts:
#1 30 vertical LED strips controlled by 5 Arduino boards and activated by ultrasonic sensors;
#2 Mirroring plates on the floor;
#3 Self generative projection controlled by MAX/MSP/Jitter; spy cam; mirrors on the walls.

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Wandering through Venice

     One Sunday morning, of ten years ago, I woke up early and left my home in Venice. I had no destination nor work to do. I just felt I needed a walk.
     Suddendly, I found myself out of my usual directions: Santa Margherita, Le Zattere or at the most Rialto area. More incredibly I found myself entering in a church: the splendid Santa Maria della Salute.
Sacrestia SMS
On the left Tintoretto’s “Nozze di Cana”. On the right Titian’s “Davide e Golia”

     What drove me inside wasn’t a religious sense, so natural in a grey Sunday morning, but an indication reporting the names of “Tiziano” and “Tintoretto” together, on a yellow plate. Other indications led me through a narrow elliptic vertiginous corridor into the Sacristy of the church and there I stood in astonishment (by the way, the ticket was only €2, which was awesome, wasn’t it?).

     A huge painting dominating the wide aula representing The Wedding at Cana made by Tintoretto, captured my attention and kept it for long time since I noticed all around numerous other paintings of smaller dimensions as interesting and fascinating as the enormous canvas was. On them I identified immediately what was out of doubt Titian’s touch and then I shuddered.

     It is too easy to describe why such paintings attract me. They are so beautiful, so magnetic, so fascinating, so delightful. I could ignore the themes represented, I might know nothing about Renaissance history, style and ideology, I may know nothing about Tintoretto or Titian but still I would love to contemplate such works, even if they were in the sterile light of a contemporary museum and not in the beautiful and suggestive atmosphere of the baroque Sacristy of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice. Beautiful paintings have the power of tossing our deepest emotional inside, so hardly that cases of people suffering intense psycho-physical pain looking at them – an extreme reaction to beautifulness known as Stendhal’s syndrome – aren’t uncommon.
Sacrestia SMS
     I often wondered if I may feel the same emotion looking at a piece of contemporary art. I must admit that often contemporary artworks leave me indifferent or even bother me. There were few cases when I experienced a powerful emotional response to art and it happened when I encountered in a gallery some Pollock’s and Kandinsky’s works. I realized then that looking at a contemporary painting is a singular experience of contemplation and not, as I believed before, a question of understanding, of reading a beautiful and meaningful representation.

     Nonetheless, when I visited an exhibition of German expressionists I was unable to exercise any contemplation at all in front of deformed figures, human sick bodies, sinister portraits of Nazis, landscapes of ruined cities. I felt instead a wide set of negative emotions as disgust, horror, pain, etc. For many days after, my thoughts were concentrated upon the horrors human nature is able to perpetrate. The exhibition taught me how a piece of art may be socially and politically involved and how many critical reflections might be inspired by it. This is indeed a new demand art has been called to respond to since, as Walter Benjamin claimed, changes in technology, lead by reproduction means, have destroyed the traditional “aura” of art, that aura so tangible in a Tintoretto’s painting. The lack of aura should be compensate, suggests Benjamin, by other components, first of all a socio-political engagement.
Sacrestia SMS
     All those experiences made me aware that what interests me most in a work of art is its complexity. Nothing attracts me more than an experience able to demand to my whole being a response that I do not expect at all and that involves big part of my emotions, feelings, thoughts, critical skills, even sensations, if not eventually – but I haven’t experienced it yet – my psycho-physical stability (Stendhal syndrome).

Women’s role in society and Art

“Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size”.

Virginia Woolf


Women’s condition and role in society and art, through a comparative reading of Balzac’s novella The Unknown Masterpiece, Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and Yasmina Reza’s play Art.

     Women’s presence in the realm of Art, in any contributory form (except as models) as artists, viewers, critics, collectors or connoisseurs has been very spare in History. Women have been accepted in art, through the centuries, mostly in the form of a subject or, more appropriately speaking, as an object prone to male artist action of observation, representation, expression and depiction. According to this notion, Balzac’s novella The Unknown Masterpiece includes a female character in a story involving substantially three male artists.

     Collectors and viewers, who traditionally were exclusively male, have also considered women as an object but in a different way than artists. For them women were mere targets of their gaze, i.e. an object of desire. Whatever that desire means, possession, eroticism, aesthesia, romanticism, it is often (if not always) identifiable with a psychological complex of male superiority. Women represent for men, as Virginia Woolf claims in the quotation above, a motivational force for powerful existential agency. In Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray such psychological inclination may be directly identified in Dorian Gray through his relationship with the secondary female characters he encounters. In a more diaphanous way Yasmina Reza’s play Art regards women in the same relation of dependence with men. The play involves only three characters, three male friends arguing about art. In their conversations they mention eventually some women referring to them as male “possessions” or “acquisitions”.

     Any of the three works of literature, The Unknown Masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Art, may be summarized as a story about three men and a painting. With painting it is intended oil painting on canvas. I think this detail is relevant since, according to John Berger, oil painting is the medium that “did to appearances what capital did to social relations: it reduced everything to the equality of objects. Everything became exchangeable because everything became a commodity”. Women’s appearance and objectification, in art as well as in society, will be the central topic of this essay.

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Immaterial work and impersonal body in computational age

Seed Drawings from clement valla on Vimeo.

Seed Drawings (2011)
collective drawings through an online labor marketplace called Amazon Mechanical Turk, software

     In the last fifty years digital computers have extended exponentially the quantity and quality of media used in the production of art. If twentieth-century had persistently tended “to question the long tradition of painting as the privileged medium of representation” [Rush 2005], contaminating the canvas with everyday materials as clothes and newspapers (Picasso and Braque), dripping and pouring it (Pollock), slashing it (Fontana) or puncturing it (Shimamoto), today the canvas may seem even unimportant, a marginal medium in the mass of all the available ones. In this mass, digital media are predominant.

     Representation is today a wide and indecipherable milieu. It is open to accept everything it may be useful to the artist to express himself and his ideas, whether a precious material or a mundane one. It is open to use every kind of technology, whether analogic or digital, whether derived from high engineering or from the tradition of arts&crafts. The physicality of the work of art is also questioned as well as the way the viewer is called to respond to it. Virtual reality or videogames are extreme examples of all these aspects and they show also how contemporary art is able to offer an experience that may be completely immaterial and extremely interactive, following radically Duchamp’s statement that “the viewer completes a work of art”.

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Structures of knowledge

Matthew Ritchie

Proposition Player (2003)
paper, prints, light-box drawings, floor-to-wall installations, freestanding sculpture[2]

     American based, English born artist Matthew Ritchie has a big ambition. He attempts in his practice “to represent the entire universe and the structures of knowledge and belief that we use to understand and visualize it”.

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    Drawing, like writing, is a way of conveying information. Leonardo’s, Filippo Juvarra’s, Giambattista Piranesi’s drawings, as well as Altamira Cave’s (Spain) graffiti are good examples of such a claim. If we start with this assumption we could easily extend to visual arts the same prerogative. Painting conveys information, sculpturing does it as well and so on. Computer code also, or microbiological unities, such as cells or DNA, conveys information. Everything in the whole universe seems to be in a certain measure a carrier of information. Everything seems to supply or store data.

    How do we process such information? In other words, how do we assign meanings to this infinite complex of facts and data?

    Processing is a selective task. We need selection to process a cloud of information unless we want to keep it as noise. In our life we process information on a regular basis. We select relevant information relegating in a lower level minor details, ignoring meaningless elements, in order to make decisions. Computers have suggested that the most difficult processing task is only a matter of scale. With the appropriate power of calculation the largest amount of information may be processed and reduced in a relatively simple and quick way. So, the most difficult and challenging tasks are just a question of insufficient processing power. The entire universe, in its infinity and with all its mysteries may be seen through this informational paradigm and God himself may be regarded as an infinite source of calculation (ref. on this subject, N. Katherine Hayles’ work, in particular “How We Became Posthuman” and “My Mother Was a Computer”).

    Seeing Art as a way of conveying, processing, organizing or even destroying or deteriorating (e.g. with viruses or noise) information is becoming a recurrent subject in digital arts and Matthew Ritchie’s work and practice are remarkable in this sense. For this short essay I chose semiotics as a privileged critical point of view.

True North – Relational Aesthetics strategies

Collaboration – 2 Ch. Video Installation for a theatrical performance

The Dreyer MFA Group Theater – Towson University, MD – November 2011

     True North is a theatrical piece conceived and directed by director and performer Andrea Crnkovic, shown at The Dreyer MFA Group Theater – Center for the Arts, Towson University (MD) on November 2011. True North aims to address psychological states involved in travelling, when one’s physical and sensorial activity is subservient to his own imagination and thoughts and a subtle alienation emerges due to a fast, constant, paced moving that makes surrounding spaces intangible…

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     Here is a collaborative trans-media piece conceived by Andrea Crnkovic for which I was responsible in designing projections and sound. I created a two channel video installation that aimed to shape the space of a theatrical performance transforming it in an immersive environment. Also I tried to offer to the whole project a complex of visual elements able to stimulate unexpected interactions for the use of the performers and an engaging experience in the viewers. In this way I believe my contribution wasn’t merely to design projections and sound; I was applying instead relational aesthetic strategies.

     During my practice as an architect I have been often involved in collaborations. I love collaborations since they open new conceptual, operational, artistic perspectives through a dialog with others, which is always an extraordinary source of inspiration. Nevertheless collaborations in art are something controversial. Art has been considered traditionally mostly as an individual creation: one single author is privileged according to a “genius” paradigm inherited from centuries of art making. The Sistine Chapel is undoubtedly considered a Michelangelo’s creation even though many collaborators were involved in its accomplishment: Giuliano Da Sangallo, Francesco Amatori, Jacopo l’Indaco and many others. There is no glory for them. I mentioned Michelangelo purposely, since he has been considered incorrectly the quintessence of the individual, solitary, averse artist even though historical documents demonstrate he was, on the contrary, a very collaborative person.

     The requirement of Originality in art makes collaboration a minor feature. Such issue has been widely addressed in recent art theory and criticism, for example in discourses in connection with “relational aesthetics” as well as in artistic practices (John Cage & Merce Cunningham, Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Gilbert and George). For a congruent summary about this topic it may be of interest this article: [Collaboration and Originality by Dr. Nancy Roth]. Also, it may be of interest [Relational Aesthetics by Nicolas Bourriaud].

Aliemplation: matching the unmatchable

2 Channel Video Installation

IN/FLUX Gallery – Baltimore – October 2011

     Aliemplation is a hybrid word composed by the two irreconcilable terms of Alienation and Contemplation. Conceived specifically for an art exhibition held at IN/FLUX Gallery in Baltimore on October 2011 titled “INDEX”, this piece aims to address exclusionary processes indwelled in indexing, i.e. a normalization of the categories involved in a discourse, as a rational and systematic strategy that produces inevitably “otherness”.

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     Here is one of my most recent works. In this piece I moved my first steps into site specificity and institutional critique, two very interesting and open-ended art fields, which mean to me a way of investigating a place and at the same time of questioning the possible meanings that place may have in relation with its institutional holders and its visiting beholders. Probably due to my architectural background I find these topics really interesting. Inspired by such artists as Daniel Buren, Gordon Matta-Clark, Michael Asher, Lee Lozano, Walter De Maria, Lawrence Weiner, Adrian Piper, Dan Graham, etc. my aim is to activate context in relation with subjectivity, outer reality with the inner one. I used here my preferred media: video projections, architecture and sound, as well of course as my own body.


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