Your work seems a visual outworking of an inner conversation that seeks to answer questions about creative consciousness, its processes and sensory results. Please discuss for us how philosophy of mind, technology and art blend together to create your original approach.
I don’t believe that I can explain various elements that influence my work in a scientific way, or rather, the fact that I use them does not necessarily mean that I also know how to explain them. To some extent your question already contains the answer: there are three elements in my work that coexist. Philosophy of mind, in the sense of identity, conscience and language; Technology, in the choice of a medium that often allows me to express and reinterpret my imagination in an “innovative” way; and finally Art. I interpret this as the mastery of a sign, of a style, employing a personal and mysterious procedure that is built up and refined over time (occasionally remaining a prisoner of mere virtuosity), and which leads to unpredictable but subjectively powerful formal results. The outcome is something the artist sees as “necessary”: in the artist’s eyes (and in the eyes of those who appreciate the result), the artwork seems to have its own disruptive “need to exist”.
To me, your entire body of work has been an investigation into art’s fundamental nature. In your processes you’ve examined the diverse methodologies behind creation. You have also broken down the elements necessary for wonderful artistic production. You have also even created technologies through which novel production can occur. Now, in seeing how easy it is to form beautiful depictions from the correct constituents, and also how easy it is for anything today to be called “art” with re-contextualisation (as demonstrated by Duchamp with his readymades), where does this leave Art for you, and what becomes its fullest meaning?
If you mean my collage and mixed media production then it’s true — it’s amazing how combining selected elements can create incredible new formal universes. You may also be referring to “Mixerpiece” app, where I tried to make this concept accessible to everyone, especially children. Returning to your question, though, I never took the “readymade” aspect of Duchamp seriously. Then again, he didn’t take it seriously himself, even if his critics didn’t realise this. When a critic asked him how the “readymades” should be viewed, he replied evasively, ironically, saying that they should not be viewed, but that they are there in any case! With that in mind, it is hard to answer the question, since the word Art defies all definition. If we go back to cave paintings, from 40,000 years ago, we all agree that this is the first artform of our ancestors. I love it in every way, and I would say there is no semantic difference between it and the great art that we have seen throughout the ages. We all agree that, although styles have changed continuously over time, the premise of a human being, with just a few colours, covering a surface with different shapes to leave a message or face the idea of death, has always remained unchanged. Perhaps right up to Duchamp’s provocation with his “Fontain”. I believe that much of the art world hit a dead end from that moment on.
In your very informative and interesting TedxTalk, you spoke about artificiality and its mechanical perfection, about how human creative manifestation embraces happy accidents and imperfection, which becomes a sign of a purer creativity. From this line of thinking, I must ask if you believe perfection to be something actual? If so, is perfection only flawed if and when computers produce it? Isn’t flaw itself as a classification as homogeneous as perfection?
Randomness is a fundamental element in my work. Most of my works are the result of a long process of metamorphosis where shapes are constantly transformed, in search of a more “authentic” and, as I was saying, more “necessary” formal result than what arises from the traditional illustrative process. Over the years I have also begun to use digital processes to capture this process. In my Tedx I talked about how chance and imperfection are fundamental aspects of the artistic process (as well as in life and in our own evolution). It’s these aspects that still distinguish us from the various forms of artificial intelligence, which are perfect, efficient and flawless according to their rules. I concluded my speech by saying that “there is still one thing that machines can not yet replicate authentically, but only simulate, and that is our ‘beautiful imperfection”. However, we tend to force ideal models on reality that exclude all forms of disorder and imperfection. You only have to look at the models of beauty, success and perfection imposed by our society. Perfection is a cold idea, and a concept that by definition does not need to change. If we were already perfect, there would never have been any need to evolve. To answer your question, I would say that perfection does not exist in the real world. It’s an ideal, which at most can serve as a model. The mathematical processes and algorithms of machines are perfect in their own way, but they prevent machines from experiencing authentic beauty, from having an intuition or an idea, bypassing the rules of pure rationality. I believe the beauty created by humankind, whether an artform or a form of love or poetic expression, can also be perfect in its way, and fleetingly capture something very similar to the concept of “perfection”. At times, when eating a Greek salad overlooking the sea, I’ve thought that I’ve found perfection! I challenge any modern computer to experience the same thing.
Because we all share a limited amount of technologies, this can make artists’ work look and sound similar. The rise of personal production from music to film has had a homogenising effect creatively that no one will deny. Creativity of concepts always define and separate “artists” from each other, but how does one escape producing work that resembles others in their field when everyone is relying upon the same collection of core tools (though through different pipelines I acknowledge)? Is this where analogue methods can supersede digital? Or do creatives just need to use software in newer unexpected ways to remain distinctive?
If you think about it, artists were once limited to colours, brushes, chisels and a few other tools, but look at the extraordinary variety and beauty that was produced with that technology alone. I think having so many technologies at our disposal, and all the design languages they enable, can be a wonderful opportunity for artists. I always say we need to “dominate” this technology, and make it work for our vision and ideas. With technology alone, without ‘control’, we will only move towards general homogenisation. I am quite sure that even some great masters of the past would have used technology in an incredible way if they’d had our means at their disposal.
You share a respect for art history and do not shy away from giving respect to great painters who came before you. In fact, you embrace the best of what they have done. Given the social discussions about race and human difference lately, does an underlying conversation about humanity or its nature exist beneath your eclectic formula (how you make unities out of parts)? Being a father, what is your view on discussions about human difference in the world today?
My language has its roots in tradition. In some ways I consider myself a small link between tradition and our technological and digital world. I don’t like to be my own critic, but when looking at my work from a distance, I think it is very focused on the theme of identity. Identity is not something fixed and immutable, assigned to us forever. It’s a reality in the making, which evolves continuously (just like my metamorphoses). It evolves with the “other”. Rimbaud used to say, “I is another”: our identity is defined and built primarily in the context of the relationship with the other, with that which is different. Without the other we would be nothing. We would be ‘nobody’. When I work, I do so in a completely intuitive way, continually improvising, never with a ‘goal’ in mind, at least conceptually. But perhaps this is what my work examines: the importance of otherness, and of (random) encounters in their infinite forms.
Many of your pieces value movement. Some of your works have been visual explorations of live painting as if narrative, as though you’re in search of something. Is this process a form of inventive meditation for you? Or is it cathartic maybe? Or perhaps a personal game in search for inner satisfaction? What does your process mean to you?
I would say it’s a combination of all of those factors, but most of all, as I was saying about my creative process and pictorial metamorphoses, it’s centred on randomness. It’s a sort of continual improvisation, similar to that of a jazz musician. It’s the only way I can find what I’m looking for, a kind of formal “purity” that I’m unable to obtain another way. In my digital gears series, though, as well as my love for randomness and combining different elements, there is also a profoundly ‘rational’ and scientific aspect to it, which does not usually feature (or perhaps to a less obvious extent) in my analogue works or in my metamorphoses. The gears, by their “mechanical” nature, must be in some way perfect, and their individual parts must fit together without margin for error. It’s a strange blend of randomness and rationality.
To speak about process, I know that you have utilised both Adobe After Effects and a software suite called Triplex Toolkit (among others) for motion capture to digitally make seamless movement in your past paintings and collage. Could you discuss for us the process used for your film “The Kiss”? Is analogue animation (though slower) ever superior to motion capture?
I think I was one of the first to use that kind of motion capture in an artistic way, using one of the first Kinect cameras to create an interactive software program that I called “The interactive collage machine”. I made it using Quartz composer, with the help of the open source Tryplex toolkit. I worked on it for months, and it let you move a “collage” character in real time, controlling various parts of the image by moving different parts of your body. The Kiss, on the other hand, is one of my best-known digital works, and also one of the first. It’s exactly what I was saying before: the union of technology and tradition. It’s based on the video track of a real kiss and made of 60 collages placed on the video frames, using parts of famous Renaissance paintings. Finally, I edited those 60 collages using a morphing technique to create fluid movement between the various images.
In times past you have expressed joy in being a creative who was born in our time of technological expression. Seeing that you have been an early adopter of emerging creative technologies, do you have any predictions on what will next change art monumentally? With this in mind, could you share any upcoming or current projects where our audience can indulge in your magnificently thoughtful work?
As I said, I love cave paintings as much as I love Picasso and Bacon, but I try to understand what has happened during all this time. So to elaborate a little: Imagine a modern trimaran that literally flies above the water thanks to its two aerodynamic “foil” side wings — the latest technological evolution. It’s pushed along by wind force alone, easily exceeding 100 km/h, without an engine of any kind. The technology was once a simple caravel, or a fast brigantine at the very most. Let’s apply the same technological leap to visual arts: I don’t mean cinema, but holograms, digital images, visual algorithms, artificial intelligence. I’m talking flat or folding screens that look like a painting but are actually digital, or morphing, or the various digital techniques that I also use.
This is different from cave paintings, but in its highest form it is still real art, and the result of an extraordinary but consistent evolution. It’s art that continues to reflect and say something about us and the world we live in. It represents us. I believe that much of contemporary art does not do us justice: it’s complete fancy, and provocation for its own sake. Philippe Daverio, a great critic who sadly passed away recently, who I had the honour of knowing and who wrote a wonderful piece about my works, rightly said that societies recognise themselves in the artworks that those societies “produce”. It is therefore obvious that a foolish society like the one we’re living in has iconic moments of equal foolishness: emptiness begets emptiness. As it evolves, I would like art to partially follow some of the “rules” that it was founded upon: even if it uses increasingly advanced technologies, it should not forget its origins, just like the flying trimaran on foils is still fundamentally a sailboat powered by wind! As for my own future projects, I’m working on several fronts. I’m making the projected scenes for a play and for a modern circus. I’m designing a new app that can invent short fairy tales for children and also illustrate them! For an enterprising Italian company working in AI, together with a team of data scientists, I’m designing a kind of artificial intelligence that can create collages! Finally, I’ve also entered the world of NFTs (I sold my first NFT a few days ago), working with the first Italian startup in the crypto art space, “Reasoned Art”.
All images with courtesy of Giuseppe Ragazzini