>Metronom: You participated in a symposium organized within the LINZ FMR19, an edition dedicated to the relationship between digital and public space. How do you think the relationship between these two areas is evolving? The ephemeral characterizing digital media, how does it find space in the public context?
>Vincenzo Estremo: I believe, unfortunately, that what has established itself is a problematic condition between digital and public space. This dimension has often been underestimated also because up to now we have been “greedy” for visibility and connectivity. Unfortunately, in one way or another, we are witnessing a commercial re-occupation of the public space also thanks to, or because of, digital. If in the Nineties the intention was to occupy the space with Reclaim the Streets and if subsequently the network was seen in a diffused cognitive dimension and thought as a Knowledge Zone to which the digitalization and the capillaryisation of the internet in the public space was associated, today these examples are collapsing into a sort of hypermediation which, as Richard Grusin claims, attacks the public (in this case both space and body). One of the dimensions that seems least to belong to this relationship is the critical one and it is precisely to this dimension that I hope that art will be interested in the next few years because otherwise we run the risk of accepting the compromise of connectivity for commercial purposes only.
>M: Another of the reflections that animated the festival, is the element of ephemeral, of transitory nature of digital expression, which requires and implies an intense overlapping action of different layers of meaning. We can also find this attitude in “Droste Effect” experience. I think of “Bulletin”, printed publications, digital editions and the last intervention “Stressed, Blessed and Coffee Obsessed”. Can you tell us about it?
>VE: When Linz FMR invited me to attend the symposium, I was explicitly asked to work on ephemeral concept. Until now I have often worked on the phenomenal manifestations of digital and those impacting (but invisible) infrastructures of new media and internet. I have tried, for example, to work on a critical deconstruction of big IT companies’ narrative strategies, reconstructing, together with Alessio Chierico, the forms of Western Christian iconography that are the basis of data centres’ story of immateriality and ubiquity. In Linz I tried to reverse the subject and I didn’t mind at all. It all started with a Google mailing campaign that asked me and millions of other users to re-archive on a rigid support any content uploaded on Google+, something I’m still doing research on and I hope will flow into a book at sooner. As for the final Bulletin of Stressed, Blessed and Coffee Obsessed project, I think it was very interesting to work with Debora Delmar, precisely because thanks to our approach it was possible to investigate the banality of so-called coffee culture’s hypermediation. Something that is erasing, through a vacuous and aesthetic overexposure of drinking coffee gesture in public places, any form of negativity connected to the coffee industry. Debora Delmar is a very attentive artist, almost obsessed by the logic of corporate storytelling and it was really nice to work with her. I love the way Delmar herself becomes a corporation and I’m really happy that her work is coming to Italy.
>M: In your essay “The war of digital image”, published in the volume “Generazione Critica. Fotografia in Europa dopo le grandi scuole”, you talk about the relationship between artistic image and media image. Do you think that their hybridization, conditions the use and production of video?
Before that edition of Generazione Critica I thought I was perhaps not the right person to talk about photography, but I thought, then as now, that the debate had to be extended to something wider. Actually I can produce a reflection only on the narrative side. I always thought myself as a writer, and actually I wrote and published a book of stories and I still write, even if I don’t have time to edit what I write. It was the summer of 2014 and after accepting to take part in the conference I found the key to telling the story that should have been told at that time in Europe. The Internet was invaded and / or perturbed by the debate around Daesh videos on beheadings of US journalists and on that occasion I thought that my story had to start from a series of questions about the media conditioning of those rough images. In short, I wanted to talk about visual culture, and broaden the field of reflection around photography and contemporary art. What was happening that summer was a sort of battle for reality, a concept that today can only embody a reactionary turning point. The populism, the one of Daesh as well as that which today governs most of the “western democracies”, tries, in every way, to univocally define real people, noting that anyone who does not fit into certain canons is nothing but unreal. The images are the strategic tools of populism in this redefinition of reality that is, and can only be, a brutal display of people (if I were able, I would pronounce as Trump the word “people”) in their contexts and their impulses thought as legitimate. Art, and most of all the production of moving images, has been able to work in recent years with respect to this constant intersection between public image, imposed image and media image. Artists, and I think of Omer Fast and before him Harun Farocki and Hito Steyerl, worked on image identity, considering it as something that constantly changes its status. These artists, thinking and rethinking the image, underlined its punitive and quantitative nature, the viral emptying, the dematerialisation, the loss of reference, and they still highlighted the commercial methods. But the most convincing thing is that they did this with disarming lightness and absurd complexity, without excluding any form of investigation. Art sometimes has the freedom that does not belong to science research, both human and hard. So if on one hand hybridization is a fact – circulationism, to put it in the words of Steyerl, produces hybrids – on the other hand critical precision is one of the most important qualities and functions of art today. A precision in function of a meta-reflection that sheds light on media without prescribing any dominant vision.
>M: Linz and Udine, the cities where you have carried out your doctorate, are border towns, somehow decentralized, but both devoted to interdisciplinary research around new media. How do you consider these cities, in terms of critical research and artistic enjoyment, even compared to a city like Milan, where today you teach?
>VE: Both Linz and Udine were two academic stages of my doctoral education. I chose Udine because there was the best doctorate in audiovisual studies in Italy, the one where Andrea Lissoni had studied and where the relationships between Cinema and Art were dealt with in the context of moving images. I then went to Linz for questions related to media studies, the city was defined by the UNESCO City of Media Arts. But more than these two cities, the place that profoundly changed me was Istanbul. I lived in Turkey for almost three years, I went through and experienced the years of Islamic terrorism and the recrudescence of conflict with Kurdish communities, the coup in 2016 and authoritarianism of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In Istanbul I learned to get out of art world, to live on the edge of the comfort zone of art world and I formed, from a personal point of view on issues related to contemporary media that are today the basis of my teachings in NABA in Milan. In Istanbul, with its bans, I happened to reflect on the contradictory way in which technology produces ever more universal aspirations – from cyberspace to Internet – and on how it actually functions for segregation. Behaviors fed like a subjectivating cloud, or an organized depression entrusted to clouds. In Turkey I have often thought of the way in which the management of technological identity is linked to the effort of popular inclusiveness by populist rights, and how it works through the action of those who are commonly called trolls. I know it may seem paradoxical, but the isolation in which I lived in Istanbul allowed me to reflect on the current reactionary identity policies and on how these policies anticipate and then assist the increasingly pervasive technological systems (see above on media and public space). Istanbul was my gym for a heretical thought that today I try to channel in my lessons and in my Milanese activities. Istanbul and Milan are paradoxically similar and are certainly the two cities that I love the most, along with the metropolitan area of Naples where everything originated…. but this is another story.
Vincenzo Estremo (Caserta, 1980) holds an International Research Doctorate in Audiovisual Studies (University of Udine and Kunstuneversität Linz) with a thesis on the historiographical function of video art after 11 September. He has curated exhibitions of contemporary art in Italy and Europe, collaborating in the realization of events at Van Abbemuseum, Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado and Salzamt Linz. Author of contributions published in national and international journals and anthologies, he has recently published “Albert Serra, cinema, art and performance” (2018) and “Extended Temporalities. Transient Visions in Museum and Art” (2016) and a collection of his stories “Omero e altri uomini illustri” (2009) won the ICEBERG young artists award in the literature section. He directs the series in English “Cinema and Contemporary Art” for the publisher Mimesis International. He currently teaches “Theory and method of mass media” and “Film Curating”at the New Academy of Fine Arts in Milan (NABA) after holding seminars at Sapienza University of Rome and Bilgi University in Istanbul. Since 2015 he is among the scientific coordinators of the Film Forum International Film Studies Conference and member of the steering committee for MAGIS Spring School of Gorizia where he co-directs the section of Cinema and Contemporary Art. From 2013 he is among the founders and editor in chief of the online magazine Droste Effect.