Within the project GAME OVER, addressed to researching and studying new “cultural entities” engaged in future reconstruction, we met Valentino Catricalà, curator, scholar, and now Director of the Soda Gallery in Manchester. We discussed about the relationship between art, technology, economics, research, and about the “artist as inventor”, subject and title of his latest book. The conversation was held on Google Zoom on December 29, 2020 between Anita Calà, Valentino Catricalà, and Elena Giulia Rossi.
E.G.R. Valentino, you specialise in art and technology, but you are also a visionary curator, always striving to bring a lot of alternative disciplines into the system. We’re interested in what you think about our search for a new generation of hybrids/inventors.
Valentino Catricala: “Visionary”… thank you, I’ll take it in the positive sense, of course (laughs). I focused on the relationship between art and technology during my PhD, combining my studies in Cinema and Media, which were my formative disciplines, with those of art history. I found this particular connection very interesting. At that time (I’m talking about a few years ago!) very few of us were interested in these issues. Today the topic is much more common. This is also thanks to technology’s current pervasiveness. In fact, I think that the relationship between artists and technology is changing (the subject of my forthcoming book, The Artists as Inventor, Rowman & Littlefield, London) and that a new relationship is being generated between art and innovation, between artists, research centres and companies in the sector. Artists have always worked with industries or companies, with technicians and engineers, but this relationship is currently changing.
For example, we’re no longer surprised when the concept of creativity is applied to the business environment or management. In this context, however, creativity used to mean either something very general or a reference to specific professional figures such as designers, graphic designers, art directors, etc. Never artists. Today, however, large companies, such as Microsoft, Google, Adobe and many others, are increasingly oriented towards incorporating artists into the production processes of the company. This is a new union, that goes beyond the idea of sponsorship. The question is, why do companies need artists? And what happens when an artist enters a company? We experienced this with the Media Art Festival in Rome, in the projects with Epson, Samsung and Microsoft, and today with the Maker Faire.
Anita Calà: As you mentioned, in the beginning there was a small group of nerds who went around with these new ideas, making things more and more interesting over time. Now we can say that this has definitively entered the world of culture. Right now, what we want to do is act in a slightly more radical way – not destroying the system but, rather, creating a parallel reality. Invention becomes real transformation. We’re looking for a new generation of inventors, of creative people who want to go beyond interdisciplinary dialogue, towards reconstruction, a new way of seeing the world of Culture. In the perspective of the future, If you could press RESET and forget what took place in the past, what would you create anew? What would you hold on to? What would you cultivate to achieve a new worldview?
That’s a good question and it comes at a special personal time, now that I’m about to take on a new position in Manchester, where I’ve been asked to curate the new SODA Gallery, part of the new School of Digital Art at Manchester Metropolitan University. This is a very ambitious, high-investment project that will open at the end of the year.
What would I keep and what would I not keep about the experience I’ve had up to now? I think we’re not yet in a total RESET. There will undoubtedly be changes, but I don’t think it’s a totally new world. I hope the artist will have a more active role in society, in the world of innovation. An appreciation of the artist as a driving force for society. This is one thing we must always bear in mind when talking about art and innovation, and which is also the subject of my next book (see above). Why do artists go to work at Microsoft? Not to create technologies, but because they need to produce their works, to find a way to achieve what, in the sense of classical aesthetics, we call the “epiphany of vision”. And what does the company gain? New ideas. When Toshio Iwai created the Tenori-on (a forerunner of the launch pad) with Yamaha – he had actually created it before, but then Yamaha asked the artist to realise it – the Japanese artist started working with the company’s engineers and technicians. Iwai was able to make an object he needed for his performance while, at the same time, Yamaha was able to sell it as a product. I believe that today, cultural institutions must also be open to these changes. And that is what we would like to do with SODA. Culture can also become a force for a new idea of innovation, which will be useful in the future.
A.Calà: In this vision of change, what solutions would you also suggest with regard to the economic and funding system?
Let’s consider the debate around artists that has taken place during this pandemic. The only thing that has been discussed is a sort of welfare system for artists, those poor artists with no money who should be helped. This is all very well, but the resulting image wasn’t very edifying: the image of these poor artists, who needed to be helped like endangered species. There has never been an attempt, however, to look at things from the opposite perspective, to see how artists can help the state and society. And, in particular, those who are involved in processes of technological innovation. So, the artist, in my opinion, should be considered as a fundamental resource for reinterpreting the future. Taking this further, one could say that artists should be part of the government task force, accessing alternative funding for innovation, as well as for culture. In this way the artist is not only considered as a creator of “content” for the art world, but also as a driving force for innovation and for reinterpreting the challenges we have to face in future.
In other words, to create a new vision of artists that uproots the old bohemian image and considers them as true professionals. Take, for example, Tomás Saraceno, an artist with 60-70 employees. This is a real company that finances designers, researchers, engineers! Forget the lonely bohemian. A new idea of the artist today, in my opinion, is more important than ever.
E.G.R. : What you say is very interesting. You’re very focused on the aspect of art-business and innovation. The artist and engineer Ken Goldberg, for example, who you invited to Maker Faire – The European Edition this autumn 2020, is for us the perfect example of a hybrid artist. Everything he does is geared towards experimentation to the limit, in a very natural way. What we imagine, as Anita said before, is a little bit like the “Inventor as an artist”…
The issues are different. Some time ago, during a conference at the Maker Faire, during one of his very interesting talks, I asked Lev Manovich, “Why do you talk about aesthetics but never about the role of artists?” He replied, “Ah! I’m not interested in this romantic idea that the artist can usher in radical changes.” But he answered in this way precisely because he has this very romantic idea… Perhaps today we should understand what the role of artists consists of; especially reflecting on the difference between artist and creative.
So, I think it’s right to see hybrids and connections while not losing sight of the differences. I still believe that the artist is a different figure from the creative engineer, the designer or the graphic designer. This is why it’s important for me to start with the artist. But there are also many nuances. There are actually several modes. In The Artist as Inventor I have identified some of them… and, for those who are interested, I recommend reading the book (laughs).
E.G.R. : As someone who is in the middle, let’s say, between research, production and curatorship, how do you see the link between economics, funding and research in relation to all the topics we’ve been discussing?
I have always thought that curatorial practice should be linked to research. It’s no coincidence that Manchester Metropolitan University’s SODA aims to stimulate a more entrepreneurial attitude to research, and vice versa. SODA has a Gallery that is open to the public but it is also connected to the university, with classrooms where theory is discussed, but also workshops, where we will also organise artist residencies. It will become a true production centre, where theory plays a fundamental role. The idea, in fact, is to reduce the gap that exists between the world of work and university, which in Anglo-Saxon countries is narrower than in Italy.
A.Calà: From what you’ve said, a very strong theme emerges which we’ve been emphasising a lot lately. We have to figure out how to go about it and how to carry out the GAME OVER project in a feasible and credible way. But one question that often arises when we approach an artist’s work is: “Yes, beautiful, but is it necessary for humanity?” I wanted to start with this premise. What do you think?
Part of my research has been based on combining art and innovation, on trying to create synergies between artists, research centres and companies. So not only exhibiting works, which is certainly essential, but also producing them and stimulating new research and opportunities for artists. It’s not easy, but when you manage to do it, it’s hugely rewarding. Even in my own research, I’ve tried to overturn, or go beyond, the old motto: “Art is useful because it forces us to think”. The point is that today art isn’t only able to make us think or open our minds, etc., but can also produce our future. By entering production processes, coming into contact with complex media that are fundamentally changing our society, working in teams with engineers and technicians, artists not only stimulate reflections on the present, but also generate it. There are concrete examples of artists who have created real innovation through their works. So, putting art back at the centre of innovation and development processes of identity, of society. This will represent the basis of some of the future activities of SODA.
images (cover 1) Valentino Catricalà ritratto (2) SODA, The School of Digital Arts, Manchester, image via (3) Valentino Catricalà con Ben Vickers
Valentino Catricalà (Ph.D) is a scholar and contemporary art curator specialised in the analysis of the relationship of artists with new technologies and media. He is currently the curator of SODA Gallery in Manchester and lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is also the director of the Art Section of the Maker Faire-The European Edition, the biggest Faire on creativity and innovation in Europe and Art Consultant at Paris Sony CS Lab. Valentino has been the founder and the artistic director of the Rome Media Art Festival (MAXXI Museum), Art Project coordinator at Fondazione Mondo Digitale. Valentino has curated exhibitions in important museum and private Galleries such as Hermitage (San Petersburg), Minnesota Street Project (San Francisco), New York Media Center, Stelline (Milano), MAXXI Museum (Rome), Palazzo delle Esposizioni (Rome), Ca’ Foscari (Venice), New Dheli Italian Cultural Institute (India), among others. He is the author of several essays (see Academia.edu) and books such as “Media Art. Prospettive delle arti verso il XXI secolo. Storie, teorie, preservazione” (Mimesis, 2016) and the book “The Artist as Inventor” (Rowman & Littlefiled, 2021).
This interview is part of a series of investigations by Azzurra Immediato and it is part of Loading, the preliminary phase of GAME OVER, a project aimed at researching and studying new “cultural entities”, people, objects or research from different disciplines (physics, bio-robotics, AI, agriculture and medicine) and transporting them into the art world. This is a research project, but also a gesture that goes beyond simple interdisciplinary dialogue, becoming quite radical: a real “transplanting” of research areas aimed at preparing future c(o)ulture, where “creativity” equals “invention” and “invention” equals contributing to a transformation. A spark, a sign of a genetic mutation, a change of direction, a short circuit. A different energy that is also marks a change which is taking place and could constitute new lifeblood for the Culture system. This first phase is an investigative one aimed at visionaries, hybrid thinkers from various fields, including those from the cultural sector, who can express their views on current needs, each in relation to their own disciplinary field while generally respecting culture and society at large. Project team: Anita Calà Founder and Artistic Director of VILLAM | Elena Giulia Rossi, Editorial Director of Arshake | Giulia Pilieci: VILLAM Project Assistant and Press Office; Chiara Bertini: Curator, Coordinator of cultural projects and collaborator of GAME OVER – Future C(o)ulture | Valeria Coratella Project Assistant of GAME OVER – Future C(o)ulture. Previous interview: Primavera De Filippi (Arshake, January 21, 2021); Interview to Leonardo Jaumann by Azzurra Immediato (Arshake, 28.01.2021)