Valentina Tanni is a contemporary art critic and curator whose research is focused on the relationship between art and new media, with particular attention to Internet culture. She is the founder of Random Magazine, one of the first web columns entirely dedicated to net art (that also gave birth to a book in 2011, Random, Link Editions), and she is the co-founder of Exibart and Artribune, two important Italian art magazines. She curated a number of exhibitions within institutions as well as festivals. She has written articles for Italian and international magazines and she works as a teacher and lecturer for universities and private institutions. Valentina Tanni is about to present «Ethernal September» the exhibition she is curating at the Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubliana, Škuc Gallery (Ljubljana) e LINK Center for the Arts of the Information Age (Brescia, Italy). The exhibition is an important overview on the contemporary scenario (artistic as well as cultural) by placing works by affirmed artists on the same level as those created by amateur, two realities that are very much interwoven in the technological dimension. The conversation developed into a discussion about new media art-related issues, and their place on today’s art scene. Interesting observations emerged from Tanni’s experience whose interest drove her into themes related to the Internet cultue back in the 1990s when this field was just shaping.
Elena Giulia Rossi: You have been dedicating your research to the so-called «new media art» for many years, with particular focus upon the Internet culture and its various expressions. Your interest in this phenomenon began during a time in which these different creative movements were literally unexplored and practically ignored, especially in Italy. What triggered your interest and what was the reception your studies initially received?
Valentina Tanni: What «triggered» everything was my first internet connection. I was already interested in artistic experimentation that involved technology, an interest which had begun back in my university years thanks to the video art and electronic courses Silvia Bordini taught at «La Sapienza» in Rome. Then I discovered net art, which prompted further research. I started out with my graduating thesis and I never stopped. Reception for my first articles was positive even though, as you correctly stated, not much was known about this theme and there was a bit of skepticism at first. In the end, curiosity got the better of everyone and I have always gotten a lot of interesting feedbacks.
How do you think this kind of artistic experimentation should be set up in today’s artistic and cultural sphere?
This is just one of the very many ways to create art today. Technology plays an essential role in contemporary culture on all levels: social, scientific, economic and cultural. Therefore, there is no way that art doesn’t interact with this universe – examining, overturning and transfiguring it. We can make it easy on ourselves and use any label we choose but we must always contextualize the work of artists, if we consider them such, in a broader framework. In the framework of the millennial history of artistic research.
Considering your many years of teaching, what are the reactions you get from young people when a technological device they almost instinctively consider a means of communication is analysed as a creative tool?
Excellent question. In fact, the answer is surprising, in my opinion. I was very impressed by the fact that young people are often the very ones who bring artistic use of new technology in detail into question. On the one hand, they might still be influenced by a romantic vision of art and view the use of technology as a threat of contamination of the human and «poetic» component of art. On the other hand, we must consider their command of computer use which has become something we all use daily (almost like a home appliance) and how it may be difficult for them to accept the fact that it can be «transfigured» and used for different purposes.
In a recent article by Angela Vettese, a review of the book You are here – Art after the Internet (edited by Omar Kholelf) for the newspaper «SOLE 24ore», she speaks of net art as an artistic movement which had drawn some interest for a while but was unable to reach the general public, remaining limited to a handful of artists. Would you mind commenting this statement?
It’s true from a certain viewpoint. Net art had attracted a lot of attention in the late 1990s and at the turn of the century in correspondence to all the hype surrounding the web in general. Many museums have ridden that wave, having opened (and then closed) specific departments and purchased works for their collections although this interest was not always genuine. In many cases, it turned out to be merely a strategic choice, a way to demonstrate that they were «up to date» and to attract the attention of the media and the public. We also need to consider the fact that net art has «burned out» its explosive impact in just a few years, as has often been the case with avant-garde movements, due to the disorganised and brilliant activity of a group of people from many different backgrounds –often deliberately distant from the art circuit. This trait, along with the fact that these kinds of works are not compatible with market demands (for the most part), has determined what has been interpreted as a drop in interest. Actually, net art – notwithstanding the fact that it is no longer a specific movement – has left an enormous legacy and has marked an entire generation’s way of approaching art. Above all, it has heralded and directed a certain kind of evolution in web culture: a culture made up of interaction, collaboration, community and creativity free of boundaries.
Which do you think is the main factor responsible for the resistance on the part of some institutions to give experimental forms their due recognition despite the fact that the world has already institutionalized them through several prestigious museums known as reference points on the art circuit such as the Guggenheim, the DIA Art Center and New York’s MoMA Museum. To what extent do you think the cause of this resistance is the sectorization of a broad genre of experimentation which is acknowledged yet contained in terms of what is referred to as the specificity of the means?
Yes, the excessive sectorization, as you just mentioned, is definitely disadvantageous. I also find that concentrating upon the specificity of the means is a dated approach and of little use to contemporary art critiques. That type of resistance, however, is a response that all forms of «experimental» art throughout history have come up against from institutions. Certain dynamics are subject to repetition…
Several venues that operate directly on line (even when associated with a physical location) are coming into being including the Link Cabinet, a portion of the Link Art Center where a part of your upcoming exhibit is being shifted. Do you think this new type of online operative space is destined to develop simultaneously to those that already exist or are coming into being in physical areas or are we witnessing the beginning of revolution of the art circuit, considering the impact of the crisis on the mission of traditional museums?
I believe that online space will undoubtedly expand. But I think it will coexist with offline areas. After all, museums cannot possible hope to respond to the crisis by «withdrawing» from the net. However, they must learn,- and some already have – to take advantage of both dimensions in an intelligent, continuative and complementary manner. Some experiences work better in a room, others in public spaces and others still on a website.
Everything mentioned until now can be placed within a radical change in the role of the spectator, especially in the territory of the Internet. Access to the tools of production has made it possible for user and producers to become interconnected. Your upcoming exhibit «Eternal September» deals with this precise issue: tracing one of the most radical changes caused by the Internet and placing works by affirmed artists on the same level as those created by amateur artists. It seems to me that the curatorial trace moves within a broad range – between physical and virtual space and through the most diverse techniques: from sculpture to online productions. Would you like to tell us how this all came about?
«Eternal September» is a project I started working on a couple of years ago when my growing interest in amateur creative production caused me to tackle the theme in a more systematic manner. Being constantly on line puts me into contact with an enormous amount of creative content which often comes from contexts that are completely removed from the art world. So I began to examine these pieces more closely. I saved, classified and commented them. And I realized that we are witnessing the fulfilment of a prophecy that many artists and theorists had made back in the 1960s and 1970s: the decline of professionalism as the framework of talent and skill (Michael A. Noll who spoke of «citizen artists» or Gene Youngblood who spoke of professionalism as a paradigm linked to the Industrial Era come to mind).
Moreover, this exhibit deals with another issue: something I called «the contrappasso of art» in a recent article. It basically means that artistic images lose their special status once they are posted on the web. They are just like any other file and are treated thus: they are downloaded, modified, remixed and shared. Countless anonymous creators are subjecting art to the same treatment which has operated for centuries on various iconographic sources: appropriation, remix, détournement and plagiarism.
How does one dislocate and shift an exhibit and, more specifically, how can you make projects visible (if you should make them visible) on line? I am referring to works like The Importance Of Being Context by Valeria Mancinelli, Roberto Fassone and your research project The Great Wall of Memes.
The show is hosted for the most part at the Škuc gallery in Ljubljana where works by about 15 artists will be on display. The projects are very different from one another: there are videos, installations, sculptures, photographs and paintings. Škuc is also hosting the «physical» version of The Great Wall of Memes project which can also be viewed online as a Tumblr blog. About one thousand images will be placed on a wall of the gallery organized by theme into groups and sub-groups. In this sense, my inspiration – by extension, given the difference on a historical and theoretic level – is Mnemosyne, the Atlas of Memory by Aby Warburg. The project by Valeria Mancinelli and Roberto Fassone and curated by Matteo Cremonesi will be viewed exclusively on line at the Link Cabinet virtual space. There are also side events (screenings, lectures, performances) that will be held at the Aksioma Project Space and even in the street in the case of Paolo Cirio’s Street Ghosts.
«Eternal September» is an expression coined by David Fisher in 1994 to indicate the moment when Internet opened its doors (it was in September, too) from a small group of specialists of that given sector to the general public. Now, a different direction has been taken and for a different purpose. Museums and institutions have facilitated access to a diverse public that is less specialized in comparison with the past. In which sense do you think museums have become accessible and how do you think the way of managing content has changed in both the physical and virtual worlds since this broad expansion?
The public interested in culture has definitely expanded and is quite diversified. Museums all over the world are making huge efforts to educate and diffuse by finding new ways to get people to attend exhibits and by making their collections (in digitalized form) viewable on line. Unfortunately, Italy is still a bit behind.
We now hear talk of «post internet» (the same way we have talked about post-media) and «art after the internet» to make a reference to the aforementioned anthology edited by Omar Kholelf (You are here – Art after the Internet). In view of your experience, which kind of interpretation would you give to the prefixes «post» and «after»?
They are just labels. Tools that are often useful but quite limited. There is surely a group of expressive means and styles to be associated with a «post» Internet era but it remains a definition that is extremely vague, which contains works of art of many different natures in terms of content and shape. I think they are expressions that can be useful to art critiques in that they help to contextualize these pivotal changes we are currently witnessing. They should always, however, be accompanied by more detailed analyses in order to avoid losing sight of the most precious wealth the Internet has generated: the continuous acknowledgment of diversity. Cultural and human.
«ETERNAL SEPTEMBER The rise of amateur culture», collective show and collateral projects, curated by Valentina Tanni, Aksioma Project Space (Lubiana), Škuc Gallery (Lubiana), Link Cabinet, 02 – 26.09.2014
(cover) Mark McEvoy, The silence of Marcel Duchamp is overrated, digital print, 2014 (1) Valentina Tanni (2) Paul Destieu, My favourite landscape, 2006 (3) Electroboutique, Artomat, 2012 (4) statue, selfie (5) Mauro Ceolin, Memezoology, handmade book and optical scanning, dimensions variables, 2013 (6) Ethernal September, flyer (7) Aled Lewis, Not Sure if Art, colour screen print, edition of 50, 2014.