We interview artist Matteo Cremonesi (part of the Italian collective IOCOSE), here in the role of director of the project Linkcabinet, a project realized for the Link Art Center. Conceived as a white and neutral exhibition space with an essential interface, Link Cabinet is a blank page that will be transformed by the works on display.. The Link Center for the Arts of the Information Age (Link Art Center) is a no-profit organization promoting artistic research with new technologies and critical reflections on the core issues of the information age: it organizes exhibitions, events, conferences and workshops, publishes books, forges partnerships with private and institutional partners and networks with similar organizations worldwide.
Elena Giulia Rossi: Can you tell us how and when the idea came about to extend the Link Art Center to the Link Cabinet exhibition space?
Matteo Cremonesi: The idea of opening an online exhibition space arose around three years ago, and the inaugural event took place in spring 2014 with a solo show by Jonas Lund. Personally, I believe that Link Cabinet is a natural extension of the Link Art Center, one of its concrete and visible manifestations outside the various projects we work on. Link Cabinet also came into being as a response to a dual need. The first part of this is the strictly practical consideration that Link doesn’t have its own fixed exhibition venue, a fact that allows us – and forces us – to be far more dynamic and flexible, but which also risks depriving us of the pleasure of regular collaboration with artists and the classic bi-monthly turnaround of the calendar in a normal exhibition space. The second factor is the need to create a place that can best host works conceived and designed to be enjoyed online. The difficulties of presenting web-based works in galleries or museums have always be the subject of a debate which perhaps has yet to be settled, and our proposal is extremely simple: the best place to view these works is in their natural habitat, that is, online. Which basically means they can be seen on a home computer, on a tablet while sitting comfortably in an armchair, or on a smartphone at the bus stop.
With the presentation of projects by pioneering artists in experimentation with and for the web, you address important and fascinating questions about the information age, including the generation of content and access to it, and its political, social and aesthetic implications. This is also the case [among others] of New World, the project by Jan Robert Leegte which appears on Link Cabinet until 7 February. Is there a particular approach to interpreting the digital world that you seek to build with the selection and order of the artists you invite?
To create an identity for the gallery I set out by giving the exhibition space a specific connotation, and in a way this influences the type of works presented. As we have said, the main purpose is to support web-based art and provide a space that can host and promote it. However, my invitation to the artists is to reinvent the gallery itself each time, shaping it through their work. The themes and projects we present have developed from this starting point, and from subsequent dialogue with artists and their works.
At the moment Link Cabinet is hosting New World, a previously unseen work by the Dutch artist Jan Robert Leegte. New World is a real way of travelling and exploring, based on a abstract geometric composition which reinterprets the landscapes of Earth in digital format. A never-ending, self-generating digital labyrinth, a continuation of Leegte’s research into the interface and visual elements of the web, taken as a place to live, explore and redesign.
What kind of support do you give to artists in the execution of their projects?
First and foremost, there’s always an open dialogue with the artists in order to define what might be the ideal work to present for their exhibition, seeking to showcase both the unique perspective of the individual artist and the specific properties of the exhibition space. And this is undoubtedly the most fascinating and enjoyable part of the job. Regarding the technical aspects, on the other hand, just as in any other context, the artist is very often extremely clear not only of what he or she wants to show or tell with the work, but also how to execute the project, because this is part of the work itself. However, one of the characteristics of the Link Cabinet is that is doesn’t focus too much on technical matters, but more on the hosting of artists who find the challenge of the space we provide an interesting and stimulating one. Our discussions are primarily about ideas, visions and narrative.
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How do you deal with issues regarding the conservation and documentation of works?
One of the crucial decisions we took at the outset was that shows would be considered temporary, and afterwards the work would return to the artist, who would decide where to place it and whether it should remain public and accessible. In this respect we have adopted the policy of any exhibition space: we put on temporary exhibitions, and the works remain the property of the artists, who can dispose of them as they wish after the show. We limit ourselves to providing documentation in the form of images or video.
However, the conservation of digital art is a completely different matter, certainly an important and increasingly urgent issue. To this end, essential work has been ongoing for years by Rhizome, with its ArtBase and Digital Preservation programmes.
How, and to what extent, has your work as a curator conditioned your own artistic research (and vice-versa)?
It’s hard to say; I feel increasingly that I’m a kind of hybrid figure, developing my own art alongside my role as curator for Link Cabinet and my teaching at the Academy. As I see it, these are all linked in an a fluid relationship of interaction, which I believe is inevitable but also inextricable. Each element and each experience brings enrichment which has a bearing on my work as a whole. You could say that I like to move in a creative, productive environment where stimuli can come in equal measure from dialogue with the artists I invite to exhibit at Link Cabinet, or from my day job with the other members of IOCOSE, but also from the students who take my courses.
After all, Link Cabinet arose from precisely such a hybrid background: all I’ve done is create an online exhibition space where I’d like to present an IOCOSE work; a space that’s interesting and stimulating, but also sufficiently malleable so that it can be completely transformed by each artist who works within it. Having said this, I also believe that my personal experience as an artist puts me in a privileged position in the dialogue with artists, making it easier to understand and share ways of approaching and planning an exhibition.
In the Link Cabinet mission statement, collectors are invited to contact you regarding the works shown as a site-specific version for a physical space. If you have been in the position of adapting any of the works as site-specific, can you tell us how they were translated into physical space, and whether there were contractual agreements between the artist and the collector (copyright, conservation, etc.)?
What distinguishes Link Cabinet is that we ask the artists to produce works that are conceived specifically for presentation in the particular context of our exhibition space. The works featured are all created specially for the occasion, or they have been adapted for the context of the gallery. So the site-specific concept is understood in this sense. In the case of Julian Oliver’s COVER ME, the work was presented afterwards in a physical space, and here the artist redesigned it in a site-specific context, adapting a web-based work to a very different exhibition space. The relationship with collectors is based on a similar approach.
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We know that digital art in particular has come up against various market barriers as a result of its ephemeral substance, and above all due to its living nature, which coincides with its constant state of flux. What is your view of this? And in the specific case of the banners, does designing for an online space also fit in with the trialling of a marketing operation?
In recent years a lot has happened in this sense, the situation has evolved and changed greatly. Today there’s definitely more attention and awareness being paid to artists and works that address themes which are increasingly prominent and central to the everyday lives of all of us. This is certainly one of the themes the Link Art Center is working on. In April 2014 we organised
Born Digital, a benefit auction and online exhibition held on the online auction platform Paddle8. The event was the first with this focus and on this scale in Europe, and included 50 works provided by 33 artists, from pioneers in digital art to the latest generation of artists. In the same month we presented Return of Investment by Jonas Lund, Link Cabinet’s inaugural show. For the duration of the show, the gallery was turned into space that anyone could purchase, and whose price increased with every transaction, in line with the total annual return on investment in contemporary art in 2012. A clear comment on the state of the contemporary art market, where acquisition may be investment, patronage or speculation.
Every artist you have invited has worked in the context of the space made available, in other words the Link Cabinet web page. Having presented a number of projects, is there anything that has surprised you, given your initial idea of space and artistic input?
For me, the most fascinating thing is the malleability of this space: by presenting itself as a blank white page it lends itself not only as a venue for any work but also to being literally shaped by each artist. And so it’s constantly amazing, every time the Link Cabinet switches from hosting video pieces to becoming a controversial archive of performance art, from broadcasting a streaming of torrent file sharing activities to acting as a platform for commissioning artworks using crowdsourcing. This is what makes Link Cabinet always current, always new and always different.
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Today there is heated debate about the post-digital and post-internet age, terms which are often spoken cautiously, although it’s true that the internet has become an existential condition. What is your view on this?
Discussions of the post-internet and post-digital era often tend to neglect its inherent political, cultural and economic connotations. What we take for granted is the result of a particular and partial view, derived from our personal experience and conditioned by the context in which we find ourselves. With IOCOSE we recently published a text entitled Art After Failure, which is both an essay on the topic and a sort of manifesto. Within it we develop the theory of the Post Fail: a way of thinking and making art which springs from an awareness that the narratives regarding the future of technology, both apocalyptic and enthusiastic, are already failing to a certain extent, or in any case will end up disappointing us, making way for a reality that is more contradictory and often banal. What we need to focus on is the present time, when these narratives are being created. In the text we use a metaphor which I believe is very apt: our role as contemporary artists resembles the situation of a DJ who has to play music for a party that has already given him a hangover. This DJ, with his aching head, has a duty to play music until the party ends, even though he knows that sooner or later everyone will go their separate ways. Making art Post Fail means asking oneself what the right music might be in this kind of context, mindful of listeners’ headaches, but still attempting to give them an interesting, and hopefully enjoyable, experience.
Currently on Link Cabinet: Jan Robert Leegte, New World, 07.01 – 07.02.2016, Linkcabinet at Link Center for the Arts of the Information Age
Images and videos (cover 1) DUOX, Boy’dega: Installment 3, Bond’s Salon, 2014 (2) Julian Oliver, COVER ME, 2015 (3) Addie Wagenknecht, This Connection Is Untrusted, 2014 (4) Nicolas Maigret at Link Cabinet, The Pirate Cinema, video documentation on youtube (5) The Importance Of Being Context, Valeria Mancinelli e Roberto Fassone, 2014 (6) Work Less Work All, Guido Segni, 2015 (7) Marco Cadioli @ Link Cabinet, Algorithmic Memories, video documentation on youtube (8) Jonas Lund, Return of Investment, 2014 (9) Jodi @ Link Cabinet, L.V.Y., video documentation on you tube