Interviewing the crisis with Simona Lodi

Interviewing the crisis with Simona Lodi.

– Simona Lodi, art director of the Piemonte Share Festival, an event with international resonance dedicated to new media arts: a presentation for the readers of Artsblog.
The Share Festival was born as a sequel to a exhibition that i curated during 2002 in Turin at the Murazzi del Po. The setup was very simple, as it featured some computers connected to the network and a flyer with my critique. In its simplicity it featured works of artsts that later became “classics” and real stars, such as Epidemic and

As a curator of contemporary art exhibitions with a marked interest on technology, that exhibit allowed me to realize how simply exposing art in a classical exhibit was a limit for The pervasivity of the “digital” and of the internet needed containers that were more articulate, to give space to the change that was happening, not only for what concerns visual arts, but also for moving images, cinema, theatre, music, literature.

Being able to grasp the global reach of these practices required to think about an event that was truly multidisciplinary and modulated on a set of events that were coordinated and organized in adequate spaces. Together with Chiara Garibaldi we designed the project of the Share Festival.

The premises were there, but the event’s first edition had to wait until 2005 to take place. Two years of incubation were needed to step from the idea to the project: developing contents, planning it for feasibility in the city of Turin, getting public institutions involved and believing in the event.

Obviously, everything didn’t happen in such a linear way: as it often happens after an action with a positive result, dead moments and problematic issues followed, that seemed to never resolve. The development of the contents changed continuously and often in autonomous ways with respect to what we had planned.

We were guided by the creative environments and by the artists we got in touch with. We continuously hacked the whole project down just to build it up from scratch again. When contents changed we also changed locations and budgets, but the base concept kept on being the desire to unite formal theoretical sessions to playful ones.

Today the festival is known all over the world for the quality of its offering and for the curatorial coherence. Since 2007 we activated the Share Prize aiming to discover, promote and support digital arts: it is based on an open call to which more than 400 artists from all over the world participate each year.

– The ToShare is an international event that consolidated its identity since the last 5 years. From your point of view does the financial crisis start to have its effects? What are the symptomes and repercussions?
Yes, as i said before we are a consolidated event, but in these times we just cannot predict what the future will reserve. The crisis seems long and stressing, even from our point of view. We are an event that is out of the mainstream, but as of today we have an audience that is 5 times the one of the first year (10.000 people in 5 days).

The signs of recession are everywhere. The same function of national states is ceasing to exist, as they are not able to guarantee a protection to their citizens anymore, as they don’t know how to defend them from a crisis that has its origins far away, in other countries, and that has indiscriminate repercussions on the lives of single individuals. This contemporary scenario does not give a chance to anyone.

Culture is the most sacrificed, again. The funding cuts bring to mind (as Salvatore Tropea, a journalist of “La Repubblica” stated in an article a few days ago) “the burning of books and other disturbing rituals on the altar of an economic crisis that as a malicious god demands the pagan sacrifice of culture”.

All the support policies and funding toward culture are failing in this very moment. Among these, in Italy, where 80% of the financial resources assigned to culture are used to mantain its immense wealth of historical arts and architecture – without a clue on how to create economic value from it -, the ones connected to territorial marketing emerge, specifically the ones assigned to requalify the cities that are in a state of post-industrial decline.

An example above all, the city where FIAT was born: Turin has been shining in its rebirth, investing billions of euros in a new look and in culture, in sport, but most of all in contemporary arts. It shined up to the point that the things that yesterday were a resource are now turning into costs. How could this have happened?

According to the official data reported by Turin’s Industrial Union it is calculated that 16.5 billions of euros have been invested in the Winter Olympics, 11 billions of which have been put towards the creation of major public works. The estimates made beforehand on such investments told that an added value of 17.4 billions of euros should have been produced, along with 57.000 new jobs.

Buildings such as the Pala Isozaki, the Oval and the Palavela are today closed during most part of the year, and the newly created ski slopes and infrastructures have suffered from a deathly oblivion.

– And what about culture? Will Turin be able to support the post-olympic phase?

The investments made in 2008 have totalled 44 million euros by Regione Piemonte and 49 million euros by the city administration, for the 4.4 million citizens of the Piemonte region and for the 2.2 million citizens of the metropolitan area. The investments have been distributed (rounding up the numbers) with about 13.518.000 euros going to cinema, 29.508.000 going to theatre and lyric theatre, 10.482.000 to music, 22.000.000 to museums and exhibitions, 11.000.000 to events, conventions, seminars and other cultural activities. Investments that are way higher than the ones reported by Helen Thorington when she quoted the data provided by the Guardian about Arts Council England that in 2007 financed 417 million UK pounds (855 million dollars) for a population of 61 million.

Museums and contemporary art foundations, fairs such as Artissima, events such as Torino World Design Capital, the Fiera del Libro (Book Fair), the Triennial of contemporary art, the Cineporto and the recent Oriental Arts Museum (that, from immediately after its opening, has to be closed for some days each week as there is no available money for the guardians) have proved Turin to be a winner in the challenge to renovation, achieving the goal of turning the city from an industrial, metalworking and engineering node into a city that characterizes its economic development on a plurality of roots. Investments in these sectors have been huge, but not at all radicated into the local economic substrate. And, today, the risk is of them failing completely.

We question ourselves on what the future of this city will be after the recession, and about what will be the future for culture. Last december 13th Giovanni Oliva, Regione Piemonte’s councillor for culture, summoned a general assembly to create a plan with a reach that bypassed the timespan of the crisis. Cultural organizations and associations massively participated to this meeting. They expected answers, and a concrete possibility to collectively create a plan.

But a surreal atmosphere characterized the event, with no-one asking direct questions or asking for explanations about the political responsibilities on the choices that turned out to be wrong, about the financial waste and about the lost opportunities. The uselessness of the meeting could be perceived. No-one turned out to be responsible. The crisis seemed to have hit the administration unpredictibly, as a tsunami. Up until the previous month the main issue of concern regarded movie director Nanni Moretti staying for one more year as the director of the Torino Film Festival. Then, the void.

During the general discussion it was clear how the associations and all of the cultural system will see their financial support cut by 50-60% in 2009. Investments coming from bank foundations will only be directed to infrastructures, to the restoring of buildings. Sergio Ariotti apart (RAI journalist and director of the contemporary theatre Festival delle Colline), nobody objected.

Someone present at the meeting questioned about what had been the principles that had been followed to make the choices about the cuts, what decisional parameters had been decisive, what had oriented the choices. Reforming and redesigning is harder that following the ways of the financial cuts.

But answers fell into an embarassing void. A void that is the emptyness of museums, because if nobody invests in exhibitions and events, in shows and conventions, in actors and artists, in curators and directors, the buildings will remain empty. The counsellor of the city of Turin has already decided to assign the small amounts of money left to safeguard museum workers employed with a permanent employment contract. If this will be reality, guardians will guard only the empty walls of museums and theaters, with no works, no projects, no shows and, obviously, no audience.

The lack of an unabiguous methodology to be used to evaluate the success or failure of proposals, exhibitions, events, shows, concerts and cultural spaces, is a real and evergrowing problem, and it has to be resolved immediately. Many events that took place in 2008 have been sensational flops, as the Compasso d’Oro prize, held at the Reggia di Venaria (only 25 thousand people attended), the Flexibility exhibition at the old prison Le Nuove (15 thousand people) or the Triennial of contemporary art, which cost 2 million euros without attracting any of the important international stars of the visual arts. And the Arena Rock: the structure, thought to host great concerts, is now a cathedral in the desert; opened since march 2008, it has never been used and today and it has no defined future. As reported by insiders, such as the organizers of the Traffic music festival (whom have never been asked to getting involved in the project), it cost 5 million euros and it is one of the worst structures in existence, with great limitations to host shows for 60 thousand people, and even for 15-20 thousand.

– Let’s talk about Action Sharing and about the Orchestra Meccanica Marinetti: while 2008 has been the year of the crisis, ToShare decided to move towards production. An interesting detail, in countertrend with the current scenario.
We didn’t think about dedicating to production as an answer to recession. On the contrary we hope that recession doesn’t slow down a project like the Orchestra Meccanica Marinetti (OMM).

Share Festival has the explicit intent of giving expression to an emerging scene and to promote the suggestions that new technologies brought onto the artistic thought.

From taking breathing spaces for reflexion, a need emerged, to produce and to let grow skills and professionalities on the territory. Working with digital artists, used to operating in highly technological environments, new interests emerged on research methodologies. I and Chiara Garibaldi realized that multimedia artists’ research paths, the ones used to create their works, are very different, and subversive, compared to the traditional methodologies of academic and industrial research, but they are also full of interesting points of view on technological innovation.

Many digital artists do not refuse to study technology, and often they master it, through hacking and reverse engineering.

Many of them do not only use existing technologies, they also create themselves the technologies they need. All of this is even more significant as it is placed in a city like Turin, a city that has totally changed during these last few years, growing in parallel, explosive ways on two fronts: contemporary arts and ICT industry.

This is the reason behind the launch of the Action Sharing project: a platform with the goal of enabling synchretic research. No more conflicts between technological sciences and humanistic ones, replaced by a collaboration, aiming to find practical and specific solutions , using scientific and art research methodologies, together.

Artists are normally on stages, in museums on in art galleries. Action Sharing takes them to research centers in companies and universities, side by side with engineers and computer scientists to build innovative paths that are totally different from traditional ones.

The objective is to create collective works in which digital technologies are used along two directions: as a language for creative expression, but also as a trigger for enterprises and for researchers to find new and valuable solutions, ones in which the technologies that derive from them act as readymades for the market.

The creation of an extended creative network is not to forget, as well. A “shared” network, composed by various actors, that can become a long-term value for itself and for the territory.

This is the reason behind the Chamber of Commerce of the city of Turin welcoming our proposal, financing the project and joining in the process of choosing among a set of possible projects and artists. The pilot project of the initiative has been chosen among them: the Orchestra Meccanica Marinetti, of the artist Angelo Comino a.k.a. Motor.

Motor has mainly been chosen for three reasons: for being one of the main representatives of the local artistic scene, for his experience coming from more than twenty years of multimedia shows, and for his great technical skill, which was fundamental to conduct a project of such complexity.

The work consists in a multimedia show in which an orchestra, made up by percussionist robots playing industrial bins and by digital choirs, is guided by a cabled human performer: something like a cyborg Tambours du Bronx!

– But there’s more: the theme of the 2009 edition of the Share, taking place around the end of march in Turin, is “Market Forces”. Which is the fundamental intuition and what is the path leading this choice?
For the next edition of the Share Festival (24/29 march 2009) we asked our guest curator, Andy Cameron, to confront the theme of complexity. According to Andy the key to discussing complexity is the concept of market. The market is a machine used to face the complexity of the future and the unpredictability of the system. The future cannot be imagined in a linear way, as every thing is in relation with other ones through a system of complex relations, an ecosystem.

In this way the unexpected plays a decisive role, but the theory of complexity does not provide practical answers, and a vision of the future that is credible and reliable is needed. What can we do? The speakers invited to the Share 2009 will discuss this question. The Share Prize, as well, will present works that take into account the variety of the connections running between the elements of complex systems. Works that are different from each other, but that share their ability in analyzing chaos and value, meaning and casuality, politics and economy. Unstable abstractions that have concrete and important effects on our daily lives.

The Share Festival will be hosted by the Museum of the Sciences, where visitors will be able to interact with the finalist works of the Share Prize, creating images with teir breaths through a dense powder [Ernesto Klar – Parallel Convergences]; while a neural network built using wood and ropes will simulate the processes of thought, even if it won’t have anything to say [Ralf Baecker – Rechnender Raum]. Then a cinetic sculpture modelling chaos through flying steel balls [Andreas Muxel – Connect] and an object constructed through a fan that will have pieces of paper floating in the air, and generating music through the action of the visitors’ hands [Francesco Meneghini-William Bottin – Sciame 1], while an army of mirrors will follow the public according to its own will [Random International / Chris O’Shea Audience]. In the meanwhile a classic work will constantly grow creating evenrchanging patterns [Lia Proximity of needs].

– Which are the perspectives that you imagine for the ToShare for the next months? What are the strategies and the tools that you will use to face the crisis?
The crisis is a lapse of time that highlights various aspects of our work because it requires an active response. But I don’t believe that anybody is ever ready enough to confront a crisis of such magnitude. Anyhow we are constantly on alert to the general changes, and challenges don’t frighten us.

We are studying several solutions mostly connected to networks of events and on project sharing with other realities. The network allows for actions that, previously, were logistically unthinkable and, thus, it redesigns the strategies from the bottom, turning them into networked strategies, open, horizontal and, as Ned Rossites says, organized.

We are trying to get the private sector involved, but I only see support mechanisms as being positive when they work through new ways of assuming culture, ways that are alternatives to the “invest and resell” used by many collectionists and enterpreneurs.

– Art constantly and explicitly moves towards being process-oriented: can a business model be a work of art?
Your question resembles a word trick or an act of magic that has the power to turn everything into art. That was the artistic mission of the avant-gardes wishing to transform the world into a work of art (fururism but also Bauhaus and De Stijl). But art, which ended with Duchamp, did not disappear. Rather, the opposite is true. Business has the power to transform the most desparate human activities into more business. And we already had the chance to see art transforming into business. Business is a process and art constantly grows in its open processual characterization rather that being formally complete.

Althought the objective of contemporary artits is often, since the artistic avant-guardes, to transform everything into art, art is not in everything and it is not in every process. A pantheistic vision of art, even if it can be cute, would miss the creative/artistic component that characterizes it.

Thus the question is not “what is art”, but “what is not art”.

Nevertheless, Andy Warhol – in the famous “Philosophy by Andy Warhol” (1975) – says: “Business art is the step that comes after art. I started as a commercial artist and I want to finish as a business artist. After doing a thing called ‘art’, or however you want to call it, i dedicated myself to business art. I want to be a art business man, or a business artist. Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.“. Thus this question has to be asked to the artists. Who knows what would come out.

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