Athens gallery The Breeder is bringing the latest solo exhibition from Angelo Plessas, consisting entirely of the artist’s websites and titled Mirage Machines, running from February 19 to March 28.
The Eternal Internet Brotherhood founder has made a career of internet art, using the online as a vehicle, playing with domains like iconography and notions of abstraction and subjectivity, creating “mechanical landscape generators, where his online environments are visionary propositions that have been begotten in browser windows”.
For Mirage Machines, and in line with previous collections, he has created an exhibition space out of a web domain, titled after the work, where his electronic animated drawings mingle and reproduce on millions of computers.
Hanna Nilsson and Rasmus Svensson are the Berlin-based design duo known as PWR studio. For this interview, we agreed to meet on a street corner in Schöneberg on what turned out to be the only rainy day in a long stretch of summery ones. Having never met them before, I asked pretty much everyone who idled there for a minute if they were “supposed to meet me here on this corner”. When they did arrive I had already fallen silent (aware of my creepiness) so we ended up staring at each other for a while across the intersection. Though everything about their appearance fit my preconceived idea of young, Scandinavian designers, the baby they had brought along was an initial surprise.
We settled in a café to talk about the recent work they’ve been doing. PWR studio seems to be involved in designing most of the documentation –material or immaterial –for a certain niche of the art world. From Future Gallery’s website, to Harry Burke’s latest poetry anthology I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Best, to the upcoming digital catalogue of the Art Post-Internet exhibition in Beijing, their prolific body of work is now an unmistakable aesthetic pillar. While much of their design is internet-based, or inspired by the internet somehow, they spoke at length about the importance of the physical book.
Reflecting on the term ‘post-internet,’ they see the role of printed matter as not necessarily being about the content. While one could easily, and perhaps more conveniently, read the content digitally, the book’s importance as a physical presence or anchor for the work is a valuable concept for PWR studio. They currently have plans to work with a handbag designer called New Ultra Group on a single copy book, modeled after a Medieval approach to the format as a kind of fetish object.
This month, PWR studio is launching the web catalogue for Art Post-Internet, so much of our conversation revolved around this loaded concept hovering over much of the contemporary art world. It seems increasingly impossible, and in some cases undesirable, to step away from online proprietary systems, but PWR studio is critical of their stronghold and manages to make use of creative subversive tactics in their web designs.
Tell us a bit about what you do at PWR studio and how you got started?
PWR studio: We used to publish a magazine called PWR paper. I think we published six or seven issues. Basically, we accumulated materials from artists who are mostly active online, on to this piece of paper. That was our starting point.
They were people whose work we found interesting and that was the start of the personal connection. It acted as a way of getting in touch with people. From paper we went to online again. We did something called PWRSHARE, which was an online magazine, another version of PWR. Then at the beginning of last year we decided to make it into a studio. What we are doing is a continuation of the work we were doing with PWR paper. We’re doing a lot of work with the same people. We call it a design studio now as a way of fitting into the system of how things operate.
Both of us equally do the practical design work.
You called PWR paper “the web materialised” which I thought was interesting, given that your narrative now seems to come at it from a different angle, from paper to internet.
Ps: Yes, that’s the core of what we’re doing. We’re acting as a sort of middle-person –the representation of content either from physical to internet, or the other way. This is the background of everything we do. We’re sort of past this post-internet conversation, like we don’t see some sort of distinction between the internet and physical things. We had PWR papers printed in New York and we had to deal with the printer. It was an industrial set up and we got this big bunch of papers. We had a friend pick them up there and send them to us. And then we would send them out.
The post-internet discourse seems to encompass what you’re saying though, that everything is already effected by the internet so even physical art or publication is a reaction to that…
Ps: We definitely think that’s true but it’s also already a banal topic. The word post-internet is interesting in the broad sense that we are already affected by digital communication. But we’re not so interested in it as a category for art. It’s more like an internal affair to the art world.
Ps: It was based on the webring phenomenon –the old early internet way of making connections. In the 90s/early 2000s you could join a web ring and there would be a banner that would take you from website to website. It could be a web ring about German Shepherds and you click through sites. [It’s] comparing this to much more sophisticated ways of making connections now.
In the 90s there was still this utopian idea of the internet as some sort of frontier and now, over the last five years, it’s become clear that it’s a completely controlled environment. Of course, there’s always a need to connect to these bigger networks, like you need to have interface with Google and Facebook, but it’s important to find ways to subvert them. There are so many systems that you have to rely on but it’s good to find ways to retain autonomy.
In the case of the ‘Internet Brotherhood you are never sure where you’ll end up, you are put in a random position and you have to make your way in either direction. These are creative ways of dealing with our normal mode of accessing information.
One of you worked as an intern at Metahaven design studio in Amsterdam, right? There are some aesthetic similarities…
Ps: Yes, Metahaven is one of the few design studios we find interesting, both aesthetically and in terms of ideas. [It’s] pretty much the only design studio we like. We don’t see ourselves as graphic designers so we have a distance from that world. All the research and writing that Metahaven does is connected. And they actually take the aesthetics very seriously. In the end their expertise, and ours as well, lies in making visual things that are connected to the content.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Ps: Our aesthetic is an ongoing struggle –we like to make things that we feel a little uncomfortable about, aesthetically. In general it needs to feel fresh, like a challenge. There’s an edge of things feeling not-quite-right. Things move quickly and we try to ask ourselves, “why do we like this?” and we often very quickly find the reason. Occasionally it’s a good reason, and sometimes it becomes clear that it’s because of a shallow reason. And we try to avoid those, and to avoid applying a style to everything we do. We have certain obsessions with things we do, but it’s more of a method that creates the aesthetic.
You’re launching the Art Post-Internet digital catalogue this month?
Ps: Yes, we’ll see if it actually comes out then. We didn’t see the exhibition actually, it was in Beijing, but there is a lot of material collected digitally. We see it as a chance to revisit this constant question of the conversion from internet to physical, and back and forth. All of these works we have seen are images online and they travel that way, but now we are dealing with images of them gathered in one physical space.
In a way, the fact that you never saw them in person seems quite logical to the whole concept.
Ps: Once again we’re seeing these images, knowing they’ve been displayed together in China, so with this publication we’re more directly getting back to the digital-analogue question. In general we’re involved in facilitating this conversion, usually with presenting gallery exhibitions on the internet.
Do you have a personal preference between digital and analogue design presentations?
Ps: No, we think both of them are annoying in their own ways. There’s a lot of labour involved in any case, whether programming or working with the printers. In a way the manual, technical labour is so much more clear than the creative work. It’s a technical problem-solving activity. In both cases it’s easy to get lost in those problems. It’s the kind of Modernist idea of the designer, that you identify a problem and find a solution. Of course, this is not the way we see it. It’s never one problem and one solution. It’s about making something that will be a good something.
This disjuncture between the conceptual part of the work and its realisation can be very shocking; how different the modes of working are. You also design gallery websites, like the one for Future Gallery. How is that process?
Ps: We’ve done a couple of gallery websites and it’s very difficult, because they are so strict in general. It doesn’t have to be that way, but people can be quite conservative. They don’t want to be, but in the end it should always be about the work, and that should be in focus. We agree that it is about presenting the work in the best way possible. But most galleries are still white cubes and the website can also become an extension of that.
As a studio, we work closely with the content of our projects, the editing and selection. We have many different roles but we like the role of the designer because you are connected to people through representation, as a kind of middle-person between their projects and their audience. In general we’re not that into graphic design studios, but we do enjoy acting in this role. **
Starting in Italian Art History and ending in Loop Quantum Gravity, Luca Pozzi is a product of his background. Working across science, nature and philosophy, the Milan-based artist cites Renaissance artists Tiziano and Leonardo Da Vinci, Mantegna, Tintoretto and De Chirico, Lucio Fontana, Gianni Colombo and many more as influences. That’s while collaborating with the likes of electronic engineer Janick Simeray on levitating sea-sponges in ‘The Star Platform’ and exploring the infinite potential of drawing using experiments by Professor Nicolas Gisin, responsible for teletransporting a photon in 2003, as a jumping off point.
It might look like Pozzi’s sci-art obsession, rooted in the past, is a contradiction in terms but there’s a clear logic to his work, whether it’s a three-dimensional recreation of the mysterious ‘hanging egg’ of the 13th century ‘Montefeltro Altarpiece’ in ‘Schrödinger’s cat through Piero della Francesca influence’ or his Supersymmetric Partner series. The latter features photos of the artist leaping in to the frame of Paolo Veronese’s banquet scenes, making his own pilgrimage into the past, becoming frozen not only in but across time.
“Veronese pushed me to visualize both approaches as the same ‘field’ influenced by different forces, conceived as different grammars,” Pozzi writes, rather lyrically, during a real time Google doc conversation about the evolution of his hybrid practice crossing art and science. “I’m not interested in science in general. I’m interested in Quantum Gravity that is studying the reality at very high energies! This is so far from our scale that is truly poetic”.
Luca Pozzi, ‘The Big Jump Theory’ (2014). 3D Animation: Massimo Russo. Music: ‘black hole orchestra’ by AIGO.
Pozzi uses a lot of exclamation marks, and there appears to be a lot that excites him about his work, giving it a sense of awe and ritual that one suspects has a similar effect as the sense of fulfilment you’d get from a more traditional spiritual pursuit. That’s probably why his latest work ‘ORACLE: The Big Jump’ consists a series of performances with a UV laser to occur at sunset (“every day a different question, every day a new ritual in a very special space where our culture was born 2, 000 years ago”). It’s also happens to be a good reason why Pozzi would be such a good fit for the third edition of the Eternal Internet Brotherhood this April.
Counting himself among the handful of net artists travelling to the Dead Sea to explore the metaphysical value of a manmade tool, it makes sense that Pozzi should take his work to a religious crossroads at the centre of disputed territory. That’s particularly when the place where he plans to draw is called Rift Valley, split between territories, in a moment where past and present, the spiritual and political, converge.
It’s interesting you draw from so far back in history. It makes total sense but I’ve heard people from Italy complain how antiquated the country can be culturally. Yet you seem to use that as a catalyst for a practice that is incredibly progressive.
LP: Sure, the point is that if you start to study theoretical physics, looking for the deepest description of our reality, you see that time itself is not just a stage were things happened, it is also an actor. So not working on time but working with time is much more interesting, in my opinion. The best part is that the Italian attitude to this is pretty much familiar and normal, probably because time is something that influenced us lot.
What do you mean by the Italian attitude was influenced by this approach to time?
LP: Dante for example, the creator of our modern language. In the Divina Commedia [The Divine Comedy], he jumps around in history to connect the knowledge that our culture had accumulated in the past centuries…it’s normal! It’s part of us.
It makes sense now that you put it in those terms. Because, visually, there’s a noticeable contrast between something like ‘Dragon’s Eyes’ and the Supersymmetric Partner series but I suppose that juxtaposition, that kind of tear in the fabric of time, is central to your work.
LP: You touch the point exactly. Both works focus on the fabric of time. Supersymmetric Partner is doing this by a citation of a parallel world it’s representing, in an indirect way, using the societal knowledge. ‘Dragon’s Eyes’ is more pure.
The starting point is the Quantum Gravity approach that postulates the existence of time as something that emerges from a quantum fluctuation, in the drawings made by UV light on phosphor [U-Drawings], you are visualizing the building blocks of this fluctuation. It’s made by light that is actually made from quantum particles. At the same time the work is called ‘Dragon’s Eyes’, that actually is another reference to the mythology of the past. So again, it’s playing with what people believe to know.
It’s interesting that you mention the ‘poetics’ of Quantum Theory. I was just watching a video with Metahaven where they talked about the political side of their work but also the “dreamy, romantic” side. They’re interested in conveying, not just information but a clear, lyrical aesthetic as well.
LP: Flatlandia [a Victorian satirical novella exploring dimensions] could help me to answer here. You should imagine a world were things happen only in two dimensions, right? And one day you discover, by looking for a circle that augments its diameter in a very strange and never seen way, the tridimensionality of a sphere. From this ‘natural’ event, you feel that something goes out from your ‘normal’ knowledge.
‘A Square’ tries to convince the people of his country that the reality is bigger than what they supposed but he will be imprisoned because this option is very dangerous. Poetics is another never seen direction. The never-seen direction is revolutionary and, in terms of politics, that makes problems.
So ‘A Square’ in Flatlandia is pretty much Galileo right?
LP: Hehehehe, there are many people in history that are so similar to ‘A Square’, yes! Galileo is one of them for sure. I mean I can’t separate Galileo from Caravaggio. The light on a piece of bread in Caravaggio is the same as the light on the moon of Galileo. They are both poetic because they discovered a different way of using light.
It’s remarkable this persistent human need for reification, despite it being challenged throughout history. It’s like the tragic-comic reality of human existence. We’ll never learn.
LP: Yes, fortunately never. And you know why? The system is always bigger than its constituents. The first question is whether we feel a part of it or outside of it. But it’s incredible that this limit is supported by the amazing capacity of the imagination.
It also exposes this duality (but I wouldn’t want to limit you to two dimensions) that’s so central to your work; this push and pull, a volatility that maintains some sort of core balance.
LP: Yes the core balance, I love it. The fact is that everything happens in a chaotic way but we are created by such an amazing number of connected variables. This connection is a mystery, so strong but at the same time so fragile.
The heaviest particles, for example, they evaporate and collapse in a very short time. But they are part of it, part of the connection between more complex structures. These metastable moments are so important in my opinion and these moments are like key points in the time-line of our evolution. I love to imagine these suspended moments as frozen in time, to visualise them as the final picture.
In terms of ‘post-internet’, I don’t know if you identify with the label yourself, but it’s interesting to note that many artists associated with it tend to have a rather myopic perspective of art history, if any at all. Perhaps that reflects the narrowing effect of networked culture on our subjective experience.
LP: I don’t feel the Internet has a narrowing effect. I look at it as it was originally, as a bridge to share information and to stimulate discoveries. But post-internet is something that will bring us to the future of the Internet, the Quantum Internet!
In that sense, I’m totally with the post-internet generation. I’m looking for a new technology and so a new experience of the Internet, which is much more related to nature and organic substances.
It does feel like your approach is quite unique in a broader context. If you consider the fact that post-internet spans a more diverse demographic, comparative to earlier generations, it makes sense that it would reject a largely patriarchal historical narrative. Is this something you’ve thought about working with and as a direct descendent of artists and theorists that are mostly male?
LP: I can assure you that I used also to discuss and to reference my works also in relation to female scientists like Francesca Vidotto and Fotini Markoupopulo, they are really amazing!
But, yes, if you are talking about my work related to the past, unfortunately our past culture is pretty much monopolised by men. I have to do something explicit as soon as possible in my work to clarify this, because it’s not the result of choices but the result of the past.
I suppose you can’t change the past, so some people choose to disregard it entirely. After all, perhaps our conception of the world would be entirely different if it weren’t for this imbalanced and binary distinction between members of the population.
LP: That’s a good suggestion. I used to work with the past as common knowledge but rewriting history using different markers is probably less powerful in terms of icons, but I love the idea to create new female icons.
When you talk about this cross-disciplinary hybrid art practice, where you draw not only from art and science, but mythology too –while reaching that level of science theory that it becomes transcendental –then the Eternal Internet Brotherhood is a fairly good match for you.
LP: That’s one of the points that usually creates problems between me and the scientists. Most of them are totally far from spirituality, and mythology, and religion. For them those things are the result of ‘small’ behaviours. In my personal opinion our third eye is spiritual and very much related to the capacity that we have to redesign the world, creating imaginative characters.
Mythology and ritual is part of this talent and The Eternal Internet Brotherhood is one of these rituals, it’s part of our natural practice to say that the network is natural.
It’s bizarre that a scientist should be so opposed to the metaphysical, especially considering that science itself has had a history of being persecuted for being a function of the ‘black arts’. It’s just semantics anyway. If you ask me, the nature of the Internet is pretty fucking magical.
LP: I agree, 100 per cent. I think that the problem is that they deny the necessity to postulate the existence of something beyond, but it’s amazing they do that all the time. **