Interview #66


DISCIPULA (Marco Paltrinieri, Mirko Smerdel and Tommaso Tanini) is a collective operating in the field of contemporary visual research, founded in 2013. Their projects have been exhibited at Je Vous Propose (Zurich), Istituto Italiano di Cultura (Belgrade), MLZ Art Dep Gallery (Trieste), format festival (Derby), Base (Milan), kunsthalle Graz (Graz), Galerija Kortil (Rijeka), Centre Photographie Genève (Genève).

You wrote that ‘DISCIPULA focuses on the exploration of the role and uses of images in the contemporary mediascape ‘. In order to illustrate your research, you chose the expression mediascape, immediately evoking the logics and mechanism that regulate the media sphere. Is this your motivating urgency?

Discipula didn’t start out as an artistic project, but as publishing house. We had ongoing projects which we would have liked to publish as books (The Looking Game and H. said he loved us), but after a number of unsuccessful attempts to find a publisher, we decided to join forces, following, so to say, our DIY attitude – actually, we’re veterans of the punk hardcore scene! So, our publishing house was born. Even if we enjoyed publishing, after a while we realized we couldn’t do it and did not really want to focus solely on such a complicated and expensive activity. So we decided to transform Discipula into a proper artistic project.

So you met because of punk? Is it your milieu?

Yes, we have known each other for 20 years, since high school, when we used to play in a hardcore band. We kept playing until 2003-2004 and then we parted ways with each other. Five years ago we’ve been reunited, after very different education paths. I am the only one who studied in art academy; Marco studied psychology and Tommaso studied photography. Coming back to your original question, our experiences found their intersection exactly in our interest towards images and the role they play in the media environment. I think this perspective makes the encounter between visual arts, psychology and photography quite clear.

Proceeding chronologically, what happened after this brief gestation period in the publishing field?

The first works, somehow, reminded the forms of documentary, then we focused on images as social agents and, finally, came the interest to everything happens at an unconscious level. One of our last projects, Promise Areas, started from a selection of renderings used as luxury real estate advertising images. Fake photographic images, totally artificial, not analogous to photography – at least following the conventional notion of ‘photography’, i.e. the representation of an existing object, light or anything real. All this is lacking in these computer-generated forms of representation, making them a peculiar kind of apparatus, close to painting perhaps…

The idea of the represented subject in itself.

Exactly: so, when you observe a luxury apartment rendering or many of those renderings, which is even better, you come to notice the recurrence of a series of clichés, of constitutive elements. A simple case is that of the city skyline, that often works as background. It is never the representation of the project’s actual city, but rather the ideal city’s ideal skyline. And so the interiors, which are ideal interiors, and the people, who stay in ideal poses and dress ideal clothes. Everything is ideal and idealized.

I think there is something like a legitimization system of those images, together with precise images production and circulation codes.

I believe what is legitimated here, is the future that the image prefigures. A society’s idealization, represented and channeled by the image and its power. For instance, a rendering aims to legitimate the whole society constituting all luxury apartments’ context, that creates these apartments and their imagery.

I think this happens before the object is made and sold. Like it’s the same images production that legitimize itself, through its system and consumption logics.

These days, almost just for fun, I’m doing some research into robot policemen images, the robocop, an icon already in the 80s… you can find million of images on Google. In Dubai and China there are police robots, even if they’re still nothing more than poorly articulated puppets. They got cap and uniform. The Chinese one is less human-like – and, interesting anecdote, it literally committed suicide. Anyway, this imagery used to exist before finding its materialization in reality and we would not be surprised if, in ten minutes, a true robocop will jump from the corner, because it’s an image that has been already ‘created’.

Speaking about technology, control and near future, you could tell me something about the project about Aura corporation.

The project How Things Dream was born two years ago and is still ongoing. It’s based on this fake corporation identity construction. We named the fake corporation Aura. Aura collects and elaborates big data, in fields like home automation, health care, security, governance and education. Through technology, this private corporation substitutes the State… Nothing new. In the first phase of this project we just imitated the already existing scenario, inspired by California, Google, pointing out some aspects in order to make them immediately comprehensible.

I think this characterize your research: without getting obvious , your work is always very comprehensible. It is intentional? Do you want to be directly understood?

Yes, we do. We wish to get out of the contemporary art and photography narrow circles. Since we use elements that are part of society, we want to work inside society. As long as we don’t exhibit our work only in actual exhibition spaces, we also use unconventional media. With How Things Dream we tried to invade the public space and blend in it as much as possible. We did it through an advertising campaign using both magazines and physical advertising spaces in the city, supported by a proper press agency that actually manages big led banners. So we came to the second step of How Things Dream, in which we imagined Aura working on a dream reading software. With all that entails ethically.

Why people would dispose these kind of informations? Is it part of your research?

Of course it’s an interesting point, for us. And we’d like to understand to what degree this kind of invasion of the unconscious already exists.

What are your theoretical references?

We could start from Freud and Marx and arrive to Mark Fisher and Morozov. Bifo. Always the regulars! Recently I really enjoyed reading this book called The Third Reich of Dreams, by Charlotte Beradt, a German Jew psychologist who collected witnesses of dreams influenced by contemporary society during the first years of the Nazi regime. The book was published in the 60s and it’s peculiar noticing how people of very different social background and political orientation felt controlled the same way, even while dreaming.