Marco Mancuso is the Director of Digicult. He is also curator, critic and teacher. Digicult is based on a network of professionals who have beem writing on issues on the areas of audiovisual, expanded cinema, video art to name a few from the new media art and design related disciplines. Digicult is based in Italy.
The idea to invite Marco Mancuso to make this interview is my personal interest in collectives and networks and teir power to change atitudes. It also comes as sequence from the interview with people from SHARE.NYC. I am also interested to know the motivations at the beginning of the project and at the moment, five years after Dgicult started. Digicult has been key in the dissemination of information on works and artists related to audiovisual performance and therefore the interest to this project.
Marco, The work you have been developing is of great value to the contextualization and critique around realtime audiovisual performance. I am referring specifically to central project Digicult and your engagement in showing internationally work done by Italian artists. It is visible the dedication you put into the project, for example, by making accessible the texts published at Digimag to a wider audience through translations to English.
To start our interview, I would like you to share what was the initial motivation at the start of Digicult and later to turn it into a collaborative project. Also what is the relationship between Digicult and your work as curator, promoting and showing work by Italian artists internationally.
Digicult was born five years ago (January 2005), with the aim to start a project that I could put to use my subjects of study, passions, professional skills and my wish to do something relevant for the cultural economy. The idea with Digicult, was to start a challenging project for a new kind of economy and culture: something really independent, not linked to any institution, without any external monetary help, based on network philosoph and that would use the Internet as a free and worldwide communication platform. At that time I was working as critic and journalist on the areas of audiovisual art and design, connecting experiments and historical developments on electronic music, visual arts and experimental cinema. I was very interested in the artistic and all its creative possibilities Eithout restrictions related to digital technologies as creative tools, design and contemporary society.
Digicult started by collecting and translating news into Italian from lists like Rhizome, Spectre, NetBehaiour, Nettime, Syndicate and other sources. We were also publishing news of our activities on the critical magazine Digimag.
With the idea to share the project on a national level, I contacted the first 20 people, among curators, critics, journalists and ask their contribution to the magazine Digimag. From these starting group, some people left and some others still remain, of course. The Network grew to include at the moment around 40 people who write every month for the different sections of the magazine Digimag. My obsession was to translate everything to English on the web portal Digicult and on the magazine Digimag. This way the project could have an international visibility as well as the people involved in it. I always thought this was the winning idea of Digicult: even if we never had professional translators.
When you work every day on something that don't give you any money at all, you need a great balance and organization, both in your private and professional life. My work, which was quite a lot, inclided updating the news, translating them into Italian, speaking with the authors for the next issue of the magazine, editing the articles, publishing the magazine both in Italian and English, following the media partnerships and the web strategies, writing my texts and following the curatorial projects, developing new ideas. Many times seemed like a hard job for just one person. But, throughout the years, I found the balance somehow, with help of my programmer (Luca Restifo), graphic designers (Riccardo Vescovo and Luca Pertegato) and, time to time, people that worked on news editing (Silvia Scaravaggi), press office (Claudia D'Alonzo), and web 2.0 strategies (Mauro Minnone and Luighi Ghezzi)
Quickly the project expanded to include podcast Digipod, newsletter Diginews and lateler the art agency Digimade.
I decided to open the art agency to work with Italian artists values, promote them outside Italy, showing that something important could be done, without money or Institutional help. My activity as curator is not only focused on the art agency (although the curatorial project +39:Call for Italy was presented in some international festivals). Starting with Digicult and related contacts, the agency developed and became international.
Is very interesting the way you work with other people, in what seems to me a system of rewards, because there is no money transactions at all but nonetheless everyone benefits from it. Could you develop on the idea of Digicult as a network of people?
Our generation thinks the concept of a job as paid work. When we speak about “system of rewards”, we have to have in mind this job system, which is the rule in the Western countries. But nowadays, in the new aggressive neo-liberal economies, to have a paid job is closer to Wonderland´s a life style than real world.
Is impossible to understand what is Digicult and its inner, delicate dynamics, without thinking about the Italian economical and professional present situation. In Italy, University research on new media, for example, is basically made by unpaied work or assistant jobs. Same applies to journalism, art critic, curatorial work; if you look for money to organize an event, art-exhibition even a collaboration with a high-level cultural institutions, you will find it to be almost impossible.
Professionals I know didn´t start working for any institution. Instead, they created their own events and then, afterwards, start looking for funding from private parties or EU communities. Success happens because people develop their own projects instead of being like a fruit of a mature job system.
Digicult is a project that, although not completely anarchist since I manage the network, is absolutely free and horizontal. If you want to get involved in the Network you are welcome, without any imposition on exchange of favors.
The same applies to Digicult support (our name, visibility on the platform or magazine) for your own curatorial project. It will be provided to you as long as we agree on a well focused plan. New ideas are always very welcome.
Digicult and the magazine Digimag are well known and respected internationally. Although is not possible to make money working with Digicult, it is possible to meet artists and designers, to attend festivals worlwide and this way to make professional connections. This is one of the main reasons why critics, curators and journalists joined the project. For the first time we have the oportunity to show our works, knowledge and ideas worldwide, opening up to new professional connections and sometimes friendships too.
Digicult may be an example of the possibilities of the networked economies, as it demonstrates what can be done without money.
My last question is focused specifically on the practices of audiovisual performance. Digicult has extensively reported on performances, done interviews and presented artists at festivals. The history of audiovisual performance is rather new and Digicult has been around for a part of it, which puts you, as main responsible for the publication, in a strategic position. Could you present, in your views, three (more or less) very important moments that could be described as historical shifts in the audiovisual performance practices?
Oh, wow, it's absolutely not a simple question. What I have been trying in the last years, with my interviews, texts or small curatorial projects, was to try to evidence the value of audiovisual art world. The contemporary development of audiovisual art and design, is not different, looking at art history and at the work of many pioneers, from other cross disciplary artistic experimental areas, like music, video, cinema and architecture. Cinema, for example, has a long history and a great impact on society in the last two centuries and the same can be said of electronic music, video art, design & architecture. Audiovisual art has always been considered to be a hybrid area, without a pure identity, taking advanteges, tecniques, languages, aesthetics and artists from other disciplines. Too many times audiovisual art is considered to be more playful and therefore superficial, in comparison with other art disciplines
Is more accurate to define it as hybrid in positive terms, as a meta-discipline, able to connect different techniques, instruments and aesthetics. This is my approach to audiovisual art, one that understands what is going on, that makes use of digital technologies, from generative software and open source hardware to integrate new instruments and tools both for live performances or installations.
From the origins of Gesamkunstwerk by Richard Wagner to the first experiments to connect music and lights (The Clavecin Ocualaire by Luis-Bertrand Castell, The Colour Organ from Wallace Rimington to the Chromola-the light keyboard by composer Aleksandr Skrjabin and later the Clavilux/Lumia by Thomas Wilfred or the Optofonic Piano by Vladimir Baranoff Rossinè) could be considered, in my opinion, the first important shift on this long tradition.
The second important shift happens with the birth of cinema: experimental directors, working with light and movement, using music as an important element. The first live performances, by Walter Ruttman (who firstly played live with the musician Max Butting), Oskar Fischinger (who accompanied the colour organ performances by Alexander Laszlo Moholy-Nagy for example), or the experiments with direct cinema by Len Lye and Norman McLaren who firstly work on direct syncronization between images and music. These were all examples of a further impulse to audiovisual art history and still influence today very interesting artists worldwide (like Thortsen Fleich, Juliene Maire and Jurgen Reble, to mention a few).
The third historical shift happens when video becomes a good in the global mass market. Not dismissing pioneers on video art, like Nam June Paik, Volff Vostell or, more recently, Bill Viola, I would like to evidence some others, like the first video and motion graphic designer John Whitney and Steina and Woody Wasulka. These last two artists use video as a source of electronic signals, like sound in search for aesthetic possibilities in the direct connection between sound and visuals.
Finally, in this short excursion, the final step belongs to the times in which we live, the digital era. Digital tools opened the access to a large number of people working with visual compositions and to experiments with synchrony, perceptivity and non-narrative audiovisual. We are present at the birth of new sub-disciplines, like Live Media, Live Cinema and Vjing. I consider our digital era important for audiovisual art because of the big technolocal and scientific power of contamination on aesthetics, languages and tecniques.
Softwares, code, hardware, new instruments for spazialization of audio and video and interactions with surrounding ambient are part of the first reseach development related to audiovisual.
Is the relationship with the space that changed in the world of art. The artistic references are the same for art and design, now in a hybrid form: the avantguards of the last century, the Jordan Belson's Vortex Concerts and Stan Van der Beek's Videodrones, Le Courbesier/Xenakis/Varese's Philips Pavillon. To these examples I can add many other good examples of transdisciplinary artistic experiments (merging sound, video, images, architecture and space), which will indicate the most interesting path to the contemporary audiovisual art of the future.