Domenico Quaranta, Geraldine Juárez (eds.), THE F.A.T. MANUAL, Link Editions, Brescia 2013. 224 pages, color, English, ISBN 9781291577914.
The Wrong - New Digital Art Biennale
Staggeringly big online digital art show, made of 30 exhibitions and curated by artists, is now available for all to see. Gifs, videos, 3D, WebGl - there is a huge amount of variety, something for everyone:
The Wrong - New Digital Art Biennale opens its “online” doors, here at http://thewrong.org , and in a more relaxed pace, its “AFK” doors in more than ten different cities around the world.
What is The Wrong’s mission? To create, promote and push positive forward-thinking contemporary digital art to a wider audience worldwide through a biennial event that gathers the best selected by the best, while embraces the young talents of today’s digital art scene.
A team of 30 top curators/artists have been working for more than 6 months to feature what they like best in the new digital art world. The biennial is divided into pavilions; virtual spaces in which selected works are exhibited. In total, there are 30 online pavilions, including an “unlimited” pavilion open to public participation and a “meta” pavilion exclusively featuring exclusively the artwork of the curators. More than 300 artists have been invited officially, and have their work featured in the pavilions, and several hundreds are still applying to until the end of the event to participate of the “unlimited” open pavilion. The Wrong is the only free biennial that is fully accessible both to participate and to attend, and everything just one click away.
The Wrong has no theme. Each of the official pavilions has a curator responsible to select its artists. The curators leading pavilions are Jodi, Yoshi Sodeoka, Anthony Antonellis, Rollin Leonard, Lorna Mills, Curt Cloninger, Emilio Gomariz, Eric Mast, Chiara Passa, Max Hattler, A.Bill Miller, Helena Acosta, Peter Rahul, Miyö Van Stenis, Andrew Benson, Emilie Gervais, Rick Silva, Michaël Borras, Sara Ludy, Ellectra Radikal, Giselle Zatonyl, Protey Temen, Johann Velit, Michael Staniak, Gerhardt Rubio Swaneck, Rosa Menkman, Joseph Yølk Chiocchi, Cristina Ghetti, Julia Borges Araña, Guilherme Brandão e David Quiles Guilló.
You can start your tour of the online exhibitions here
This text was written for the catalogue of an upcoming exhibition at Primo Marella Gallery, Milan (Images du Futur, October 23 - November 30, 2013), featuring the work of Alessandro Brighetti, Donato Piccolo, Francesco Fonassi and Latvian artist Voldemārs Johansons.
Images du Futur
I. Machineries of Joy
“Did not God promote environments, then intimidate those Natures by provoking the existence of flesh, toy men and women, such as are we all? And thus happily sent forth, at our best, with good grace and fine wit, on calm noons, in fair climes, are we not God’s Machineries of Joy?” Ray Bradbury, 1960 
In the story “The Machineries of Joy” (1960), Ray Bradbury conjures up a heated debate between an Italian priest and an Irish priest, at the dawn of the space age. A keen supporter of the civilisation of machines, the Italian priest, to provoke his Irish counterpart, invents a non-existent Encyclical by Pope Pius XII on space travel and makes up a William Blake quote in which man is described as God’s “machinery of joy”. If God is a creator of machines and if man, his most noble creation, is but a machinery of His joy, then machines are a tribute to God, and man should have unlimited freedom to design and use them.
As the Italian priest points out further on, the quote is made up, but it is nonetheless plausible. While on one hand mechanical metaphors are often used to interpret and describe the ways of God (the workings of the celestial spheres, for example), on the other machines have always been seen an imitation, or rather an emulation, of nature. The attempt to emulate the workings of God’s machineries of joy has been variously interpreted throughout history as noble and worthy (a tribute) or blasphemous and heretic (a challenge).
Like art (at least in its traditional conception), machines are therefore in a relationship of imitation with the natural world. To some extent machines represent an even nobler, or more blasphemous, form of imitation than art, because while the latter merely imitates the appearance of nature, the former emulate its workings, its innermost mechanisms. This is not, it goes without saying, the only point of contact between the history of art and that of machines. Pontus Hultén, in the introductory essay to his famous exhibition The Machine: As Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age (MoMA, New York 1968), observes that the Ancient Greeks had a single term (techné) for artistic and technical practice, and highlights how key Renaissance figures, Leonardo Da Vinci first and foremost, combined the roles of artist, scientist and inventor. 
The relationship between art and machines only underwent a considerable change when the relationship between machines and society changed, namely at the dawn of the industrial revolution. It was then that machines stopped being seen as simple functional devices, toys or sources of wonder, and began to be celebrated as a symbol of progress, or opposed as monsters that were gradually eroding man’s freedom: taking his work (see the Luddites), making him submit to other men (Karl Marx) or to the machines themselves, as they became stronger or cleverer than humans. As Hultén notes, Milton’s Satan and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were powerful symbols of this fear of machines.
From then on, artists looked to machines – representing them, using them or creating them, with an alternation of celebration and critique, admiration and aggression. In his 1952 Manifesto del Macchinismo, for example, Bruno Munari wrote:
The world, today, belongs to machines […] Machines multiply faster than humans, almost like the most prolific insects; they are already forcing us to take care of them, to spend a lot of time looking after them; they have spoilt us, we have to keep them clean, feed them and let them rest, visit them continuously and make sure they want for nothing.
In a few years we will be their little slaves.
Only artists can save the human race from this danger. 
Hultén too, appears to have the same idea, writing:
Clearly if we believe in either life or art, we must assume complete domination over machines, subject them to our will, and direct them so that they may serve life in the most efficient way – taking as our criterion the totality of human life on this planet. In planning for such a world, in helping to bring it into being, artists are more important than politicians, and even than technicians. 
So why does Hultén place himself “at the end of the mechanical age”, despite being around during its peak? Because he has read Norbert Wiener, whose 1946 book Cybernetics described a new era of machines, in which the latter would no longer imitate our strength and muscles, but our intelligence and brains. The “mechanical” machine would make way for the “intelligent” machine, the computer. As Wiener observed three years later, in a piece for The New York Times that was never published and has only recently been rediscovered, this masterpiece of emulation was the culmination of a process set in motion with Leibniz 250 years before, that opens even more disconcerting prospects. Wiener concludes:
[…] If we move in the direction of making machines which learn and whose behaviour is modified by experience, we must face the fact that every degree of independence we give the machine is a degree of possible defiance of our wishes […] it is only a humanity which is capable of awe, which will also be capable of controlling the new potentials which we are opening for ourselves. We can be humble and live a good life with the aid of the machines, or we can be arrogant and die. 
At the same period in which machines began to be either feted or demonised, technical/scientific know-how and artistic practice also went their separate ways. While the former became more specialised, and laid the foundations for an autonomous status, art fell back on humanism and self-referentialism. This schism, which dates back to Romanticism, still heavily conditions our current conception of art (and science), despite the efforts of artists and scientists throughout the last century to demonstrate how absurd it is and remedy the damage done.
The disciplines’ respective educational pathways also parted ways. Technical/scientific knowledge came to be seen as dry and cold, a stranger to creativity and flights of fantasy, and artistic practice was stripped of anything resembling a function. There have been episodes when art and science, and art and technology, came together and worked together, but these have been roundly ostracised by the official history of art. An exhibition like Hultén’s was a child of its time. Just one year previously the not-for-profit organisation Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) was founded, with the aim of facilitating collaborations between artists and engineers, promoted among others by Billy Klüver (an electronic engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories) and Robert Rauschenberg. Yet when the exhibition was staged it was harshly criticized, and it would have been wholly unthinkable just ten years later, as humanism renounced technology’s dubious involvement in the military arsenal that was being deployed in Vietnam. By that time it would have been utterly pointless to underline just how much humanism there was in the aforementioned statements of Hultén and Wiener.
Even the use of technical media like photography, film and video (and today the computer) is only admitted as long as there is no attempt to research the medium, explore or extend its technical potential.
From Romanticism to Postmodernism, art as techné and the Renaissance model of the artist have remained estranged from art’s official discourse, firstly in the name of art for art’s sake, then following the rise of a bastardized version of the Duchampian ideal. Bastardized because, it goes without saying, most of Duchamp’s work and ideas run counter to self-referentialism and the notion of the institution having the power to confer the status of art on any common or garden object. Duchamp was one of the twentieth century artists most interested in movement. He saw machines as a source of inspiration and a model; he used them and built them. After all, Duchamp is the artist who built an optical device and tried to pass it off at a fair for amateur inventors. He is the artist who invited us to “unlearn” art and take other disciplines into account. He is the artist who embraced the pseudoscience of pataphysics, who was interested in the fourth dimension, who made ironic, dysfunctional use of scientific knowledge which in his words was just a way of improving the flavour of Coca Cola. He is the artist who said:
I’m a pseudo, all in all. That’s my characteristic. If I used the little mathematics I knew, it was just because it was amusing to introduce that into a domain like art, which has very little of it generally. 
While in his interviews with Tomkins he criticized the use of science and technology as a source of practical, utilitarian knowledge, Duchamp recognised that they were the driving force of his day, and called for them to be used in an ironic, anti-utilitarian way, serving his desire to subvert all rules imposed by art.
This approach shows he was clearly a child of his times: a period, we should remember, that coincided with the decline of “mechanical” machines and the apparition of “intelligent” machines. The decades that followed saw incredible progress in science, an unprecedented impact of technology on human life, and art becoming an autonomous, largely inward-looking discipline. The warnings of Munari, Hultén and Wiener have gone largely unheeded, taking us to the exact place they had foreseen: towards a society that risks collapsing under the weight of innovation that cuts man largely out of the equation. In this context, the one positive thing is that countercurrents can be perceived in almost all of the aforementioned sectors. Science is desperately seeking a point of contact with humanistic culture. From the world of software development and media theory there are calls inviting man to wrest back control of the situation, to be more aware of what lies behind the intelligence of intelligent machines, and rethink the whole model before the process becomes irreversible. 
Artists, lastly, are breaking out of the narrow confines of the art world and getting interested in other areas of knowledge, working with scientists, engineers, hackers and programmers, doing residencies in research centres and universities, and increasingly rediscovering the pleasure of “getting their hands dirty”, not delegating their work, and developing forms of technical know-how that can be very specific, requiring a high level of awareness and skill.
Of course these tendencies are in a minority compared to mainstream art, but they exist and they are making headway. This exhibition attempts to offer a small sample of this, by no means representative of all the research being done but nonetheless valid. Equally humbly, this catalogue is willing to bet on an end to the separation between the “humanistic” world and the “scientific” world, seeking, and securing, the collaboration of scientists and technicians. The works on show are “images of the future” not because they merely relate to an arena – that of science and technology – traditionally viewed as a driver of progress and innovation, but because they anticipate the lines along which art will develop as soon as it makes up its mind to leave the injurious realm of the short but enduring twentieth century behind.
III. Francesco Fonassi
At first glance, among the other artists on show, the work of Francesco Fonassi might look the least akin to what we have been talking about so far. Fonassi does not build machines, unless we are willing to accept a broader definition of “machine” – ranging from relational devices to performative mechanisms to programmed actions. He does not display or put technology on show; on the contrary he renders it invisible. He would be unlikely to call himself an artist/scientist or artist/engineer. Yet, like the others, he is attracted to disciplines alien to art. In one interview, when asked what he had been reading, he mentioned “an essay on ethology and an old manual entitled Condotta dei generatori di vapore (Operating a steam generator) that belonged to my granddad”. Talking about his education, he says: “I would have preferred to study something more specific, perhaps scientific, or purely theoretical. It is difficult to work in contemporary art today if you have not trained in another field. You risk ending up believing that art only exists where it is called by that name.” 
Many of his works come into being as “tests” or “experiments”, as the emblematic pieces Untitled (potential) and Ir, shoot for Isolation (2010), show. In the former a pneumatic trumpet produces a sound that gets ever more acute, to the point of almost shattering the bell jar that covers it. The latter is a series of sound actions in which Fonassi carries out a traditional acoustic test in various locations with specific civic or spiritual connotations (a town square, a church): gunshot is used as a tool for creating an “impulse response”, in other words for measuring the distance between the sound emitted and the response. In other works a system is over-stimulated, subjected to particular pressures to study possible reactions.
He proposes the same experimental approach in the gallery, for example in Ir, System (2010): an environmental installation in which a sensor measures the intensity of sound in the setting, artificially producing a gunshot when this exceeds a given level. In White Balance, from the same year, he uses a proximity sensor to signal the point of encounter between two people on different sides of a wall, and therefore invisible to each other. Here, like in all his works, sound interferes with two other systems in operation – that of perception and that of the relationships that give an identity to a place or space. In Temporale (2011) the sound from a setting is gathered by 40 microphones trailed on the ground, filtered and manipulated in real time by a mixer and put into another setting. In Everest FM 100.1 (2011), Fonassi uses the frequencies of Radio Star (one of the first free radio stations in Vicenza) to broadcast 50 audio pieces and makes the broadcasting station (the so-called “Everest tower”, the city’s landmark skyscraper) the only place where these can be heard. By taking his audience 80 metres up a tower, Fonassi sabotages the traditional function of a radio broadcast (which attempts to cancel out distances, and arrive everywhere) and generates a short circuit in which it is the temporal distance (between the present and the period in which Radio Star broadcast on 100.1 FM from the Everest Tower) that is cancelled out.
IV. Donato Piccolo
Unlike Fonassi, Donato Piccolo, formerly a programmer at CNR (Italy’s National Research Centre) cannot complain of lacking in technical/scientific training. He is frequently in contact with scientists and draws on scientific theories and physics phenomena as a source of inspiration, as a conceptual area of reference to present his work, and as a medium. The phenomena that he creates, however, do not play out in the viewer’s space and do not involve him or her as the final subject of an experiment, as Fonassi’s do, but are placed at a distance, isolated and imprisoned in capsules that accentuate their iconographic and metaphorical nature.
In his work Donato Piccolo restores the dimensions of awe and wonder inspired by both natural phenomena and technological marvels. His drawings, in which the functional precision of the project is accompanied with an effective, virtuous rendering of the phenomenon, highlight this “romantic” dimension of his work, to return to the original meaning of the term, as an attraction to the sublime, the exploration of nature as a mirror of man, and the use of dramatic forms of expression.
Imprisoned in glass pillars, his hurricanes are not replicas or simulations aimed at creating facile spectacular effects, but an invitation to recoup that distance from scientific knowledge that prevents it from being a cognitive system, a tool we can use to understand ourselves and our position in the world, and not just the armed wing of technological innovation, or, as Duchamp put it, a way for making better Coca Cola. As Piccolo stated in an interview:
What we see outside is ultimately what is inside of us. The forces of nature are an external manifestation of what goes on inside our minds. What distinguishes these two aspects, as the philosopher Brentano said, is intentionality, the idea that consciousness is always intentional. Reproducing a storm, hurricane, tornado, gust of wind or tsunami inside a given space highlights the contrast between human consciousness and the order of things. Art basically sets out to gain deeper insights into things, eliminating visual stereotypes and filters that hinder our vision of the world. For this reason the term “replica” is not entirely appropriate, because these are no longer natural phenomena but sculptures made of air, forms created by particles of gas, and in a way it is like playing with matter, understanding its composition and breaking it down, making the work both real and immaterial at the same time. 
V. Alessandro Brighetti
Awe and wonder also play an important role in the work of Alessandro Brighetti. If this was not the case the decision to use ferrofluids as the basis for his latest works would be at the least reckless and dangerous. This dense glossy black liquid, a mixture of iron nanoparticles surrounded by an ionic surfactant dissolved in oil, is a challenging material that in the wrong hands would be capable of literally devouring the work. Magical and captivating, the very ambiguity of this magnetically charged liquid wants to impose itself as the message. When it isn’t, as is evident in Brighetti’s work, it has to be used very skilfully to make sure it does not become the exclusive focus of the viewer’s attention, a source of childlike wonder.
Brighetti possesses this skill, and we could almost say that he possesses it paradoxically, because his preoccupations are not exclusively those of a visual artist tackling a new material. “Artist experimenter”  Brighetti creates his ferrofluids with the help of a chemist friend, studies his medium with enthusiasm and dedication and knows it inside out; he appropriates the science required to dominate it, and his knowledge of it goes beyond the use he makes of it in his works. With the preoccupations and ambitions of a physicist, he states: “I am fascinated by the other and the non-ordinary. I want to go beyond perception, beyond man’s physiological limits. I want to explore the “ultra” and the “infra”: the ultra sensitive, ultra violet, ultrasound, infrared…”  He gets his hands dirty.
And it is this in-depth knowledge of the medium that enables him, at a second stage, to detach from it and use it in ways that shift the source of fascination. Take Nabucco (2013), for example. Faced with the solid majesty of this work it is impossible to think that it is based on a device that uses a simple fairground trick. It is not the ferrofluid that captures our attention, but the way in which this becomes part of the work, the way it introduces speed and movement into this imposing structure, the way in which it balances its material presence with its light, elegant flow: the way in which it animates the sculpture. In other cases, like Fertility and Shiver, we can lose ourselves in awe at the way life takes possession of the sculptural, inanimate and inevitably slightly kitsch object, a faithful imitation of the human body. In other pieces, like Struggle for Pleasure, in the series The M 1st Project, and the series of works named after psychopharmalogical drugs, what enthrals the viewer is the hypnotic rhythms created and the material’s ability to effect small but perceptible variations in the repetitive movements.
We could say that it is Brighetti’s alchemy that makes him an artist. His “overwhelming personal urge” to engage with the materials he uses, including their physical and chemical properties, is what enables him to move beyond them and elevate them into works where the science disappears and what is left is a consummate visualisation of a concept.
As he puts it:
[…] I am completely dominated by abstract entities that bend me to their will. I am chained in an enclosed space with no way out. I am a subordinate. Physics imposes its brutal, hegemonic will and I succumb pleasurably to its commandments. Chemistry finds its own space, using and shaping it with precision. […] I am at the bottom of the hierarchy. I am the medium that reveals the aesthetic of nature, something that is above reproach. I formalise the final structure and create material supports to show people the beauty of universal laws. 
VI. Voldemārs Johansons
Science also plays a key role, as both a conceptual frame of reference and active practice, in the works of Voldemārs Johansons, a musician by training who studied at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and the Institute of Sonology at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. Johansons frequents laboratories, consults scientists and works with them, and all of his projects are preceded by lengthy periods of research. His work mainly takes the form of sound environments and installations, with the focus on the ability of natural elements and living beings to generate form and harmony. One emblematic example of this is the piece Aero Torrents (2007), an installation in which the surface of water is sculpted by sound vibrations generated by meteorological data gathered during heavy storms, such as wind intensity and direction. The work springs from a reflection on climate change, manifested in the increasing numbers of natural disasters around the world, and the analogy between the variable intensity of winds (caused by contrasts in pressure between adjacent areas) and that of sound waves, caused by changes in air pressure. He stages a process that goes from information (the data gathered) to form, converting the information into sound and the sound into air movements that shape the surface of the water.
This process – from physical phenomenon to the immaterial dimension of information to the physical presence of the work – can also be seen in other pieces by Johansons. In Concord (2009 – 2010), electric current is converted directly into sound without the mediation of a system of amplification, simply channelled by taut metal cables that are exposed to a magnetic field. The result is a dark space criss-crossed by searing lines of light (the cables heated by the electric current), inhabited by the harmonious sounds generated by their vibrations. In Émissions II, of 2013, the data gathered while observing geothermal processes is converted into impulses that are transmitted to panels of black granite held up by invisible wires and arranged in front of the white wall in a composition with vaguely Suprematist echoes, in such a way that the rigid structure of the composition vibrates with the light undulating movements and crystalline sounds produced. Lastly, in Photons and Phonons, of the same year, the pathways of light particles (photons) are recorded and converted into sound particles (phonons) “executed” on a blank sheet of paper. The work reveals Johansons’ interest in the limits of human perception, in a remote dialogue with the previous work Iris in the Realm of Darkness (2008 – 2009), a sensory environment that plunges us into a dark fog criss-crossed by barely perceptible lasers that sketch out sloping planes. The artist’s exploration of nature’s ability to generate form and harmony also extends to living beings, like the bacteria in Biotricity (2013, in collaboration with the collective RIXC), which generate energy that Johansons displays in sound form, and the ant colony in Attractors (2012), placed in an artificial environment that simulates a natural ecosystem. The movements and pathways of the ants going about their daily business are offered up for the aesthetic estimation and rapt observation of the spectators.
 Ray Bradbury, The Machineries of Joy, Bantam Books, New York 1965, p. 12.
 Cf. Pontus Hultén (ed.), The Machine: As Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1968. The essay is available on line at http://swiki.hfbk-hamburg.de:8888/seminare/uploads/132/THE_MACH.DOC.
 Bruno Munari, “Manifesto del Macchinismo”, 1952. Republished in: B. Corà, P. Bellasi, A. Fiz, M. Hajek, G. Managuagno (eds.), Tinguely e Munari. Opere in azione, Editore Mazzotta, Milan 2004.
 Pontus Hultén (ed.), The Machine…, cit.
 Norbert Wiener, “The Machine Age”, 1949. Available online at http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/mithistory/pdf/MC0022_MachineAgeV3_1949.pdf courtesy of MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections.
 Cf. Calvin Tomkins, Marcel Duchamp. The Afternoon Interviews, Badlands Unlimited, New York 2013, p. 84. The interviews took place in 1964.
 Cfr. at least Douglas Rushkoff, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, O/R Books 2010 and Jaron Lanier, You Are Not A Gadget. A Manifesto, Knopf 2010.
 Silvano Manganaro, “Donato Piccolo”, in Drome Magazine, Year 8, Issue 20, spring-summer 2012.
 Chiara Canali, “Alessandro Brighetti. L’artista sperimentatore”, in La Stampa, 26 May 2011.
 Antonello Tolve, “Alessandro Brighetti e un itinerario neogestaltico. Un dialogo”, in Art a Part of Culture, 23 May 2012. Online at www.artapartofculture.net/2012/05/23/alessandro-brighetti-e-un-itinerario-neogestaltico-un-dialogodi-antonello-tolve/.