I’ve had the opportunity to speak with the Director of CCCS and of this exhibition, Franziska Nori, one of the most relevant and young names in contemporary art, who’s been focusing her work over the years in digital art.
“Virtual Identities”, a reflection on digital culture.
A few weeks ago, before all the “Venice Biennale mess” started, I visited Virtual Identities: a little but complete exhibition set up in Florence, at the The Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina (CCCS), a place born in 2007, as part of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, with the intention to give the city of Florence an international contemporary art centre devoted to produce thematic, interdisciplanry exhibitions.
Infact, with its selection of eleven projects by international artists, Virtual identities tries to point out how digital culture is redefining our personal and collective identities, bringing the visitors through a reflection on the new relationship between man and technology.
Thanks to Swide, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with the Director of CCCS and of this exhibition, Franziska Nori, one of the most relevant and young names in contemporary art, who’s been focusing her work over the years in digital art.
According to her, and to the reflection suggested by the exhibition, more awareness about the use of digital media and its consequences, seems to be as lacking as fundamental to survive in this digital jungle.
Let’s start form the beginning…what has brought you to digital art and digital culture studies?
My curatorial experience began in 1994. During the late nineties, I became increasingly fascinated by artists who were working with digital technologies as one of the possible tools to critically reflect on the world in which we are living. When in the year 2000 I was appointed as head of the “Digitalcraft” project at the Museum for Applied Arts in Frankfurt, it was an extraordinary task and challenge to conceive the first institutional museum department devoted to researching, collecting, preserving and presenting digital art and artifacts. Ever since this first endeavor, I’ve worked regularly with artists who use software, source code, digital technologies, and the internet for their work.
So, when did you start thinking about this exhibition?
The idea for the exhibition “Virtual Identities” was realized back in 2003, which in terms of digital culture would be considered almost a century ago. At that time, the paradigms related to the question of ‘what it means to be a person online’ were, in fact, the same as now, but the setting was completely different. In a quick flash back: peer-to-peer networks had just forced the powerful music industry into a deep crisis and a change in the management of their corporate relation to customers; internet users were thrilled by Second Life; chips using RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to tag consumer items seemed to be a further decisive step towards the complete loss of individual privacy and Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the enlarged Google universe had not yet conquered the absolute market supremacy they now hold.
What’s changed now?
A qualitative change has occurred. Through smart-phones, we are now connected to a continuous flow of information with the ability to access online services ubiquitously and communicate constantly with our peer communities. Our ‘virtual’ identity is constantly connected to automated systems, which keep track of what we do, whom we talk to, and where we are at all times. Thus, this ‘networked society’ is redefining the borders of our personal, as well as our collective persona. By shaping our habits, attitudes, desires, and needs, as well as our values, the online identity (or internet persona) becomes an extension of the physical self when establishing social relations on the internet. As a result of the conflict between privacy and public access, the concept of identity itself is under pressure. To mediate between the right to personal freedom and the need for collective security, the Center for Contemporary Culture at Palazzo Strozzi has decided to devote a three month project to this topic by conceiving a contemporary art exhibition which will be accompanied by an interdisciplinary publication and a weekly lecture program.
Social Media Group
Some of the works at the exhibition, for instance Evan Baden's and Robbie Cooper's ones are pointing out the complex relationship between children and new media. It's quite an unhappy portrait, isn't it?
During our research for the exhibition, we spoke to many academic researchers, as well as artists. A strong skepticism emerged towards the uncontrolled use of social media at such an early age— a time when emotional and cognitive abilities are still not completely developed.
Evan Baden - the Illumination series
The digital world is making our senses and imagination dependent on the reality that we experience through technological media. Online culture is transforming our very neurological and physiological structure, along with our behavior and social skills. Recent neuroscientific studies have demonstrated that constant use of communication technologies modifies not only the psychological aspect of the human brain, but also its neuronal structure.
Various researches appear to show that the regular use of the internet by children distorts their sense of reality and ultimately diminishes their sense of responsibility for their behavior in the real world. Online experiences produce great sensorial stimulation, such as seeing and hearing, but completely disregard the relationship between the body and the world.
Robbie Cooper - ImmersionClick here for the video.
Both artists Evan Baden, who’s made a series of photographs in which the subject, children, are illuminated just by the light of their digital devices, and Robbie Cooper, who realized a video with a special technique whereby the camera is incorporated into the monitor displaying the images that has attracted the attention of the subjects, have managed to create incredibly powerful images addressing the impact of digital contents on the emotional sphere of so-called digital natives.
Another great theme of the exhibition is the lack of privacy and the
use of our data by great multinational companies.
Is there a way to defend our private sphere in the digital era?
In order to defend our privacy, the first step is a better understanding of the general functioning principles of the services we use online. But, over the last decades we can notice a growing unconcern by users. If on the one hand, technology becomes more and more user friendly, then users seem to become less and less aware of this basic good they own – their private data.
Certainly, we should and can be, much more aware about the information we deliberately divulge about us through the use of the various online-based services, uploading private images and videos on our social network profiles or comments on various blogs which can be easily accessed also by people whom we do not know. And there is a whole other set of traces which we might not necessarily be aware of leaving behind. Crosslinking all these various information in fact depicts a quite precise portrait of who we are, which interests we have, where we are and to whom we relate.
For example in "Catalogue", the artist Chris Oakley, represents a surveillance video of a department store in which the individuals are studied and labeled according to their consumption habits. (Video here)
The scenario depicted by Chris Oakley in his video work “The Catalogue” from 2004 not only is realistic, but has sadly been already surpassed by reality. Urban surveillance systems have spread in many countries running face recognition programs linked to existing databases to the recorded images allowing a quite exact identification a single persons in public spaces. But still the most precise tracking system is the mobile phone we all carry around with us willingly.
Access to information is a crucial point of the exhibition, too. Diana Djeddi work is focusing on the potential, but also on the risks, connected to the diffusion of the information on the Internet.
Here we have another complex aspect of the digital revolution.
How can we deal with all these critical themes, is more consciousness a good starting point?
If we wish to stay connected to the endless flow of information and participate at the online life without loosing our identity and privacy, I would say that developing a better understanding of the tools we use and an awareness about privacy issues is essential. An attentive and critical attitude towards the services the internet offers us nowadays is key, as Jason Fitzpatricks statement remains true: “if you are not paying for the service, you are the product”.
Or, we could decide to follow the humorous invitation of the Italian conceptual artists “Les Liens Invisible” who have developed the online project Seppukoo —a tool which allowed one to commit digital suicide by deleting one’s Facebook profile, and thus, create a gesture of re-appropriation of one’s own privacy and real life. Ironically this art project has been shut down by Facebook through legal accusation after only three weeks after its release charging the artists of “violation of privacy”.
Written by Gilda Manfring
Credits: Scandalosa Gilda