Self-representation is as much a crisis as is social presence. The Italian ex-graffiti artist leaves all friendship requests pending and fixes instead a real appointment to meet the potential friends in person.
We had already met Ivano Atzori at the beginning of his non-vandalistic career (see the interview on Swide May 2010), apparently for the acclaimed and controversial ex-graffiti artist the establishment causes an instant allergy, an opposite reaction, and a non-alignment. Ivano Atzori points his finger at the recent object of criticism: Facebook. The beloved social network that has created new social mechanisms is being criticized in its digital form by Ivano.
Why are we friends on Facebook? Who do we really know among our contacts? What’s the human value of a contact created on the web? Ivano Atziri opened his Facebook profile a couple of months ago receiving a lot of friendship requests from actual friends but also from fans and complete strangers. Are they all the same? Friends, fans, and strangers: all equal? Ivano took his time to think it through. He accepted the request of two or three close relations leaving the others pending. After a few months, to all of those who had requested his friendship on Facebook, Ivano gave an actual appointment at Gloria Maria Gallery, in Milan ) to meet them in person and check if they fill the right requisites to be his friends.
A bitter provocation that sounds more like a statement than a reprisal. Ivano Atzori tells through his performance what clearly looks like a language crisis, an impossibility to share values, linking it to our poor self-knowledge and crisis of the persona.
Internet is democratic. What’s wrong with that?
Atzori: House of an alien was my first encounter with the web. I agree that Internet nears the concept of democracy and this is actually what troubles me: can people be coherent with their power? In Italy, we apparently live in a democracy, but it’s an imperfect one. I give you an easier example: usually we see the donkey walking from behind but if you look at the bigger scope you the see the carrot in front of it. That carrot can be diabolic. The same thing happens on the Internet and on Facebook.
Facebook creates social relations: do you agree?
Atzori: If it does, it’s a new kind of relation with mechanisms that are simple only in appearance and somewhat perverted if you look closer. Dialogues, conversations, messages on social networks that copy 30 second TV commercials. Facebook is fascinating but we shouldn’t forget that real people conduct it. This was fundamental for the development of my project. Reactions, memories, emotions, anger and jealousy: all of this exists in Facebook but we don’t see it or we don’t show it.
Language shapes things and shapes have substance: is it always the case?
Atzori: No not always. Substance, thought as essence or being, is inscrutable. For that reason you can represent it as a whole. I like to think of art as a way to exteriorize images, pictures, experiences, and paintings, everything that goes on inside me. My essence hidden in dark spots, or smiling, angry, and temperamental. My project comes out of this: I became a father four years ago and only now I am expressing the consequences of this event. I wasn’t aware of it, but for four years my inner being was shouting questions at me: WHO ARE YOU NOW THAT A PART OF YOU, YOUR FLUID CAME TO LIFE AS AN ANOTHER HUMAN BEING?
No one thinks the friendship you have on Facebook equals a real friendship. Or do they?
Atzori: Are you kidding?! My project, in the end, analyzed this phenomenon. I have received requests from real friends, people I grew up with and I still see whenever I can. When they sent me the request, I didn’t answer. A few days later, they would send me an email or a text message asking me to add them to my few contacts. However, when we met in person no one confronted the issue. Don’t you think people are confused?
Do you think it’s a problem of language, that there is an improper use of the word “friend”, if the shape of things creates substance what changes with it?
Atzori: The way we use language on the web is different, it’s more concise and flighty. When you are sad you type a colon and an open bracket, you want the attention from your contacts. Friendship takes two definitions, one for the real world and one for the virtual. I believe some can also take advantage of this new form by increasing their social life, have an easier access to new relations and so on…
If I ask your friendship on Facebook, I am taking a risk: according to Facebook we are not friends. I might look like a stalker. Technocracy is taking over: just give up.
Atzori: Being a stalker is a quality humans have had since forever. Getting too close or molesting someone is something human beings have done before and will always do. On Facebook, people want to followed and follow others, there is no other explanation for posting the sexy pictures you took during your holidays. The paradox is denouncing this fact when your private life is available to everyone. Stalkers included. Being anonymous is a condition I am interested in, not knowing who is following you, not knowing who is looking, who is following, is scary. If anonymity is used ingeniously it can really change the cards on the table.
When was it the last time you told someone during your childhood something like: do you want to be my friend?
Atzori: Facebook is a regression. It’s true especially for the reasons I explained before. We use a simple language on facebook, fast, different from the one we use in real life, full of tension, charged with difficulties, worries… Inviting someone for a drink was never easy for some, now it’s a little easier.
A friend of mine (on Facebook) from New York wants to be your friend (on Facebook) but can’t come meet you in via Watt, Milan: you will never be friends. You are a bit snobbish. What do you have against New Yorkers who can’t come to Milan at Gloria Maria Gallery to meet you but want to be friends (on Facebook)?
Atzori: What does it mean being a snob in the virtual world? Can we give it the same meaning we do in the real world? You can’t be offended. I don’t want friends on Facebook. The project started thanks to these unanswered questions in a limbo that gets created between the one who does the request and the beneficiary. This condition was the starting point of the experience.
You are not giving a chance for progress.
Atzori: On the contrary, I created a different possibility by using the social network differently. I personalized this possibility, made it singular. Progress is at anyone’s reach but no one can decide in my place what to do with it. If not it’s not progress.
I believe one should always get stimulated even when contrary or unenthusiastic to the idea. As a social network I want to say: I like you.
Atzori: Thank you, just know that I will give to your “like” a virtual meaning.
Photo credits: Andrea Boscardin.