As part of your artistic path, what brought you to video art, and what type of role does it play for you now?
I began to be interested in moving images watching films. I wanted to become a film director. But my personal experiences were connected with a lot of different disciples: drawing first of all (I made the graphic novel draftsman for a while, for underground Italian magazines), theatre, music, and especially dance. And I was a passionate viewer of music videos. So, when I watched movies I wasn’t so interested to narrative features, but to the aesthetics of the images mainly connected with sound or music. I wanted to watch worlds made-up by an artist, not a so-called copy of the reality. So I preferred to watch animation movies, sci-fi of horror movies and everything related to a very personal and artificial representation of the world. Then I discovered avant-garde movies attending a course at University of Torino: watching the work of art of German abstract filmmakers as Ruttmann and Fischinger, the surrealist cinema of Bunuel-Dalí and especially Ballet Mécanique by Fernand Léger has been quite a revelation to me. Then I had the good fortune to watch a selection of videoart works taken from a compilation made by “Festival del Cinema di Pesaro” and I was lightened by another revelation: the vision of Art of Memory by Woody Vasulka. That was the synthesis of everything I looked for: experimentation on the image, powerful imagery, strong connection between images and sounds, and lack of traditional narration. From that point I wanted to work on that field of expression.
How much influence do you believe your cultural background, and the foreground of globalized culture have had in your artistic expression?
The cultural and mainly the artistic backgrounds have been connected from a long time. To be involved in media culture means to be involved in connection processes. The “globalization” of visual inputs can be process that takes many forms: the diffusion of sacred images or the birth of cultural movements like the Renaissance or artistic movements like Dadaism. Now the web is the main tool of globalization of culture. But speaking about pop culture or archetypical images to me it makes no difference. I like some aspects of pop culture and I like to work on archetypical imageries: it’s the visual world where we live in.
Your relationship with digital tools: how much do you think they changed your artistic expression, and in what way?
I lived personally as an editor the traumatic and thrilling passage from electronic tools (mixer videos, editing workstations and so on) to digital ones. The first time I saw an editing software I didn’t understand so much how it was possible to edit moving images with a computer. To me it was something magical and mysterious. In some ways it is even now. But at that period there wasn’t so much time to think about, the choices were simple: learning how to edit with a computer or losing that job. So I began to work on that, discovering the extreme freedom of non-linear editing and especially the possibilities of post-production and compositing. The chance to work on footage, sound, computer graphics images in the same environment is quite an achievement. With the digital tools an artist is able to draw literally his own world without restrictions. But to me there’s sometimes a sort of nostalgia about the fact that electronic tools were more easily “breakable”. It was simple to process electronic forms because they were more available to produce images thanks to various incidents. In the “electronic age” mistakes and malfunctions of the technology produced images. I’m conscious that with digital tools is possible too, but there is a obstacle to overcome: the language of the software. I’m not so involved in informatics, so sometimes I feel myself a little bit restricted because I’m not able to reach the “heart” of digital technology, but I’m also quite conscious that I’m learning always more and there are many ways to force the machines. And for sure I would never turn back to the electronic age.
Which are, if any, the artists (and not only videoartists) who have influenced your path, and for what reasons?
The list is very long. I try anyway. First of all a French graphic novel artist, Philippe Druillet, who influenced me highly when I was a child: his mazy graphic world forced me to experiment a lot of drawing techniques. Poets like Arthur Rimbaud or Edgar Lee Masters for their power to provoke images from words. Musicians like Brian Eno, Amon Tobin or Chris Clark who are able to combine emotions with technology. A lot of painters and graphic designers, from Salvador Dalí to Francis Bacon to Dave McKean because they are able to mix a strong aesthetic inner vision with a precise style. Photographers like Joel Peter Witkin for his radical approach to the image of death or David La Chapelle for his iconoclast vision of the visual world of pop culture. Dancers like Louise Le Cavalier of La La La Humans Steps because she really knows how to use a not-speaking body as an highly symbolical tool. Movie directors like Luis Buñuel, Andrej Tarkowskij, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Shynua Tsukamoto who are very different but unique in their attempt to go inside the skin of so-called reality. Experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakhage or Michael Snow for the radical use of film techniques and for the thematic depth of their work. Animators like Jan Švankmajer for his grotesque and ironical approach to the image or Brothers Quay for their ability to build their own fascinating worlds with simple materials. Digital animators like Chris Landreth who is reaching to develop a personal style in a 3D graphics that avoids the “photorealistic” standards and other artists who are trying different approaches to the traditional abstract digital imagery like the (ex) group Lynn Fox or Alexander Rutterford. Music video directors like Chris Cunningham or Michel Gondry who are able to mix experimental aesthetics with the power of a visionary, direct communication with the viewer.
In general I like videoartists who work as alchemists, combining various techniques and visual elements: real footage with cgi, 2D graphics with 3D objects, and al the other possible mixes: my real favourite videoartist, as I’ve already said, is Woody Vasulka, but I like also Zbigniew Rybczynski, the master of anti-realistic use of chroma-key, then Marc Caro, Alain Escalle, Rosto AD, Édouard Salier and all those videoartists who define clearly their visual world like an ideal building of visionary elements that bring emotions, provoke reactions, and force the viewer to think over various themes. But I also like the naïve irony of Nam June Paik, the pre-digital work of Ed Emshwiller, the connection between experimental cinema and videoart realized in the last videos by Gary Hill, the relation between theatre and video in the work of art of Robert Wilson, the meeting between painting and moving images in the videos by Peter Greenaway, the mutations of cinematic memory in the work of Marco Brambilla…. In general I like some videos of various videoartists, not the complete work of art of a single videoartist. The list could be very much long: I stop here.
If you look back, what are the moments, the experiences that, as a videoartist, have marked your personal artistic history?
Of course some personal biographical moments or general historical facts were very important for my personal artistic life, but I don’t want to share them as mere “facts of life” because everything in many forms is in the videos I make. Speaking strictly about the way I work, the advent of the web changed many things for everyone, so for me too, and of course the advent of digital video and of High Definition technology. There are many things that marked my artistic history, but, I repeat: it’s all in my videos.
Beyond your personal experience, do you think there have been significant steps in the history of videoart, and if so what?
In my opinion there are a lot of significant steps in the history of videoart. Trying to describe them briefly there’s one step between the Sixties and the Eighties when all the attempts to overthrow the dynamics of the language of television produced radical and innovative aesthetic results. The Eighties represent a sort of age of “maturity” of the language of videoart, and in the same time the moment where a new genre of productions, the music videos, merged themselves indelibly with the aesthetics of videoart, spreading it on television. The Nineties represent the age of the conjunction between video and digital animation, and of another “fatal” spread of the language of videoart: into the world of HD moviemaking and in the whole ambit of digital video production, web included. Now we are living an age of technological and especially linguistic transition, so it’s a confused but very interesting moment.
If you look forward, what are your expectations as a videoartist?
In this moment I really don’t know. I’ll go ahead to experiment my video language.There are other fields like the use of videos for performing arts such as concerts, theatre and dance, or the newborn scene of live-video and of mapping on architectural surfaces that are very intriguing. I think we have to give time to a language to develop something interesting. The digital culture is still very young.
Looking at the scenario of international videoart, what are the nodes on which you feel should be working, to give it more breathing?
I think it’s difficult to speak about what “videoart” has to tell: this task belongs to the videoartists. To me a real (video)artist is a sort of (speaking like Rimbaud) a clairvoyant: a visionary who is able to predict cultural , artistic and social processes, formulating in an aesthetic way hypotheses of worlds to come, using in a coherent way the technology. He lives the present watching the future with the tools of the past. The technology is always “ancient” if we look to the future. It’s a matter of language: the language has always been the future.
Enrico Tommaselli, 2013