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Digital Life Style

Luca Beatrice

Marotta & Russo, Sergio Tossi Arte Contemporanea, Firenze

The statement that demand the for “creativity” is perceived as an urgent situation, not so much in the fields normally supported by creativity (art, for example, but in general any area of aesthetics), but rather the world of scientific-technical, economic, political and managerial pragmatism, is neither a joke nor a banality.
At one time, not so long ago, the world of creativity was considered like a Sunday afternoon of life, a kind of hobby, something strange compared to the world of work and production. Particularly for those born in the 1960’s and 70’s, the choice of studying sciences meant that you were aiming to enter real life- indeed there was an explosion of engineering and computer institutes- whilst choosing the route of humanities- literature and philosophy in particular- seemed like a peculiar act of folly, so much so that our parents took it as some kind of tragedy to have children tempted by the epicurean formula of idealism- with zero practicality.

However, what if we were right, unwitting disciples of Guy Debord who, as early as 1968 in “La Société du spectacle”(The Society of the Spectacle) foresaw the end of major industries at the end of the twentieth century and their substitution with an economy which was light and based on the service industry, founded on creativity and, indeed, on the spectacular?
Indeed today it is not at all strange that multinational businesses, research centres, universities, strategic think tanks, the most advanced experimental outposts of society all maintain the importance of creativity, and exactly for this reason seek the new professional figure of the “philosopher manager”, naturally used to dealing with non-standard problems by offering unpredictable solutions, freed from systems which are too rigid and pre-ordained tracks, able to actively relate to others through the art of the dialectic and invention.
One of last season’s best sellers “The Rise of the Creative Class”by Richard Florida, has contributed to the establishment of this unusual mentality, particularly useful for freeing the image of “technical” work from mechanism and alienation, and also for inserting terms into economic discussions which previously belonged only to humanism. The key point is the philosophy is wellness, that is the concept where the love of life and free time come to take on a role in the new economy of the new century in a society in rapid transformation which finally realises how much more important the movement of 100 mice is compared to that of one elephant.

Having established this, let us try to follow the movement back over its steps and ask how much of the so-called pragmatic universe has today come to be part of the contemporary aesthetic discussion? Is it perhaps possible to see an inverse line to this trend, that is, do images exist in art which could just as evidently belong to other contexts? And if they do, what would distinguish them from simple technical-scientific planning always aimed at a result, whilst art on the other hand can only be its own end.
If we were not fully engaged in this discussion, which I repeat is one of the most interesting subjects at the start of the twenty-first century, maybe work such as that by Marotta & Russo would be difficult to insert in an artistic context. To be clear, there were undoubtedly people before them who tried to establish connections between these two apparently incompatible universes, but to be honest they never crossed that which I would define as “the double threshold”. Since the start of the 1990’s there has been a trend for so called “para-science”, which, whilst operating within the art context, used “other” tools and languages, for example statistics, preventing the viewer from perceiving an immediate contextualisation (where am I? was the most common question). In this type of experience there was a deliberate absence, or at least camouflaging, of the aesthetic component, and indeed many works did not try to pass beyond the planning stage. Despite the technological aspect, this work did not go very much further than the concept of the readymade. Nonetheless a rather numerous group of artists believed it was sufficient that they all used the same digital tools in order to give life to a language with common prerogatives. However the results were questionable, particularly when the means became more important than the result.
Marotta & Russo on the other hand find themselves on a particularly original route, which consists in studying the project with strict cybernetic rigour and then giving it back to us in a pleasurable aesthetic form. Stefano Marotta (1971) investigates the expressive and visual possibilities of new media with the aim of theorising a kind of contemporary digital lifestyle. Roberto Russo (1969) contributes psychological categories to the discussion, that is, with a largely humanist approach. The first time they worked together was in 2000, but their experience dates back to the 1990’s, an era in which, at least in the western world, we began to see the effects of socio-cultural transformations brought about by the introduction of new communication technologies.

In an incisive article published in Rolling Stone last July dedicated to Douglas Coupland, Matteo Bittanti points out how the famed author of Generation X “is to narrative like Marshall McLuhan is to essay writing. The first uses novels for constructing sociological theories, the second churns out anecdotes in industrial quantities, disguising them as academic treatises. Both of them use aphorisms, slogans and formulas half way between futurist manifestos and shopping lists. Both give preference to daring graphic styles and they are both Canadian (maybe that is not so important, editor's note)”. Coupland, whose new book Jpod is about to be published (which he calls “the novel for the Xbox generation”), is certainly one of the most important writers of the 1990’s – a fact Marotta & Russo also agree with – and his book “Microserfs”(1995) is “the key novel for the corporate high-tech culture of the West Coast”. His works are full of not just stories and ideas, but also neologisms, such as the definition of “obscurism” which perfectly describes Marotta & Russo’s works: “the habit of quoting at regularly intervals in moments of daily life references which are obscure to anyone else (for example forgotten films, long lost TV stars, nations which no longer exist, etc…) as a subliminal method for exercising ones own erudition and at the same time ones own desire to be separated from mass culture”.
The Friulano duo treat technology with exactly this non-ideology of obscurism (an example of this in the field of music would be “Indietronica”, where the artificialness of contemporary sound wallows in the pioneering spirit of the 60’s and 70’s). In a certain sense this ideology is unashamed of its desire for a recovery of modernism, possibly left behind in the vision of art and culture, but which is absolutely current in the technical-scientific fields, seeing that every innovation makes every previous development obsolete. Marotta & Russo are fascinated with the challenge of “portraying” concepts tied to info-cybernetic imagery and its key icons, which also have precise design and style. According to their poetics, the archeo-technologies of the 1980’s-90’s are already cult objects which should be treated with a romantic approach, as is suggested in “Output” (2003), which is by their own confession a type of reflection of the dawning of the PC, which was initially of interest to those in the business world, before extending to the universe of relationships and lifestyles. The difference lies exactly in the fact that we see the work on an old Apple Macintosh SE/30, which was a technical marvel in 1987, but which now seems as quaint as the cute robots in “Star Wars”. 
The truly fascinating aspect of Marotta & Russo’s work lies in this ambivalence, in the fact that on one hand it seems to be necessary to immerse oneself in the language of graphics and web design in order to glimpse the aspects connected to socio-cultural transformations (there is an entire population of geeks able to decode even the slightest of shades), but at the same time it is possible to stay within the sphere of the aesthetic, for example that which lies within the codes of painting, where Stefano & Roberto move with an inescapable formal elegance, and exactly for this reason, truly alluring.