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Alberto Zanchetta

Marotta & Russo, Sergio Tossi Arte Contemporanea, Firenze

The aim of the flâneur is to get himself lost. His wandering allows him to discover, and therefore to know. But if once he loved to lose himself in the geography of the city, nowadays he prefers to find his way in the flows of the World Wide Web. Abandoning archaeological sites for virtual sites, deserting the normal means of communication for technological connections, the meandering has found a way which reflects the mental routes and processes, a neural network which simulates, which is similar to the urban fabric.

From synapses to synthesis. The artistic research of Marotta & Russo probes the infinite possibilities of connected intelligence, an [inter]communication so vast that it risks contradicting or cancelling itself. Ignoring the questionable informational aspects, Marotta&Russo turn their attention to that which is not generally seen, that is, extrapolating pre-existing structures, analysing the combinations and variability of modules. “Under the Domain Name”, the precursor to the current “ObjectKit” was born from this grand tour.

David Foster Wallace assures us that “TV is as much a part of reality at Toyota or traffic jams. We literally cannot imagine a life without television [...] we have no memory of a world without such a definition”. In order to – definitively – eradicate the memory of a world without technicolor, we’d have to wait at least another couple of generations. For the moment the affirmation of Foster Wallace can be applied to the computer, sealing the epoch marking passage from a cold, passive medium to one which is warm, interactive, which replaces real traffic jams with on-line ones.

Only those born in the last thirty years can claim to have been raised in the company of computers, which have become one of the many electrical appliances which crowd our houses. Participants in this occurrence, Marotta & Russo have assimilated that which was called a “monitor quality” definition, a faithfulness which they have only managed to achieve with the latest cycle of works, eliminating the gap between four colour printing. Indeed the Lambda prints of “ObjectKit” make use of the RGB range, dealing a final, definitive blow to CMYK

Since the character of games correspond to that of the art work – free, separate [not always, but often], uncertain, regulated, fictional with the only reserve being held for unproductive – we can find in Roger Caillois’s theory a comparison by kind both with Under the Domain Name and with “ObjectKit”. The mimicry (simulacrum) of the first is a theatrical disguise, a trick of looking like a city. In the second we seen ilinks (a sense of vertigo), confusion, lostness and the trance of the funfair.

In a very clear way urban line has accentuated the sky line, common denominator of architecture, which in the rules of the game becomes mechanical, a device that the artists hope to use to re-connect to the machines célibataires. But whilst “Under the Domain Name” recreated urban landscapes, “ObjectKit”follows in its tracks. This latest cycle of works distances itself from the metropolises of the twentieth century, outline of a near future. Belong to the field of science fiction, they create a world, a parallel universe (as dioramas, they are a mixture of elements of fantasy and anthropological documents) which perfectly correspond to the accepted rules of patafisics. Specificity which brings us to the river bed proposed by Michel Carrouges.

Any machine célibataire is first of all an aesthetic machine. In his vagabond ways the flâneur limits himself to observing it, he doesn't truly experience it, he just finds it along his travels. Homo sapiens and videns, becomes an interlocutor, questions the image because the city, rather than being Daedalus is also an oracle. Icon or emblem? Sphinx or fiction? In the virtual city-machine you can type a question into the keyboard, but while you’re waiting for an answer, you are excluded from the process. The ex-centric position of the flâneur reflects this “staying out of the centre.”

Whilst Roberto Russo underlines the correspondence with the title of the work, Stefano Marotta notes the parallels with the work of Francis Picabia. In Picabia – Marc Le Bot stated – the image and the word co-exist whilst nonetheless remaining unconnected. In Marotta & Russo the ergon and the  logos chase after each other on separate planes, simultaneous but different. Their “taking place” touches opposite vertices of the curve. This is a curve in which the polis is written, held to be a fine example of the convergence of the two factors. In the images created by the two artists, the language is purged of text boxes. Deconstructing the web masters graphics, each sampled element is brought back to the primary qualities; form and colour. The idiosyncrasies for the text makes it a sign. A mental dimension emerges from the continuous, frenetic, alienating flow of information technology in which laconic spaces, patterns and texture, harmonic relationships between surfaces and luminous vibrations co-exist. A voiceless distillation, purged of language, and therefore also of its inventor, the only one capable of using and understanding it. Man.

The technological machine is seductive, dangerous and treacherous. From its celibacy springs a victim-torturer automatism which transforms love in to death. In order to do so it is necessary to have two sexual hemispheres, male and female, a Manichean duplicity which in this device tends to correspond to the inferior and superior parts (alienation is not to be excluded). In “ObjectKit” the line of the horizon functions as a delimitation between building structures and foundations. The lower levels paraphrase the flows of the network: roots and rhizomes. We find the cone of shadow for the body of man in that which is under ground, below ground. In the equation “Buried = Tomb” we find the confirmation of Adolfo Natalini’s statement, “architecture is always a Freudian slip between pencil and tomb stone”.

In modern culture, the industrial revolution has generated a metropolis-machine, whose aim is to usurp nature from her great role of mother. This objective is written in its DNA, in its Greek etymology: mother-city. The earth, great progenitor, has ceded its reign, overthrown by a handmaid who has plotted against the queen from the start. The architecture-mother is a woman in the way that Eve was born from Adam’s rib, androgynous branching. This is the reason that the male part is the citizen, who is at the same time father-lover-son. The motor which drives all this process is fulfilled in the obviously loving desire to be part of it.

In contemporary art, almost no one lives in the cities anymore, the majority of works show a vision of a landscape which drives out all organic life. Death has taken the place of motherly love. An incurable cut, the feminine element carries out a “capable” and “knowing” murder, terms which it is no coincidence also define the character of Medea. The unrewarding renunciation of sexual co-operation is compensated for by co-opting- the masculine element, left waiting, is forced to persistence, to the memory of space, to lived experience. According to Gilbert Lascault’s definition, he is in [a fatal] trap. The deception cancels out complicity.

A few years ago there was much talk of post-human, of something which had superseded man in the evolutionary chain and which risked bringing about his extinction. In compliance with digital art Marotta & Russo claim neo-humanism, an attempt to sweeten the pill since the new-humanity will be conquered by machines. Almost certainly the electrically based mechanism will try to bring about a crisis for carbon based organisms, giving rise to a new age.

Behind every machine célibatarie there is a fabrica umana upon which it depends and from which it seeks freedom. Let us look then at another theory. The masculine part is the artists who create the artwork [s.f.]; once it is complete, it no longer belongs to them, they can only claim paternity. The two artists/artificers/builders hold the keys which contributed to forging it, Burgermeisters with disused keys to the city in their hands since they see themselves consigned to honorary citizenship. As if this was not enough, the artwork is destined to outlive its creators, even more so thanks to the acclaimed reproducibility that the technical era grants it.

In every case, as we have seen, the masculine part must succumb. Female tyranny commits a breach of trust, it kills its counterpart. The game between lovers is directed straight at the death of the partner and from there immortality, to the imperturbable condition of things. Unchangeable, faithful to themselves. Indifference, without-difference. In truth man is nothing more than a variable and risks unsettling this balance. His elimination is inevitable.

Rather than a theory connected to myth, it recalls sacred texts. The logo of Apple Inc. is an apple, Steve Jobs’ favourite fruit, he founded the company in a garage in Silicon Valley in 1976. This is a fruit associated with sin, with that which is forbidden. This is ironic as in modern society the computer is not just a status symbol available to everyone, but has actually become a necessity. The analogy suggested by Jobs comes from the similarity of the word Byte with the verb “bite”. However, in the tangles of the web, the active element ceased to bite and ended up being swallowed. The two hypotheses proposed here come together in oral copulation, in that which Norman O. Brown described as a form of cannibalism as it “combines in a single act the two Oedipal desires, killing the parents and incest. Eating is a form of sex. The copulation is oral copulation. When the Aranda ask «Have you eaten?» they are saying «Have you made love?». An incarnation of Moloch, internet and the city devour the population with a physiological pleasure.

Let us take a step back. In Genesis, the expulsion from the garden of Eden is the exile from nature. First among men, Kane understands the need to found a city. Here the tree of life becomes a sycamore and its wood is used for a coffin. This is where the correspondence between metropolis and necropolis begins. Among the burdens that man is responsible for, architecture is one of the worst crimes, an invention which goes beyond the rules of nature, a means through which the individual seeks to realise himself. William Morris believed that architecture is everything in the world that man has transformed into a product. The history of architecture is the history of mankind, a narration which absorbs its protagonist, reducing him to a supporting actor and at other times making him disappear from the scene.

Manzoni defined Milan cathedral as a “machine”. For Marotta & Russo, the definition of an architectural-machine originates in a playful dimension (as we see in the digital animations), but it remains a machine of inquisition: it holds man to be superfluous and eliminates him. His body is a variable which might upset the balance. In the game there is always a winner and a loser. In the end even the winner must admit to having lost because in obtaining his victory he has brought the game to an end, and thus left it. The player ceases to be a player, he kills his own role. The same thing happens between artist and artwork, between flâneur and place.

Primitive religions associated Mother earth with woman, both for the evident ability to procreate and for the simple anatomical correspondence with the earth’s surface- impudent and voluptuous. The new mothers, who are at the same time city and machine, barricade themselves behind sharpened forms. Whilst “Under The Domain Name” paraphrases glass and cement, “ObjectKit” tends to set itself as an allegory for metalwork construction. In both cases there is nowhere for man to live as they are landscapes free of perspective relationships. They are flat figures which originate in 8 bit geometry. They are external wrappings, simply ornamental. 

The building blocks coincide with the assembly instructions: the device is visible, two dimensional, it doesn't contain anything. A flatness which reminds us of the immaterial nature of the virtual, an appearance of existence. Man cannot live in these cities, he is a citizen of the network as he is a citizen of the world. He can navigate on condition that he dematerialises his own body (and this is where the avatar comes in, the virtual alter-ego).  He must acknowledge that the constructor is incapable of dwelling in that of which he is “architect”. A measurement of all things, man is the first to abandon the projects, the utopia. As if it was a child of Boullée, “ObjectKit” outlines the desire to plan, it accepts the project as being possible, almost certainly realisable, despite all that signals its in[habit]ability. Between project and utopia, between reason and imagination, even the “Città ideale” (the famous fifteenth century painting which is a symbol of the formal perfection achieved by the renaissance) is empty. It is nothing but an idea, a concept/sign, we find metaphors and symbols in it which are fragments waiting to be re-assembled.

Impossible, unusual, unrealistic. We must now add a new adjective to the celibacy, which is also a question: are these then abstract machines? Marotta & Russo’s works make use of the grammar of geometry without abandoning the phenomenological world, in case they want to reunite with it. They deny reductionism’s access as this if the starting point from which to perceive (not refuse) their own reference points. The two artists abstract geometries are nothing but digital elements separated from their roles, set free and re-assembled in a recognisable dimension, that of a reality which is crystallised out of its own rational form, from mathematical calculation.

The world is a single, gigantic set of cables. One of the first people to suggest it was Peter Halley, who confessed to “inserting a trace of social landscape into the ideal world of geometric art”. The algebraic representationalism of Marotta & Russo is founded on the prolegomena of Neo-Geo.

This permutability can be explained thanks to some of the ideas formulated by the sociologist Manuel Castells. “ The new city is born as a consequence of the creation of a new social structure, the society of networks characteristic of the information age […] in the information age we are seeing a growing tension and articulation between physical spaces and the space of flows. The space of flows establishes an electronic connection between places which are physically separate, creating an interactive network of relationships between activities and individuals regardless of the specific reference context. On the other hand, physical space organises experiences within the limits of geographical location. Modern cities are contemporarily structured and de-structured by these two opposing logics. Metropolises are not annulled in virtual networks, rather they are transformed through an interaction between electronic communication and physical relationships, through the combination of place and network […] our existence as citizens, as Mitchell emphasises is an e-topia, a new reality of incessant interaction, willingly or not, with on line information systems, and this is increasingly done wirelessly. The space of flows is rooted in the physical space, but the two logics are profoundly different: the on-line and the material experience have their own characteristics. […] the on-line society  is a specific one, and not a sub-product of the real one, and the geographical location contributes, often with unexpected results, to the configuration of networks of electronic communication. The virtual community, inasmuch as it is a network of individuals, is transforming the metropolitan ways of social interaction, but without flinging us into a fictional world of pixels”. Essentially Castell maintains that the city of the future should be in synergy with the dynamic structure of the internet. The one will tend to reflect the other. In Marotta & Russo’s ziggurats, the path is inverted, the fusion is nonetheless underway, in both senses.

In little more than three generations information technology has developed and conditioned a new collective identity. Their technical/cultural revolution has been so rapid, the development so quick, continuous and unstoppable, that we can imagine it as a building site in constant evolution. A “building site” in which Marotta & Russo know how to “build” all the possible analogies.