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Intervju: Emilio Vavarella | Interview: Emilio Vavarella | Organ Vida

Emilio Vavarella je umjetnik koji spaja interdisciplirarnu umjetničku praksu i teorijska istraživanja, a fokusiran je na proučavanje odnosa između ljudi i tehnološke moći. U svom radu kombinira nove tehnologije i alternativne (neproduktivne, poetične, disfunkcionalne) ciljeve, zamišljajući buduće učinke tehnologije korištenjem spekulativne fikcije te dekontekstualizirajući tehnologiju kako bi razotkrio njezine skrivene mehanizme.

Vavarella je jedan od finalista čiji su radovi predstavljeni na glavnoj izložbi Međunarodnog fotografskog festivala Organ Vida. Ove godine Organ Vida donosi program izložbi i događanja okupljenih oko teme “Neodlučne slike” s umjetničkim i fotografskim radovima koji se poigravaju granicom između stvarnosti i fikcije.

Odabrani radovi polaze od slika koje su istovremeno stvarne i konstruirane, ali čija se autentičnost očituje u njihovu prikazu tenzija inherentnih suvremenoj digitalnoj kulturi.

Kako bismo saznali više o samoj temi i konceptu, razgovarali smo s umjetnikom Emilijom Vavarellom o njegovom radu.

1. Kako si došao na ideju za projekt Amazonova ekstravagancija: Osobni registar beskonačne potrošnje? Bolest konzumerizma pokušali smo izliječiti na različite načine, kroz različita polja umjetničkog izričaja, ali tvoj pristup je ipak svjež, nov, drugačiji i vrlo direktan…

Serija fotografija od kojih se sastoji Amazonova ekstravagancija (2020-danas) razvila se paralelno s mojom velikom instalacijom Amazonov kabinet čudesa i na sustavan način bilježi sve proizvode koji su dio instalacije. Oba projekta proizišla su iz jednostavnog pitanja koje sam postavio Alexi, Amazonovoj virtualnoj asistentici za glasovnu kupovinu: “Alexa, možeš li preporučiti proizvod za novi umjetnički rad?” Nakon što sam kupio preporučeni proizvod, Alexa je predložila još jedan, zatim još jedan, i tako dalje. Kupovao sam sve preporučene proizvode dok nisam potrošio cijeli budžet za produkciju. Kupljeni predmeti postali su dio Amazonovog kabineta čudesa, a njihova fotografska reprezentacija je Amazonova ekstravagancija:Osobni registar beskonačne potrošnje – serija fotografija u kojoj se isprepliću konzumerističke i arhivističke prakse. Oba projekta još uvijek traju, dokle god postoji Alexa. Planiram iskoristiti nove budžete za produkciju i prilike za izlaganje kako bih prikupio još predmeta i tako nadogradio oba projekta.

2. S obzirom da je Alexa donijela sve odluke o kupnji, je li to promijenilo tvoj odnos prema umjetnoj inteligenciji? Kako se razvijao vaš odnos, što osjećaš prema njoj?

Može se reći da sam razvio “suradnički odnos” s Alexom. Pritom moramo imati na umu našu sklonost antropomorfiziranju ne-ljudskih stvari: često pripisujemo ljudska obilježja životinjama, strojevima i procesima koji su inherentno ne-ljudski. Ako pogledamo u prošlost, vidjet ćemo kako smo evoluirali i razvili se kao vrsta uspostavljanjem i održavanjem kompleksnih odnosa s ne-ljudskim životinjama i prirodnim procesima. Stoga nas ne bi trebalo čuditi da smo u svijetu koji je napučen tehnološkim, ne-ljudskim entitetima – Alexa, Siri, Cortana, itd. – počeli razvijati nove vrste odnosa. Velike kompanije brzo su prepoznale priliku i počele raditi na tehnološkim napravama koje potiču procese antropomorfizacije. To je razlog zašto je Amazonov najnapredniji alat za kupovinu dobio ljudsko ime i glas. Govoriti o “suradnji” s Alexom za mene znači prepoznati važnost ne-ljudskih entiteta u našem svijetu, pa čak i kao dio naših kreativnih poduhvata.

3. Gdje su u ovom radu granice ljudske autonomije i umjetničkog autorstva – postoje li uopće? Nije li prepuštanje odluke Alexi o kupnji proizvoda u svrhu umjetničkog (nekomercijalnog) rada zapravo potpuna dekonstrukcija konzumerizma iznutra?

Umjetničko autorstvo je za mene pitanje diskursa izgrađenog oko nekog umjetničkog projekta u datom trenutku. Kao umjetnika, zanima me aktivno pomicanje granica, ograničenja i unutrašnjih struktura tog diskursa. Fascinira me mogućnost kreiranja nečega što izlazi iz okvira tog diskursa i gura ga u nekom novom smjeru. Neprestano širenje umjetničkih mogućnosti je upravo ono što me privlači u umjetnosti i popratnom diskursu. Stoga možemo reći da se granice autorstva neprestano pomiču. Na primjer, u mojim projektima s Amazonom navodno je prisutna redukcija umjetničkog autorstva kroz moje podčinjavanje Alexi. Međutim, upravo zahvaljujući toj navodnoj redukciji ja pretvaram Alexu, tu složenu, zakonom zaštićenu tehnologiju, u novi kreativni alat. Riječ je o suptilnom, no apsolutnom obliku prisvajanja, što je ujedno jedan od najradikalnijih načina izražavanja autorstva, a to je, kao što kažeš, svojevrsno redefiniranje konzumerizma iznutra.

4. Na koji način ovaj projekt naglašava, ili bolje, definira konzumerističke prakse?

Likovni kritičar Mauro Zanchi nedavno je Amazonov kabinet čudesa nazvao “baroknim” – i taj opis mi se jako sviđa. Rad je zamišljen kao suvremeni wunderkammer, dok Amazonova ekstravaganca primjenjuje proto-znanstveni taksonomski pristup. Ako ih promotrimo zajedno, vidjet ćemo da se oba projekta bave sustavima estetske organizacije s korijenima u baroknom periodu, i to nije slučajnost. Kabineti čudesa izvorno su nastali kao odgovor na nove oblike gomilanja materijalnih predmeta, kada je Europa bila preplavljena artefaktima kao posljedica kolonijalnog prisvajanja, međunarodne trgovine i znanstvenog napretka. Barokni stil poistovjećuje se s dominacijom vizualnog užitka, stoga je riječ o estetici koja ima puno toga zajedničkog sa suvremenim “turbo-kapitalizmom” i njegovim vizualnim zavođenjima. Promatran u tom interpretativnom okviru, moj rad može rasvijetliti duboku povijest kapitalizma i istovremeno rafinirati određenu sliku, u nekoj vrsti neobaroknog stila, za koju vjerujem da najbolje utjelovljuje suvremene konzumerističke prakse.

5. Postoji li poveznica između Alexinih preporuka? Možeš li dokučiti na temelju čega je odabrala proizvode i time “izgradila” rad? Do koje mjere su nam poznati mehanizmi koji upravljaju ovom tehnologijom?

Iz ljudske perspektive, proizvodi koje je Alexa preporučila bili su potpuno nepredvidivi. Međutim, iz perspektive Amazona, ništa nije bilo nasumično. Proizvodi koje je Alexa odabrala slijedili su unaprijed definiranu logiku: filtriranje preporuka povezano s masovnim skupovima podataka i algoritmima optimiziranim za maksimalnu komercijalnu potrošnju. No kako su ti algoritamski procesi zaštićeni zakonom, ne znamo puno više od toga. Primijeniti obrnuti inženjering na Amazonove algoritme kako bismo saznali zašto i kako je određeni proizvod odabran bilo bi kao da pokušavamo rekonstruirati recept za Coca-Colu iz limenke: naprosto je nemoguće. Postoji još jedan aspekt za koji mislim da je još zanimljiviji: ako se fokusiramo na pitanje “Što algoritam želi?” možemo lako pasti u zamku i algoritmu pripisati logiku koja pripada ljudima, a ne strojevima. To se događa sve češće u javnom diskursu. Nasuprot tome, ono što me stvarno fascinira u ovom projektu je to što izranjaju nove poveznice među proizvodima koje je Alexa odabrala bez obzira na logiku koja ih je okupila. Način na koji mi ljudi organiziramo stvarnost i pripisujemo značenje onome što vidimo puno je zanimljiviji i nepouzdaniji proces od funkcioniranja algoritma. I potencijalno može otkriti više o našoj prirodi.

Razgovarala: Tena Razumović Žmara

Foto: Organ vida

#prostorslobode


Emilio Vavarella is an artist whose work blends interdisciplinary art practice and theoretical research and is centered around the study of the relationship between humans and technological power. His works present a combination of using new technologies with alternative (non-productive, poetic, dysfunctional) goals in mind, imagining technology’s future effects through the use of speculative fiction, and decontextualizing and misusing technology to reveal its hidden mechanisms.

He is one of the finalists which works are exhibited at the main Organ vida festivals’ show “Hesitant images”. This year Organ vida is presenting a program of exhibitions and events focused around the theme ‘Hesitant Images’ with artistic and photographic works that lives between the intersection of fact and fiction.

The featured works are based on images that are simultaneously real and constructed, but whose authenticity is manifested in their portrayal of the tensions of contemporary digital culture.

To explain the topic and concept in more detail, we spoke to the artist Emilio Vavarella about his work.

1. How did you come up with the idea of the project “Amazon’s Stravaganza: A Personal Index of Infinite Consumption”? The disease of consumerism has been treated in many different ways in various fields of artistic expression, but your approach is nevertheless fresh, new, different, and very direct … 

The series of photos that compose Amazon’s Stravaganza: A Personal Index of Infinite Consumption (2020-ongoing) was created in connection to my large-scale installation Amazon’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and it documents in a systematic way all the products featured in the installation. Both projects stem out of a simple question that I posed to Alexa Voice Shopping, the artificial intelligence developed by Amazon: “Alexa, can you suggest a product for a new artwork?”. Immediately after I bought the recommended product Alexa suggested another one, and then another one, and so on, and on… I followed and acquired every product suggested in this way until my production budget was entirely spent. The acquired objects become part of Amazon’s Cabinet of Curiosities, while their photographic representation constitutes Amazon’s Stravaganza: A Personal Index of Infinite Consumption: a photographic series in which consumeristic and archival practices intersect in multiple ways. Both projects will remain ongoing as long as Alexa remains available, and I will use new production budgets and exhibition opportunities to accumulate more objects, which in turn will expand both projects.

2. Given that Alexa made all the purchasing decisions, did that affect a different understanding of AI? Did you create a relationship with her, did she make you feel anything towards her?

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that I have developed a “collaborative relationship” with Alexa. Let’s keep in mind that we all tend to anthropomorphize nonhuman things: we attribute human characteristics to animals, machines and processes that are inherently nonhuman. If we look back in time, for example, we can see how we have evolved and developed as a species by creating and maintaining complex relationships with nonhuman animals and natural processes. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that in a world populated by technological nonhuman agents – Alexa, Siri, Cortana, etc. – we have started to develop new kinds of relationships. Companies have quickly learned how to leverage this, and are developing technological devices that encourage processes of anthropomorphization. That is the reason why Amazon’s most advanced shopping tool has a human-like name and a voice. To talk about a “collaboration” with Alexa, for me, means addressing the importance of nonhumans agents in our world, even as part of our creative endeavors.

3 Where in this work is the limit of human autonomy and artistic authorship and does it exist at all? Leaving the decisions solely to Alexa when buying products from Amazon for artistic work, i.e. for completely non-commercial purposes – isn’t that an absolute deconstruction of consumerism from within?

Artistic authorship, for me, is just a matter of the discourse built around an art project at any given time. As an artist, I am interested in actively pushing the boundaries, limits and inner structures of this discourse. I am captivated by the possibility of creating something that falls outside of the boundaries of that discourse and that forces it in a new direction. This constant expansion of artistic possibilities is what I find fascinating about art and the discourse built around it. Thus, what we consider the limit of artistic authorship is constantly shifting. In my Amazon projects, for example, you supposedly have a reduction of my artistic authorship through my submission to the decision-making processes of Amazon Alexa. However, it is precisely by means of this apparent reduction that I can turn Alexa, a complex proprietary technology, into a new creative tool in my toolbox. Thus is a subtle, albeit total, form of appropriationism, which is also one of the most radical ways of exercising authorship, and that, as you say, coincides with a certain reformulation of consumerism from within.

4. How does this project highlight, or better, define consumerist practices?

Amazon’s Cabinet of Curiosities was recently characterized by art critic Mauro Zanchi as ‘baroque’ — and this is a characterization that I like a lot. Amazon’s Cabinet of Curiosities is formalized as a contemporary “wunderkammern,” while Amazon’s Stravangaza, its companion work, follows a proto-scientific taxonomical approach. When considered together, both works refer to systems of aesthetic organization rooted in the Baroque period, and this is not just a coincidence. Cabinets of curiosities were originally developed in response to new forms of material accumulation, when Europe was first flooded by objects and artifacts coming from colonial appropriation, international trade, and scientific advancement. The Baroque style corresponds to a predominance of visual pleasure, and it is thus an aesthetic that has much in common with contemporary ‘turbo-capitalism’ and its visual seductions. When seen through this interpretative framework, my work can cast light on the deep history of capitalism, while distilling a certain image, a sort of Neo-Baroque style, that I believe embodies at best contemporary consumerist practices.

5. Is there a link between Alexa’s recommendations? Can you figure out on what basis she chose the products and actually “built” the work? To what extent have the hidden mechanisms of using this technology been discovered?

From a ‘human’ perspective the products suggested by Alexa were completely unpredictable. However, from the perspective of Amazon, nothing was actually random. The products chosen by Alexa followed a predefined logic: obscure item-to-item matching filters linked to massive data sets and to algorithms optimized for maximum commercial consumption. But since these algorithmic processes are proprietary technologies, this is all that we can say with absolute certainty. To reverse-engineer Amazon’s algorithms in order to understand why and how a product was chosen would be like reconstructing the Coca-Cola recipe from its can: it is simply impossible. And there is another aspect that I think it’s even more interesting: by focusing on “what the algorithm wants” we run the risk of attributing to an algorithm a kind of logic that belongs to humans but not to machines. This is happening increasingly more often within public discourse. Instead, what really fascinates me about this project is that new connections between the products chosen by Alexa start to emerge regardless of the logic that brought them together. The way we organize reality as humans, and the way we give meaning to what we see, is a more interesting and unpredictable process than algorithmic execution. And, potentially, it can reveal more about our nature.

Interview by Tena Razumović Žmara

Foto: Organ vida

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