SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
a packet switching conversation between Mia Makela & Vanni Brusadin
|| Vanni: Mia, can you explain what fiftyfifty is?
|| Mia: FiftyFifty is a cultural agitator. FF started as an online distributor of digital creation (gasbook, jodi, maeda + more unknown products) but one of our goals was also to organize presentations of cdroms for the public. One problem of the digital art market is that the access to this media is limited mostly to festivals and to a very specific public, like artists, curators and festival organizers. Our idea was to share knowledge of this scene to a wider audience + create situations which would function as a meeting spot for people who are working on similar ideas and tools.
The next step was to become a label. FF published FFMIX01, a compilation cdrom which collected together the projects of 15 creators from Barcelona + invited artists (netochka, lia, magda ). What was special about FFMIX01 was that it didn't have a main interface, it was non-curated, and it was a combination of videos, interactives and music. We didn't want to separate these areas but rather bring them together, also seeking to bring down borders between art and design and to call all of it creation.
FF has curated exhibitions/shows as part of different festivals like Sonar (Barcelona) and OVNI (Barcelona) and has also organized installations like Walk-in Orchestra as part of Zeppelin festival (Barcelona). This installation was open to all visitors - who could take an active part and play music with different soundtoys. In the end we had a concert with different people mixing everyone's output together.
At that time live performance became one of our biggest interests, and we formed a performance group called DADATA which combines real-time sound and image using nato and other tools/instruments. The interaction between sound and image is also the theme of the play-music selections for Sonar.
The way music industry works provides an interesting model for media strategies. As music creates movements and styles through parallel channels and uses, it also emphasizes the possibility to become your own producer, distributor and agent.
We also started to organize nato workshops (Barcelona, Paris, Bogota, Medellin) and other workshops like hacker techniques link ¡and game modifications link!. The workshops started in June2001 in Hangar (Barcelona) and are continuing in Brussels and Berlin next year.
|| Vanni: And that's why we met.
|| Mia: Yes, FF invited Gabriele Cosentino and you from d-i-n-a to give lectures during the hacker techniques workshop in Barcelona. We thought the program of d-i-n-a was ground breaking in its emphasis, finally showing online projects that would be better defined as "network art" than "net art" - a term that is nowadays so overused.
|| Vanni: Well, I like the term network art and I myself use it whenever I can. But I wouldn't like to break down all the distinctions between art and design. In this sense net art can be useful to mark a difference from so called web art. That's a position that we at d-i-n-a deeply share.
|| Mia: Tell me more about d-i-n-a, is it just a festival?
|| Vanni: Well, d-i-n-a could be considered an informal network of 4 artists and researchers. We are trying to produce debates on network culture and also to share knowledge about all the ways communication can become a basis for artistic action. Individually we have been involved in research on net culture since the end of the nineties and so far as a group we've produced two editions of a festival (digital_is_not_analog) in Bologna as well as some other smaller events - some in other countries. After relocating to Barcelona, it remains to be seen what d-i-n-a's future will be after becoming more mobile. You know, I realized after moving to Barcelona that you usually travel a lot. Festivals, workshop, events. Is this kind of nomadic production part of FF's style and identity?
|| Mia: FF has organized happenings, exhibitions, workshops and other events in collaboration with other institutions, organizations and festivals. We have preferred to stay nomads and not tie ourselves to a fixed place or a 5 year plan. Since the world of digital creation moves forward so fast, we wanted to keep ourselves on the move as well. Our interests are focused on the contemporary - or should I say "post-contemporary " - cultural movements, which are not necessarily created inside institutions, but on the streets, through technological evolution, through collective impulses which are almost impossible to predict. For this reason we would prefer to locate ourselves somewhere between the fragile border of "underground" and "accepted" forms of creation.
|| Vanni: What about your projects? I know you like to define yourselves as 'cultural agitators': what does it mean in terms of your relationships with (local) institutions?
|| Mia: One of our concepts is to offer /organize situations that enable creative producers to show their projects (also in unfinished form) and share their knowledge in non curated (or mediated) manner and without limiting access. In this way I could say that we are more interested in contemporary culture than in art. But it is not easy to categorize what FF is - as our identity keeps changing according to our interests, and as we are combining different areas like distribution and performing, our definition is flexible. This could be difficult to maintain if we were an institution, as permanent structures demand different kinds of objectives. One reason why we have preferred to collaborate with other partners is that it gives us more freedom to concentrate on the content rather than administration.
One thing that is special about Barcelona is that we have CCCB, the Center for Contemporary Culture situated just next to MACBA, the Museum of Contemporary Art. The methods and programs of these 2 institutions differ a lot from each other. MACBA represents a traditional museum that concentrates on art. CCCB open their space to other groups and initiatives to organise different projects. CCCB has helped to create an active cultural life in Barcelona. Many of the festivals we have collaborated with have also taken place in CCCB.
|| Vanni: So you are simply a group relying on collaborations with other groups, right? If I'm not wrong you prefer enjoying autonomy from structures rather than building new ones...
|| Mia: FF is an independent organization in the sense that we don't have a permanent infrastructure or funding. This is not at all an unproblematic position. We have ideas that would be easier to concretize if we had a permanent place where we could invite performances and other programs. But to be able to do this funding is essential, as it would enable us to hire people to do different things and to create a larger structure. But the dependency on the funding would in the long run carry the risk of affecting the original goals and freedom - maybe to make compromises in fear of loosing the funding. There are a lot of examples of interesting digital culture initiatives that have started with big funding and then died soon after the funding ceased to continue. Wasn't that the case with Salara in Bologna?
|| Vanni: Yes, even though Salara in itself was not an association but a work group within the Department of Culture of the Bologna City Council. We started working together a few months before, during the European Cafe9 project, an ambitious project of European collaboration on a web streaming project where each of the 12 participating European capital cities had to freely provide video/audio contents. Within this program we organized digital_is_not_analog.00, which was the first Italian event focused on net art. It was a very simple event (with some moderated presentations and some projections) but at the same time it was quite successful. Just a couple of months later it happened we were all working for the Culture Department and we finally managed to get a second digital_is_not_analog.2001 approved within the Young Artists Promotion program. Part of the agreement was that we would collaborate with Culture Department staff in the organization of different Internet related activities at Salara - a beautiful historical building in the center of Bologna. Salara was used until June 2001 for art exhibitions and various kinds of performances. The second edition of our d-i-n-a festival was meant to start a new major program called Salara Medialab, a publicly funded internet free access space with a parallel activity of research and production. It never started because unexpectedly the right wing government of Bologna decided to heavily intervene in the cultural landscape, cutting public funding to cultural activities. This is how all the projects of Salara suddenly stopped in June. By the way today (six months later) Salara is still closed and empty. After it closed, we decided not to give up and to focus on d-i-n-a as a group that could start a production even without institutional facilities.
|| Mia: So you have a mixed experience: institutional and independent...
|| Vanni: Yes, and even commercial! Two of us worked for a while for a big Italian company that specialized in selling works of art. It's been quite useful to understand the inner mechanism of a large company. A marketing approach and a structure based on hierarchy and hidden struggles applies also to cultural public institutions (although with way less efficiency!)
Anyway, I can't say we don't like big institution, but rather we don't like big institutions that don't work well. Unfortunately most of them don't work well - they have some kind of bug and often you start thinking that there is no patch that could fix it. Institutions tend to structurally function as (enormous or not) bodies that take silent decisions through collective, blind, everyday actions. So, delays, incertitude, useless expenses, battles for small slices of power can be frustrating for whoever has to deal with the body of institutions
|| Mia: Working inside of an institution has never been very attractive choice for FF. Especially because we didn't want our identity to be linked with the identity of the institution. And that could also limit our freedom to collaborate with other organizations, as we then wouldn't "need" them anymore. I think the identity of an institution could be slower than ours to change.
|| Vanni: Yes, actually independence is supposed to be the purpose of all the fund raising efforts. So independence seems to refer more to money than to ideas. d-i-n-a started with a well funded project that had the support of Bologna City Council, the digital_is_not_analog festivals. But that was not a sustainable model, since it relied too much just on one public institution. But for those special occasions it was an interesting form of production: formally we worked for Salara, whose staff (a few people from the Young Artists Office in the Department of Culture) occasionally collaborated with external groups. The ideal hierarchy, in a way. Light staff, light bureaucracy: which meant high potential for action, at least in theory. Now, I don't see many possibilities for a group like d-i-n-a except to start an intensive fund raising campaign or to go towards auto-organization. In the first case we would need to have roots in a territory, and that's not our case right now. Auto-organization means economic independence and DIY, for example, funding ourselves by charging money for research, server space, small publications and events, etc. This is a funny, energetic and sometimes very satisfactory process, but not sustainable for a long time since people can't make a living out of it and soon start finding time-consuming 'real jobs'.
|| Mia: Why did you choose Barcelona instead of continuing in Bologna?
|| Vanni: That's the second part of the story! Most of us were living in Bologna since mid nineties and felt the desire to really move for a while. And to be honest we suddenly felt frustrated because Salara was closed after a successful and engaging event like the second digital_is_not_analog. Barcelona has such a great fame abroad, we knew some people here and so we wanted to verify its reputation.
Actually we are continuing our activity as d-i-n-a mainly by working a lot on line, so and in a way it can make sense to drift for a while. But we know that if we want to keep our web activity alive we will (eventually) need to locate what we do. This sounds counter-intuitive since the web is supposed to be non-located. But even for our new web site we have an Italian public in mind: we aim to translate a lot of material that has appeared on the net and to offer a tool for basic study and further discoveries in net culture. I personally don't exclude the idea of working in Italy again, even if I know that this is not a shared feeling within the rest of the group. This is the reason to do such a huge (and sometimes stupid) work of translation: to locate ourselves.
At the moment we are ready to discover new possibilities in Barcelona. We are looking for connections with insititutions or smaller groups like FF.
|| Mia: FF is nowadays organizing more events and workshops outside of Barcelona. This means FF can have "virtual" activities in other countries even though we would physically stay mostly in Barcelona. This model of small organizations collaborating together in horizontal connections, and having exchange of ideas, workshops, shows etc is very inspiring. We have noticed that there are a lot of people who are tired of waiting for something interesting to happen and start to organize small scale things themselves, without waiting for financial support, but trusting more in the cooperation of friends and colleagues. Like Betaville in Paris.
Also there is a need to find new places and formats of cultural activities. To get closer to a still unidentified public. This is necessary to be able to create something fresh and exciting, as institutions and museums have their own goals and needs. In this new situation, SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL.
|| Vanni: Yes but actually I know that even a small association can grow and become an institution. I guess that the distinction between the two is a difference between being funded as a whole (for daily operations, salaries, etc) and on the other side, being funded for single projects.
|| Mia: So, now what are you planning for the future in Barcelona?
|| Vanni: Actually, moving from one country to another is still having strong effects upon us - starting from the basics of adjusting to everyday life onwards. Whatever you are doing is a shock, both exciting and hard. In this situation we started rethinking of d-i-n-a as a strategy for creating awareness of the potential of net culture. Be it through big events like a festival, or organizing meetings or producing web projects. Be it in Spain or in Italy.
Does this mean that we are "nomad"? I don't know, I'm not sure I really like the way people use this word. We all desired to move from Italy but - in a way - I'm not fully sure I've not been forced to move. Someone defined the "Networking Nomad" as a creature who wants "to aimlessly wander through the electronic networks, to connect and disconnect at his own will, to drift from continent to continent via phone lines, cables and satellites, freed from any restriction of physical territoriality." And this is often just a merry utopian approach to difficulties in sustaining your projects in the long run.
|| Mia: How I understand nomadism, is far from an "aimless wandering." Sometimes, there is a reason and necessity for moving.
about Mia Makela >>
about Vanni Brusadin >>