Once upon a time there was the Milan of the sixties. It was very different from the one everybody working today in the arts knows and despises. Once upon a time there was the Milan of baby boomers and economic expansion, the city of formation and research: the Politecnico, the Brera Gallery, the RAI Musical Phonology Studio and the Laboratory of Ultra High-Speed Cinematography.
It was the most important city for creativity and design, the meeting place for great and maybe unparalleled characters on the artistic panorama of our country: Luciano Berto, Bruno Munari, Bruno Maderna, Gianfranco Bettini, Umberto Eco, Ettore Sottsass, Enzo Mari, Ludovico Magistretti, Alessandro Mendini, the Castiglioni brothers, Piero Manzoni, Angiolo Giuseppe Fronzoni and Giuseppe Colombo. It was a city that was alive, made up of exchanges and activities, one which we nostalgic people often remember as a time of proserity, one which we could perhaps go back to one day.
Milan in the 60s was this and much more: but beyone all this it witnessed one of the most important artistic avantguard movements in the last century: the Kinetic and Programmed Art Movement. The movement had a huge international success but it consequently suffered from a sharp decline in interest, sinking into oblivion. Nonetheless, thanks to the spreading of digital and computer-based art, KaPA works have now stolen the spotlight once again.
There are numerous evident links between the two artistic movements, and there are many references to collective experiences made by national and international modern artists such as the T-Group, the MID Group (Mutamento, Immagine, Dimensione: Mutation, Image, Dimension) and the N Group. All the possible aesthetic, poetic, design and perceptive connections are very clear, as shown by the Bit International exhibition by ZKM of Karlsruhe (by curator Darko Fritz and co-curators Margit Rosen and Peter Weibel) two years ago.
The exposition illustrated the history of the Nove Tendencije – New Tendencies movement (along with its legendary five meetings between 1961 and 1973 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb) and its key role as a theoretical bridge linking constructivism, visual art, kinetic and programmed art and precisely the first computer art.
Amongst the several protagonists of that unique period, the MID Group, founded in 1964 in Milan by Antonio Barrese, Alfonso Grassi, Gianfranco Laminarca and Alberto Marangoni, whose activity came to an end in 1992, represented one of the most important groups of that wonderful period. It was the first in Italy to expand its field of research beyond the narrow disciplinary borders of art. It worked between technological research and educational intent and conceived visual communication as a language including the most various expression forms: film, graphics, environment, object, architecture, photography.
The MID Group predicted these interdisciplinarity and sharing forms that are typical of many collective groups and design studios who nowadays work with digital technologies. Through stroboscopic images, programmed and voiced stroboscopic environments and kinetic discs, the MID Group invited the observer to plunge into an optically and physically stimulated global space. Moreover, Antonio Barrese’s works continued to follow this line of research even after his collaboration with MID ended.
To this purpose we met up with Antonio Barrese through the strange dynamics that rule our lives on the Net and the following interview is a timeless digression comparing past with present, research with art, design with technological development, and his years contributing as an artist with his role within a society in which he lived and in which he still lives
Claudia D’Alonzo and Marco Mancuso: What did those technological and artistic movements represent in your work and your self ?
Antonio Barrese: I think art in its whole is a metaphor. And so are the things involved under the instrumental, methodological and expressive points of view, such as interdisciplinary procedure, interactivity, style, structure and morphological method, balance between randomness and planning, the means through which they happen and the relations between observer and the social body.
The ones you defined as “the disciplinary borders of art” are in my opinion just recent mistakes which don’t portray art in the past and therefore should be removed. They are but bureaucratic needs, more useful to critics than to artists. To imprison art within borders, like it is a child in a courtyard with restricted timetables to play in, means to deny its nature, because the role of art is to reveal itself and to define what doesn’t exist yet.
And to do that it needs freedom. People are more and more persuaded that art is marked by disciplinary borders, and society permitted technologies to be the privilege of industry, which privatized it in order to increase production. These borders are naturally not indivisable ; in fact they are not (and have not been) separated : In several cases methodology, the sciences, materials and technology…despite an attempt to keep them separate, they continued to interact with art.
I see art as techné, an indiscernible unity of expression, craftsmanship, technique, scientific outlook and design. Since the day I decided I would be an artist I never thought art expressed itself exclusively in the forms that were then in fashion, and I was never drawn by lesser trends or pre-arranged styles produced by critics, art dealers and merchants. I have always placed art at the crossroads of expressivity, linguistic research, science and technique. I believed it acquired sense and consistence through design, or the rational construction of a shaping process.
The following phrase synthesizes what I mean: shape doesn’t exist before design. Moreover, the concept of art as techné makes all the argumentations floating around the interdisciplinary method futile, an approach that I always thought as a prerequisite, a useful but obvious tool for work and artistic research.In my opinion, to assign a key role to interdisciplinary work doesn’t determine poetics, but on the contrary it is a weak method, a mere aspect of problem solving most of all. When we discuss it as if it was capable to set a style or to represent a milestone as Perspective did, we are not telling the truth: we are just bringing into prominence an aspect of art efficiency with whom to gain success and impress the public.
Interdisciplinarity existed even before it was introduced in art and it didn’t come out of nowhere for designers’ and artists’ pleasure. Along with experimentation and its repetitiveness, it is rather one of the fundamental aspects of modern science, which gained credit with Galilei and so on. In fact during the last decades it has become a warhorse of artistic marketing, thus taking a larger piece of the market. Interdisciplinary procedure characterized KaPA and contemporary Italian Design: an approach which convinced me there was a strong identity between Art and Design.
If we look beyond intentions and operative needs, the interdisciplinary work (developed by lots of theoretical designers from Anglo-Saxons and ulmian areas by the likes of Guy Bonsiepe, Tomas Maldonado, Christopher Alexander, and by philosophers such as Abraham Moles and Max Bense) produced unrealistic attempts rather than true efficiency. I don’t mean to deny its value, but to make it concrete once again, to make it a necessary yet not paradigmatic operative procedure, well established in any artistic research process and to be used when there is need of. In other words, interdisciplinary is not an a priori aspect but a useful chance to handle a complex and always changing efficiency.
So I think sectorialization in art is unacceptable, though I’m aware that reducing the working field is easier to turn artistic objects into discernible goods, perfect for the market which requires products to be labelled and priced. It is otherwise true that MID’s work distinguished by a broad variety of interest and research, and in my current work I keep on in the same vein. When I was in the Group I worked on all the sectors you mentioned: object, structure, environment, design, photography, cinema and experimental aesthetics research. I discovered a clear and solid link among them which convinced me to do so.
Claudia D’Alonzo and Marco Mancuso: In many interviews you state your work is based on the study of technique, media and languages deriving from them, rather than on the functional use of tools for the replication of something else. What are the differences, and the constant elements as well, coming from this kind of study during the change from analogical to digital techniques?
Antonio Barrese: My work is not based on the study of technique, media and language. I just use, handle and investigate these things, looking inside and behind of them. I try to read them, to play with them and see what happens, just like children who discover the world by breaking a toy. I dedicated myself to technique, considering it a mix of art and science, because contents, feelings and emotions make me feel uncomfortable. I don’t know how to react before these things, I feel estranged.
Since my very beginning I hated the idea of art seen as content, message, something-to-say. I quickly understood contents are not infinite, but countable and classifiable. In reverse there are multiple variances, interpretations, technique adaptations, evolutions of language and infinite social and behavioural patterns coming out from that group of relations. The hermeneutic dimension is their result.
These are the reasons for which I preferred digital and new media art. Thanks to them I didn’t focus my attention to the reproduction of something that already existed, but to the production, drawing out unexpressed possibilities and hidden virtualities, and giving voice to the means and tools I confront with. To give voice to technique – a key aspect of my work – doesn’t mean to explain a content, but to determine a sense, to create a fair and legitimate context where to develop research and expression.
In order to do that I make use of real and ad hoc media as well, or better still, always ad hoc media products, because art works are not contents, but means of communication. They suggest virtuality and stimulus; they are always open to interpretation and in this they reflect Eco’s and Munari’s thoughts.
Claudia D’Alonzo e Marco Mancuso:What MID studies concerning the relationship between work and observer do you think are still relevant today? If you used to think interactivity was a key aspect for kinetic art, you haven’t seemed to stop thinking that way, given your most recent work productions such as LedBoxes, RGBBoxes or FluoBoxes and the TracingTotem which make reference to the studies carried out by your kinetic objects during the 1963-1972 period. (Stroboscopic Generators, Tracer Generators, Flashlights, Interference Generators). http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/Storiche.php
Antonio Barrese: Interactivity has been crucial for some of the main characters of KaPA, but not for all. In 2007, when I wrote MID. Alle origini della multimedialità. Dall’arte programmata all’arte interattiva (“MID. The origins of multimedia. From programmed art to interactive art”) reporting our group’s work, I defined interactivity with the term dialogicity, that sounded more appropriate to me. Dialogicity was the most important aspect in those works, as it was in all the kinetic objects distinguished by a high interactivity and requiring the participation of the user, without whom they would stay lifeless.
There’s nothing wrong in stating that Dialogic Objects have been the ancestors of modern interactivity and digital art. In a certain way these works are the missing link between Programmed and Digital Art. In the 60s KaPA artists already knew what the world of computer, digitality and information technology would be and they also knew its exponential growth. It’s useful to remember that digitality was born in that very period and also that the cultural paradigm was among Information and Linguistics theory: in fact all the sciences followed those methods and research procedures.
This scientific horizon has been very important for my artistic choices. Both Giovanni Anceschi and I think kinetic and programmed artists worked without a computer, but it was like it existed. Of course, they didn’t argue about interactivity yet, but about Opera Aperta, underlining the role of an observer involved in completing the object with his intervention and, above all, Participation, a more politics-oriented term. Interactivity seen as a mean rather than a goal.
In this sense, Gabriele De Vecchi’s Scultura da prendere a calci (“sculpture to kick” (http://www.youtube.com/wacch?v=SHYo5tLsYts), and Disco Cinetico Stroboscopico (“Kinetic Stroboscopic Disc” (http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/DischiGrandiPiccoli.php) are very clear. The latter was presented at the1965 Nuova Tendenza exhibition, and due to its huge size it required a person to hang upon the big ring of its circumference to set it in motion.
It was a revolution because up to that time no one was ever allowed to even touch the works, sculptures included, as if they were holy relics, far from the observer and exclusively destined to an elitist public. Thanks to interactivity, art got in contact with people and in a certain way it became more democratic. KaPA’s interactivity had social, political, ethical and aesthetical extents. Today’s interactivity however is usually functional.
Today I don’t think interactivity is a vital aspect, rather it is simply a useful possibility ; it would be foolish to view it as vitally important given that it’s been decades since computers are provided with interactive mice and screens and every household appliance have an interface.
The works you just quoted LedBox, (http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/LEDbox.php), RGBBox, (http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/RGBbox.php), FluoBox (http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/Fluobox.php) andTracingTotem (http://www.youtube.com/wacch?v=rJ0_aggiBEw), were made as 1960’s remakes, created a few years ago with the technologies that did not exist at that time (electronic drivers, inverter and LED technologies). However, the technologic differences are so wide that the reconstructions became new fully-fledged works, unthinkable for the MID group at the time.
Claudia D’Alonzo and Marco Mancuso: What are the difficulties faced by MID’s works and yours during contemporary exhibitions? And what are the main exhibition problems?
Antonio Barrese: By starting my artistic work again and paying visits to showrooms, I realized the objects exposed were often wreckages or damaged tools whose existence and functionality we cannot not even remember. That’s the reason why I applied myself to their reconstruction. I stared at poor shows filled with lifeless black boxes, where Stroboscopic Discs were displayed without the lighting systems they would have needed to become alive ; they would remain immobile, like bad copies of Bridget Riley’s optical pictures.
Unfortunately, we never succeeded in being popular with exhibition places, not even when KaPA was enjoying great favour: museums seldom agreed to turn off the lights and thought that making the objects work with electric current was unsafe. Work’s activation without its author was even dissuaded, for their sounds spoiled the museum’s atmosphere.
MID works, especially the ones based on rapid and vibrant movement, suffered from a number of mechanical troubles given their size. The Synthetic Images – none other than harmless photos, but a considerable part of MID’s production – were not exposed more than 5 or 6 times in a decade, due to the difficulty of exposing their original slides, the high costs of photographic printing and the galleries’ refusal to display a mere projections exposition. That’s why, at the beginning of 2000, I remained surprised after all of them were restored and some digitally recreated and printed. The Synthetic Images are truly amazing!
Claudia D’Alonzo and Marco Mancuso:Inside the MID Group you cared about the relationship between space and observer (with Chromatic Environments and Stroboscopic Environments for examplehttp://www.youtube.com/wacch?v=WaKB05BUBpI) and obviously in recent years you didn’t stop working on this aspect, as SolidLight, ZeusPlaying or DancingShadow suggest..
Antonio Barrese: When MID was created in 1964, the debate on Environments was at its peak. The sense and echo of the Environments was clear then: to enter a living and fascinating environment and to be surrounded by phenomena and events is no doubt a very intense experience. However, our result was indirect and came from Stroboscopic Structures, (http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/Struttura3e4.php) or huge, automatic and not interactive tools which made cylinders roll.
I considered them as environmental dimension works capable of pervading, involving and influencing the surroundings. I didn’t want to achieve my goal by simply setting up a place, but to discover the work’s perceptive impact, regardless of its space. That’s why also consider as Environments both Screen Works (http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/RettangoliArmonici.php) and Synthetic Images projections (http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/ImmaginiSintetiche0.php) which required a treatment of the setting place and succeeded in activating it synestethically.
I experimented with auditory-visual synesthesia in the 1966 Programmed and Voiced Stroboscopic Environment (produced by Ideal Standard – http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/AmbStroboscopicoInterattivo.php) and with its replica in Foligno, during the Image Space exhibition. This work was also born thanks to a friendship with Pietro Grossi, Italian electronic music pioneer and founder of the musical phonology studio in Florence. The room was empty and the lights turned off.
Three stroboscopic batteries (each one having three lights in its primary colours) illuminated the place at about 60 Hertz per second, changing its frequency and chromatic light, so that the observers’ movements were revealed, giving birth to extraordinary trails and storms of images. Three white ropes were hanging from the ceiling and even a minimal oscillation in their motion made the stroboscopic effect visible, thus inviting the public to take participation in the magic event.
My current environments such as SolidLight, ZeusPlaying and DancingShow are conceived with the same concept and purpose, even if they rely on a superior technical support compared to Stroboscopic Environment. For example, SolidLight (http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/SolidLight.php) utilizes Lytec, an electroluminescent fiber already used for standard illuminations, traffic lights, etc, which gives unbelievable results. ZeusPlaying http://www.youtube.com/wacch?v=W6NAEF4RTfE is an installation which has the following sizes: 250cm x180cm x150cm. It is provided with 500 harmonic steel bars, 120cm long and 3mm large. They are electrified by a 12 Volt current, and every time they make contact with each other they produce spectacular and completely harmless sparks.
Claudia D’Alonzo and Marco Mancuso: How do you judge your work in relation to digital art, a discipline alternating periods of high creativity and deep technologic research with early passivity, mere stylistic exercise with paradoxical comparison and rediscover of analogical technology with avant-garde works?
Antonio Barrese: In the early 70s I collaborated with the Ispra Research Centre in order to produce mass production images. Afterwards. at the end of the 80s I began using MACs, computers I have since never been separated from. I have always considered computers like super-tools, but I never remained a victim of the software’s charm (its never ending curse is to be forever in search of updates). That is the reason for which I didn’t dedicate myself to Digital Art, to become too dependent on computer programs, too much in need of temporary programmers’ stratagems and too weak in its results. Art is not – and must not become – an endless search for updates. Instead, it needs a duration, it must create it.
Art is not eternal as our first masters taught us, but it has to last for some decades at least in order to be absorbed and understood by culture. With regard to the means it relies on, art is in strong need of solid supports and certainties, because experiment and risk are part of its nature, while the digital universe is slippery, indefinite and elusive. As an artist, when I work with incorporeal phenomena like lights and shadows, flashes and sparks, I need something tangible and consistent to confront with, something concrete that can find its way inside us while at the same time we find our way inside it. I want at least the interface to be solid and tangible.
Claudia D’Alonzo and Marco Mancuso:It seems to me that your last production, as well as your less recent works, oscillates between immateriality and perceptive phenomenon materiality activated through the work – I’m referring to a couple of environment projects, ChromoRoom (2000) and DancingShadow (2000). In the former, space is totally generated by an optical projection whose motion distorts the architectural parameters, while in the latter such distortion is produced by a light in motion on architectural patterns which are in relief on the wall, meaning the wrong perception is given by something material. Could you explain your approach to this material-immaterial dualism?
Antonio Barrese: To be honest I don’t know what to say. You start on the basis that perceptive phenomena are material…Even though I studied Gestalt psychology, I never considered it crucial in my work; I found they were rather a collection of perceptive phenomena, more or less funny but anyway not that effective to assign it aesthetical functions. Moreover, Gestalt’s structures and perceptive procedures weren’t even as universal as we hoped, because perception (and everything, by the way) is influenced by culture and not vice versa. I have always been of the opinion that Gestalt was part of the grammatical dimension of artistic communication, the one defining directions for use and features of basic signs and visual alphabet.
There is also a syntactic dimension, reached by Phenomenology and Linguistics with the aid of technique and other disciplines (mathematics, geometry, topology, etc). However, all of this is still not sufficient, for art is not created by words and syntactic rules. We generate art by using Rhetoric, or the ability of reaching the highest and most complex levels of expression. Concerning the material-immaterial dualism, I think it is always present in what we are and what we do, and these two things are not divisible. There will always be a mechanism, a tool, a device conveying forms, tales, sounds, communications: a material thing ending with an immaterial outcome (perceptive, behavioural, intellectual, emotional, experiential).
Claudia D’Alonzo e Marco Mancuso:The research in the stroboscopy field is the leitmotiv of your work. Could you tell us how this interest came about and what knowledge was needed to develop these studies all these years?
Antonio Barrese: The study on stroboscopic effects was the first one I did, and you are right when you say it links all the other ones I made: in Environments, in Synthetic Images(both Stroboscopic Figures– http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/ImmaginiSintetiche2.php in Stroboscopic Images http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/ImmaginiSintetiche3.php), and Experimental Films(http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/DiscoStroboscopico.php) and even in the production of schemes used for complexity/satisfaction indexes. Its key role is due to the fact that this light allows the motion to be seen, observed, analyzed and represented.
Stroboscopic effects are at the core of cinema, that form of art which marked the passage from traditional to industrial and technology-oriented expressivity. Even in this case – maybe I am kind of obsessed with it – I concentrated on the creation of synthetic visual situations, which are not created simply by reproducing reality, but by techniques’ and tools’ ability to do that.
It was during the MID movement that I agreed with all the theories of Nova Tendencija Movement, but I was searching for more spectacular and astonishing forms; I pursued the possibility of arising amazement and surprise, I wanedt to inspire joy, playfulness and pleasure. The stroboscopic effect is perfect for this purpose. It is not easy to obtain – it was really difficult then – especially for higher 25/30 Hertz per second frequencies.
The frequency must be higher than the perceptual threshold of 24 flashes per second and light has to appear constant, in order to make people perceive a multiplication of images, separation of colours and lots of other fascinating dynamisms. In other words, it is necessary to hide the physical brutishness of the phenomena in order to display an aesthetic experience.
Claudia D’Alonzo e Marco Mancuso:It seems to me that, depending on which of your works we take into consideration, the observer gets the possibility to confront the two space model scales: the small interactive object-oriented scale and the environmental scale. The former establishes a very close relationship with the user, the latter generally gets the observer’s body to be involved, in conjunction with the space in which he moves. Within the environments, space is an absolute concept belonging exclusively to the work, and the observer takes part in it. What can you tell me about this?
Antonio Barrese: You’re right. I have also utilized the term ‘intimate’ to define the relationship generated by some of my works. It is not enough to watch their visual variability, as the T Group’s ones required. My objects have to be touched, controlled, and to do that, one needs to get very close, crossing the proxemic area and creating an inner relation. Some of these works, such as Stroboscopic Generators (http://www.antoniobarrese.it/ITA/GSLED.php) or StroBox (http://www.youtube.com/wacch?v=VXLvgWGlkak) an be held on one’s knees or even caressed like a cat given their size.
The passage from a spatial dimension to another doesn’t necessarily mean an evolution, though it is clear that the commitment to big objects requires more experience and care. Maybe the idea of a work such as Albero di luce (Light tree) (http://www.youtube.com/wacch?v=8jOXJu977nc) started from “The Image of town,” a book written by Kevin Lynch, an American town planner who in 1960 analyzed the territory signs and explained meanings and relations, spatial and perceptive sense, environmental and structural organization methods.
Nonetheless my work has been influenced by my perpetual interest for Land Art and my admiration for Christo and Jeanne-Claude, whose environmental installations have always fascinated me. In recent years I have been delighted by the urban scale objects produced by Anish Kapoor, an artist I feel familiar with for his ability to change the whole environment through the works’ charm.
Claudia D’Alonzo and Marco Mancuso: Albero di Luce is a different work in comparison with your last ones. It is distinguished by a strong monumentality within the urban universe. With the term monument I mean something entering a context and representing itself, in a spectacular way too, and showing to be independent from the environment. Apart from the works’ own features, what kind of study have you undertaken in relation to the context the work was placed in? In what ways the work interacted with urban context and modified the perception of that part of Milan?
Antonio Barrese: You’re right again. I wanted Albero di luce to have a monumental dimension – and a role too – that entered the context and represented itself. And you’re right once again when you affirm its independence. First of all, Albero di luce was meant to be itinerant, and therefore independent from space. The goal of that work, though miserably placed into a Christmas context so that it was turned into a freaky and technologic Christmas tree, was the statement of the primary role of aesthetic experience, more important than any meaning, relation or function. That’s why I wanted it to be so big, visible, impossible to miss, full of charisma and even a little scary.
Claudia D’Alonzo e Marco Mancuso:Surely you realise that your work, and that of the KaPA movement and Nova Tendencija are pioneering ones. In fact they were rediscovered and celebrated in a special way during the interactive technologies and auditory-visual synthesis/management event. Lots of famous digital artists, such as Granular Synthesis, Rjoiji Ikeda, Carsten Nicolai or even Otolab made clear references to your research. What do you think about this?
Antonio Barrese: Of course I know my work is pioneering! I don’t want to look arrogant, but I have always been aware of this. It is necessary to start from the very beginning, or from the reasons for which KaPA ended, in order to understand the difficult, and long ignored, continuity between MID’s works and modern art: obvious exhibition problems, the majority of artists were refused by the market, the fragility of works due to their experimental nature, insufficient production which didn’t assure the commercial continuity expected by art dealers, excessive success and subsequent trivialization, the impossibility to compete with Pop Art,
Poor Art and Minimal Art as they were easier for critics to comment upon, the losing battle against 1968 visionarism, the transfer of some artisits to design (Munari, Mari and others), didactic (Anceschi, Massironi, Boriani), and revolution (Chiggio, Castellani); and finally rhe exhaustion of research and subsequent repetitiveness.
Given these circumstances, KaPA was declared guilty and literally removed from history of art books – sometimes in a very grotesque way – to be substituted with imitations or even leaving vacuums, as if that period hadn’t existed at all. I happened to read a big and important volume where there were Fontana and Manzoni on a page and Ontani immediately on the following one, as if nothing else happened in the middle. Truth be told, a removal of culture.
In order to better explain the atmosphere of moral and intellectual confusion of that time which chimed the end of ACeP, the year of 1968, the arrival of pseudo-revolution and the coming of modern professionalism in the next Milano-Ba-Bere, I want to let you know that my former MID colleagues – after I left them – threw away all the objects and the great structures that remained in the studio (thinking they were cumbersome, never understanding their meaning).
I want to tell you about another personal experience, which I consider more clarifying than any theoretic explanation. Lea Vergine, a woman who managed to disply her beauty through exhibitions during the 60’s – whom I met in 1965 in Zagreb during the Nova Tendencija 3 exposition – was the first curator to care intensely about my work, writing essays and organizing MID group shows.
In 1983 Lea Vergine arranged a show at Palazzo Reale in Milan, entitled 1953-1963 Programmed Art, not only completely leaving out our group, but also the greater part of artists’ work which had keep on working till the 70s. Lea deliberately chose to reduce the whole era to the period in which her husband Enzo Mari was working. More recently, in 2007, when I presented MID. The origins of multimedia. From programmed art to interactive art, I sent her an invitation, along with a copy of the volume too.
I received her answer a year later. It was a handwritten letter on the reverse of a Capri hotel headed paper, with the following content (I quote by heart): “Dear Barrese, I’m sorry I could not have been there. I’m not interested in programmed art anymore. Instead, I feel ashamed I was interested in it in the 60s, at the beginning of my career, but it must be considered that I was a provincial girl coming to Milan, and I found myself involved in an atmosphere that I felt was interesting and funny at first sight. I now think programmed art has only produced junk. Fortunately, I have now dedicated myself to more serious forms of art. I wish you and Laura to have success and so on…”
To put it simply, due to similar events and also more serious ones on top of the ones I have already mentiioned, a general lack of interest was allowed to happen, which then contributed to its proper ostracism, a vacuum which caused most of modern art to be lame and incomprehensible. By good fortune Peter Weibel recalled and historically stigmatized the continuity between KaPA and Digital Art through his works and lots of good expositions organized for ZKM – Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie – in Karlsruhe.
If it were for Italian critics and historians, with the exception of Marco Meneguzzo and Volker Faierabend, all would have been lost in the usual Italic provincialism. It’s only thanks to them that artists by the likes of Granular Synthesis, Rjoiji Ikeda, Carsten Nicolai and Otolab could be inspired from KaPA’s work and mine as well. I’m very proud of that.
Claudia D’Alonzo and Marco Mancuso:In your biography there are references to a 1970-73 collaboration with RAI for the realization of experimental programs. Since that short but surely interesting period of RadioTelevisione Italia is almost widely unknown, very few have had the chance to take a look at those works whose fate is therefore mysterious. Could you tell us something about your own experience of that period?
Antonio Barrese: I had developed a deep interest for cinematography. I mean the true cinema, not the experimental part we elaborated inside the MID Group. Along with a team of cinema-goers from Milan (Rezoagli, Marchesini, Rapetti, Buttafava, Quadri, Freri, Cavigioglio and others) I founded Momenti Cineforum (inside of De Amicis cinema, then owned by Alfonso Grassi) which enjoyed great success, for it was also the first to be opened and independent, unlike the then unproductive film library.
I had a strong passion and I wanted to become a film director. I began by collaborating with Tuttilibri, a program produced by Milan Production Center, and afterwards I took the plunge with the direction of Experimental Programs of Rome, through which almost all the directors of my generation went: Bertolucci, Faenza, Bellocchio, Del Monte, Agosti, Amelio, unless I’m not mistaken. Anyway, I soon grew tired of Roman cinema, RAI workers’ time management and salons ??’ rituality. I came back to Milan and applied myself to design.
Claudia D’Alonzo and Marco Mancuso: Milan in the 60s: KaPA groups, Berio, Munari. Can you tell us how did you live that cultural and artistic period of the city? And in relation to this one, what do you think of the current situation? Milan is still one of the symbols of international design, but what are the differences in respect to that period?
Antonio Barrese:Nice question! I would add some other name to the ones you quoted: Bruno Maderna and his RAI Musical Phonology Studio in Milan, Gianfranco Bettetini and the Laboratory of Ultra High-Speed Cinematography. The following artists who preceded me: Ponti, Fontana, Manzoni, the Castiglioni brothers, Enzo Mari, Bruno Munari, Ludovico Magistretti, AG Fronzoni, Marco Zanuso, Mario Bellini, Pio Manzù, Ettore Sottsass, Alessandro Mendini and others. Many of them were my friends, and thanks to them and their cultural environment I devoted myself to strategic and communication design.
The art dealers (Cardazzo, Le Noci, the Somaré brothers, Beatrice Monti, Vismara, Palazzoli and so on). Critics, writers, journalists, fashion designers..I wouldn’t omit the whole industrial culture complex (Olivetti, Pirelli) and all the intellectuals moving around there (Volponi, Sinisgalli and many more). Then the magazines (Domus, Casabella, Ottagon, Forme, Alfabeta). The university circle (Marcello Cesa Bianchi, Ludovico Geymonat among the others) shouldn’t be forgotten. Personages such as Umberto Eco, Cesare Musatti, Silvio Ceccato… In conclusion I would thank the great number of craftsmen who made design, fashion and KaPA possible. Milan lived a magical and unique moment of splendour.
Of all that magnificence nothing has remained. Milan died when the of factories closed in the 70s, it died for the robberies made by socialists businessmen in the 80s, for not having understood the change of paradigm in the early 90s (delocalization, the coming of digital era, the fall of the Berlin wall, the need to find a new balance with the Third World and Muslim countries), for mass universities which killed professions, for having turned art into craftsmanship, for the low quality and high quantity of students, for failure in finding an identity, for the fall of ideologies and the extinction of politics.
Milan is now unmasking itself, revealing its true soul-less centre (or rather, a gross and petty soul), and it is incapable of hiding its racist nature and its fascist tendencies. At least half of these reasons are caused by a lack of artistic vision, for the people of Milan have reduced art to mere night telesales between porno channels and TeleMaria, turning artists into thousands of disgraced people crowding academies and evening schools.