Digicult got the opportunity to interview Limiteazero at their beginnings in March 2005. That is to say long ago. At that time, Tiziana Gemin wrote a pretty complete article about Paolo Rigamonti and Silvio Mondino, the two Milanese designers and architects composing Limiteazero.
That was a starting point for those who didn’t know Limiteazero’s productions and activity: http://www.digicult.it/digimag/article.asp?id=120. The objective of this following lines is to take up the thread of what we were saying.
Let’s consider the rocketing developments in communication and multimedia art (two more and more interweaved fields, despite my purist taste). We can’t also forget the increasing path and the international renown got by Limiteazero. I witnessed all their progress as I am a friend of them. So, I thought it was highly time to have a talk with Paolo and Silvio, trying to focus the subjects of our conversation on a couple of keywords characterising their wide range of projects. And more precisely: new professionalisms, interaction and relationship among space, city communication and hyper-architecture. Laptop orchestra represented with its rapt simpleness the short-circuit for a new possible commission-production system connecting enlightened private clients to the professional artist. The last aim is the creation of a value-object able to satisfy language needs and hybrid aesthetics having the same dignity in a trade stand (Smau 2005), as well as in a gallery (the Hublab in Milan and the Mediaruimte in Brussels). It’s maybe with the series Aspesi Shop, with bb_write for Blackberry and more recently the Reddot project that made Limiteazero the most important multimedia design studio in Italy . Obviously this twosome is more famous and valorised outside their homeland rather than inside the tight-mesh net of the little and poor Italy .
They’re trying to create an hybrid with the tradition (almost uniquely Italian, not to say deriving from the Politecnico di Milano University, the largest technical university in Italy ) with digital languages, establishing a bridge between the historical continuity and modernity, passing through experimentations midway between art and communication and design. They’re making compromises with private customers (because of the lack of aware institutions), but always remaining coherent to their principles. All their work brought them twice at the Wired Festival in NY and LA, at the Cantor Art Musem in Palo Alto , in USA , on request of Google. They also took part to the Milano Made in Design in Shanghai and Beijing. Not only. They got the opportunity to collaborate with prominent studios such as Tomato in London , Lab[au] in Brussels and Antonio Citterio & Partners in Italy .
As I wrote for the catalogue of their personal exposition in the Hublab gallery in Milan ” Each of their new works firstly distinguishes itself for its beautiful design. Yes, beautiful, pretty for sight, smart in shape, reflecting years of design studies and work in this field as well as in architecture. And this is perhaps one of the elements characterising them, i.e. their digital signature. Moreover, Limiteazero don’t find interesting the code flux in itself, but rather the dynamics and interactions that it establishes, the virtual world that it seems able to make real, just for a second. The circuitable-random value inside a code is not so important for the observation of random as aesthetic distinguishing mark of a machine. On the contrary it is an instrument on hand of the artist who can trigger a chain of black-outs in an apparently perfect binary system. An installation inserted in an environment is not only the excuse for setting up a dialogue between man and machine and watching the reactions in space, but it becomes an object of survey for the physical concretization of an electronics, and therefore immaterial, process. It is the core element of each designer of interfaces, author of rational screens for the sensorial (and consequently more direct) interpretation of works.”
These features are still present in Limiteazero’s further production. They are skilful in showing a refined and unforgettable image for their minimal rarefied aesthetics: how couldn’t you appreciate the works a_mirror or 5 pezzi cinetici? And how is it possible to ignore the sophistication of the relationship between interaction and (real and virtual) space, work and public, the elegance of an uncommon interaction, played according the codes of an emotional spontaneousness.
Paolo Rigamonti and Silvio Mondino impressed me for their intelligence in understanding limits and potentialities of the (concrete and electronics) instruments at their hands. Their approach is for sure very far from the typical techno-enthusiasm, this latter reminding me the scene of the sellers out of the temple in the Holy Bible. They’re aware of the huge amount of opportunities offered by digital media in the possible developments in the body-space relationship and in the new fields of the multimedia urban architecture. Not only. They also know the possible content limitations, especially in the visualization of information landscapes of the modern metropolises. The Limiteazero showed also here (just have a look at their work for the project of hyper-architecture commissioned by Lab[Au], Spectraum-Dexia Tower in Brussels) an appreciable aesthetics and planning balance, proposing an “alive”, “sensitive” light and sound system able to establish a close relationship with places, spaces and people…
Marco Mancuso: I’d like to make this interview a bridge for the description of LImiteazero’s activity as designers and artists. Your production saw you in the last years characters of the so called new digital art scene in Italy (especially in software art or interaction). Despite this situation, today you could say that you’re playing a wider and multi-sided role. I mean that you can feel you are in front of an absolutely conscious cross between an artist, a designer and expert able to tailor their own activity to different situations and clients. How much do you feel as yours this metamorphosis of artist-expert? how much does it derive from your professional background and how much was it planned?
Limiteazero: We could say that we have shown our natural vocation towards hybrid forms since the beginnings. Yet 10 years ago, when we established Limiteazero, we had in mind a project based on the crisscrossing between professionalism and different languages, as we felt somehow yet it dealt with a necessity for a system, rather than being a real choice. This system was starting to request wider and more complex planning models. Our ambition, if we can call it so, has always been the attempt to hybridize the planning tradition with new media languages. Meanwhile we are also trying to keep a philological continuity, a hypothesis of development able to link the historical line to contemporaneity. I can’t say if we are succeeding, yet when we are told that our works do show a clear sign of the Italian design school, when even the tradition of the Politecnico di Milano University, we do feel that something must have worked.
This methodology reflects upon a professional activity directly proceeding with the experimental track, or better, upon an experiment path becoming a commercial product, an offer of facilities.
Actually we have never had the request of making art. Rather, we do think we are looting art languages, we try to get some aspects and linguistic codes, translating them in other shapes and blending them with working models, playing with some ambiguities of the communication world. In the last years we set up some important collaborations, for instance with Tomato in London or with the studio Antonio Citterio & Partners. That let us think up new methodologies and face other working approaches, enriching our skills and drawing new interventions sceneries.
Today Limiteazero can be defined as a design studio offering its professional skills to clients/partners in search for an unusual work, not conforming to communication traditional logics, but, at the same time, aware of being able to speak the same language of precise market shares, susceptible to certain codes and pushes. In the meantime it represents a places of ideas circulation and experimentation belonging to a network of contacts and international exchanges, where non commissioned research projects are realized. And they constitute the main frame of the system we are offering.
We could say we’re the exponents of a profession 2.0, a new working model where experimentation, art practice and professionalism crisscross in a spread social network. Here the final result of each work (that is represented by a point) is the sum of the contributions given by more subjects.
Marco Mancuso: In my opinion the last project and collaboration representing a very important international acknowledgement is the Spectr|a|um/Dexia Tower on request of the collective group Lab[au] in Brussels . Now, I’d like to know how was the work on such a project of media architecture. Rather than the explanation of the technical work, I’m more interested in knowing how was your approach towards the city context, as your project would have a prominent impact on the city landscape
Limiteazero: spectr|a|um has been an interesting work experience on a new scale of effects. Indeed, the success, but also the difficulty of this intervention, consisted in the total freedom in approach, as there weren’t precise contents to express nor strategic targets to be reached. In comparison to Holger Lippman and Olaf Bender, who have been working on magnificent video sequences, we did prefer to opt for a generative software able to give an “alive” process, a real time happening. This was the most interesting aspect to us: using a big city object as screen of a real time process.
The Dexia Tower represents an extraordinary building in a city context with a limited vertical development, as Brussels . And then the tower is still more important as it can be seen by all the hills where Brussels stretches over. We wanted to work on this idea of city lighthouse, we’d like to cast a light sign non necessarily appealing for sight, but constituting a real event, exploiting its visibility from different points in the city. The simple shapes we realized were focussed on distance perception and had the aim not to reveal the massive body of the building and rather to set an abstract light system immersed in space.
Marco Mancuso: According to you, the growing phenomenon of multimedia architecture, the so-called media-facades, that is the opportunity to modify the urban landscape, can establish a new form of data visualization characterising the modern metropolises? Do you think it will be a new kind of hyper-mediated communication that artists and architects like you can use?
Limiteazero: The more and more use of visualization technologies is changing everything, included the whole city, into a potential screen. I do think that beyond the rapt contemplation of the luminous spectacle, the phenomenon should make you consider about the real quality values of the possible contents. The wider and wider disposal of technology makes us think it is in inverse proportion to the quality of the proposed content, as we have been taught by the history of media. It must be the crisis of interesting subjects to be at the basis of the identity (and cultural) crisis of the multimedia city. Is there a person who can remember just one fragment of interesting content after visiting Times Square ?
Paul Virilio asserts that information is architecture fourth dimension and for sure this component constitutes one of the key-elements for the city development in the next years. Therefore the work on information inside the urban landscape is certainly a prominent subject, but it is necessary to pay attention to the consequences of an unwise and above all senseless media disfigurement as you can sadly see in some places.
To sum up, technology offers us powerful instruments, but it is not the high time for understanding the things it can spread. Until advertising videos, lightened company logos or news tickers will be used, understanding won’t be particularly difficult. We could say that at the moment the language of this “amplified multi-mediality” is still a tough dialect. Yet, the improvement and development of an articulate language are something different and this is the path we should go along.
Marco Mancuso: In your opinion, which is the difference between this kind of multi-media architecture and the production of architects using new technologies such as Nox, Ito, Spuybroek, Libeskind, Hadid and others (in this regard we suggest Gianluca Milesi’s exposition for Mixed Media 2006)? Which one of this two different trends, if we can say so, do you prefer, also taking into consideration the Italian tradition one of the main features of your education- of your project?
Limiteazero: Among the cited architects we’d say that only Lars Spuybroek, and not always, has used new technologies in his production. Otherwise it would be better to say that the contemporaneous languages, strongly influenced by the new media’s dynamics, are part of the vocabulary of a certain modern architecture. Generally speaking we’d say that communication languages (that are the contemporaneous sign system shared worldwide) have become a kind of aesthetics Esperanto indiscriminately used by architecture, design, art, fashion and media.
We can say that some formal solutions offered by architecture were possible thanks to a renewal in the aesthetic language brought by new media. Yet this phenomenon seems to be commonly accepted to confine it to some aspects of the shaping research. These aspects have hugely increased thanks to the progresses made by shaping and representation instruments. So architecture has become a communication phenomenon, the main character of the event civilization, stepping in the media world.
Media-architecture is a tactic for artificially adding a reading level, i.e. information, to architecture complexity. Yet, it often turns into a simple transformation from the building surface into a screen. This is a surely interesting path on the linguistic point of view and other experiments in this sense are most welcome- but it doesn’t answer to questions that are nowadays very important as it lacks of a reference point with civilization and the traditional line from the city era.
On the contrary this architecture project changes according to the use of new technologies, used firstly as instruments and then as methods and languages. Some kind of architecture is no more planned through the old representational models, i.e. they are no more abstract representation of plans an cutaways, but it is shown by the storytelling, becoming a plastic process, virtual shaping , rendering and representation making it a self-sufficient product, sometimes also independently from its real transposition in handmade object.
The point is not our position because we’re part of this cultural society. It is rather a question of boasting the research in order to point out new application areas for new technologies.
Marco Mancuso: On the whole, if we analyse your latest projects as for instance Reddot or Alberto Aspesi Shops , what is your position towards the concept of space and how has your interacting design developed, in comparison to the everyday relationship to space, maybe linked to normal life and working activities (a shop window, a company’s entrance), depending from people spontaneously living them. So, which is your relationship between “space” and human beings” and which the directions you could take in this sense?
Limiteazero: Both the projects you’re talking about, despite their difference, have a common element that is a constant of our work when it comes in touch with our idea of interaction. According to us interaction is always mean as a side effect and above all elementary element. It deals with reactive objects, rather than interactive. Both the projects do not need a particular attention for the relationship modalities changing as they enter in contact with people. They simply recognize your presence and react. They don’t reveal a content, don’t play with you, don’t tell a story. Just react, exactly with the same banality as the bank door or the automated gate opening before you.
While the object drawn for Aspesi Shops are meant to be electronic watches and are present in the shop window to exhibit contents, Reddot is thought to be an object integrating in the same architectonic building. It’s an heavy object with its own definite shape and body, and it is thought to be present also when it is turn off. It doesn’t work only in the space where inserted, but it tries to interact with the materials delimiting that space. It tries to be welcome speaking a common language.
Reddot works in an interesting way, above all about its identity of object and about the game on materials mechanically mirroring light on different materials. This item was born in a context of close collaboration and tuning with our client (Nice) who has trusted us in working on a experimental project linking the realization of a peculiar project with their working and representation space. Beyond our research, we do believe that just our relationship with “enlightened” and brave clients is an elementary point for the realization of this kind of experimentations set in spaces related to working, commercial or productive aims. All them represent the mile stone for the next developments of our activity.
Marco Mancuso: A time Manuel of the Lab[au] asserted in a certain way that studios like yours, theirs and few others’ in the world will represent in the next future the best mediators for those who will want to develop projects mid way between art and communication. In few words the technical skills, the aesthetical taste, tradition in design and urban architecture and last, but not least, the skill in working both with sound and imagines will make you the best mediators for a wide-ranging multimedia project. Do you agree? Is it the professional objective of Limiteazero?
Limiteazero: As for each stage of technological and language change, there are always experimental avant-gardes, appreciated and shared just by a tiny elite. They track some research directions and it’s because of the innovation they’re bringing and showing that they are successful. Then, inevitably, languages undergo maturation and come in touch with the quantity and quality of public. So they give birth to more common systems and to more industrialised processes. People who, like us, have years of experience in the field of cross among languages, professionalism and technologies, have got for sure a deep knowledge of these instruments and they’re able to manage complex multimedia processes. Yet, it is always true that there’re just few things like multimedia being ambiguous and so widely reproducible.
We believe that the destiny of most of us is to be icebreaker. We’re travelling in difficult seas, our winds being curiousness and passion, we’re facing the difficulty of bearing a speedy rhythm in upgrading and fitting instrument we use everyday. This has, on the other side, human endurance as cons. As soon as this can be bearable for little groups of people, it will mean that the market is not yet ready to absorb this offer. As soon as these languages and opportunities will enter in the common cultural heritage, then over a short time span middle-size trade company will be set up (of course swallowed up by communication multinationals). And this will happen also exploiting our present experiences as reference point.
Therefore we do think that characters like us will probably always be linked to very few, but faithful and particular clients. We’re going to work with experimental frames and so we would necessarily and continuously upgrade our working models, suiting to changes.
Marco Mancuso: What about the work in Italy for studios like Limiteazero? Despite my influence, I’d like you to think up pros and cons in working in a country like the nowadays Italy . How much importance had the Mixed Media Festival in Milan , born and died after a single edition and seeing you Paolo, as inventor and first promoter?
Limiteazero: Let’s say Italy showed to be a very receptive market as for technological products. Yet, this seems to be in an inverse proportion to technological innovations, above all to integrate technology inside the cultural tradition. We buy and use it, but not elaborate. Just have a look at the Italian web situation: here you find an apparently comforting percentage of people connected on the net, but on the other hand the Italian web quality both for contents and shape- is, on the whole, highly embarrassing. On the cultural point of view, we can’t say there are not texts of a certain quality as well as prestigious festival linked to science, philosophy or literature do play an excellent role as pedagogical and upgrading means, perfectly tuning with the cultural tradition of this country.
We cannot forget realities such as the Studio di Fonologia Musicale (a music school in Milan) founded by RAI ( Radiotelevisione Italiana, Italian public broadcasting) with Maderna and Berio, main characters of the European electrical sound experimentation from the 50s till the 70s, or, in the same years, the GruppoT with Giovanni Anceschi, Gianni Colombo and Gabriele De Vecchi, working on the programmed art and creating wonderful wrap-around and interactive settings. They were most beloved outside Italy rather than here. It seems that our country isolates in an aristocratic self-love for its history, what instead is a narrowed-minded and self-damaging decaying provinciality.
To be honest it’s up to the different Italian cities, but for sure Milan is strongly competing for being the first in the worst list. I think it’s enough to have a look at the cultural offer, even only in the last 5 years, proposed by Milan , Rome and Turin . In this comparison you can make some simple considerations. Our experience goes deep in this context, suffering for lack of interlocutors and above all structures, institutions or every kind of receptive systems. Our work is more known and appreciated abroad. We chose long ago English as main language of our site, considering that the majority of the visits (the 80%) is due to non-Italian speakers. We have been as well invited to show our projects in very prominent contexts in foreign countries. In Italy instead we have to warmly thank only willing privates who have managed to organise shows where we took part in spite of all difficulties.
It is also true that a certain lack in interest is due to several lacks, starting from the small amount of people for a possible electronic Italian scene. We are very few to work in this field .But also the quality of the work is not so much . This provokes a lack in interest in investors and probably isn’t worth for disturbing complicated institutions who are already in difficulty for most important subjects.
The experience of the Mixed Media Festival is both deeply tied to this dry context and to the lack or inadequacy of its own format, beyond the inevitable inexperience of the organizers. In order to be the most clear as possible the festival ended up to speak several and not always understandable languages and so it couldn’t convey the message as it was intended. This concerns self-critics, what we find often ignored, while absolutely important to us. Of course the relationship with institutions wasn’t an aid, not in terms of simple promotion nor of concrete help. It seems public institutions are concerned in boasting often useless initiatives, but for sure related to power. Not to speak of private sponsors, who often mistook us and the objectives of our event for obtaining a first-line seat as they were in informatics fairs or in promotional stands.
foto by Arianna D’Angelica
We’d say everything goes as we above mentioned: rejection in adequate power levels (that represents the first element to become someone in Italy , what we knew but have naively undervalued) lacking if not absent sensitiveness for this subject and common indifference towards the inside potentialities of our project by side of the institutions. Perhaps this is a mistake, but we believe that in a city different from Milan we could have a chance. That’s all.