THE SHAPE OF LIGHT
Txt: Elisabetta Colombo
/ Eng: Carla Borrelli
His calling card is a moving portfolio, which can be visited on the internet site www.fra-me.it , although video art is only a part of his composite work. Francesco Meneghini is, in fact, a multifaceted character embracing different areas of new media’s environment, starting from graphics to motion design and multimedia art, and confirming as one of the few and most creative persons in this sector.
Born 1977 in Vicenza, he lives and works now in Milan and Venice, but he confesses he has always a packed baggage to be able to move all around the world, from Canada to Australia, passing by New York. After his diploma at Urbino ISIA he became one of Fabirica’s pupils (Fabrica is Benetton’s communication research centre), where he started to become conscious of his potential and of his own working habitat. His first “serious” work is “Q”, the pioneering project of a set of installations exploring relationships among people or between people and the environment surrounding them, trying to investigate the mobile border between technology, art and nature. It is a fundamental equation for different reasons: first of all nature gives him the raw material on which he can work (light and water), technology gives him instruments, such as displays, monitors, projectors, while art represents the creative medium. Inspiration, on the contrary, is found everywhere, in the shape of emotions, intuitions and perceptions, which are developed into binary codes and into physical elements (sounds, images, movements) without following a preconstituted order.
Francesco Meneghini is essentially an eclectic instinctive artist, who is able to give birth to a set of blown glass bubbles by means of an electric dna (Electryseed), to convert movement into sound (Sciame01), and to turn lights into signs of colour (Flicklampa), so as to create collective works which are always changing and renewing, in which interaction seems to be the only fixed point. All this for the sake of a participate creativity.
Who is and what does
Francesco Meneghini: I do two kind of things: first of all art, in the shape of multimedia installations for museums, galleries, festivals, exhibitions and so on, and then motion graphics videos, for which I work as a director and as post-production as well. I don’t label me as interaction designer, because I Think I don’t have the theoretical competences which are typical of this kind of professional figure, even though there are some aspects in interaction design that I love, such as for example the relationship between man and machine. Anyway, the thing that really characterizes me is considering the multimedia aspects as the means to develop a project and not as a self-referring element. I am not interested in creating things with a particular interface, but on the contrary, I am interested in practicing the know-how which allows me to reach my goal. My installations are artistic, and my instrument is technology.
How did you start this profession?
Francesco Meneghini: I started by studying graphic design which is apparently something very different from what I am doing now. In fact, I used graphic to create a working method, to build grids and have rules. From here to motion design was not a long journey. As far as the artistic inspiration is concerned, I actually don’t know when it started. When I was a young boy I created, built, assembled objects, made up little installations, but I really didn’t know where I wanted to get to. At University, I started making some projects escaping from the borders of printed graphics and then with multimedia art I felt the exigency to go beyond the screen, because I was interested in creating situations where people could live an experience. My first experiment was “Mother”, which was produced for an examination at ISIA. In fact, it was a real installation built with structures in glass fibre, modeled shaping a womb, so that the observer could get in and re-experience the moment of his or her birth. Then Fabrica arrived and with it a lot of international personalities who helped me understanding the context I was working in. After that, I started producing other installations, always for a personal research, and I finally realized my second work, “Q”.
Elisabetta Colombo: What’s the basis of this project?
Francesco Meneghini: I was curious of a purely theoretical fact, that is to say, the relationship between man and computer. I wondered if I could create an interface allowing a person to interact with a system without having any pre-existing know-how. In particular, I was thinking about a liquid interface, able to adapt to us even if we didn’t know anything about it. After some experiments, I started working on water, a primitive and natural element, that man has always known. I built a tub with a set of sensors, in which people could immerse their hands and create waves. The kind of movement and its frequency produced information which was processed by a computer and then by a projector, and represented in the shape of parallelepipeds made of three-dimensional light and sounds with different intensity. Q is a hybrid system using water, software and hardware introducing new possibilities in the use of machines.
Do you think you are a pioneer in your artistic genre in Italy?
Francesco Meneghini: No, I don’t think so because I am not the only one who does this kind of work, even though we are few, compared to other Countries. Generally speaking, is an area scarcely considered by both those who are interested in creating and those who are interested in creating display-windows for artists. Purists are a bit reluctant to consider multimedia as art, because in a sense, it calls into question the entire system of art. As an example, if I realize a multimedia installation and I make it open source, so that it can be downloaded and modified by anyone, my work can’t be sold, and there is no market for it.
Are you inspired by anyone in particular? Who is your teacher?
Francesco Meneghini: There are lots of interesting names, such as John Maeda and Goran Levin, but I try not to look for inspiration in people or things that are playing in this sector. Sometimes, visiting street markets where I can find old, ancient, broken objects, is much more stimulating for me than going to the library in Centre Pompidou or to New York Strand and read books about multimedia art, but this is just my opinion
How do you investigate the border between art, technology and nature?
Francesco Meneghini: It always depends on the subject of the installation, which is never scheduled. Usually, I focus my attention on human relationships, relationships between man and computer or between man and nature and in every work of mine I try to convey my personal point of view. With “fragile”, for example, I studied collective behaviors, expressed by means short text messages, for the most part SMS, projected on a spherical screen. During the presentation, in Australia, after the initial perplexity, interaction was so amplified that a boy even asked his girlfriend to marry him.
Let’s talk about nature, often associated to perfection, in open conflict with the human chaos. What does this element represent for you?
Francesco Meneghini: It’s a system of perfect and well-ordered rules, where a variable can modify the entirety of the system, but always following a precise design. In Australia I had a perfect demonstration of this perfection when, in the desert, I first saw termite nests. They are curious structures as for their conformation, because they are high and narrow like blades, but also for their organization, because they are all disposed in parallel. I studied a bit about them and found that they are oriented according to earth magnetism. I like thinking that that my works could provide glimmers of understanding on the amazing project of nature.
Who is your works’ main character?
Francesco Meneghini: Light, which can express through sound, like in “Flicklampa”, or through movement, like for example in “Sciame 01″. For me Light is the same as the “Being” for philosophers, the first principle, form which everything depends and is generated. It’s a creature which has always amazed me and that I can’t ignore.
Your works are interactive, and the human component is fundamental for them. What are, usually, the audience’s reactions when they are in front of your installations?
Francesco Meneghini: There” always plenty of involvement, both fun and astonishment. Children, in particular, get crazy. Some months after the presentation of “Flickampa”, at the exhibition L.U.M. in Asolo, the art dealer who owned the gallery told me there were still queues of children who wanted to play with the torches.
How did you realize the video-clip for Meg’s song “É troppo facile”?
Francesco Meneghini: First we shot some scenes in studio and then, by using a custom software appositely created for this purpose, we turned the scenes into a code which produced a sequence of controlled particles. The result was an intimate and psychedelic journey into Meg’s world.
For the Trento and Udine Museum you realized “La Scimmia Nuda” (“the Naked Monkey”), dedicated to the theme of human evolution. Can your works have room also in museums?
Francesco Meneghini: Yes, I think so. Accessing to multimedia contents through interactive tables or touch-screens and here we are talking about interaction design- is something which can surely be considered useful, both because it makes understanding easier, even in the case of difficult matters, and because it stimulates involvement. It’s a pity that in Italy there is still few sensitivity to this theme.
You collaborated with Heiner Goebbels, one of the most important directors and composers in the contemporary music and theatre. What did you do together and what did he teach you?
Francesco Meneghini: I realized a set of videos for his show “Surrogate Cities”, which was presented in Venice, at the 49 th edition of Biennale Musica. Two things about him impressed me much: his determination and his enthusiasm. He’s an extremely precise and curious person, who wants to understand and dissect the process concerning the production of a work, so as to get the best result.
He makes lots of experiments with sounds, and this is the reason why, during the show’s preparation, we went to a junkyard to look for some car pieces and sheet metal, that he used to make sound experiments to understand the kind of resonance they would produce. The man in the junkyard thought we were crazy, but this Goebbel’s ability to turn ruins into new objects is really astonishing.
What are your last productions and what are your programs for the future?
Francesco Meneghini: I am starting a collaboration with a research centre in Canada which works on laser optics, so as to realize an installation about earth magnetism. I also would like to shoot a cartoon movie, which will have a visual approach but a narrative development. Anyway, I still have to decide the subject. And I also have some more ideas, but they are still embryonic, so I can’t anticipate anything. My last work was a video presented in New York, at the Italian cultural institute. I realized it for “Innovation Valley”, a project of strategic planning In North-East which is going to connect in a network companies, public and private institutions, culture and research, innovation and tradition, together with society.