Silvio Lorusso works as graphic designer, videomaker, illustrator, web designer. At the same time, he develops artistic projects about Internet, digital imagery and hybrid publishing. Although his main field is graphic design, he deals with research and in-depth theory through active participation in several blogs.
He’s particularly interested in the analisys of complex systems and phenomena, in storytelling and in content development through design. He works both alone and in team and considers the relationship between graphic design and other disciplinary fields essential. His work has been featured on, among others, “Wired”, the “Huffington Post”, “Gizmodo” and “Buzzfeed”. Phd candidate in Design Sciences at IUAV University of Venice, he exhibited the artwork 56 Broken Kidnle Screens, realized togheter with the artist Sebastian Schmieg, at Link Art center in Brescia, Italy the last January 19, 2013 (http://www.linkartcenter.eu/archives/2386).
Presented in a specially designed exhibition setup, the book published in 2012 is a print on demand paperback that consists of found photos depicting broken Kindle screens, and was available at Link Point in a special edition of 56 numbered and signed copies.
Filippo Lorenzin: Hi Silvio, can you introduce yourself?
Silvio Lorusso: Hi Filippo, I’m a designer and (self-proclaimed) artist from Bari. I’m interested in technology, interfaces, digital folklore, internet cultures, hybrid publishing. I spend almost all my money on books and train tickets.
Filippo Lorenzin: Let’s talk about your education: you studied Industrial Design and you’ve specialized in Visual and Multimedia Communication. Can you explain how you chose these two fields of study? Had you planned it from the beginning?
Silvio Lorusso: I have to admit it wasn’t really planned. I was undecided between Architecture and Industrial Design but I chose the latter because I had the impression it was more open. In fact the course was pretty broad and it included Visual Design. I shifted to this area of studies quite soon, maybe because I felt that it was a good environment for practice-based research.
Filippo Lorenzin: What led you to study Visual and Multimedia Communication?
Silvio Lorusso: Not easy to say… I think I was fascinated by the idea of developing meaning out of a certain organization of content. It is in fact this act of collecting and organizing –let’s call it framing– the leitmotif of my work and of the work I like. In my independent practice I rarely “create” images from scratch, on the contrary I select visual and interactive elements of everyday life and I try to highlight cultural values embedded in them.
Filippo Lorenzin: The act of collecting that you mentioned reminds me of the typical practice of accumulating of many web services like Tumblr and Pinterest. Do you think your way of reasoning is somehow child of the times?
Silvio Lorusso: Definitely. In a certain way I think there is no choice: I don’t consider collecting just a trend, but a different metaphor to interpret reality. You can apply it to the creative process in general. The thing I like the most is that it becomes clear that meaning resides more in relationships between things than in things themselves. Take for instance Hyper Geography: those images together form such an effective rendering of contemporary culture.
Filippo Lorenzin: In your opinion, what is the historical reason for which the act of collecting is applied so much in our time? Do you think it has something to do with some sort of change in the way of human reasoning in relation to computer databases?
Silvio Lorusso: I think there are several reasons, but probably the most relevant one has to do with technology. I agree with you, I think it concerns our relationship to databases. In particular to the way those databases appear to us. Our personal libraries became portrait of our (online) identity in the moment we started sharing them. Collecting content and sharing it is a way to mark something, to be part of it. It has many positive aspects but also downsides: collecting and sharing is nowadays considered a form of expression, but it is so easy that one doesn’t necessarily need to develop thought on what is being shared. That’s why I think it’s crucial to define precise strategies in collecting, so that ideas can emerge from collections, despite the logic of news feed algorithms.
Filippo Lorenzin: I agree with you, it is as if a number of things collected refer to the whole person. Do you think this way of organizing reality depends on what the advertising says for decades? “You are what you have”.
Silvio Lorusso: For sure it’s a big part of it. When I read the question I immediately thought to the famous motto by Barbara Kruger. I expected to find on Google an “I share therefore I am” version but surprisingly there isn’t. Nevertheless there are many references to Sherry Turkle.
Filippo Lorenzin: You said something interesting, with which I identify myself a little: “I select visual and interactive elements of everyday life and I try to highlight cultural values embedded in them”. Do you think that in 2013 everything reveals some truth about the society and our times? Or do you focus only on certain categories, such as the Internet and social networks?
Silvio Lorusso: I don’t have a definitive answer. Generally I focus on the Internet, but sometimes I just follow accidental fascinations. For example I was on the train when I read about the Arabic Ikea Catalog without women, I was so intrigued by the idea of women vanishing to leave space for furniture that I worked for the rest of the trip on a series of collages showing silhouettes of the women portrayed in the standard catalog, but filled with the content of the Arabic one. I think those “brand ghosts” are in a way representative of our times.
Filippo Lorenzin: Do you think that one of the missions of contemporary artists is to decipher the world around them or decipher it from the inside, living it?
Silvio Lorusso: I think the two approaches aren’t in contradiction (and I think the same goes for contemporary designers): first one needs to get into the world, be part of it, be part of it, but then a distance is necessary in order to express ideas general enough to become statements.
Filippo Lorenzin: You had many experiences outside of Italy, like the Erasmus experience at Middle East Technical University of Ankara and the study period at the Piet Zwart Institute of Rotterdam. What are the biggest differences you’ve noticed between the international and the Italian university system?
Silvio Lorusso: I’ve noticed one huge difference, especially in the Netherlands: university is profoundly student-centered. Teachers ask students what they want to achieve, what they think are the crucial issues to investigate. This is not always a simple task for both, because the student is charged with a greater responsibility and the teacher needs to be aware of his/her influence. But in the end I think this philosophy is absolutely positive because students are pushed to develop their own identities and to find out what they consider genuinely interesting. Final shows are a good term of comparison: while in Italy they are hardly promoted outside of the university, in the Netherlands (and in METU as well) they are “real” shows and work by students is valued as professional; Dutch Design Graduates show in Eindhoven and Virtueel Platform’s Hot 100 are examples of that.
Filippo Lorenzin: You previously said you come from Bari. How would you define the role of art in your city?
Silvio Lorusso: I just recently moved back to Bari therefore I’m not up-to-date on the current developments of the city. I’m a big fan of Alessandro Ludovico, who is originally from there… What I can say for sure is that in Bari there are several talented people active in the field of graphic design.
Filippo Lorenzin: When did you start to use the Internet?
Silvio Lorusso: My experience with the Internet began pretty late: I bought my first computer around 10 years ago, when I was 17.
Filippo Lorenzin: What has been your first experiences with online communities? Did you frequent chat rooms, forums and had a profile on Msn?
Silvio Lorusso: I spent a lot of time on IRC and Msn. I really enjoyed the drawing feature of the latter, in fact I used to draw more than write. I was also very active on Myspace: I was constantly customizing my page, making animated gifs and exploring artists’ profiles.
Filippo Lorenzin: Do you think there was a precise moment when the Internet has become part of your everyday life? Or has it been a slow “conquest”?
Silvio Lorusso: I think it goes step by step with the evolution of the devices. The spread of laptops was pretty crucial in defining our relation with the Internet in the everyday life. Now mobiles and tablets are taking over. It happened to me to check my email as the first thing I did as I woke up. I didn’t like it.
Filippo Lorenzin: What will be the evolution of this phenomenon, in your opinion?
Silvio Lorusso: I think there is no going back, we won’t refuse ubiquitous interconnectivity. But I have the impression that a general awareness of the issues related to it is quickly increasing. Sometimes it sounds a bit exaggerated –take for instance the headline of the July issue of Internazionale magazine: “Does the internet make us mad?”– but it’s definitely useful to reflect on these topics.
Filippo Lorenzin: What have been your early works in relation to the Internet?
Silvio Lorusso: “Early” sounds to me like a big word as I started focusing on the Internet not so long ago. There is a work from 2010 which I’m particularly attached to. It’s a collection of animated gifs depicting dinosaurs put together in a gif habitat: a sort of Jurassic Park for gifs. I was fascinated by the concept of media archeology, so I wanted to display it. Then I went further reaching paleontology. The title of the piece is Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí (2010) which is considered to be the shortest tale ever written. It’s by Augusto Monterroso and I found it appropriate because it suggests a sense of obsolescence and memory.
Filippo Lorenzin: What can you tell us about We are human beings! (2011)?
Silvio Lorusso: We are human beings! is a poster depicting part of the founding manifesto of the Free Speech Movement, pronounced by Mario Savio at Berkeley in 1964. The typography emulates Google captchas. The connection between those two references has to do with dehumanization: FSM fought against it in many ways, like for instance subverting punchcards, making them not readable by the machine anymore. Nowadays when we solve a captcha we are asked to demonstrate our humanity through a machine-like process. In some developing countries there are people paid a little money to work as captcha solvers. Often we hear about reCAPTCHA project as a great innovation, but we should consider that we help a company to digitize books that we don’t know and in this respect we are alienated.
Filippo Lorenzin: What is your attitude towards this phenomenon of “mechanization” of the user? Do you try to be super partes or instill a well-defined message in your works?
Silvio Lorusso: For me it’s not easy to draw the line between what is “mechanized” and what is not. Isn’t there some sort of mechanization in scrolling a feed? However in my work I try to be neutral: I just connect things, then people can take their own conclusions. I think this represents the most genuine way to “interact” with artworks.
Filippo Lorenzin: What about The Internet for Left-Handers (2012)? How and when did it come up?
Silvio Lorusso: This also has to do with mechanization: I was reflecting on the relationship between the pointer and the body, on the fact that while we’re interacting with the computer we tend to forget our body: we identify with this little visual representation on the screen that becomes a sort of avatar (this is probably going to disappear soon with the spread of touch devices). Through a minimum shift I tried to break this symbiosis with the screen in a quite ironic way.
Filippo Lorenzin: Yes, many of your works have a touch of irony, such as ScrollTV (2012) and How to Keep Your Facebook Cover Clean (2012). What is the role of this element in your works?
Silvio Lorusso: It’s a mix of irony and sarcasm, I feel comfortable using this “tone”. Hopefully it makes my work easier to approach.
Filippo Lorenzin: I can feel the same “mix of irony and sarcasm” in 56 Broken Kindle Screens (2012). What can you tell us about this project?
Silvio Lorusso: The project is a collaboration with german artist Sebastian Schmieg. It consists of a print-on- demand paperback and a Kindle ebook that include a collection of found photos depicting broken Kindle screens. Both serve as an examination into the reading device’s materiality. All broken screens are taken from photos we found online, and that were each taken by different persons. When viewed in the book, or on the Kindle itself, the photos have undergone several transformations that constitute a sort of media assembly line: photographed E ink, collected online, stored in the cloud, printed on demand or displayed as E ink again.
Filippo Lorenzin: You mentioned a transformation: do you think nowadays everything is mediated through a specific system? I can see this reasoning behind this project…
Silvio Lorusso: Things are intrinsecally subject to several mediations and remediations. Those are never neutral. Generally we think that in remediation something gets lost, which is true, but at the same time something is added. This fascinates me. For instance, in the case of 56bks we got rid of the context of the screens but, while doing this, we added a frame, a selection, a point of view. We can consider this new content.
Filippo Lorenzin: You and Sebastian have recently presented this work at LINK Center in Brescia (Italy). What can you tell us about this event?
Silvio Lorusso: Domenico Quaranta and Fabio Paris gave us the opportunity to express some of the key concepts around the whole project through the exhibition display. The printed book was shown as a grid-like arrangement of 56 copies, referencing –and in some way materializing– the 56 broken Kindles of which the books is made of. As some kind of condensation of all broken devices into one, all broken screens were displayed as an auto-playing slideshow on a working Kindle, transitioning from one into another with the transition effect which is so distinct for E ink displays. Furthermore a projected slideshow served as an insight into current evolution of the phenomenon: a dystopian scenario made of broken Kindles sold in bulk on Ebay. Lastly, three modified online ads by Amazon were presented in printed form.
Filippo Lorenzin: 56 Broken Kindle Screens isn’t your first work that includes printing on demand. What can you tell us about Blank On Demand (2011)?
Silvio Lorusso: The project, in collaboration with Giulia Ciliberto, consists of two blank books (except for ISBN) printed on demand on lulu.com. The volumes’ formats correspond respectively to the maximum and minimum dimensions currently available for the print; similarly, page amount and price are set according to the limit values allowed by the platform. Both act as “units of measurement” of the influence of POD system on the materiality of the book. The plan is to extend the project to other POD platforms and wait until someone buys the €999,999.99 version.
Filippo Lorenzin: Do you never had any legal problems for the copyright of images you took from the Internet?
Silvio Lorusso: No I didn’t. Nowadays several projects couldn’t be realized without illegal appropriation. Unfortunately, on many platforms such as Flickr, Creative Commons are not default therefore people don’t often bother to change this setting, even if they are not willing to add copyright to their images.
Filippo Lorenzin: Do you think that in the future the rules of copyright will change?
Silvio Lorusso: Maybe copyright law won’t change that soon, but awareness of Creative Commons and public domain will definitely grow.
Filippo Lorenzin: What are you working on these days?
Silvio Lorusso: I’m developing a project about data centers in collaboration with e-PERMANENT.
Filippo Lorenzin: What about your plans for the future?
Silvio Lorusso: I just moved to Venice (once again) and I began a PhD in Design Sciences at IUAV University of Venice, focusing on the intersections between printed and digital matter in the publishing field.
Filippo Lorenzin: Thank you Silvio, it has been a pleasure.
Silvio Lorusso: Thanks Filippo, it has been a pleasure for me too.