Alterazioni Video is an Italian collective founded in 2004, based in New York City and Berlin. Alterazioni Video works have been exhibited in museums and istitutions all around the world, for example: La Biennale di Venezia, Manifesta 7, MoMA PS1, Performa IX, Museo Pac in Milan, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Museo Maxxi in Rome and Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin.
Describing their research is an arduous task because of their numerous and various projects; their work span from performances to mixed media installations, from web tv live shows to fundraising events and so on. They are really often interested in reflecting on the peculiarities of small local places – such as African villages and Italian isles – in relation to wider contexts.
In 2008 they started to shoot films, or better Turbo Films: short or medium-length, digital or analog, using original shootings or remixed materials, they all share some characteristics and probably constitute one of the best ways to address the complex research of the collective. The shooting and the production of these films follow the points stated in a manifesto that explains the philosophy behind them: “In Turbo Films creative solutions are defined by necessity. An economy of exchange that shapes the film itself and opens it up”, “Bring your scenes home, at all costs and by all means. You don’t always need a permit to shoot a scene” and “Night casting is a key element, eventually reality and fiction will merge into a disorientating experience that makes sense”.
The milanese audience will have the opportunity to see all these films in a special retrospective at Spazio Oberdan from 18th February to 4th March presented by Fondazione Cineteca Italiana and supported by Dispari&Dispari Project: for this occasion, I interviewed the artists trying to address some of the themes they reflected on, especially with Turbo Films.
Filippo Lorenzin: In the music world it is said that when you make the “The Best Of” album, a phase of the career is ended, as if you’re drawing conclusions. Does the festival at Spazio Oberdan have the same value for you and Turbo Films?
Alterazioni Video: You are right. One phase is ended, which is the one of us begging for production. Things are going much better since we found a wad of cash forgotten in a Berlin subway station. Thanks to this lucky encounter we were thinking to expand our production beyond art and entertainment. At our age it doesn’t matter anymore.
We are clearly going downhill, and, we have to be honest, we are enjoying the speed. Then again, as one of our masters once said, after a long meditation session: “the only difference between documentary and fiction is that while the fiction filmmaker owns a swimming pool, the documentary filmmaker doesn’t.” (Harun Farocki).
We could add that the Turbo filmmaker, that clearly doesn’t own a swimming pool, often practice ‘balconing’ in other filmmakers’ pools.
Filippo Lorenzin: In the shooting of Turbo Films, losing control is essential: you are not interested in creating a finished product, but rather in using the peculiarity of cinema to create new dynamics. This is clear in all Turbo Films and in many others of your projects, as the two symphonies (2014 and 2015) you did in New York and Berlin that are connected to Turbo Films for the happily messy approach, open to the contingencies of time and to the dynamics which are created spontaneously during the performative act. Could you describe this creative process?
Alterazioni Video: Which control? Control for us is like religion. A bunch of deceits that can work for you and make you feel better and warmer, if you decide to believe in them. There is no control. Not in our life experience. You don’t control relationships, you don’t control your anger, you don’t control your life in any of its trajectories. If you feel in control is because you are not moving.
The creative process, once on a Turbo Film set, is rooted in our survival techniques and exists in a constant state of emergency. These conditions are the triggers for the new dynamics you are talking about. The only finished product is death. At least from a digital perspective. If you are hiking in the mountains and suddenly you are facing a gigantic bear you need to improvise. You will feel all your body activate. You become sharper and present. Any further move could keep you alive.When on a Turbo Film set, you are always facing that stinky beast.
Filippo Lorenzin: The remix of languages and audiovisual supports is another important point of Turbo Films. It is as if you were saying that it is not important to necessarily use a specific medium, but that you do something with it: is it a post-medial approach, or otherwise you are so interested in the technical aspects that you forgot them?
Alterazioni Video: What we empirically discovered is that language is not limited by any medium, and mediums are very easy to use. I can give you the image of a giant dwarf pissing spritz on a beheaded Bambi and I’m sure you will make it up well in your mind, but if you google it you’ll get a bunch of naked girls and diamonds. So, yes, you are right, it is a postmedial approach, in the sense that we wallow in the uncanny valley of the hermeneutic cycle.
Filippo Lorenzin: Artists’ Serial Killer (2008) is the first Turbo Film and you can see it in many points of the manifesto, especially the third: “use what you have, it is more than enough”. This work is entirely composed by stock materials: the surrealistic atmosphere (not just “surreal”) is morbid, it’s a collection of memory waste that is eliminated by the protagonist and viewer – two roles that in this film are mixed. What role had this film in the writing of the manifesto? What came first?
Alterazioni Video: The film comes always first. It’s like the chicken. Right?Artist’s Serial Killer was the opening dance of the party.It’s a declaration of war and at the same time a tribute to great artists.We knew that they would have agreed to have their masterpieces stolen and remixed by us.
The conceptual video artists of the 60/70s achieved relevance because they were right. They destroyed the common bourgeois understanding of art and foreseen the visual thinkers of our days, and this ‘just’ by masturbating in front of a camera. You take this attitude and compare it to online user-generated contents and you’ll get the picture. These masters knew that, by doing this, they would have all get killed by their future emulators.
To us, people like Vito Acconci or Barruchello and Grifi are figures similar to the one of Artur Korneyev, that was photographed while working next to a pile of Corium one of the most toxic substances ever created – during the Chernobyl disaster. Standing next to Corium can melt you in few hours, but it had to be done, and he improvised.Just for the records, Vito is happily engaged, at the age of 76, with a beautiful young Asian girl and Artur is doing just fine, drinking vodka and feeling immortal.“Soviet radiation,” he once joked, “is the best radiation in the world.”
Alterazioni Video: If you meet Buddha, shoot the motherfucker. And that is not us saying it. We had the chance to steal from an important museum bootleg copies of all their videoart archive. When we had the material, that at the time was circulating in heavy hard drives, youtube was just starting and there wasn’t much. We did find thou some extra content in peer to peer pirates’ websites.
We were inspired by the Verifica Incerta by Barucchello and Grifi, and the freedom that that cinematic experience was giving us in term of structure and storyline.We decided to make a splatter B-movie out of all those masterpieces.We knew that they all deserved to die. We started from the assumption that you will never became a successful artist if you don’t have a couple of skeletons in your wardrobe.
The story line had to be very simple to include all that diverse material, so we decided that each encounter had to be short and final. We knew as well that most audience, in front of conceptual art, start feeling itchy and gets the killer instinct.
Filippo Lorenzin: The second Turbo Film is All My Friends Are Dead (2009) which is really different from the first. In this case you made a documentary of a horror movie’s production shot in the Bandjoun village, in western Cameroon; starting from this premise, you have investigated the traditions associated with the imagery of life after death, the magic in everyday life. Watching it, I wondered what are the real main themes: I sometimes had the impression that they were not only the social dynamics of an African village, but how we, in the West, relate ourselves with beliefs and archaic figures. A kind of mirror, we can say. What do you think?
Alterazioni Video: The main theme was fear. Fear to die in Africa, fear to be arrested, fear of zombies and vampires, fear to lose our friendship with the honest anthropologist that invited us for a “documentary”, and you are right, we were astonished to see how the Bamileke tribe takes their beliefs and archaic figures and simply play with them.
They have the understanding that, even if there are uncontrolled forces that we like to see as gods, they don’t care of how we represent them or relate to their representations. They just don’t give a fuck.What is beyond us, stays beyond us.This approach was liberating.It’s a bit like be allowed to play soccer in San Peter cathedral. God doesn’t care! The priest does, maybe because he ends up being always the goalie…
There is a holy wood temple in Bandjun where, in the main entrance, you can clearly see, engraved on wood, the figure of Samuel Eto’, the soccer player, holding a bottle of Guinness beer and kicking a ball while standing on the head of their most sacred God.Basically It’s like seeing a priest using a virgin Mary statue to steer the soup.
Filippo Lorenzin: The taste for paradox and border contexts can be found also in Black Rain (2010), a Turbo Film in which you deal with a strange weather phenomenon that struck the island of Lampedusa from a few years now and in Per Troppo Amore (2012), a science fiction film set in Sicily with aliens, shepherds, and the Venice Biennale. I find it interesting that in these cases you have chosen to set fantastic stories in contexts that usually do not host movies like this but that have rather a long tradition of mythical and strange events.
Alterazioni Video: Locations are main characters in Turbo Films, in the same way as actors. They reflect people’s attitudes and imagination.Sicilians, for example, have an amazing ability to develop creative crimes. They are the best in this. Italians are good in general but Sicilians are Italians twice. We embraced this ability to create visionary landscapes and empowered its perception through our film practice.
Filippo Lorenzin: Per Troppo Amore is linked to another of your most known projects, Incompiuto Siciliano, or “the participated observatory on the phenomenon of the unfinished works in Italy” founded in 2007 with a manifesto. Is there any connection between the approach that you have with the Turbo Films and this project?
Alterazioni Video: Incompiuto Siciliano like other projects we worked on since we formed our band was a great school for us. All the elements that we encountered while swerving around the world where present in that project. We learned how to change perspective on things and how to convince people that elephants do fly and extraterrestrial forces are the only one controlling our destinies. We learned that you create your own reality whether you are aware of it or not. Once you know this shit you can play with it.
Filippo Lorenzin: Reflection on our history and our perception of art is a theme that can be found in many of Turbo Films, as for example Rosa Perfetto (2010) in which a porn actress mimics a sexual relationship with the famous statue of an Italian knight of the fifteenth century. It is an act of necrophilia, a physical pleasure with what is considered to be blocked in time and eternity (the statue was restored in recent times), was filmed in a very stylish and slick way. This contrast really fascinates me, it’s really different from the other crazy Turbo Films. Is there any specific reason?
Alterazioni Video: The emergency of the situation during that shooting suggested the aesthetic approach to the whole film. We had few elements to play with, a naked girl, a block of marble (to heavy to move around) and natural light (a small window next to the statue). We had to move fast. We had to finish the shooting before the soccer game, that the museum guards were watching, was ended.
Aesthetics discourses in Turbo Films are the nerd in the school trip bus. The one you pick on, while singing from the last raw: “Schiaccia il pedale, cocchiere schiaccia il pedale, schiaccia il pedaaale”. Rosa Perfetto in a way, is a piece of institutional critique. The museum killed a popular tradition (kissing the knight would get women married in within a year) to gain control on how the people relate to art. they even ruined the marble by erasing the 200 years of women lipstick marks that this stone had on its face.
Now it’s just a stone. Before the statue had a magic aura. Entire families, from all over Europe, would travel just to kiss this stone. We wanted to free the poor knight (that by the way was a terrible person) from this posthumous castration.We also think that our censured film it’s a comment on the relationship that today visual thinkers have with history. It’s clear to us that nobody can really control the destiny of images and artworks because we don’t know what pictures wants.
Filippo Lorenzin: In some Turbo Films, you reflected on the capitalist economic structure and the effects it produces on society, as for example in Blind Barber (2011) shot in New York during Occupy Wall Street and 2012 – Vote Pour Moi (2012) shot in Paris in a few days with an improvised cast. These two projects are different from each other but at the basis I can see the interest in depicting how people react to superstructures from an anthropological point of view: in NY there is participation, in Paris there is some way mockery. What do you think?
Alterazioni Video: We were thinking to open a Freedom Fries Stand in Paris. We could make millions. As in most contemporary art practices is all about reframing and repackaging what is already obviously in front of our faces. The art market in New York was and is double bonded with the financial one, while in Paris was clear at the time that they had to face the consequences of 400 years of colonial empire.
We imagined that the Muslim base of Paris ‘banlieue’ would have step up at one point, we just hoped in a political challenge and not a terroristic attack, and we were wrong about that. Our candidate was a North African ‘sans papiers’ that made some bucks working in a kung fu gym and wanted to become the first hiphop fascist African French President.
Filippo Lorenzin: “To create the heaven of sex and culture by taking the Region Building” is the phrase that impressed me more in Hotel Milano (2012), a Turbo Film on the city of Milan and its soul. The love for the Eighties and a certain Berlusconian aesthetic is obvious to those who know Milan and its inhabitants, as how this coexists with the daily life of the parks, the high tech palaces in Gae Aulenti square and the surrounding countryside (the so-called “Milanese hinterland”). It is an accelerationist film because of themes and intuitions, not for its aesthetics: to exaggerate the characteristics of the city in order to refine it. Am I wrong?
Alterazioni Video: You may be right but we didn’t really exaggerate the characteristics of the city. This is what struck us more. Milan is schizophrenic. We are all bipolar. The white collars and the transgender community are good friends but during the day they pretend to not know each other. This doesn’t happen in places like New York or Berlin. Here you can put your wig on and go to work at your Chase bank office. In Milan no.
The same discourse you could make it with contemporary culture in general.We wanted to do an honest portrait of Milan, showing the doctor Jake and mister Hyde faces and starting from the transgender scene was kind of obvious.All the good things in Milan are always been hidden.
We have the best private gardens of Italy but nobody can see them, we had an amazing music scene but was played just in illegal occupied buildings. Is always been like this. I think that every creative person in Milan, whether he is an artist or a sex performer, dreams about a place where culture, sex and satisfaction are allowed while all the stupid nineteen centuries taboos get out of the way.
Filippo Lorenzin: FReD (2012) seems to belong to the genre of comedy, although filtered through the wild lenses of Turbo Films aesthetic. We see many different places of Berlin linked each other by a central plot reminiscent of movies like “The Snatch” or “Pulp Fiction”. How did you have the idea to portray in this way the city?
Alterazioni Video: We didn’t. The film developed during the two weeks of shooting. We had some pivotal elements that we were sure about, like a hula hoop world champion, a funky dwarf, an opera tenor, a toothless boss from the mob, a female punk band, a BDSM Dominatrix a couple of slaves and a junkie priest. Once you have such a list of ingredients you don’t care too much about your cinematic references. You just shoot. The rest came from people souls.
Filippo Lorenzin: Watching Ambaradan (2014) I could not help but remember all those music videos that are shot with colors, patterns and visual aesthetics of cultures that are exotic to us – such as the ones by M.I.A. or Major Lazer. The video you’ve shot together with the Kara tribe in Zimbabwe is a disruptive act on multiple levels: it reclaims, chewing and rejecting, the post-internet aesthetics that derive in many ways from Third World imageries, using precisely this visual language to denounce an attack to their lands by industry. What do you think?
Alterazioni Video: What we like about Africa is that everything gets remixed, even your deeper beliefs.One day you have a bucket, the day after it is your helmet and in a week from now it will become a drum a toilet a chair and a shower. The same works with imaginary. To be precise what we encountered was not a post-internet aesthetic.
People over there are still waiting for the West to catch up. When we will start using a crucifix as a shovel to dig a hole before we take a shit, then we are in business, and it will happen soon.The film, even if it had an investigative research behind it, was not an ideological statement against industry and corporations.
We knew that the tribe time was gone, the clock was ticking and they soon would have been resettled somewhere else after thousands of years. We were interested to share dreams and nightmares of these people, so we asked to one of the tribe leaders how he was envisioning their future and we no doubts he replayed that they were a hip hop crew.
Alterazioni Video: Fuck yes. For now, the title is The 3000 rooms. And this is how we describe it: “Where does the drive that push us over our limits, comes from? Is it the fear of death? or of loneliness? We are way too many. We are running towards a future of struggle and competition.Just the strongest and the luckiest will survive. No god will save us. No ideology,Alone. With inner strength and style, we are facing death every day. One day a Yogi said that every second of our life, every breath we take we have 3000 rooms where we can choose to go. We know only few of them and we decide every day,every second to repeat the path we know. What would happen if we suddenly embrace the unknown and go places in our mind where no one ever been?”
In India record holders are worshipped as yogi and holy men. Online it’s growing an incredible community of Indian record holders that are constantly challenging their limits as well as death and oblivion. They do it in an incredible festive way, with flamboyant creativity. Alterazioni Video, to heat up and to promote the film, decided to challenge some of these holy record holders.
Up to now we detain 9 world records. By doing so we engaged with some of the most notorious Indian record holders. They came back, accepted the challenge and kicked our asses pretty badly on several occasions. Through this exchange, we now have a connection and we are in the process of choosing few of them before appearing in front of their doorstep. Each actor in the film will be a record holder, a real survivor in an overpopulated society.
This film will be a journey made of epic fails and comebacks.An epic adventure that speaks to all of us about our own limits, and how to overcome them. Shiva dances on top of a burning planet, just to remind us that the end of a cycle is the beginning of a new one. Boom Shankar!and pass me that cilum