RICCARDO BENASSI
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Rage is the Current Bio-fuel
Riccardo Benassi interviewed by Liam Gillick

[Italian version published on FlashArt, March 2012 / PDF]

Liam Gillick
After studying design you told me you had the desire to move in a more theoretical direction. Why did you not just become the perfect typical Italian technical guy, working with design and technology?

Riccardo Benassi
Machines are something you should understand day to day rather than trying to know how they work from a professional perspective. From a certain point of view I'm the typical Italian guy: we have a tradition of letting a written discourse became performative, we also try to reshape reality through words or chairs or cars. As also happened to you, I had a very clear idea that I wanted to become an artist, and I think the reason was that it seemed a better way to intervene directly into the world – meaning that when I was teenager I thought my landscape – Italy at that time – needed an intervention. I’m happy to act at a symbolic level, because is clear to me today that changing the destiny of a special day is better than let a normal day became special.

LG
Of course you are living in Berlin so it is stupid to talk about nationality – but we have to do it a little bit. There has been enormous change with Italian art recently. What dominated the last 20 or 25 years, was the idea of artist who was incapable, caught within an elegant failure, but compared to them your work is much harder to grasp – tentative, pushing forward some structures and ideas. I am not sure where to focus and then you reconfigure everything again and deploy another structure. At the same time you are involved in different activities – which could cause confusion for certain people... Could you explain this way of working, this way of thinking?

RB
I inhabit different roles such as writer, performer, designer, sculptor, musician, photographer and so on, finding in the interstice my area of action. Poeticizing the desert rather than teaching where its boundaries are is a way of being honest with the other people who are living in our period. Since as an artist I'm not in the position to talk to a lot of different people I try with this methodology to open up possibilities for new encounters, constantly constructing and differentiating drawbridges. Sometimes I have the feeling that my ideas have become something else once they have found a material form… they seem to say: “Please Riccardo, you said I’m a sculpture – I don’t want to became a short novel now! All my friends are sculptures – so please let me be a sculpture!” But in the end, I let those changing structures constantly meet other people – new audiences – in order to let the spectrum of feedback become wider. Inhabiting different roles is actually creating new roles. Referring here to the technological realm, I will add that for your generation it is different because you incorporate in your practice the idea of multitasking before it actually happens and becomes recognizable inside the computer and so in the society...

LG
Exactly…

RB
For me it is different because I inherited multitasking directly from the machine, and for this reason I develop the idea of inhabiting interstices, acting phenomenologically.

LG
Multitasking is also connecting yourself to yourself. I see in your early works a sort of irony toward interaction. The interactions between people are becoming a kind of cliché and obsession. But what I'm doing most of the time is in fact communicating to myself – sending myself a message or depositing an idea or another form in a virtual place which I can then retrieve…

RB
Multitasking is basically an understanding of the current multilayered and complex formation of subjectivity through technology. It is maybe for this reason that I previously stated that inhabiting the interstice is a way of being honest.

LG
I think in your work there are some moments of absolute clarity, you see everything clearly but then there is something that comes in and you think, ok – hang on now I have to correct something… Maybe I was wrong… So it complicates everything…

RB
I truly never trusted people who assume they are constantly right. What does courage mean, if not the ability to recognize your own errors? At the same time – in a process of production made of multiple overlapped layers – it is extremely important to know where and when to stop. Objects are the point where I stop. Objects are interfaces and for this reason I constantly attempt to create a parallel between domestic and exhibition spaces. The last examples of this were the solo shows Attimi Fondamentali (2010) and Standard Sentimento (2011). If you – as an artist – have already designated a context or an environment then you can leave your audience to walk alone within it. The only reason why it still makes sense to accompany someone hand in hand – is to do so along an unprecedented, or non-existent path.

LG
So do you see your work as collaborative sometimes or is it more complicated?

RB
It is more complicated…

LG
It seems to me the big change is that now there are more people involved in the discussion –for my generation it was maybe the artist plus a curator plus some other type of artist, let's say three types of people…

RB
You are right – on one hand there is an increasing professionalization of competences – on the other hand one job is no longer enough to make money for the rent or to call existence a life. What we are talking about is therefore connected to the idea of free time – and I like to think that an exhibition is a moment for the liberation of the body from work. It is maybe the reason why my exhibitions point to the audience.

LG
I was talking about this to someone recently and I developed this small idea in the conversation about tolerance. It is normally used in relation to politics or instrumental social policies – But I was thinking about it in relation to art. There is a tolerance of forms of art at the basis of critical contemporary work. Critical artists no longer bother looking at certain forms of contemporary art – which allows differences to exist free of tension. Some critics think this is to do with participation or a rejection of form in favour of discourse – but it is not – it is to do with a kind of tolerance…

RB
It is not the time to be bulimic – it is time to know your body so you design your own diet even if it is difficult to follow a straight diet if you are constantly travelling – still you perceive what your body is asking you for – and there is nothing more flexible than your body. I'm taking a position, but it is the flexibility of this position that is new, that allows me to avoid dogmatism.

LG
Over the past 20 years or so, the right wing of politics stole the idea of coalition – groups of like-minded people that can tolerate each others and work together, and it seems that now there's a shift – a mentality of working together or alongside without looking to art for differences – because it is more productive to have a “movement” of production and ideas. But this can also create a crisis: too much softness, too many things that are not really strong enough to change anything… Are there problems with this methodology?

RB
Yes, I think so. Mainly because it complicates and slows down the process of understanding whom you are traveling with. To reach out is not only to find your audience, is also to find your colleagues during the journey.

LG
Maybe this is about indirect methods of taking power… This form of art tolerance is a process of recognition where no-one creates the complete picture anymore. Artists are happy to generate some structures but refuse to complete the narrative...

RB
This is a structural shift in the current situation. Our presence in the world could be seen as an upgrading operation towards ever-changing and already existent discourses: a constant re-appropriation through the actions of certain semantic fields. As if artists have the same timing as a scientist, who lets a theory progress through generations. One could even say that the theory is exploiting the scientist's life, but even if it could be true, it must still pass through bunches of co-operating subjectivities. So this approach could also free us from the current and expanded "forecasting pathology" – or it could help us to understand that the existence of the so-called "universal concepts" is a sophisticated method of protection from the urgent need to take a position in the present.

LG
That still means that the work itself does not have to complete everything…

RB
It is more like temporarily inhabiting the planet, therefore also the exhibition space…

LG
Ok, because people use to talk about installations as a kind of framing: I create a frame within which something can take place…

RB
No, it is not a frame because the work doesn't need a frame in order to take place. The only need for a frame is in the virtual word, and we call it the monitor.

LG
Part of this is related to crisis. It is not just a question of a completely chaotic, neoliberal, unregulated financial system – there is also a continuing rapid development of technology, which also created a crisis of labor. This idea coming from neoliberal people that services and interactions would replace labor in the traditional sense did not work. We found that services are the real area of technological development.

RB
Technology is acting within the territory of the “immaterial”. For this reason I use to say that in my artistic practice I colonize the “void” with sound, in order to achieve a re-semanticised world. Since I grew up with technology I have a consciousness about how important the "invisible" might be. Being paranoid about this is to not understand what is going on: in the moment when you decode a system you enter the sphere of the legible. Does an e-motion which passes through an e-mail solely produce e-dreams?

LG
So for you is it a question of understanding and decoding those things or of redirecting them, or both?

RB
Redirection is something you can only do together, which comes back to this kind of coalition feeling… Creating a spatial installation is therefore to design a context for the production of an experience, and it could be a method to let every person achieve his/her own concept of the technological realm…

LGInteresting… but you see, most people who decide to try to redirect believe that they have to destroy… there is no redirection, you are going just to break it down or stop something…

RB
I would say that as much as I can understand that rage is the current bio-fuel – it is also unclear to me what sabotage is about, if not an already existent calculation into the insurance companies agenda. At the same time I think that it is pretty easy to understand a certain use of violence at a symbolic level – especially if performed by a generation who physically never experienced any war – if not the silent immaterial war of any totalitarianism against the subject.

LG
In "advanced art" – which is what I think you are involved in – it is quite hard to place people, there is a kind of shifting situation…

RB
You feel this lack of representation maybe because, today, placing someone is just a transient necessity of someone else. Inhabiting the interstice means to me to represent the white spacing between written words – to represent what exists in the society even if it has been cut off from already existent representational and symbolic systems – therefore to represent that special type of invisible that is rooted into earth… can we call it a sort of irrational functionalism?

© Riccardo Benassi, Liam Gillick 2011