appropriation, copy, reinterpretation, plagiary, remix, reproduction

accumulation, archive, wunderkammer, database, cabinet of curiosities, encyclopedia

disclosure, reprint, multiplication, republishing, replication, fac-simile

destruction, deletion, burning, damage, programmed obsolescence, hidden

Athanor is a collection of contents about arts and visual culture. Its concept draws partially from the “new aesthetic” tendencies, as a “native product of modern network culture”1; and partially from the idea of rhizomatic culture, which digital humanities scholars reworked from previous theories, united under the motto that “there is no such thing as a pure point of origin”2. In the alchimist tradition an athanor is the furnace in which the transmutation takes place, also called the occult hill, the Philosophical Tower which knows no death (α-Θάνατος).

Culture is continuously transmuted, melted, evaporated, reshaped through the means of physical and conceptual actions performed over its visual appearance. In the current hyper–connected, overstimulated scenario, each of these appearances emerges as a phantom of past lives, retaining memories of previously browsed content. But still, each appearance adds a new layer, which can be reconnected to one or more categories in this loose action-based taxonomy:

  1. appropriation (copy, reinterpretation, plagiary),
  2. accumulation (archive, wunderkammer, encyclopedia),
  3. disclosure (reprint, republishing, multiplication),
  4. destruction (deletion, burning, damage, programmed obsolescence).

Not only its content, but the container itself is ever–changing and loose: firstly conceived as a four-issues magazine, Athanor became an online log and then a distributed project, Athanor №5. Through an open call, the project gathered several contributors among visual artists, theorists and curators. The selected contributions are presented on a dedicated webpage, sorted into five temporary web exhibitions. Each page, regardless of the media format of its content, can be downloaded as a .pdf document during the exhibiting period. A complete and detailed printed catalogue will be released after the five exhibitions.

1Bruce Sterling, “An Essay on the New Aesthetic”, Wired, 2 april 2012, Link

2Dick Hebdige, Cut ‘n’ Mix: Culture, Identity and Caribbean Music, Routledge, 2003 (first ed. 1987)

Credits
About

Athanor is an editorial project initiated in 2014 at ISIA Urbino as part of the Design for Publishing course supervised by Leonardo Sonnoli

Athanor №5

Curated by
Giuseppe Digeronimo
Davide Giorgetta
Valerio Nicoletti
Riccardo Rudi

Editing & Texts
Valerio Nicoletti

Design & Development
Davide Giorgetta,
Riccardo Rudi

Social Communication
Giuseppe Digeronimo

Open Call Contributors
Jeroen Bouweriks
Alberto Cuteri
Furen Dai
Leandro Alexis Estrella
Kasper Lecnim
antoine lefebvre editions
& Farah Khelil
Nicholas James Lockyer
Udit Mahajan
& Henry Tyler
Ryota Matsumoto
Paolo Patelli
R. Prost
Carla Rak
Giorgio Ruggeri
Nicolas Vamvouklis
Fabian Wolf

info@athanor.world

Athanor
2014—2017

A
A
D
D

Book
out soon


V

New Sculpture

IV

Copy Paste
Culture

Read the short essay

Copy Paste Culture, the fourth exhibition featured in Athanor №5, presents four projects which rely in different ways on appropriation practices such as the copy or the remix, in order to propose new — yet mediated by the original — artistic contents. Appropriation art has a long history, often mistaken for plagiarism or quickly discarded as less valuable than its point of reference, rarely considered as a creative process per se.

The concept of copy seems to undergo a similar destiny, at least in the last two centuries. On the contrary, it performed a major role in ancient times, when the act of copying was not only common but also promoted as important and — as other idealized activities — invested with religious implication: the term itself copy comes from Latin Copia, the goddess symbolizing abundance and copiousness. Quite a bit later, and after 150 years of industrial and mechanical reproduction, Walter Benjamin stated that no matter how perfect a copy could be, it would still miss the aura, meaning originality and authenticity — intrinsic qualities of a work of art.

One of the sacred symbols for Kopimism advocates

In our hypertextual world, in which every instance appears to be the copy of a copy, a baudrillardian simulacrum with neither origin nor end, this aura “is no longer based on the permanence of the ‘original’, but on the transience of the copy”1. To produce a digital copy is an effortless process simply achieved by a keyboard shortcut, and the practical gesture leaves space to its symbolic and conceptual connotation, to such an extent that it is nowadays possible to embrace the Missionary Church of Kopimism2, whose foundations are free access to knowledge and artistic copy.

Kazimir Malevich, The Black Square, 1915

First shown in 1915, Malevich’s Black Square was hung at the left corner of the exhibition room, a position reserved to religious icons in traditional Russian culture. This intentional choice gave even more strength to a painting which, unlike icons, does not represent, as conceived expressly non-representational. A zero degree in art history, able to draw a path for the following art in the 20th century. Nevertheless — as the title itself suggests — this artwork still represents something, a shape we recognize as a square. Dealing with this implicit statement, Kasper Lecnim simply takes over Malevich’s form and transform it into another. Lecnim’s appropriation is both visible in the outcome and in the process. By applying a dynamic action (rotation) over a static element (the painting), he is quoting Malevich himself: “It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins.”

Carla Rak, Collage #1, 2016 (frame)

Carla Rak’s Collage #1 deals with the appropriation of existing materials and provides them a new context, connecting them with the crochet technique. Like other manual techniques, this is based on a constant repetition of a limited set of gestures. Repetition is a founding mechanism in many rituals, facilitating abstraction and meditation. During the obsessive and repetitive act of crochet, hand movements are combined with a more hidden and secret mental activity, expressed by a picture-in-picture video. The intimate and silent world of manual labour clashes with partially blacked-out footage of hunting and space. This depiction of violence and infinity questions our understanding of the bigger picture, and suggests to focus instead on comforting, familiar gestures, such as the crochet itself. The audio track, from the 1974 movie Un homme qui dort, stresses the importance of the repetitive practice as a pondering act.

Sergej Ėjzenštejn, Battleship Potemkin, 1925 (frame)

Nicholas Lockyer’s collage work Tombstone features frames from John Wayne’s first and last Western movies3. This affection towards cinema is reflected in the artistic process chosen by Lockyer, which resembles the juxtaposition largely used by Russian director Sergej Ėjzenštejn in his 20th century masterpieces4. This “theory of attraction assembly” intends to shock and induce in viewers’ thoughts the formation of new images. Gathering together several references, Lockyer acts in the same way, since “as undefined forms become cut up, glued and juxtaposed, new variations are crafted forming new worlds, creatures and environments”5.

Opening Fold, by Italian artist Alberto Cuteri, calls into question the concept of online and offline as a parody of the idea of public and private sphere. In order to experience the work hosted on the online exhibition the viewer has to paradoxically download it on a computer. Inside the compressed file — in a file universe conceived by the artist — multiple artworks are collected, focusing on different aspects of the connection between user and network and all its possible contradictions. For instance, Internet Diary contains a collection of web pages saved as PDFs; while Mix contains a series of artist’s interventions on PDF web pages. Overprints is a series of web pages printed one on top of each other on the same sheet of paper, and Thumbnail Cache is a vast collection of images unexpectedly retrieved by the artist on his laptop. As a “cyberflâneur”, Cuteri claims for his own piece of network-land where to upload his digital wunderkammer, but access to this collection is granted only after a subsequent download. The way users retrieve any information, or artwork, from the downloaded folder resembles more an Internet dérive than a conscious method to browse folders and drives.

1Hito Steyerl, “In Defence of the Poor Image”, e-flux journal 10, November 2009, http://www.e-flux.com/​journal/​in-defense​-of​-the​-poor​-image/

2https://en.wikipedia.org/​wiki/​Missionary​_Church​_of​_Kopimism

3The Big Trail (1930) and The Shootist (1976)

4Especially notable in Strike! (1925)

5Artist's bio

III

On different kinds
of language

Athanor’s third web exhibition talks about language both as a means of communication and as an encoding–decoding tool for human and nonhuman processes of interpretation. Three selected projects combine observation, intervention and irony to suggest reflections over the possibilities — and / or limits — of language. Language is a living entity, prone to be materialized, deconstructed, transferred, disguised. In the linguistic parabola by Prost, everything is nothing but a subsequent translation. Dai’s semi–fictional story tells about the weird relationship between an archaic lingo and its commercial exploitation in contemporary China. Finally, the dissection of digital artifacts, operated by Rak, makes self–evident their nature as pure code, highlighting the fact that each single image on our devices is just a piece of a constructed language.

Athanasius Kirchner, Prospectus Turris Babylonicae, 1679

Book of Babel, by the American artist R. Prost, is “an electronic world tour, an algorithmic travelogue” which records all the outcomes of a reiterative process operated on a textual paragraph. This text has been translated with an online tool1 into another language — namely, Portuguese — and the rendered version has been then translated into a third language, and so on to cover all the world’s languages and finally return to English. Funnily enough — as one of the common standards for comparing languages is the Christian Lord’s Prayer — the starting point is a passage from the English version of the Bible. Each consecutive translation though, by virtue of the absence of direct human interaction in the interpretative process, turns out to be misleading and inaccurate, suggesting a feeling of oddity which recalls the legendary confusio linguarum (confusion of tongues) which is also the topic of the above–mentioned passage2. Although online translators became a common practice, experiencing this lack of accuracy is still something we are all familiar with. Since this issue affects the whole process, the returned English text completely loses its original meaning in favor of a babbling farce in which the most relevant comprehensible sequence is ironically the sentence: “it is a shit message”.

Furen Dai, Language Product, 9’12’’, 2016

Dealing with a different kind of meaning loss, Language Product depicts a fictitious factory in which words and sentences are manufactured. Furen Dai’s work began with her research on a “Secret Women Language” called NüShu, which was originated and developed as a secret code among women from the Yao minority in Jiang Yong, Hunan Province, China. Though nowadays the language has lost its functionality, women who still know the language have been pressured from Chinese government into performing their cultural activities as entertainment for tourists for menial wages. Mirroring this absurd commodification, the video is a weird journey through the act of producing the secret language as art object to be sold to people who are unable to decode the language. In Dai’s words “history lives through language”3, and through the fictional and almost satirical story narrated by the video we are witnessing how both Yao community history and NüShu language are undergoing a process of mystification and corruption.

Artifacts by Italian visual artist Carla Rak takes into account a more subtle process of corruption. Since its very beginning, photography has been considered a perfect medium to archive our memories. With the digital shift, a much wider amount of memories are collected and stored on binary files on our machine, yet their nature has become more ephemeral and short–lived. Referring to the inconvenient occurrence of digital damage, the artist has intentionally corrupted a series of still–life images from the archive of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. As these digital reproductions are accessed with an ordinary text editor, they reveal their true nature of nothing more than a sequence of words set in a machine language. Rak nonsensically operates on this unknown language, making minor edits that cause images to lose some details, colors, tones. Still readable by machines, they are decaying, losing identity. As the disintegrating flowers in seventeenth–century painting were an allegory of human frailty and transience, these corrupted artifacts aim to recognize how feeble our memories could be in the digital milieu. Rak finally reproduces her decomposed images on big sized lambda prints, as a symbolic gesture to deliver their memory again to the realm of physicality.

1Perhaps, this one

2Book of Genesis, 11:1–9

3Furen Dai, Artist’ Statement

II

Mythologies
of accumulation

Athanor’ second web exhibition spans projects which deal with the theme of accumulation from different perspectives. The title itself is intended to question the way in which accumulative processes of collecting and archiving can be considered as “sacred” acts, while the care of the archivist — or the passion of the collector — can be seen as deeply connoted by a religious or spiritual dimension.

The way in which the contents are displayed in this online exhibition aims to foster viewers in discovering these four archive-based projects. As the Italian art critic and curator Marco Scotini said about exhibiting archive materials: “‘what’ displayed artworks and documents are is never independent from ‘how’ they are staged”1. The basic interface of the projects’ webpages provides a neutral background: an attempt to not put some contents in relief, but rather “to put them in the viewer’s sight”, as the architect Lina Bo Bardi once declared apropos of her setup design for Museu de Arte in São Paulo2, a three dimensional rendering of the concept of accumulation.

Lina Bo Bardi, gallery setup, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, 1968

If this concept is the leitmotif which binds the projects together, they are indeed very different both in their premises and their visual outputs.

Paolo Patelli’s The Hut of European Identity plays around the inciting statement that there is no such thing as an “European identity”, at least not in a definite and conclusive way. Starting from the concept drawn for the House of European History (HEH) — a museum recently opened in Brussels with the aim of providing access to “transnational processes and events in Europe through museological interpretation”3 — the project’s theoretical framework highlights the lack of concrete points of reference transversally agreed by all the cultures forming Europe. Rather, this work-in-progress identity is made up of military conflicts and ideological clashes; the harmony and equity figured by EU institutions seem to be no more than the bridges depicted on € banknotes: an archetypal, distant, fake version of reality4.

Paolo Patelli, The Hut of European Identity, Amsterdam, 2016

As a counterpart to the HEH, Patelli built a more modest “hut”, as an “unsolicited addition of footnotes, annotations on the margins”5 and as a collection of material culture items regarding Europe’s political life, including pamphlets, flags, a loudspeaker.

The symmetrical and perfect compositions featured on euro–notes are completely reversed by the urban–organical accumulations created by Ryota Matsumoto. Athanor exhibits just a sample of the prolific production of Matsumoto, visual artist, architect and urban planner. His artworks are morphological refletctions of contemporary urban milieus, whose inputs, defined as “socio–cultural entities”6, come from both the architectural practice and the art history.

William Baziotes, Untitled, 1932

Taking into account assorted and peculiar references, from Futurism and Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism and more recently Julie Mehretu’s large–scale abstract architectures, Matsumoto acts as an alchemical catalyst able to give shape to chaotic, yet perceivably ordered, compositions. The abstract imagery is a result of an hybrid technique between analog tools (ink, acrylic, graphite) and digital media (3d parametric modeling, algorithmic processing, compositional custom softwares). The layering of multiple perspectives, together with the sibylline titling, contribute to convey a strange feeling of votive awe towards these manifold image–divinities.

Indeed, a sense of awe is what Antoine Lefebvre and Farah Khelil should have felt while browsing shelves in the Avranches Library, which houses thousands of precious manuscripts from the Abbey of Mont Saint–Michel, but also worn out books, devoured by book–eating insects. As a part of their ongoing project bookworms, the two artists, both book lovers, reflected on the importance of books as factor of knowledge transfer.

Alain Resnais, Toute la Mémorie du Monde, 20’, 1956

Appropriating the title of a doc movie by Alain Resnais7 — a display of the intricate mechanisms of cataloguing, storing, retrieving books in the Bibliotheque Nationale Française — ALL THE MEMORY IN THE WORLD sees the risks of physical damage to a book object as a metaphor for those ones, much more dangerous, which affect cultural transmission as a whole.

The process of accumulation and its close relationship with the identity of the collector is the focus of Nicolas Vamvouklis’ research: Collecting Queerly. Here presented in the form of a weekly log, this research8 explores gay identities and identifications as they are communicated in and through art and provides a critical approach to the study of collectors. Starting from historical imagery depicting collectors and their possessions, the log will then outline the turbulent existence of the Greek collector and gallerist Alexandre Iolas, the relationship with his collection and the villa which housed it.

Alexandre Iolas, Villa Iolas, Agia Paraskevi, 1964 ca.

Archive materials will be gathered together and discussed from a contemporary perspective, in order to set a new layer in the field of queer studies. Questioning the very nature and definition of collecting, Vamvouklis underlines how the act itself, rather than the collected items, is keen to become an object of veneration.

1 Dal Sasso, Davide (2016). “Dialoghi di Estetica. Parola a Marco Scotini”, Artribune

2 Bo Bardi, Lina (1950). “O Museu de Arte de São Paulo”. Habitat - Revista das Artes no Brasil, quoted in Stephen Mark Caffey, Gabriela Campagnol, “Dis/Solution: Lina Bo Bardi’s Museu de Arte de São Paulo”, Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies, 2014

3 http​:​//​www.​europarl.​europa.eu​/visiting​/en​/brussels​/house-​of-​european-​history

4 On the usage of fake imagery on euro-notes: https​:​//​www.dezeen.com​/2013​/05​/02/​sam-​jacob-​opinion-​money-​design/

5 Patelli, Paolo (2016). “The Hut of European Identity: Some Context”, http​:​//​neweuropeans.​org/​the-​hut-​of-​european-​identity-​some-​context/

6 Matsumoto, Ryota (2016). http​:​//​www.​ryotamatsumoto.​com/​p/​about​.html

7 Resnais, Alain (1956). Toute la Mémoire du Monde, 20’. https​:​//​www.​youtube.​com/​watch?​v=i0RVSZ​_yDjs

8 Inspired by the conference Other Objects of Desire: Collectors and Collecting Queerly, held at the University of Chicago and later transcribed into the homonymous publication edited by Michael Camille and Adrian Rifkin: https​:​//​www.​youtube.​com/​watch?​v=5mZdtN​xCkH8

I

(Social)
mediagenic
art

The term mediagenic1 — which shares the same roots with photogenic — applies to an artistic instance when this is composed of a set of features which solely happen under a specific medial context, often casting reflections over the medium itself. Projects featured in this web exhibition ironically reflect on the daily usage of technology and social media, and their links with art processes.

The Case of Pavel Pavel by Giorgio Ruggeri, a scholar in digital curatorship, documents the constant production of images by a Lithuanian artist nicknamed Pavel Pavel. The visual collection only exists on his Facebook private page, and this webspace itself is the piece of art, a quotidian and reiterative piece of art which gathers multidisciplinary and multi-medial elements. The social media platform concurrently constitutes the artwork foundation and its disguise: the accumulative, junky structure of the news feed in which Pavel Pavel operates, provides a camouflaged environment to his aesthetic practice.

Similarly, Facebook.com/com... by Kasper Lecnim parodies the information flow of the Facebook news feed, denying its content and minimizing it to a basic, zero degree: an accumulated void. The blankness of Lecnim’s webspace is odd and relevant, in a world of ordinary and irrelevant items.

This extravaganza, or the “excess of information nonsense”, is the starting point to read Symphony for 12 personal computers (again, by Lecnim), a software performance made up by a continuous process of crashes and rebooting propelled on Windows machines. The related sounds contribute to the shaping of a specific melody, which is possible only under these circumstances, thus it is mediagenic.

The “mediagenicity” is finally undisguised in G.I.S. Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe by Jeroen Bouweriks. Here the object of artistic construction is represented by Messenger chats, the medial environment used by the artist to ask other artists, curators and media theorists to Google-search for the “original” version of Manet’s painting and to attach it within the conversation. Bouweriks’ project stimulates at least two different arguments. The most obvious one deals with the processes of image interpretation and artistic appropriation, by which a universe of different versions of the painting appears, all these versions being related to each other and towards the original by comparative links: equal to, similar, opposite. While questioning concepts such as “original”, “authority” and “autonomy” in the arts, G.I.S. LDSLH also offers the possibility to reflect about the slipperiness of the public / private boundaries, and how we deal with each other in a context that we assume it’s public or not. The displayed real-time conversations include off-topic details (current mood, future plans, memories) which could eventually become objects of voyeuristic interest. The intimate setting of a private chat clashes with the public recognition of these digital personæ: the project feasibility relies on the factual truth that each of the contributors has a Facebook account.

1A brilliant example can be found with Daniel Scott Snelson’s project PDF Composite Mixtape

№5


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