Art, modernism, posthuman our interview with Gabriela Galati

Gabriela Galati is Professor of Theory and Methodology of Mass Media and Media Art Theory at NABA, New Academy of Fine Arts in Milan. In the past she has taught Research Methodology at the University of Buenos Aires, at the University of the Argentine Social Museum, Buenos Aires, and Media Art Theory at Domus Academy, Milan. She published Duchamp Meets Turing: Arte, Modernismo, Postumano (Postmedia Books, 2017), she writes reviews of books on art, philosophy, science and technology for Leonardo Reviews / Leonardo Journal (MIT Press), and regularly collaborates with AdVersus , Acoustic Space Journal and Scenari (Mimesis) with scientific publications. For Scenari she is the editor of the #10 issue dedicated to Posthuman Art. Founder of ECCENTRIC Art & Research, and co-founder of IPERCUBO. She obtained a PhD at the University of Plymouth for which her dissertation addressed the relationship between art theory, digitalisation processes and the posthuman.

We met Gabriela Galati after reading her book “Duchamp Meets Turing. We discussed it together and thought it would be nice to ask her some questions. Gabriela was so kind to answer them.
To frame it, we start with some definitions:
Duchamp land: art oriented towards finished objects, substantially self-referential, self-ironic, complicated and content-oriented
Turing land: simple art, without irony art, focused on the form and medium-specific (intended as a device)

Veditu: In your book the ready made is central. The choice seems a little reductive compared to the paths followed by contemporary art. Can you explain better why this choice since other art forms also investigate the same problem?

G.G.: I consider the readymade to be, together with Thierry De Duve and later also Rosalind Krauss, what made possible what De Duve calls “art in general”, so art without the imperative of medium specificity, such as the modernist position considered. There are no longer “painters” or “photographers” but artists-in-general. From this on, what I propose is that an opportunity was lost to consider and theorise cybernetic, or new media art, as you’d rather call it, in continuity with the theorisations of art-in-general, so of what in the book I call mainstream art, or “Duchamp-Land” (quoting Manovich). Because the readymade in particular and Duchamp’s oeuvre more broadly already conveyed and implied somehow all the traits of a posthumanist approach to art. The machinic and the human have always already met, they don’t need the readymade for that. Of course, what I propose then is that the readymade can do is to help think why this opportunity was lost, and how to solve this flaw by realising precisely that: that the separation, the dichotomy, between human, non-human, organic and inorganic doesn’t exist. The difference may by subtle, but it is relevant.

 

Veditu: In the book you quote some artists and analyze their work, like Amalia Ulman’s performance on Instagram in 2014. Clearly your book isn’t an encyclopedia and doesn’t touch other experiences that however concern the posthuman, such as Net art, or artists who intervene directly on their body as Stelarc or Orlan. Tell us something about or, if you want, point us at artists that you did not address in the book.

G.G.: Yes, as you rightly point out, the book is not an encyclopedia, and I would also say it is not even a book on new media, digital or posthuman art, but a book about art theory, so I quote some examples from contemporary art, but also of Baroque art. My conception of the posthuman is not a chronological conception, much less an artistic category,. There are many works of net.art that I don’t consider “posthuman” (for example, all the ascii art). About Orlan and Stelarc wonderful authors have written before me, like Antonio Caronia, and a more recently Joanna Zylinska, I strongly recommend them. A young artist that I had the opportunity to meet recently and one of the most interesting artists I have found lately is Marco Donnarumma
From another current of what we might call artistic research on the posthuman condition, or simply posthuman art I’m very interested in the work of the Swiss couple !Mediengruppe Bitnick and of the artist and theorist Joanna Zylinska of which I spoke before. Also Trevor Paglen’s work is always solid and interesting, but he was accepted (long ago) in Duchamp-Land

Ivana Adaime Makac, Rééducation, 2009-in corso. Studio work 2019

Ivana Adaime Makac, Rééducation, 2009-in corso. Studio work 2019

Veditu: In addressing the posthuman, there are many texts studying the meaning of the term, its implications, the research concerning it, in particular about the relationship between human and technology. Then suddenly, with a logical leap, it is said that the reflection concerns the living in general. Quoting your text : “the “living”, one of the most discussed and difficult aspects to define by biology, includes human and non-human animals, plants, and why not, also forms considered as semi-living, such as viruses”. Now, intuitively, one might agree, but we’d like you to talk about the connection between posthuman and biocentrism.

So Roberto Marchesini did it in a brilliant and for sure far deeper way of what I can do here in his book of 2002 Posthuman: verso nuovi modelli di esistenza (recently translated to English) in which he very well explains the fallacy of the separation between nature and culture, or if you want, between animals and technology (and not just human animals). The landscape between living, non living and technology is a complex one (the topic of my next book, and of some of my recent articles and editor of a section on posthuman art for two issues of Scenari magazine Mimesis JournalScenari ). There is no difference between a posthuman perspective that understands the constitution of subjectivities in the constant intertwining with technologies and a posthuman perspective that doesn’t consider human animals to have any kind of supremacy over the rest of the living, and the inorganic. Regarding the latest, most current posthuman perspectives, especially the ones grounded on OOO, they go beyond biocentrism including in their posthuman horizon also the inorganic (see for instance Timothy Morton, or even sometimes Felice Cimatti). This is important to consider the complexity from an ecological and environmental perspective (Morton’s case). The reason why I personally addressed only the relation of the human and technology (and why often both theorists and artists also choose to do so) in my book is only because of the need to limit the area of study, and for personal interest at the time. Now I am expanding my research in the hope to delineate a more complex, and if possible, slightly more complete landscape.

Veditu: In your book, as well as in other texts, you discuss an algorithm present in mobile phones that takes our photos, compares them with other similar photos we have taken and published on social networks and with those we liked and the modifies this photo to adapt it, perhaps imperceptibly, to our taste. This brings us to the topic of the all-often conservative function of technology, which then is the same thing that happens with google, which by learning to know each one of us, provides us with the answers to our queries (and in advertising) that it thinks we like best. Is it possible today to have new experiences, since we are always immersed only in what we like? Do you find this conservative function of technology?

G.G: I think it is possible but we must search for it, may be harder than before. It is necessary to search for and work on factors of randomness. When I supervise theses on these sort of topics I try to push students to see that, and if they are planning to build a new app, for instance, to consider designing a way in which the algorithm allows to find new and unexpected possibilities . And also to convince them to get lost not only in a web of links but in physical bookshops and spaces. He is not always my cup of tea, but Debord’s conception of the détournement as a way of voluntarily getting lost when walking around cities, or taking the figure of the flaneur/flaneuse as example (walking as a way of appropriating new spaces) are goods ways to start. Also, in the digital world, I try not to only follow Amazon’s algorithms to find new books (which of course can be also useful) but my favourite way is the old one: discovering new authors and ideas following the ones quoted on the footnotes, whether the books are digital or not is not relevant for this.

Veditu: Our collective was born writing the Manifesto for a commercial art ( you can find it on our website). Apart from the obviously provocative intent, the fact remains that we, with our collective work, devote ourselves to verifying how the Market affects our lives and in particular its effects on contemporary art—which like all art at some point must be sold. In your text there is not much talk about this, so much so that the various passages seem to follow each other as a kind of development of the Spirit. The theme put forward by Freud, which you also mention, that “Technology is a prosthesis that humanity has developed to extend its powers over the world” has, according to us, already been exceeded while Freud wrote it. It can refer to the birth and the first developments of humanity, but the prostheses we wear are long since decided by the Market, over time from the Markets, so much to lose the original function. If you agree, can you tell us how the Market enters the development you describe or why do you think we are wrong?

G.G.: Before answering I should ask you what the market means for you, and especially why you write it with capital M. Leaving the market aside was a choice due to the need to delimitate an area of study (especially because the book is the fruit of my doctoral thesis). Just as it could not speak of all art, it could not speak either about all the actors in the artistic field. As I have already pointed out above, the book is more a critique and deconstruction of the modernist and postmodernist art theory than on the art itself. I am very much in agreement with you that the concept of technology as a prosthesis in Freud’s sense is by now outdated, but in my opinion the market has nothing to do with this, it is the theory of posthuman, and concepts such as the reworking of the concept of apparatus in Foucault by of Agamben, which make it clear that technology is a conforming part of human and many non-human animals, so if you allow me the expression, part of their “nature”. In this sense is clear that the conception of technology as a prosthesis, from Freud, passing through Benjamin and then McLuhan and various followers, more than overcome has been clarified (by Derrida and then Wolfe, for example): we have always been prosthetic beings, since long before “the Market” emerged.

Veditu: You have an academic career but, compared to many of your colleagues, you get involved with the market. You work with galleries, have your own space (www.ec-centric.eu), organise and curate exhibitions. Tell us about your experiences, in particular about the management of your platform and how you do you deal with the issue of sales. Can you bring your research into this world, for example in the choice of artists? If you can tell us something, what will your next exhibitions be?

GG: Yes, my career is quite atypical. In fact, if my platform is called ECCENTRIC there is a reason: reconciling academic research with the role of commercial gallery owner is not so usual, and above all, both sides regarded it with suspicion. In a certain sense, observing this has inspired my book. However in my work both dimensions feed each other: I work with artists, talk with them, and study their research also to understand how to promote them at institutional and art collecting level, it also stimulates my research, and vice versa: I look for artists who are addressing certain topics in certain ways. For example, since I finished my PhD I have been increasingly addressing the theme of the living in art in the exhibitions and texts I curate. Even though in reality the first artist who inspired me in this direction is one of the first I met when I was still studying in Buenos Aires, Ivana Adaime Makac. As Cary Wolfe says, the posthuman condition is not chronological, the posthuman is not a historical moment that comes after something, is a recursivity, and I experience this firsthand in my work and in my research. As far as new projects are concerned, in fact, even though I have almost always worked in the art market, ie for commercial galleries, my activity has always been mainly curatorial. I consider that i have “a good eye” for what works in the market, so I can choose artists considering also this variable, but I don’t have enough energy to deal with sales in the same way. That is why, using my experience with ECCENTRIC, I am working together with two super talented partners and a young expert in communication on a new gallery project called IPERCUBO  on which I cannot give many details because it will be officially launched in January 2020, but the first exhibition will take place in February, I’ll let you know!

Veditu: In a previous interview  you said “Art with a capital A will always exist, I don’t believe in the death of art, of painting either, simply because creating illusory and parallel worlds is part of being human”. Do you confirm your definition of art? It seems in some way to confirm the idea that many have (Bonami) that contemporary art is not the current art, the art of today, but a movement with identifying characteristics, a sort of contemporaneism, and that therefore, like other historical movements, at some point it will be overtaken by a new kind of art.

G.G.: I didn’t intend to give a definition of art, I don’t think we can, or at least I don’t think I can define the art. What I meant in that interview is that part of the post-human condition is to recognize that the production of meaning, and this clearly includes art, is not exclusively human. Then, I don’t know Bonami’s text, but from what you say it seems to me to be related to the concepts of being contemporary and the untimely by Agamben. Anyway, I go back to what I wrote above, my conception of art, like that of posthuman, is neither chronological nor thinkable in terms of progress: the moments of art are not “overcome”, they simply change, but they also come back, there are works and artists that are always current, or that stay current for a long time, and others don’t.

Veditu: We are just curious: have you read the manga or seen the movie Ghost in the Shell? What do you think about?

G.G.: I saw the manga film a long time ago, and recently I saw the netflix remake. My opinion, if you allow me, is that it’s metaphysical bullshit. Already in the title, the dualistic conception of a separation between mind and body, or of a body “inhabited” by a soul (the ghost) that is independent of it is explicit. My whole book (and before me so many other much more relevant theorists, beginning with Katherine Hayles) aims at deconstructing this basically gnostic idea.

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