Leandro Pisano is a curator, writer and new media producer for projects and events focused on new media, sound and technological arts. He also specialies in ICT development strategies for rural areas. He is founder and director of the new arts festival Interferenze, taking place in the South of Italy since 2003 and is also involved in projects and events on electronic art, including Mediaterrae Vol.1 (2007), Province Digitali (2005/2007), Sentieri Barocchi (2010) and E-Artquake (2010).
Hi Leandro and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for Fluid-Radio. I would like to begin with a question you have asked yourself on the occasion of the Struttura Organica Festival of 2007. Considering that the perception of nature has been deeply influenced by the evolution of production and communication technologies through history, is it fair to state that nowadays a new idea of nature is emerging? Could you summarise your findings in a couple of paragraphs?
It is obvious to notice that the digital era has changed our perception of the world, and this is clear, especially when we talk about nature. The development of technological environments related to digital information has changed the concept of nature, which was strongly tied to a modern aesthetics approach up until a few years ago. Now I think that we can see new spaces emerging in order to redefine the sensorial and physical perceptiveness, generated by the constant cross-breeding between material and immaterial, analogue and digital, visible and invisible. Digital technologies are based on models and systems identifiable as proper dynamic processes, that involve invisible data, from which we can reconstruct entire environments, translating their components in visible objects, that are not simply representations obtained through optical systems, but rather natural aspects structured within the logic of “computer aided nature”. It’s an open view that has been defined by Japanese critic and curator Yukiko Shikata in terms of an “open nature” which deconstructs the canons and the contrapositions of modern and classical aesthetics to redefine in a broader and more problematic way the relation between art and technologies.
Interferenze and Mediaterrae Vol.1 are two projects oriented to firmly re-design the identity of a rural territory. Furthering this investigation, you have also been linking sound and food as a research topic both in the psychology of perception and new media art studies with Click’n’Food. How was this initiative structured and what was the outcome of it?
We started to experiment with the relationship between food and sound as a way to delve into the roots of Irpinia’s territory, which are strongly tied to high quality food and local products such as wine, cheese, chestnuts, olive oil and many others. This is something strictly related to the history and the economy of the whole region. So we decided to establish the Click’n’Food programme as a part of the Interferenze festival. This project offers a panoramic view of performances based on the relationship between food, sound and new media. By involving traditional food and wines of the Irpinia region, we usually ask the artists to follow a path that, through projects based on sensory experiences, is designed to promote a virtuous cycle where the quality of food, coupled with its production and consumption is linked to sustainability, environmental awareness and social relations. Local traditions, like the ancient transhumance of the Podolian cattle in the Appennines of Southern Italy, are analyzed during artists’ residency projects. In our ongoing research into the connections of elements belonging to technology, tradition and rural landscapes, we are striving for a different kind of narrative of the natural environment focusing on rural landscapes and marginalized places, while highlighting the sense of the complex semantic re-appropriation of the identity and sustainability of the territory.
You are from Irpinia, a beautiful region in the south of Italy, which, in 1980, was devastated by an earthquake that killed almost 3,000 people. Could you tell me something about the e-artquake project you run back in 2010 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the earthquake?
In November 2010, I was invited by the festival Flussi to curate an exhibition called “Mnemosyne” (http://www.leandropisano.it/Nuova-traduzione-Mnemosyne?lang=en), which was part of the larger “E-Artquake” event, organized on the 30th anniversary of the Irpinia earthquake. The programme I curated was focused on the memory reverberation of seismic events through the perception of the territory, which has been modified over the years on different levels and from different points of view (landscape, psychology). It was interesting to notice how people visiting this exhibition re-activated to some extent their own aural memory of the earthquake they lived through 30 years before when listening to the works. This was especially clear with “Tellus Totem”, by Enrico Ascoli (http://enricoascoli.blogspot.com/2010/11/blog-post.html), a site specific installation based on a soundscape composed from abandoned objects which are brought back to life in order to resonate and tell us forgotten stories. What we discovered is that people mainly reconnected with their memories form that terrible day thanks to a particular sound linked to those events: objects moving, shaking or breaking.
The most recent project you have been involved in is The Third Soundscape – Irpinia Field works, which ran up until June 2012. Can you tell me something about it? Also, how do you get different artists from different countries to narrate the specifics of any particular local culture and the natural roots of territories alien to them? Would you consider these sound artists the 21st century equivalent of 19th century landscape painters such as Edward Lear?
The Third Soundscape/Suoni dal confine series project is connected with the “Third Landscape” definition given by French landscape architect Gilles Clément. This is basically a residency project that aims to explore marginalized areas and landscapes through the research of a multidisciplinary hub involving not only studies on the aesthetic of (new) media but also sociology, geography, anthropology, landscape architecture, design and the soundscape theories developed in the 60s by R. Murray Schafer. When we approach abandoned places through a creative discovery of sound we can be led to a reflection on a controversial aspect: sound is emarginated in a world where the visual aspect dominates in the same way that abandoned places are left behind for their innate functional uselessness. Focusing on marginalized areas and abandoned places can lead us to a different sense of experiencing the territory, taking out from the drifts and the folds of the borders an alternative and sustainable way of approaching (and reappropriating) the landscape in the post-digital era. I think that, with such a project, sound can be considered as a privileged medium, bringing to the foreground what is hidden and forgotten in our technological society, which is usually characterized by a compulsory listening approach (e.g. news on trains, commercial advertising on buses, etc.). What we have lost can be paradoxically regained only through a marginalized medium like sound. I absolutely agree with British sound artist Mark Peter Wright, when he says that listening is an act of affirmation, of self-awareness, that can be considered in terms of a political and cultural action, as a platform for making an attempt that is social, historical and ecological at the same time. So looking at sound from an aesthetic perspective can help us to recover an active concept of listening and sound in our society, too. I think it’s very important that the artists invited to join our projects should work with a wide perspective, collaborating with experts, local producers, scholars, in a way that can be considered “scientific” and aesthetic at the same time. So it’s not just a matter of “painting” a landscape, but rather of analyzing a territory as a (new) medium. Therefore, artists, local people and those attending the exhibitions and performances are able to get in touch (and communicate) in a creative way with this territory, and to experiment unexpected relations through processes and strategies resulting from this communication, with the unexpected allowed to happen in the space between transmitter and recipient.
How can sound art, in your opinion, articulate themes such as those of memory and identity linked to the territory and what would you say are recent examples where this has worked?
This is one of the key points of research in my work. Over the past few years I’ve been curating a number of projects, such as Mediaterrae Vol.1 (2007), (http://www.mediaterrae.com; http://vimeo.com/6547530) that explore how sound and new media art can re-mediate the relationship between collective memory and identity. With Mediaterrae Vol.1, we decided to look at the Montemaranese, a traditional form of Tarantella from the small village of Montemarano in the Irpinia region, which has an ancient and mysterious origin, and is played with traditional instruments such as the ciaramella and the zampogna, coupled with the clarinet. Eighteen audio and video artists belonging to the digital art scene and hailing from different countries in Europe and overseas were invited to take on the tradition of the Montemaranese and the Montemarano carnival, in a residency project that also saw the production of an audiovisual piece and a closing event. The invited artists joined the locals and took part in the traditional rites and festivities in which “the forces of tradition are competing with the ones of modernity”, as Giuseppe Gala wrote. They were also assisted during the sampling and production of the audiovisual material and while consulting literary and iconographic sources. It’s also interesting to note how in our rural societies, where the main form of communication is based on oral tradition, memories were transmitted through folk songs, recipes, proverbs, nursery rhymes, and generally speaking through all those forms of communication we usually define as myth. This is a really ancient cultural model coming directly from the Indo-European tribal society: as an example, I could mention the “tribal encyclopedia” concept as it was defined by Eric A. Havelock when talking about the transmission of culture and memory of a whole society through Homeric poems. In our contemporary society, the oral tradition is strongly coming back again as a way of communication through new media, but in terms of a completely different cultural model, if you compare it with that of the traditional/rural society. Our oral communication model is devoid of memory, being linked to an enormous remote archive of data, which is accessible anywhere and anytime we want. Our world is basically a huge database where a large amount of material is deposited without any selective criteria. This is completely different, if you think, from myth and the oral tradition of ancient/rural societies, which acts as a selective way to transmit to posterity only the most relevant elements of a whole culture.
You have interviewed a number of artists, such as Chris Watson, working with field recordings and the ecology of sound. What would you say are the most exciting developments within the field? Are people like Jacob Kirkegaard and Jana Winderen pushing the boundaries?
I think the most impressive aspect of these artists’ work is their scientific approach to sound, which is really deep. They are really able to read soundscapes not simply with an impressionistic approach, but rather by delving deeply into a landscape and its elements. I mean, they use meticulous and precise methods of research, which allow them at the same time to give a lyrical sense of a specific place. I think this is a quite unique and recognizable approach, in a world where ‘soundscape’, ‘field recording’ and ‘acoustic ecology’ are frequently becoming trivialized terms and categorized stereotypes.
You’ve written a recent article on Post-Digital artists on La lettura, the cultural supplement of the Italian daily paper Corriere della sera, referring to a new low tech approach to electronic and experimental music. Is analogue really the new digital?
Basically, this low-tech approach is not a brand new thing, as it is something that has already been in existence since the beginning of the new technological era. In a way, it can be defined as a critical perspective towards all compulsive, obsessive, and invasive aspects of digital culture. What I find interesting is that many artists have decided not to exit the realm of technology, and still operate within it as a resistance force against the uncritical and unqualified use of digital tools. So, for these artists, brushing up old technologies or reviving languages and tools dating back to the origins of digital culture means to evoke symbols of a free technology. Even when forms of resistance to the large scale and passive use of digital tools appear to be radical actions made by activist artists, these are not simply the result of a nostalgic attitude, but rather they stem from a critical approach towards some superficial behaviours inspired by our everyday use of digital media. The post-digital concept has already been discussed by Kim Cascone at the beginning of XXI century, but has recently been raised again in the analogue practices of some electronic musicians (I’m thinking of Simon Reynolds’ definition of “hauntology”) and in the work of Terre Thaemlitz, who is refusing online culture, because of its contamination with the distribution system of digital content on the internet.
Who, would you say, are the most interesting names working with field recordings within the Italian electro-acoustic scene?
A number of Italian artists, who emerged in the past few years within the electro-acoustic field, are working in interesting ways, trying to bring into their practice a critical reflection/attitude that relates to different issues within the acoustic sphere. The first names that spring to my mind are those of artists from different generations and with different approaches, such as Paolo Inverni, Davide Tidoni, Enrico Coniglio, Attila Faravelli, Enrico Ascoli, and Pietro Riparbelli.