DOMENICO QUARANTA

Is Brida Male Or Female? Interview with Sendi Mango, Jurij Pavlica And Tom Kerševan

When I was invited to contribute to this catalogue, the idea was to write a text.
I first met BridA in Linz in 2008. Since then, I’ve met them often, I’ve seen many of their works in person, I’ve spent some nice time with them, and I’ve included them in a couple of shows. In a way, I can say that I know them quite well and that I definitely have something to say about their work. As the methodical worker that I am, I started collecting texts and information about them and I read everything. Suddenly, I realized that I didn’t know that much about them, and that the material I had collected was not that useful. Or, to tell it in Sendi’s words:
» YOU CAN’T KNOW US, IF YOU DIDN’T LIVE WITH US FOR A WHILE. FOR EXAMPLE, DO YOU KNOW THAT I’M A HISTORY FAN, SPECIALIZED FOR THE SECOND WORLD WAR? THAT JURIJ ADORES THE DRAWINGS OF TURNER, CÉZANNE AND MICHELANGELO? AND THAT TOM LOVES JUNK FOOD AND PACMAN? «
I needed to hear their voice. I couldn’t live with them for a while, but I could ask them for an interview. And I did.
Personally, I think that interviewing a collective is much more interesting than interviewing an individual artist. The latter is usually a boring person that doesn’t recognize that her work is as much the result of a relationship as it is the output of her big, fat ego. A collective is a peculiar individuality grounded in a relationship that can vary a lot from case to case. Sometimes there is a leader, other times a spokesman, sometimes a bunch of individuals that, though working all together, can’t resist expressing their own thoughts individually. Sometimes they say “I”, sometimes they say “we”. Sometimes they choose a collective name, others simply string together their individual names. Sometimes the collective identity even uses sexual connotation. Is BridA male or female? Maybe, this should have been my first question. But I didn’t ask it, so it’s up to me to reply. For me, BridA is definitely female. Not just because her name ends with “A” (the usual ending of a female name in the Italian language), or because it’s Sendi that usually replies to my emails to the group address; but because she (BridA) has a female approach to the issue of identity. Her collective identity is not fixed and self affirmative, but liquid and mutant. Sometimes she acts as a traditional artists’ collective, other times as an institution; she usually makes art, but she doesn’t refuse to act as a curator, or to take part in more complex projects where her role is less defined. No surprise, the interview is focused on her identity, but also addresses another issue that I find pretty interesting: her use of cutting-edge technologies to raise traditional questions of representation, usually connected with painting. That’s enough – let’s listen to BridA’s voice now.

DQ: You are all from Nova Gorica and you all studied at the Art Academy in Venice. When did you meet for the first time?
BridA: We first met while studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, somewhere between 1995–1996. While working at the Academy and socialising in the studios and in our free time, we had long discussions about the possible innovative approaches in visual art production. They were mainly discussions on being able to use scientific analyses and new technologies in the process of creation and development of artwork. We were studying painting in the nineties, at a time when society was flooded by digital media and computer graphics. In our discussions, and with our exchange of ideas and viewpoints, we decided to participate in various projects in the field of computer graphics, design and digital photography. A kind of spontaneous collective action began to develop and we learnt how to bring together ideas and different skills. We well remember the conversation about how to write an algorithm in order to calculate the objective value of an artwork. It seems that it was precisely this conversation that marked the path of our long-term cooperation.

DQ: Did you finally develop the algorithm? It would have definitely been useful to art galleries and auction houses! It’s interesting how in the beginning you joined a conceptual legacy (do you know this piece by John Baldessari, Tips for an artist who wants to sell, 1966 – 1968) with the irony against socialist rules and values shared by many artists working in post-socialist countries. An approach still present in your recent work, such as DIY (2005). Can you expand on this?
BridA: We’ve not forgotten about the algorithm. But it’s also true that we never developed it into a rule as dictated by John Baldessari. The Modux project also began as a kind of algorithm, which was in its duration and repetitions supposed to produce a sufficient amount of comparable graphic patterns and forms for us to begin to manipulate and directly link them to concepts. Like for example the artificial language, Esperanto. Later, the algorithm in our projects has an important role, particularly as the controller of the process in the project, although it is never the only guiding principle for attaining results. It seems to be most comprehensive in the DIY project, where an analytical and systematic process leads the viewer to an unexpected and paradoxical role in the artistic process. The observer becomes the producer and consequently also grasps the process of creation of the artwork, he no longer asks himself about the value of the final product, his attention is focused on the audio instructions that are narrating the process of production of the image. The DIY project achieves its goal by forcing the audience to participate and actively produce images, while simultaneously exchanging the role of the artist and the observer. This project, despite its extremely simple and synthetic form, conceals almost everything that defines our utmost thought and investigative motivation in the creation process and the relationship of the audience towards the artwork. In many public performance actions, in which the audience actively participated in the execution, we realised that by completely moving away from the process of producing the image, we opened up new possibilities of perceiving the artwork. It was interesting when we played the audio instructions in Hoxton Square in London and random passers-by, included business people, actively stepped into the process of image-making, even for just a moment.

DQ: Why and when did you decide to become an artists’ collective? What is the meaning of “BridA”?
BridA: Establishing the group or collective action was not deliberate. It happened gradually through discussions and conversations, as well as cooperation in joint projects. We first used the name BridA for our project proposal in a public call for submissions for a poster for the 50th Anniversary of Nova Gorica in 1997. We didn’t really go into the meaning of the name in any depth; Brida is the name of the village fountain in Šempas, which is right next to our studio. First, we intended to use the name only temporarily in the project proposal for the call for submissions. This is also when we wrote the name for the first time with a capital B and a capital A at the end, which was actually a misprint. So much about a mysterious compound of words hiding in the name of BridA. The meaning of the name BridA formed over the many years of working together. You could say that with time, the meaning of the name also changes.

DQ: Which meaning? I guess it has something to do with “hybrid”…
BridA: Today we look at this name differently of course. This is the name by which we have presented ourselves for many years and to which all our joint projects are tied. Actually, this is not a word that would mean something objective in the past, nor a concept which could have comparisons in contemporary times. It is more a designation which we have taken on, and is over time becoming a synonym for our work together and way of working. The meaning is not of an objective nature. We ourselves attribute a processual and experimental tendency within the art field to the name of BridA, but don’t want to attach meaning to a particular condition or concept. It appears that we’ll have to wait for a more objective description of BridA. And until then, “hybrid” cannot be ruled out either.

DQ: You were all trained as painters. Your career might have been easier if you kept on painting, even as a painters’ collective. Why did you stop?
BridA: In fact, we’ve never stopped being painters, we began to analyze the process of artistic creation by using various systems and analytical methods to determine how to change something in the classical approach to artistic creation and thus expose the relationship of the painter artist towards his precious artwork. The aim was to break this hermetic system, this almost intimate relationship, which every artist so carefully hides for himself. It is precisely with this idea that our attitude to artistic creation changed radically and began to gain different forms and manifestations in comparison with the classical definition of painting.

DQ: What you are saying is that, even if you stopped painting in a classical fashion, painting still works as a framework for most of your works. This is actually what I felt when I first saw Modux at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz. However, I have an objection to what you say. You want to demystify the work of a painter, but what you did with the Modux series and with Trackeds (2009–2010) carries the risk of introducing into the world of art another mystification – the magic of technology. I mean, one needs some technical knowledge to understand what you did there, and just a few people share that kind of knowledge today. Without it, the risk is to be stuck with flashing lights, processes and robotics, without really getting the piece. How do you deal with this?
BridA: The fact that the project was presented at Ars Electronica may have led to such an association in relation with other projects. We are convinced that only few understood that this was a project that was tied to the art product, which would bring about a different perception of the content by the viewer. We do not demand any prior knowledge from the observer, we position him in the reality that belongs to the project and not to a general perception of technology in relation to art. It could be argued that our projects deal with both, on the one hand, the demystification of the notion of painting, and on the other, the playing with established and standardized technological concepts. Part of the truth of today’s day and age is that technology is becoming a kind of excuse for the process of understanding, like for example a calculator which replaces our own logic and already gained knowledge. Artists are also often accused of being fascinated by technology because of this. A part of the misunderstanding could also be attributed to the observer and his fascination with technology, which makes it impossible for him to detect the subtle nuances of art. A knowledge and command of technology enables a person to eliminate it and think about art more easily, while viewing, for instance, an art installation. There are probably at least two main aspects to the perception of the way we function. The first is that the works are merely a kind of work station in the duration of a given project and are therefore deliberately not finished as presentation objects. The Modux project is still in development. The second element is our focus on the process by giving the viewer access to the backstage of the project, which most are perhaps unprepared for.

DQ: When did you get interested in new technologies? When BridA was formed in 1996, they were just starting to have a greater impact on everyday life. Also, there was a long tradition of artists working with new technologies, but it had little visibility, especially, I guess, in the periphery where we all are from. So, what was your starting point?
BridA: We came to the Academy with different background knowledge and experience in the technical, IT and marketing areas. We put our knowledge together, sharing it with each other with joy, of course, we didn’t invent anything new in the field of new technologies, we just made a step towards something that could dramatically change the process of artistic creation. We uncovered all the stages in the process of artistic creation, doing so by incorporating interactive audience participation, production of automated systems, robotic applications and programming. That path brought us many new experiences and knowledge about new media, high technology and science, but we never abandoned drawing and painting (e.g. Modux Datascapes, 2010). Often though, using or even recycling so-called new technologies enables us to conduct our investigations in painting more quickly, differently and even in a field in which this is not possible using a classical technique. Also, the start of our new projects is not spurred on by a technological impulse or a certain possibility within technology. The initial idea is always more complex and it often happens that it is unfeasible precisely because of the limitation of technological tools. Moreover, the use of new technologies is closely linked with knowledge and science, and it is therefore reasonable to include it only where we have clear ideas about what we can do and what its relationship is to the artistic value that we wish to highlight.

DQ: Most Eastern European artists getting involved with new technologies in the mid nineties were fatally attracted by the most glamorous, accessible and widespread of them all: the World Wide Web. On the contrary, you were never interested in using it as an art medium. Why?
BridA: This is true, we never used the Internet directly or for any of our art projects, if you’re referring to the context of Net Art. Mainly because it was our interest to analyze – dissect the process of creating art with the intention of including the audience, regardless of the medium used. Even though we have used the Internet several times, but only for the transfer of information using a protocol (http, UTP, FTP), for various applications within the projects e.g.: the control system in the project Modux 3.0 (2007) and Trackeds Parliament in December 2010 in Galerija Kapelica. In this case we used Google Talk for instance to transfer data from various locations in real time. For the Dodai project (Galerija Škuc, 2008) we set up an interesting interactive Internet portal (Internet blog), intended for the communication between the artists and the audience. Last but not least, for the TimeForNano project we built a communications platform in conjunction with the YouTube networking video channel. It should be emphasized that a new medium or new technology have never been an impulse for the realization of a new project.

DQ: It is assumed that, when artists are working as a collective, they are refusing the classical notion of the artist as an individual genius, whose intimate and public life must be studied in order to understand the work. What is the relationship, if any, between your life and your work?
BridA: We have always believed that the modernist vision of the artist as an individual genius is the main problem of contemporary artists. We are pleased that we have happily survived this step back from the social role of the artist with mythical connotations. As a group that justifies its ideas and work, we are not a subject equal to the individual person. But we have, with our projects, discourse and the time spent together, developed a kind of inherent objectivity, which allows us to look at our work objectively, while to the outside, in the eyes of the public we function as a subject. We recognize the same model in the relationship towards our own lives, which need to be connected to the wider society and our families, but at the same time satisfy our artistic needs. In a dependence towards the person who is observing us, we can be the BridA group or just Tom, Sendi or Jurij. This is also why we’re a group, which in the role of a small democracy, retains enough self-criticism to overcome any obstacles and builds fresh projects.

DQ: Artists’ collectives are often either a couple or a group of friends. You are an exception, being a couple (Jurij Pavlica and Sendi Mango) plus a third member (Tom Kerševan) since the beginning. Does it work fine? On which kind of relational dynamics is your working process based?
BridA: We consider the long-standing cooperation of the group a remarkable achievement! It really is rare for a group of artists to create together for such a long time and at the same time manage to maintain good mutual relationships. It is precisely because of this that we like to define our work together as a phenomenon. When we’re developing and pondering upon new ideas, we never have personal interests in mind. Ideas develop through the dynamics of a kind of collective thinking. Interestingly, when we’re reviewing projects already carried out and when we’re talking about them, we’re succumbed by a fascination over the thought that this would have never been realized if we’d been working individually.

DQ: Well, being so interested in the process of artistic creation, it’s no surprise that sometimes you put yourselves under control. In a way, it’s what you’ve tried to do in your video Lunch Break (2008), which is still one of my favourites. The trick you used there – overlapping various layers in a single “event” – turns an everyday moment into something meaningful, where every gesture and every movement seem to respond to an inner logic, and to display a process. Why did you choose to focus on the lunch break?
BridA: Lunch Break includes preliminary experiments, when we were thinking about the multilayeredness of information in the Modux project, in which the various layers of the measured values are converted into graphic elements and overlap on the canvas. Actually, we performed our first experiment in this direction simultaneously with the DIY project, when we carried out a project somewhere on glass thus creating a multilayered view through the transparent glass surfaces. On that day, we also captured video and audio footage, changing them into overlapping dynamic graphic elements and recorded them on DVD like a video. Actually, this was pure experimentation. But Lunch Break is still a bit different because we made a decision not to edit any of the video material and attempted to build a new image in the duration of the original footage by overlapping unrelated layers of information (two layers of video, subtitles and audio). In fact, it was about a kind of transfer of an idea from other projects and experiments into video. In this sense video is more direct than a static image, while at the same time, due to the characteristics of the medium, the technology is safely hidden in the background. The process itself is concentrated on the two continuous performed scenes of the meeting and the lunch.

DQ You recently launched an artists’ residency at your own place in Šempas. This is quite unusual, both for the host – an artists’ collective, instead of an institution – and the place – a small village in Slovenia. Do artists apply? Why? How does it work?
BridA The residency R.o.R in Šempas formed over time and very spontaneously we could say. Various people are always stopping in our old house and studio, who are either simply travelling past Šempas or coming for a visit. We slowly began to add content to this. So we can still say that we have constant visits, but included in these visits are also artists who come to us in order to also stay for longer. In such a way, for example, we hosted the English artist Sally Noall, who developed the Onlookers project during her residency, and presented ourselves in Galerija Alkatraz in Ljubljana. With Hans Diebner we developed a concept for the Data Collision exhibition, whereas Oppy De Bernardo focused more on getting to know the local community and developed the Dear Čezare project with us, which was later shown at Galerija Meduza in Koper. The idea of the residency is actually very simple. Due to the nature of our work and the experience that we have, accepting a temporary member or group is a sort of upgrade of the BridA collective. The residency, although labelled as such, is not comparable with the residencies offered by institutions, where artists normally step into a controlled environment through a programme. The scope of our idea is much broader, open and therefore also less feasible perhaps. Artists are supposed to come into our process like a kind of change, thereby changing it. In the same way we are supposed to show them our experience with working in a group as a change within their own projects. Of course such an approach is quite experimental in nature and allows for a series of improvisations. The point of such a residency is of course the exchange of experiences and the attempt to participate in the development of projects. When selecting artists, we go for those people with whom we’ve already shared some fleeting or more in-depth work experience. In contrast to other residencies, this is only a creative spending of time in a situation where the visitor is placed in the role of a “family member”, since he is practically living with us. Whereas we place ourselves in the role of someone who accepts a longterm visitor. Sometimes the situations are quite delicate, since we both have to make quite an effort in order to fall into a certain synergy.

DQ: Your participation in Time for Nano, a project sponsored by the EU and focused on designing a communication strategy for research on nanotechnology, is quite interesting and raises a whole bunch of issues. Why did they choose artists, instead of designers or advertisers, in order to “promote an integrated, safe, responsible and socially acceptable approach for the development and use of nanosciences and nanotechnology”? How was your identity as a collective redefined by such a collaboration? Are you proud of the results?
BridA: The European Commission (EC) carries out similar projects constantly. Huge funds have been allocated to projects related to nanotechnology and this is one of the most important global projects for the EC. Similar projects are also underway in the United States and in Japan. What they have in common is that they want to bring nanotechnology closer to the people. It is about demystifying the concept and spreading the knowledge of what nanotechnology really means. Although science is far from having mastered the technology and does not know all the advantages and disadvantages, it plans and predicts that nanotechnology will be one of the essential mediums in the future of mankind. Informing people about its progress and knowledge in this field seems a logical introduction to this special era. Above all, the EC does not want a situation like the one that occurred in the past with genetically modified food, which was presented to the public literally without any notice directly in shops. Our role is merely to participate in one of the projects, TimeForNano, in which science addresses primarily young people. Interestingly, the EC has here for the first time consciously involved artists in a scientific project, with the thought that the creative and artistic approach can contribute to the opening of dilemmas about new technologies and promote a critical discussion with active involvement from the younger generation. Since this is a kind of subscription package, we had some concerns initially. The project is almost at the end and our feelings are quite interesting. As an artists’ collective we are pleased especially given the rather spontaneous development and dimensions of the project, experience, knowledge acquired through countless experiments, creative work with young people and embarking on new work. We would not have experienced all this, had we not accepted the project. As the central medium of communication we selected video and animation, mainly due to a combination of the younger population, the potential of spreading it through social networks, the YouTube channel, and the process which is necessary for the making of an animation itself. In the animation, we consciously used the well-known “stop motion” process of production, which besides posing the creative question of how to convert the new knowledge of nanotechnology into stories and confessions, also forces participants to understand the process of creativity. The nonlinear moving of objects is thus consciously dictated by the product, which however, is not visible during the stage of the process. Like in a linear animation, the product can only be understood at the end, when the process is concluded. And in this moment a review of the undergone process is necessary, in which we find out what we have actually done. An additional element that utterly consolidates both the content and understanding of the process is YouTube, which allows for immediate reaction with its super-kinetic spreading of content and feedback. The online use of video sets a new foundation for the perception of the now almost old-fashioned medium, which is not only reflected in the speed of communication, but also in the form where embellishment or editing are no longer required in the transfer of information. From this perspective, we find this project particularly interesting since the end result of the TimeForNano project is a series of video projects made by young people from the various countries of Europe, through which they expressed their views on nanotechnology. One of the projects that is indirectly linked to TimeForNano is also Nanoplotter, which was presented at the last Triennial of Slovenian Contemporary Art in Moderna galerija. The interesting aspect of this project is that it translates the functioning of the Atomic Force Microscope with a plotter, which plots a comic strip by moving particles of cornmeal, blurring the image as it goes along with the vibration, which reflects the unpredictable physical properties of the nanoparticles.

 

Domenico Quaranta (1978) is an art critic and curator. He focused his research on the impact of the current techno-social developments on the arts. He regularly writes for Flash Art. In 2006 he edited (with M. Bittanti) the book GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames; in 2010, he published the book Media, New Media, Postmedia. As a curator, he organized various shows, including Holy Fire. Art of the Digital Age (Bruxelles 2008, with Y. Bernard) and Playlist (Gijon 2009 and Bruxelles 2010).