From Interaction to Adaptive Volumes. Reflections on change in act.

by Franco Speroni (2006)

Our cultural tradition has always tended to contemplate symbolic forms rather than the social and cultural processes that created them, hence forms are considered the axioms rather than the medium or the tools that define the places in which we live and in which we build relations. Consequently, the contrast between form and world has become a consolidated viewpoint, the world being a chaotic and opaque rex extensa to which sense can be given through form. New digital platforms based on interaction, on the other hand, move the experience away from contemplation and towards immersion. The socio-anthropological shift that accompanies these platforms in the aesthetic field consists of the convergence of the creative act with its user and it is in this context that Licia Galizia’s and Michelangelo Lupone’s research has developed in Adaptive Volumes. New research with roots in ‘technology’, a ‘symbolic social form’ of creativity that comes alive through the relationship and hybridisation between subjects, between organic and inorganic, user and environment, between experimentation and tradition.
The Renaissance culture in the West built an image of man moving in a neutral and empty space taking the place of the animistic space of the medieval. This was an important step and allowed the body to be considered as a machine. Humanistic anatomy through drawing, described a mechanism and transformed the body from a mysterious agglomerate into an artefact that could be reproduced and explained. The body was able to link itself to the world, to experiment and therefore to invent or discover. However this epistemological model, to bring the human back to man, is based on analogous constructions founded on the contrast between the ideal body and an empty world and made sense in that it took forms equivalent to those of man. The invention of printing, the Gutenbergian system, according to Marshall McLuhan was the invention of a static instrument, text, with respect to which man moves, reads, interprets and constructs meaning. Literature and other communication platforms such as art or sculpture are stable forms that do not require user interaction and on these epistemological models a posture, a brain frame has consolidated from which the gestalt conception of form has derived: the object distinct and distant from the subject that interprets it.
Since the use of radio waves, empty space has no longer had sense and has been replaced by the image of interacting force fields. The cubist movement shows this change but the anthropocentric, epistemological model has prevailed among critics. The latter, rather than grasping the loss of the sense of the frame in favour of continual performance, have preferred to linger on linguistic specializations, the research of the ideological essence of art, to be traced for example, in the bi-dimensionality of a picture.
Instruments based on interaction, the consequence of the digital revolution, have further shifted the aesthetic experience – in the sense of the cognitive, sensorial process – towards immersion, towards a psychosomatic experience and thus the active presence of the body of the user rather than to the humanistic side of contemplation and reading of the form. This immersion however, is within an apparently unlimited space that nevertheless brings a finite series of possibilities. Before digital platforms, the unlimited dimension of immersion belonged mostly to the metaphor, to the order of the neo-baroque allegory that has its roots in the sensorial experience of the metropolitan show, as George Simmel and Walter Benjamin have described. Let us however look at the interaction we intend when we refer to systems that respond in a set way to the actions of a user. The user in this case finds himself in front of a complex but finite organism. The user has a non-sequential text, such as a hypertext, with regards to which he has liberty of movement that is, nevertheless, confined to a finite number of concrete possibilities. It is the passage from the analogical system of correspondence to the digital system of interactive connections that allows us to experience dense space that becomes a performatively occupied place through our action and connections. Therefore a space that is no longer immobile before us but mobile and able to move towards us – similarly to television, from an allegoric point of view acoustic and tactile rather than abstract and visible (taking up McLuhan once again)
The process set in act by the metropolis, that unites baroque metamorphoses, partial objects and sensorial shifts of a surrealistic type, leads to the re-definition of subjects acting directly on the cognitive processes of man, that could be defined as post-human. Adaptive Volumes by Licia Galizia and Michelangelo Lupone represents a further step in this brief history, being systems able to evolve like living organisms. In the adaptive system responses to a stimulus cannot be entirely foretold and are no longer an apparently unlimited number, as in interaction. So what was suggested by the absence of complete visibility of the text in the interactive scenario is the constitutional element of the adaptive system. These are the characteristics that make Galizia’s and Lupone’s research an important example of the post-human scenario as both work, not on the construction of new symbolic forms of change, i.e. not creating formal synthesis that by analogy evoke new models of existence, but rather on instruments able to permit the aesthetic experience as change, hybridisation in act. In fact, according to the model of existence defined by Roberto Marchesini as post-human, the construction process of man, the anthropoiesis is dialogical and naturally tends to hybridisation, even encourages it and is able to use it. Consequently, culture is a creative non-equilibrium, with continually changing limits that facilitate the hybridisation process with other entities. Hybridisations almost always give rise to a completely new and unexpected function that emerges in the hybridisation performance.
Adaptive Volumes are vocationally hybridizing structures whose lack of form (or ‘Formless’ as George Bataille might have said) consists of a non-equilibrium, in that they are open and progressive structures. Plastic volumes that can change and above all, learn as a result of interaction with the public; volumes that produce sound according to the reaction of their materials, able to memorize and therefore set off processes not entirely dependent on the author, even though initiated by them. The work in these cases cannot be considered a definitive and final result, like the authoritative projection of the fixed, anthropological model or the rocky outpost that strives to resist tempestuous waters.
What, then, does the aesthetic experience become? The electronic and digital revolution have brought differing models of cognitive and aesthetic experience which at first glance might appear to recall the pre-humanistic, animistic components but in reality are experiences immersed in the reality of multiple relationships. For instance there is an indicative harmony between what Galizia and Lupone propose as an aesthetic experience and the interconnection that Howard Rheingold considered of wireless technology and mobile access to the network or in other words the emergence of a widespread form of intelligence such as that represented by the Smart Mobs: millions of people who use mobile communication instruments, sensitive to the position of an environment pervaded by computer elements.

The aesthetic experience proposed by Galizia and Lupone, similarly to Rheingold’s Smart Mobs re-designs the subject outside the limits of its body, in an interconnection that is similar to what Maurice Merleau-Ponty called ‘chair du monde’. The indefinable limits of this include various aspects that are already recognized in the creative praxis, no longer based on individual ability but on the collaboration between a visual artist and a musical composer; on the multiplicity of different scientific abilities; on their capacity to test the productive possibilities of disturbance and interference in their respective work as Galizia has already demonstrated in the project ‘Interference’; on the capacity of hybridisation between cultural heritage and sonorous sculpture as Lupone recently demonstrated with his Planofoni® in the fourteenth century lodge of Cardinal Bessarione in Rome.

Technology is not, therefore, one of an infinitely long list of new instruments with which to reaffirm old, stable forms to contemplate, but a logic that differs from the creativity and the perception that has its roots in the tradition of invention which has given light to humanism. Technology today allows the experimentation of a wider model of humanity through the organized and variable soldering of experience so even the ancient game of art with materials, forms and proportions takes on a more modern aspect of sensorial experimentation of new hybrid models of existence.