From Interaction to the Volumi adattivi. Observations on a story in progress.

by Franco Speroni (2014)

“We do not feel, it is the thing that is perceived overthere, we do not speak, it is the truth to speak at the end of the word”.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Il visibile e l’invisibile, 1964

Our cultural tradition has been more inclined to consider the symbolic forms rather than the socio-cultural processes which define them, and then to consider forms as axioms, as evident principles, rather than as media, i.e. devices that determine the territories in which we live and where we build relationships. As a consequence, a point of view based on the contrast between forms and world has been consolidated, this last considered as a chaotic and opaque rex extensa whose meaning is given by a form. The new digital platforms, based on interactivity, on the contrary, shift the experience from contemplation to immersion: we find the meaning no more gazing at the form, but sinking into the creative process. The socio-anthropological turn associated with the new operating systems is, in the field of aesthetics, the convergence between the Maker’s and the User’s act Licia Galizia and Michelangelo Lupone’s research on Volumi adattivi (Adaptive Volumes) grows inside this turning point. A research which finds its roots in the technology as social symbolic form of a creativity feeding itself with the relationship and hybridization between subjects, between organic and inorganic, user and environment, experimentation and tradition.
Technology, as a social symbolic form, is the real substance of Volumi adattivi (Adaptive Volumes) – that’s a main issue – because what typifies the work is its “constructing” in progress, not established once for all. Digital culture is the contemporary condition of a fluctuating and precarious being that we experience through mechanical, socially mediated behaviors, partly due to the way media are running. These automatic behaviors, creating the habit, lastly crystallize the media flow into a form, albeit only apparently: in fact the strengthened use of the media can be challenged by the reinvention of the medium which the art can do. The work of Galizia and Lupone follows the line of reinventing the medium .

The Renaissance culture has built in the West the image of a man moving in a neutral and empty space which took the place of an animistic space, such as the Medieval one. It was a necessary phase that let us consider the body as a machine. The human anatomy, through the drawing, has described a mechanism; it has transformed the body from a mysterious agglomeration into a reproducible and explainable artifact, even within a cosmological system made of correspondences. The body has become able to connect itself to the world, to experience and then to invent, that is to discover. However, in order to lead the Nature under man's control, this epistemological model has been based on analogical constructs according to the contrast between an ideal body and an empty world which acquired a meaning in so far as it was shaped up with a given steady bias of a man. The invention of the movable-type printing, the Gutenberg system, according to Marshall McLuhan, was the invention of a static device, what we call "the text", regarding to which the man moves, reads, interprets, attaches meanings. Writing, as other communication platforms such as painting or sculpture, as steady forms, have involved a point of view focused on the referential fixity of the use. On these epistemological models a posture has been confirmed, a brainframe from which the Gestalt theory of the form derives: the object is distinct and distant from the subject who is understanding it. The object results isolated within a concrete or a metaphorical frame.
Starting from the radio waves, the empty space has no longer got any sense and has been replaced by the image of a field of forces interacting each other.. The Cubists with their deconstrunction of Art and the Futurists with their perception realized this change, but the epistemological anthropocentric model is still dominating the critical issues, which assume the point of view of an hypothetical "Me", speaking for a vague "us", who can guess the reality and in so doing establishes the right order of values. So, rather than perceiving, in the field of forces, how much the frame lost its meaning all to the advantage of a performing attitude that, actually, has been gradually expanding the experience of the work of art up to the experience of the whole world, the critical issues did prefer to point out a linguistic specialization, aiming to investigate the art essence, in an ideological way. So, they can find this essence, into the two-dimension painting – as it happened with the critical approach of the “art autonomy”, an art self-sufficient from everything else in the world: or rather, specialized in its own difference from other artifacts.
Devices based on the interaction, a digital revolution result, have further shifted the aesthetic experience – as sensory cognitive process - on the immersion side, on the psychosomatic experience and then on the user active presence of his body, rather than on the humanistic contemplation and on the reading of the form. However, the humanistic model went well beyond the historical humanism because it had characterized the culture of the "homme litteré" (as defined by Derrick de Kerckhove). It is not the "literary man" (lettré) but the “literate” (litteré) that, according to de Kerckhove neologism, indicates the simply addicted to the alphabet man and, consequently, the one who interprets all his experiences on that perceptual/cognitive model, including those which are technologically very different.
Immersion takes place into a seemingly unlimited space which replaces the closed model of the text with the open one of the performance, but which, however, involves a finite set of possibilities. Before digital platforms, unlimited dimension of the immersion belonged to the metaphors, the neo-baroque allegory that had its roots in the metropolitan spectacle , as described by Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin. The immersion was in the continual challenges of the metropolis that Simmel read in advance, before the avant-garde synesthesia, and in the "sex appeal of the inorganic matter" which Benjamin recognized in the "substantially supersensitive" quality of the displayed goods, as defined by Marx in the first volume of Capital. A famous engraving of Grandville has drawn very well the argument, illustrating goods that come alive and escape from the windows of Parisian Passages, leaning to meet astonished passers-by. The inorganic interacted, in a richly imaginative way, with the organic and vice versa.
We properly speak of interaction when we refer to systems which respond in a deterministic way to the user action as a result of a program. In this case the user is facing a complex but finite organism. He has neither a sequential nor a transparent text to perceive, and therefore apparently unfinished, as for example an hypertext compared to which he has the freedom of movement that occurs in any case within an established set of concrete possibilities. This is the passage from the analog system of correspondences to the digital one of interactive connections that allows us to experience a dense space to live performatively through our actions. A space, therefore, that is no longer still but which moves and comes towards us, as it was - from a spectacular and allegoric point of view - for the TV picture, acoustic-tactile rather than abstract-visual (I again resume McLuhan). The process initiated by the metropolis, which brings together baroque metamorphosis, partial objects and surrealist shifts of sense, starts a significant redefinition of the subjects, acting directly on the human cognitive processes, in a way that can already be perceived as post –human but which preserves, almost unchanged in substance even if not in appearance, the distinct roles of the author and the user: the text rules, the relationship between an "me" which speaks in the name of "us" and an us that, as a consequence, recognises itself in that text . This is the centrality of the "direction". The role of the social actors, author and public, maintains the same relationship of power, even within a significant variation compared to the stability of the written text as well as its ability to circumscribe a shared imaginary.
Within this briefly outlined story, the Volumi adattivi (Adaptive Volumes) by Licia Galizia and Michelangelo Lupone represents a significant step forward, since they are systems able to evolve like any other living organism. There is no more a limited number of reactions, although invisible, to the stimulus, as it happens in the interaction, but these responses of the adaptive system are not at all or at least partially predictable. For this reason we can speak of adaptivity, i.e. an elastic evolution which corresponds to the habitat changes. Consequently, the works are devices characterized by:
1) the ability of remote communication, so that one work becomes witness of the other;

2) the use of changing materials, influenced in color and form, able to extend and shrink as well as to transform the light;
3) the ability of the works to “feed” from the environment through the endowment of a senses range which allows them to observe, listen and perceive the world around them, in particular, the changes of light and forms, the presence of perfumes and fragrances, as if they had eyes, ears, nose and touch.
It seems to relive, through the digital culture, the execution of the Futurist Manifesto of tactilism (1921) where, among other things, Marinetti wrote that the tactilism would have allowed us to discover other senses than those we already know, namely another perception beyond the habits. However, now, despite the similarity, the Futurist hyper-subject expansion is not so much decisive as the replacement of the subject in a connected and active habitat and, as a consequence, even the object-work becomes a model for a different operating way in a system that grows not for "evolution" but for "devolution". This different development pattern, through devolution rather than evolution, as indicated by Roberto Marchesini as typical of the post-humanism, is substantial: "If evolution is a seek of harmony and balance between the roles in a unitary and unifying shield, devolution is an emphasis on differences, making them emerge as separate entities. Devolution involves an exchange with the environment which does not occur by assimilation but by adaptations which, in fact, produce new forms of life.
In other words, if the Futurist reconstruction wanted to be the new style of the modern world, the adaptive devices of Galizia and Lupone do not build a style but allow processes through systems designed to make a different way of being and operating. The difference between an evolution or devolution growth, therefore, well explains the matter of Volumi Adattativi (Adaptive Volumes). According to the evolutive model, individual tends to assimilate the habitat according to a self-poiesis which deploys its own inherent qualities to acquire internal cohesion and to clean external alterities of what is not ontologically compatible, in order to use them as a self construction material. Thus the subject increases in volume, purifying itself simultaneously, becoming a self-sufficient autarchic subject. The same applies to those objects issuing from the subject, in particular the works of art for their value as model.
On the contrary, according to the devolution perspective, subjectivity does not deploy but dispels and does not consist but displaces in several locations. It follows a multividual identity which does not seek individual cohesion but co-evolutionary integration with otherness, accepting to be defined in a path of contamination. As Marchesini analysis on posthuman contains sociological metaphors characteristic of glocalism, so the works of Galizia and Lupone are the result of a sensibility and therefore of an experimental aesthetic research which defines its identity in the convergence of the differences more than in the advanced synthesis of the forms.
The result is a very interesting correspondence between the work understood as an adaptive device and the subject considered as multividual . The multividual, in the case of Galizia and Lupone, is a sound volume which conveys the dispersive fragmentation through visible and auditive devolutive connections that we perceive in volumes. And this is a significant difference compared to more extended practices of Fluxus origin.
In the almost indefinable multiplicity of Fluxus solutions, we have above all perceived the art of indeterminacy, that is an attitude of possible. The strong emphasis put on the dissipative force was necessary for the liberation of the form as deductive synthesis, result of a project developped by the model of assimilation made by the subject towards his surroundings and returned to contemplation as work of art.
In Volumi adattivi (Adaptive Volumes), on the contrary, there is a "solid" presence which occurs for ever changing adaptive capacity. The flow becomes shape and sound without, however, freezing the flow in a rigid and permanent model, so impenetrable to other stimuli.
Consequently, what in the interaction was only suggested by the complete lack of visibility of the text - so the user acted in a determined context even if apparently it did not seem to be - in the adaptive system, instead, the indetermination is constitutional. These are the characteristics which make Galizia and Lupone search an important example of the not well defined post-human background; they both do not work on the construction of new symbolic forms of change, that is they do not create formal synthesis which evoke new models of existence from analogy, rather they produce devices that enable the aesthetic experience as mutation act in progress, as hybridization. In fact, according to the Marchesini post-human model definition, culture is a creative non-balance, a continuous shift of limit which facilitates the hybridation processes with various types of otherness. Moreover hybridations cause, almost always, an entirely new and unexpected performance which is realized in the hybridizing performance. Within this interpretation, the possible implosive results of the creative act are actually to be considerd a "natural creative non-balance" of the ever working construction process of the humanity model, a process which is therefore not predictable.
Volumi adattivi (Adaptive Volumes) are vocationally hybridizing structures whose "a-formality" (or "formless" as probably George Bataille would have said) is a non-balance as open and proceeding structures.
It is easy to distinguish the matter form the form if we look at one single object, argued Bataille, if we practice a violent abstraction from the complexity of the reality experience that is always offered as a complex connection. All forms of idealism derive from this abstraction which separates singleness from that set of relationships that, instead, are problematically part of it. The low materialism, i.e. the materialism that gets rid of its idealistic component, is an operating model rather than a concept which looks at the participatory devolution of beings in their various forms of existence. For this reason, together with the development of devolution, the low materialism is another feature that helps to understand the nature of the Volumi adattivi (Adaptive Volumes).
Plastic volumes which may change - and especially learn – as a result of the public intervention, volumes producing sounds according to the reaction of their materials which can memorize and then start processes not entirely managed by the author, even if triggered by him. Works that are able to "nourish", as already mentioned, from the environment through their sensorial detectors that allow them to observe, listen and perceive the world around them. Hybrid natures, without continuity between essence and artificiality.
It is no longer just the subject who looks, touches and interacts but it is the feedback which causes a mutual and different growth of organic and inorganic together. The work, in such cases, is not considered the final term, as an authoritative projection of a fixed anthropological model which opposes, as a rocky island, to a chaotic sea.
Then, what does the aesthetic experience become? The digital revolution entails different models of cognitive and aesthetic experience which seem even to retrieve the animistic pre-humanistic components, at least as regards the ability of “immersing” which here, however, does not include the subjectivity in transcendence but which expresses it in its immanent devolution. For example, there is an harmony between what is proposed by Galizia and Lupone and the interconnection that Howard Rheingold considered about wireless technology and the mobile access to the web, that is the birth of a widespread intelligence like the one represented by Smart Mobs: millions of people who use mobile communication devices which are position sensitive in environments filled by computer elements. The aesthetic experience activated by Galizia and Lupone, such as Reinghold Smart Mobs, "redraws" the subject beyond his body limits in an interconnection which is more like what Maurice Merleau-Ponty called "flesh of the world". The indefinable outlines of this flesh include various aspects that we might recognize even in the creative work based no more on individual but on the cooperation between a visual artist and a composer, as well as on the multiplicity of scientific competences required, but also in their respective work ability of testing the productive possibilities of the noise and the interference - as Galizia has already tested in the Interference project - or the hybridization ability between cultural assets and sound sculptures - as Lupone realized, among other things, in the fifteenth century cottage of Cardinal Bessarione in Rome, with his Olofoni (Holophones). All aesthetic experiences which make perceivable the intensity, which is the specific dimension where things, that are unstackable/unmodular, meet each other.
Technology, therefore, is not just another new tool by which reiterating old stable forms we have to contemplate, but it is a different logic of creativity and reception that has its roots in that tradition of invention which has also given rise to humanism but now allows to experience a broader pattern of humanity. This happens through the experience of organized and changing connections between more entities, so that, even the ancient game of arts with materials, shapes and proportions, takes the most current feature of sensory testing of new hybrid models of existence.

Franco Speroni