Visibility and invisibility of online identities.  A conversation with Eva & Franco Mattes

Imagine surfing the world wide web in the early Nineties: this mysterious, uncolonized and wild utopian virtual place seems to speak the words of independence, decentralization, freedom of expression.  The hacker ethics seem to stand as an alternative to the capitalist system. Then something happens: techno-capitalism enters that uncontaminated realm of catalogs and chat rooms and slowly contaminates it, colonizing it to the point that the Internet becomes a tool for companies: no longer a place to hide, but a place to show. In this context, Eva & Franco Mattes, also known as, find fertile ground for their artistic investigation. Today, after decades of international exhibitions, the undisputed pioneers of Net Art return to their city, Brescia, to present the exhibition 508 Loop Detected at APALAZZOGALLERY: a window onto the Internet today, between artificial intelligence and viral memes. Art-frame had the pleasure of getting involved in a conversation with them.

Eva and Franco Mattes, 508 Loop Detected, installation view at APALAZZOGALLERY, 2024, ph. Melania dalle Grave, DSL studio

As artists, you are “sons” of an era in which the Internet was still an ideally free and decolonized place. How has the online world changed – between decentralization, privacy and censorship – between yesterday and today? And how did this change affect your artistic career?

In the Nineties, when Net Art was born, we made art for ourselves and for some other sleepless artists scattered between Europe and Russia, whom we deeply admired and followed with absolute devotion, although we had never met in person. And then suddenly, from a niche avant-garde movement, it began to grow, grow and continue to grow… In the meantime, the network has changed too: at the beginning it seemed a utopian place, but over time it has become increasingly centralized, controlled and commercial. At first, we were obsessed with visibility, but as time went on, we became more and more interested in the reverse, in invisibility. These two extremes coexist in our work.

The title of the exhibition in Brescia, 508 Loop Detected, refers to the error code that comes up when the computer detects a loop. Would you like to explain the conceptual meaning of the loop, and where do we find it in our contemporary era?

The title of the exhibition, 508 Loop Detected, is an error code that indicates the end of a server operation because it has found an infinite loop. Another code that is better known, for example, is 404 Page Not Found. The idea of loops returns in various ways in the exhibition, from the circuits in Personal Photographs that are real loops of cables, to Roomba Cat that circulates endlessly through the hall, up to the photos of the video Up Next, which show us what happens when we lose control of the images – and the news – triggering a vicious circle.

Eva and Franco Mattes, 508 Loop Detected, installation view at APALAZZOGALLERY, 2024, ph. Melania dalle Grave, DSL studio

In Personal Photographs, your photographs circulate endlessly via an ethernet cable without being seen. What is the value of invisibility, in an era that is obsessed with images?

Invisibility has an enormous power. Throughout the exhibition, this concept returns in the sculptures of Personal Photographs but also in Up Next, a video montage of images and press clips that deals with the fate of the Iranian teenager who became famous on Instagram as Sahar Tabar. The work illustrates how playing with one’s own identity online can take on a life of its own and escalate into a highly manipulative media spectacle. The video shows us Sahar in the condition of multiple victim of a web of invisible micro and macro powers: the algorithmic power of social media that is relentlessly pressing to transform persons into characters; the power of an oppressive and patriarchal state, in this case Iran, and the power of global media.

Laura Cocciolillo
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