Poetry in technology, the “spirit in the machine”, or the machine of the spirit. Ennio Bertrand found in technologies his “colours”, discovering how they could move in unison with his thoughts, and form the basis for his works.
Since the ‘80s, in parallel with the beginning of the ubiquity of the signals of an “electronic age”, he finds collaborations and international connections, becoming member of “Ars Technica” Association, born in Paris at Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, in the Parc de la Villette (incubator of seminal experiences in this field), with Piero Gilardi, with whom later founded the Arslab Committee, that will organize activities related to art, science and new media.
The pivot of his artistic activity moves precisely from media to technology, used to amplify the effects that their transformations have on social relationships and because they bring into play the perception of reality itself. They are central issues in art, as well as in social science, and they acquire a central role in the public debate.
Bertrand’s contribution is eclectic, using a combination of means and languages, simple and sophisticated, following heterogeneous stimuli.
In his Skies artificial lights blink, regularly distributed over velvet carpets, or over apparently “industrially rational” plates, with sequence of lights celebrating the beauty of chaos – or the infinite possible orders -, the mystery of time, or life itself (in the Sky of lemons, bio-installation, the LEDs switched on are the evidence of the light that nurtured the fruits themselves, “returned” to the work of art).
In the installations, we find the interaction as the protagonist: small objects or pure structures invite us to “evoke”, with simple gestures, the poetry, the theatre, the music hidden in them. Their fragments, shaken up by external intervention, acquire a new life, with different combination possibilities, or manifesting themselves in unusual and intriguing time-frames, or triggering unexpected processes.
And it is still with videos that the artist finds the opportunity to reflect on reality – thoughtful, deconstructed and revised. G8 in Genoa, the Twin Towers attack, the war in former Yugoslavia, Hiroshima’s bomb, historical nodal points, can be focal points, but also our ubiquitous presence, and our “representation”, due to the existence of technologies duplicating and transforming it, relaunching it in a virtual space.
The frequent application of interaction systems show a fascination for the power of the machine”, but also the interest of the artist in a not superficial solicitation of the public, in a “mediated” contact, describing in the meantime a visible sensitivity towards contemporary issues, understood and developed ahead of time, needing further developments.
Marco Aruga: The interaction is one of the keys to your work: is it a way to make a dialogue with your public, to discover their reactions, to stimulate their creativity…
Ennio Bertrand: Yes, as a matter of facts, obviously. But in my opinion, I use it to stimulate the reactions of the machine! The machine object, in a wider sense, is something that has to be stimulated: it can be the software, the object structuring the content… It’s my passion, my curiosity, my interest. To move the “engines”, to move the software, an application.
Then, of course, there’s the desire for contact, to discover the reaction of the public. I’m not much on talking with people, then maybe I talk with them for the interposed object.
Marco Aruga: Which are the themes and the possibilities that attracted you in the past, and which ones are attracting you now?
Ennio Bertrand: Years ago I worked a lot with digital photography, taking images from TV and television news. Disasters, those kinds of things – a bit Warholian, if we want to say it like this -. It felt like they were the only interesting things appearing that moment, in the social landscape I was living in.
At this moment I am more focused – I use an ambiguous term – on “playing with technology”, to extract something that can be interesting, always keeping in mind that the main thing is the content. The container, the technology, is a medium. A magic box, like the computer. Therefore, without interesting content, the work itself is not worth, or worth enough, or anyway, it is not long-lasting.
Marco Aruga: How did you see the development of the relationship between art and technology in these years?
Ennio Bertrand: It seems to me that there’s a big period of stasis, in all contemporary art, in particular in “not-technological” art, “classic” one, even if it is a bit weird term …
Technological art is the great absentee, we can say. At least there is not much interest by all, galleries, collectors. At the end of the ‘80s, until the mid-‘90s, there was a flash in the pan, it didn’t last long, not producing anything, not contributing to the development of this art.
Marco Aruga: It is a bit a paradox to see this technology so widespread in our everyday life, and its partial transposition in art …
Ennio Bertrand: Indeed! Talking about interaction, we are surrounded by interaction: from cash machine to mobile phone, to television, to remote control, to washing machine … there’s a huge deployment of interactivity. Strangely this aspect does not intervene in art, in artistic research. We can say that there’s great ignorance about computer and digital systems, even in the two Academies where I teach, in Bergamo and Torino, nevertheless, the students are “born digital” – as they say –.
Marco Aruga: You showed to believe in dialogue between artistic disciplines. Where do you see opportunities for development in that direction?
Ennio Bertrand: Certainly, why not? There will be development, what probably is missing is the content, what is being said. The artistic landscape, in very global, extended sense, for what concerns me is little enriching, little interesting. It seemed to me that there’s an extraordinary production of ornaments, as we say in Piedmontese ciapapuer (dust-catchers). One buys a sculpture, a painting, or what it is, hung on the wall, end of the story. Maybe it has been always like that. A meaning is missing, it is not easy to propose new things, a dialogue. Also to make research: as far as I’m concerned I feel a bit a fish out of the water, a bit lost in the desert.
Marco Aruga: Tell us about your actual research…
Ennio Bertrand: I resumed an old work that I made in 1996, the transmission through a laser beam of a Zen tale, talking about a distance. I am building a show, a theatrical performance, using laser beams to transmit the content of this monologue. There will be targets, symbolic objects of the tale (a ship, a tree, the sea, …), the beam pointed at these targets will transmit the fragment of the tale, regarding that moment.
Always with laser, I am working with my two former good students, and we are building a laser harp, three meters by one and a half frame, a huge thing. There are horizontal and vertical beams intercrossing, and interrupting this crossing a musical note is generated.
It is possible to make a little composition, moving your hand within these rays. The interesting thing is that the computer takes hold of the performed composition and reassembles it, self-producing it. Automatically continues it and reassembles it, through algorithms and defined rules.
So, there are mechanics, but the result is something progressive compared to the initial input, which was given by the user.