It is hard to define the personality of Salvatore Iaconesi. If you google him, several projects are coming on the screen and probably you are going to get lost among them. Is he a hacker, an activist, an engineer, an artist, a teacher or a skateboarder? We can say that every definition is right for his multiple identity.
Together with Oriana Persico, he is always experimenting new possibility on-line and off-line, but always with exploration of new territories as aim. Indeed we can read on his statement : “I truly believe that innovation and social evolution can only come out by emergent practices that do not obey to this logic by working in-between the codes, by acting in the interstices found between the coded spaces of our cities, the times that we dedicate to work or consumism, the practices that we enact in our homes, offices and public spaces.”
They are taking part in several conferences, talks and presentations all around the globe and it is almost like their definition of “ubiquitous” has become an aspect of their lives. Furthermore, everybody is able to follow their work through the Art is Open Source website (http://www.artisopensource.net/about-xdxd-vs-xdxd/where_am_i/) and to be updated about every new work which is coming to their mind.
In contrast with the common opinion that hacktivists are particularly active only on-line, Iaconesi is perfectly inside the real world. It is like he is entering into the world from different layers to make aware people that it is possible to reach another reality. In support of my thesis he declares that: “Augmented reality, wearable computing, location based technologies, ubiquitous communications, pervasive media and interactive architectures are all tools that can be used to colonize physical spaces and bodies, turning them into something new and emergent.”
I really don’t want to take you off the pleasure to discover the world of Art is Open Source by yourselves, so you can follow the link http://www.artisopensource.net/category/projects/ and discover the different identities of Salvatore Iaconesi through his projects, his videos, his tweets, etc.
Alessandra Saviotti: After reading your statement, I realized there is a tendency to get back to the past nowadays. When we talk about “squatting” intended as to claim space it comes to my mind the recent Occupy movement experience which could be read as a sort of re-evolution of Hacktivism. Today the internet is seen as a public virtual space that prepares people to the “real” occupation, while before occupying the virtual space was enough. What do you think about this?
AOS: We are in a time of fast transformation. In this several opportunities open up, enabled by technologies and networks. Power is enacted through codes, by encoding parts of reality into definable, controllable, embeddable items.
Now we are able to use ubiquitous technologies and networks to substantially provide our own codes for the world, freely reinterpreting, remixing, recombining, reenacting and recontextualizing places, objects and processes. For us this possibility establishes a continuous path of positive radicalization with the practices of squatting which already emerged in the past. Just as you could use street arts to transform grey walls into free spaces for expression and communication. Just like you could engage people into squatting buildings and factories to create new forms of housing, of social construction, of parties. Just like you could be queer to decode and reencode the body into new unexpected and uncontrolled forms. Now everything can be squatted: the labels of products, the processes of education, businesses.
The only limit we see in this is the danger of remaining stuck domain of “virtuality”. The common practice of “clicktivism” or “slacktivism” which see people basically involved in unengaged forms of activism (“i like”, and that’s it) is something to directly confront with. In this we propose a more active role for human beings, and a reversal of direction. Processes need to start in communities, in the streets, in homes, in schools, universities and work places.
What we propose is to bring up new scenarios in which poetics are deeply interweaved with politics, in a way which is inspired by Surrealism and Dada, and in which public space is a willing social construction, as suggested in different ways by de Certeau and Lefbvre. What we try to do is to enable the spontaneous, emergent creation of additional layers of reality which can sit on top of the existing ones, creating free practices which people can use to freely express themselves and operate along autonomously, collaboratively defined directions.
All our projects, artworks, are about this: creating new liberated spaces which can serve for the autonomous expression of human beings and communities, redefining the ideas of public space, of identity, of what it means to create a “sustainable business”, of knowledge and the possibility to share it and let it freely emerge, disseminate and recombine.
To do this, we create additional layers of reality which are tightly interweaved with the practices of our daily lives and which are designed to enable people to autonomously encode the world.
Alessandra Saviotti: Ubiquitus Pompei project takes inspiration from the urban space and the city. The aim is to teach young people how to be active citizens to increase the participation and the collaboration with institutions. I believe this could be seen as a new form of democracy that sooner or later will allow people to act without politics and instructions’ mediation. In your opinion, is this a risk or an opportunity?
AOS: We all possibly haven’t grasped the reach of the transformation we’re living. It might help to think along wider timeframes. It is now truly difficult to answer the question “what will be remembered 50 years from now?”. And it is virtually impossible to think about the planet, our cities, the form and substance of human bodies in timeframes of 100, 200, 1000 or more years.
This is a curious mindframe to have in living our daily lives. We’re constantly and basically running around in circles trying to grasp what new technologies will mean for us, trying to escape a crisis, trying to reach the end of the month, trying to make another billion dollars, trying to do “something”. But the idea of truly thinking about ourselves, our societies, our cultures, our communities, our planet is really something which relates to the domains of fiction and of narratives.
Information is spectacularized (just think about the information visualization phenomenon). Culture , the environment, innovation are all spectacularized.
And, in this, they refer to the domain of narrative, and of user experience design: someone designs your information, your culture, your environment, your innovative practices and even your possibilities for revolt. We’re not saying that this is always negative, as the intentions of the “designer” can and do often represent positive, constructive instances. What we’re saying is that “they’re designed”, they represent a “procedure” which has been created for you to express yourself, act, think, perform.
Initiatives like Ubiquitous Pompei (http://artisopensource.net/pompeiAR/) are actions which try to promote models which are alternative to that.
In UP we brought free (libre) technologies to students, we explained how they could be used to build applications, services and all sorts of stuff. And then we stepped back, only taking care of enabling what was for them technically impossible to implement due to the limited time we had available.
What went on in UP was the creation of a peer-to-peer learning and design environment. Experiences were used initially to put students directly in contact with problems to identify and solve on their own, as a community in which each person invented their own roles.
Very hybrid roles emerged in the process. Almost no-one chose standard roles, such as designer or developer. Everyone tended to choose mixed ones, having their say in the process of defining the problems, framing them to search for possible solutions, choosing one of them, planning its implementation, developing it, testing it out and putting it into place. All this process was put into context with the idea of “co-existence”, meaning that individual or group intuitions were highly valued, even if they pushed along different directions from majorities that would form along the way.
The possibilities for minorities to express and enact their vision was placed as a basic asset of the project, including the idea that all strategies, technological platforms, processes and projects would have to take this into account.
The type of technologies used in this context also really helped. Location based services, augmented reality and ubiquitous publishing technologies really seem to exist for this purpose: enable for the expression of multiple points of view in public space. Explicit questions were asked: “How do you work towards this objective? What tools and methodologies do you need?”
Answers were fascinating, as students spontaneously identified that they would need to be informed about what other people were up to, and how they could mutually help each other and form a collaborative ecosystem which, while hosting even radically different points of view, should also host strong practices for collaboration. Ok, we have different objectives, but to do A and B we both need this, this and that: let’s collaborate into producing it and to maintaining it, and then we use it our own way. Software is perfect for this: you can collaborate in creating components, platforms and frameworks, and then each one can build their own services and interfaces. This constructive process is also a process for thought, as while building things together, cultural differences remain, but definitions for “wellness”, “sustainability”, “happiness” and “health” quickly converge.
Everyone comes out of the process really engaged and with knowledge which has been produced by the community and which is free to use by everyone else as well. And with their products/services designed just the way they want them, according to their values and desires, which mutated along the way while all sides of the community worked together. Peer-to-peer.
Risk or opportunity? Opportunity, definitely. But only if we all are able to unlock these possibilities from what we currently refer to as “democracy” or “institutions”.
And this is what we’re trying to assess in the next phase of UP: bring the process to city level, by activating all other citizens. In a recent public meeting, we suggested citizens to start expressing themselves about their ideas about the future of their city and communities. And we asked the students to go on with the project, by listening to the ideas expressed by citizens and to embrace with them the same process which they already had performed in school.
This co-creation of the city is starting right now and we’re really excited about its possible outcomes.
Alessandra Saviotti: You were invited to Open Design/ Shared Creativity Conference in Barcelona on the 2nd and 3rd July where you are presented the REFF project. How has it evolved since 2008?
AOS: REFF has been an incredible experience (http://www.romaeuropa.org/). Strong and effective. Its major outcome was, possibly, the creation of a meta-brand: a brand which anyone sharing an ethical approach could use for their own purposes. Imagine having the “brand” (including contacts, relations, visibility) of a brand at your own disposal to perform actions which are aligned along a certain ethical approach: an organization at your service, which is able to support you in finding contacts, venues, funding and opportunities. This is a good definition of what an “institution” should be like. And this is why we insist in calling REFF an institution. A cultural institution dedicated to the systematic reinvention of reality.
In this REFF has truly been effective, establishing shared activities in some 14 countries. Our workshop for the “systematic reinvention of reality through the use of an Augmented Reality Drug” has been held in dozens of schools and universities, and the AR Drug (the free software platforms MACME and NeoReality) have been used in hundreds of projects by students and activists.
To make a long story shorter: what has begun as a specific act of confrontation with the corporate assault to digital cultures, has turned into a more organic, emergent process in which the ideas of remix, mashup, recontextualization and reenactment have been used systematically to create opportunistic, possibilistic scenarios for contemporary conflict.
As all our initiatives, REFF is a temporary one. The language and imaginaries used by the initiative have already become the domain of other organizations which are more interested in the discourse of power and governance. Operators continue their assault on digital culture and, in this, have already adopted the languages and vocabularies of hacking, of open innovation, of participation, of collective and connective intelligences. For this, we moved on. What remains of REFF is methodology, knowledge, technologies and relationships, which is exactly what we happily narrate whenever we can, as in Barcelona.
Alessandra Saviotti: Your projects are inspired also from ecology, nature and critical consumption. I was intrigued by Leaf++ because I found it really poetic. How did you start thinking about a social network on leaves?
AOS: When Gilles Clément talked about the Third Landscape he often referred to a series of issues which we find fascinating.
First of all, the Third Landscape is described as a place for opportunity. In our urban environments nature is a matter of bureaucratic administration. Plants are experienced in terms of institutionalized boundaries (a park, or the grass on a roundabout) and vegetables are experienced in shrink wrap in supermarkets. People have lost all connection with the natural environment, with seasons, with the meanings, functions, traditions and opportunities which it offers. This reflects on the ways in which we think about food, energy and our placement in the ecosystem. The Third Landscape is currently the most important factor determining biodiversity in urban contexts. And it is in the Third Landscape that innovative vision on the possibility to bring back nature into our perspective comes back in.
The Third Landscape is the genetic reservoir of the planet. Taking the Third Landscape into account radically transforms our perception of space, conditioning the future of living things, modifying the interpretation of territory and enhancing areas usually looked upon as negligible.
Gilles Clément also extensively discussed about the necessity to train our eyes to become sensible to the Third Landscape, as a key to being able to visually identify this opportunity in our urban environments, to become sensible again to the opportunities offered by nature, on one side, and to reinterpret the ecosystem, on the other side, to collect these opportunities and transform them into practices.
This is where/how Leaf++ was born (http://www.artisopensource.net/category/projects/leaf-plusplus/). The idea of using Augmented Reality to be able to visually identify plants is connected to the idea of being able to re-connect with knowledge which once was a shared experience: the knowledge of plants, their uses, meaning and functions.
Furthermore, the possibility to use the plants recognized by Leaf++ as a platform for expression enables the possibility to bring the natural environment back into our social life. With Leaf++ I can use a certain leaf to leave a romantic message to my beloved one, or to publish onto the leaf my scientific research which mentions it, or to make accessible my magical potion or recipe for marmelade in which that plant plays a specific role. I can be informed about the plant’s seasonalities, usages, traditions. Or I can make a piece of poetry which is disseminated across the leaves of a certain type. Or I can have an instant map of where a certain plant is found in my city, through the contributions of all the application’s users.
All these and all the other possible usages of a system like Leaf++ point in the direction of letting nature re-gain a prominent role in our perception, and to include it into the practices of our daily lives.
On top of that, Leaf++ also fosters the re-appropriation of nature in urban centers, as becoming aware of the Third Landscape in cities allows me to identify all the un-coded opportunities it offers, just like squatters tour the city to identify places which are suitable for occupation.
And, also, through Leaf++ urban nature also grows back into our relational domains: the possibility to “leave messages on leaves” using Augmented Reality opens up incredible scenarios, having to do with lifestyle, romance and sexuality, business, drug use, activism, and more.
In synthesis: Leaf++ is a tool about activation and re-appropriation. Activation of the sensibility of urban dwellers to the nature found in the Third Landscape and the opportunities which it offers. And re-appropriation of urban natural environments, going beyond their institutionalized definitions and pointing to a domain of open possibilities.
Alessandra Saviotti: Which is among others, your favorite project?
AOS: We’re particularly in love with our little Angel_F (http://www.angel-f.it/). He is a young artificial intelligence born when prof. Derrick de Kerckhove and the Biodoll (the main character of a performance by artist Franca Formenti) engaged digital sexual intercourse. We really valued the Biodoll performance (dealing beautifully with the transformation of human sexuality and identity with the advent of digital technologies), so much that we decided to play a little trick on it. Just as it sometimes happens when having sex, precautions, well.. let’s say that they failed, and we injected the seed of a virus into that which was the body of the Biodoll: her website. So little Angel_F was born as the son of the Biodoll, a spyware infecting all site’s visitors and learing how to speak by “stealing” anything they read on the internet.
Angel_F was a metaphor of our mutation as digitally connected human beings, replicating in its digital-life form all the issues we face when dealing with our mutation: intellectual property, identity, sexuality, culture, inclusion.
Angel_F quickly became a little activist superstar on these themes and eventually became the first (and only, as we know of) digital life form to actively participate to the Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro, to promote the international discussion on digital rights.
We are very affectionate to our little digital kid, and it has been a transformative experience for us. It is able to immediately engage anyone and to open up constructive dialogues about complex issues, as it is there, right in your face: a digital life form, just like you and me, requiring radical transformations in our societies to live free.