SC: Your work has been dealing with the various features of virtual reality, digital imaging and internet for years. When did you start thinking about these issues and how you got them involved in your artist’s work?
MM: Until 1994 I was a loser: I had no subject and I was doing the usual look it at a -magazine-art. Then, two things happened: I bought a laptop and I decided to stop with art. Before stop though, I made my first painting (the Sad Tree) and this canvas (actually 5 of them, all identical), put me in a new perspective. I decide that if I succeed so easily to paint, I had to represent an important subject (Goya has always been included in my models), so I start paint computer life. A year later, I discovered videogames and the www adventure (I registered www.manetas.com). I soon realized that I preferred watch my paintings on the web instead than look at the real thing and influenced by an Internet term, the word “mirror site”, I decided that I should start doing the same thing in many different plateaux: a multipersona, that illustrates different realities and not an exceptional identity such as Andy Warhol and Beuys weres. This is not a new discovery, Borges already previewed it, and I just decided to apply it. In Borges terms, I am a “viewer” more than an “artist” (he also consider himself more than a writer a reader). Also,I never considered art a “work”, but a portal to access the World. I don’t even believe that such a thing as an “artwork” exists, but I believe in special low resolution miracles. Therefore, I started to ignore my art carrier and employ all efforts to the web+multipersona building.
SC: Your words recall me what Marcel Broodthaers said once about the idea of inventing something “insincere” as a main point for his decision to become an artist. This stance describes well a typical paradox of contemporary art, where the modern equation between art and truth looses meaning. What would be your view about this particular issue?
MM: I don’t see anything “insincere’ because I don’t see anything ‘sincere’ either. In the game of representation, there has never been any “truth’”: it is all a build up of surface over surface, a cloth, a covering. There is not ‘naked body”, only an overdressed ghost.
SC: Do you think we could still stick on the conception that sees art as a fiction that enables us to grasp reality? Or art is rather what gives us a chance to put chaos in the apparent order of reality?
MM: The opposite: art is the only reality in a fictional World. To give you an example: I don’t believe that the World Trade Center ever collapsed; I was there, I saw the smoke, I went to see the empty space, but still that’s not enough to make me believe that the accident and even the towers before the accident were a “reality”. The artworks that I will paint instead and which will represent the accident, these are real. I know that this sound insane, so I must try to explain it betters. If you remember, we met only once and this was in a location in Chinatown from where the towers were visible. We met 5 days before the event and you offered me a cigarette, which I smoked looking at the towers and I actually noticed for the first time that they look impressive. Now, every time I must interact with you, I cannot resist to picture also the Towers. The mental set-up where you belong includes still the WTC even if the towers are not there. The smoke of the cigarette that you offered me has been more effective than the explosions of the Muslims. What appears as reality, is a combination of snapshots. Some of them are with WTC, some without. For reasons of social order, we pretend to recognize only a sample of each in a specific sequence. Who refuses to do that, is considered crazy. Art instead, is very rational; it builds just one frame. This is why you cannot trust art, because it is pure existential conformism.
SC: Then the world wide web can be seen as the “scene” where plays and lives a new type of individual, who experiments with the different parts of his or her self?
MM: The web is nothing more or less than the World has always been. Unvisited and unfriendly territories that one after the other, change to interior landscape. From the Alps to the Japanese garden: this is the scenario. Although, what in a Japanese garden may look as rocks and sand in a well arranged composition, is for a better-trained intellect, black holes and chaos. The Web came from this chaos, is a certain way, directly out of the Trojan Horse, described in Homer’s Iliad and now we are all again Ulysses lost in the ocean.
SC: A world where everyone, and especially the artist, can find his or her path… A happy place, similar to a mythical Flatland, where disorder, pain, death and all the usual troubles of the human kind seem banished?
MM: There is not a “human kind”. There is a working progress in different scenarios.
SC: You run one of the most complex and extensive artist's web sites on the internet. Along with a in-deep presentation of your works, it features texts, images and links on a wide range of topics and issues. What is the underlying project of your presence on the internet? Can you describe what are the different sections of your site?
MM: +Personal: (www.manetas.com - art, texts, life, biblio, links, beforethewar.com); +Social: (electronicorphanage.com, iamgonnacopy.com, worldplusplus.com,chelseaworld.com, whomadewhat.com, neen.org, aftervideogames.com, biennale.net, antonionegri.com, personofthemonth.com); +Third type: (jessusswimming.com, namingway.com, invisiblecube.com, newdalailama.com, domainpoets.com, biribiri.com). Think of it as Russian dolls, one inside the other, or three homocentric circles. The funny detail is that in their centre, there is nothing.
SC: In the Neen Manifesto, hosted on neen.org, you reflect upon concepts such as “computing”, “simulation”, “in-between”, “open source” to draw a new approach to both art and artist’s identity. What is in your views the relevance of multi-layered communication for contemporary social and cultural environment?
MM: Multi-layering is not a talent but a destiny. If you are great enough, you know how to get rid of layers and not how to build new ones. In these terms I am just another boring practitioner. But multi-layering is also very beautiful, actually it is multi-layering that animates what you call “cultural environment”. Therefore, people like me, as well as others in the past, (the Rembrands, Raphaels and Roubenses), they are just functions, not geniuses. Here is another detail: multilayer writers are given the penalty of blindness – think of Homer and Borges. Multilayer philosophers, the penalty of death – think of Socrates. Multilayer visual artists, they get tattoos: Beuys had a fragmented head, Warhol a gun-shoot cut in his stomach and I’ll have mine next week. It will be a large logo in my back displaying the word “never”, which in Italian translates to “mai”. It is an artwork by the Japanese artist, Mai Ueda. ( www.maiueda.com )
SC: Of course we have finally got rid of the excessive enthusiasm that surrounded the first appearances of the new digital media; interactivity
SC: Actually, there is always a “second degree” or ironic attitude both in your work and words; I am thinking for instance to that kind of irony that undermines the usual mechanism of “trial” and “reward” on which video games are based upon. In your work frustration and repetition happens to be the only possible issues, both in games and in the real world...
MM: It is just rapresentation. A tailor’s job…
SC: “Everything that can be copied must be free”. This statement appears on one of your sites (www.iamgonnacopy.com) where visitors are asked to answer a poll about it. You further develop the subject in a text where you addresses a serious critic to the “cultural slavery” in which we all are supposed to live. What kind of freedom, if any, would be the freedom to copy?
The copyright/intellectual property issue, is the most important political issue of our days. We have finally accepted a world build on ideas and if ideas become property, then there is no place for a free spirit. But we will hav much time to discuss about that for th rest of our lifes. I am gonna copy dot com and that’s only the beginning…