Antonello Tolve, Bianco-Valente’s emotional aestetics, 2011

An emotional geographical system, the aesthetical method adopted by Bianco-Valente breaks the schemes of classic cartography to turn out a thoughtful approach featuring a connecting, reactive and relational nature. The work of the two artists deforms and manipulates the cardinal points of the world (and, in some cases, also those of nature) to give life to mental environments, fluid structures which re-envelop things with a creative sap that runs along multidirectional paths, in turn swiftly dashing through an aptly designed sense-altering electronic map.

By producing a creative potion that shrinks and short-circuits reality, thus favouring a poetical approach which enhances the mental, Bianco-Valente transform a natural beauty into an artificial beauty (Hegel) which aims to charm the user with supremely light, apparently fragile and delicate visual abstractions.
From sociology to anthropology, from geology to an extended geography,from cognitive psychology to tout court technology, from literature to music, in order to end up at the unpredictability of history (Popper), at anthroposophy and mathematics, Bianco-Valente propose a language attitude that moves along the paths of different branches of knowledge in order to sketch out a maze of shapes and figures, of sounds and noises, of lights, shadows and semblances which tell about and decode spaces, places, occasions, vital passages and settings.

Engineers of a thought that bites its lip on logic in order to hurl the viewer into a fantastic and uncontaminated world, the duo sets up works aimed to reset life so as to investigate, with great elegance, the transparency of the stuff dreams are made of (Shakespeare).

Connections. Breaches which connect singular and plural. Actions of (barely believable) sustainable interaction. Joints between different sensitivities. Extensions of the mind (Rupert Sheldrake monitored and theorized, beforehand, the places and settings of the extended mind) and creative aggregations. B-V’s is a work in which the loss of a centre is counterbalanced by a sensorial galaxy where science and technique are mixed to give life to a decidedly slick, delicate and charming technological atlas of the marvellous.

Deep in My Mind (1997), Home, soft immaterial home (2000), Volatile (2001), Machine is Dreaming (2001), Unità minima di senso [Minimum Unit of Sense] (2002-2003), a unit which returns and later turns into a marvellous site-specific installation, created in 2007 for the small San Nicola square in Latronico, Basilicata. And then Jsr and Rem (2002), beautiful light boxes designed for the Neapolitan subway. But also Relational Domain (2005), Tempo universale [Universal Time] (2007), Materia Prima [Raw Material] (1994-2008) and the ever-evolving project Visibile Invisibile [Visible Invisible]. Or the latest recapitulation of Relational (2010) and the fascinating lightness of L'insostenibile calma del vento [The Unbearable Calmness of Wind], a captivating mélange of proairetic frequencies produced in real time and translated into sounds to convey an expression of the wind, with its adventures and wandering beyond time and history.

Following the general lines of the theory of interaction and connection, as proposed by Gregory Bateson in one of his most important works, Mind and Nature , and also going through the transformations which took place in the area of sociology systematised by American physicist Mark Buchanan in 2002, Bianco-Valente sketch up a visual schedule which blends stories, formulas connected to a new rhetoric of variation (Lévi-Strauss), shapes proposing the variety of senses, the consistent inclination of each work towards openness, towards going beyond, towards the becoming of societies and lifestyles.

Sensorial vibrations, language snags, imperceptible losses of meaning and estranging findings able to stimulate and delight the senses of the user. The works proposed by Bianco-Valente transform the physical dream into the metaphorical dream of art, allowing for oblique and ubiquitous scenarios, liquid interactions, post-organic visions and compositions, neo-physical analysis and time-spatial investigations which retune the perception of heterotopias, heterochronias (Foucault) and heterochromias bursting with references to the world of life and to what is not life.

AT: There’s a thread which connects your works, almost turning them into a single work in progress. A language path gradually moving from the thinking of a work up to the planning of the next creative campaign.

Personal growth is the thread you are talking about. Before knowing each other, and starting Bianco-Valente (and our life together), we had different plans for our futures (one of us being a geologist, the other a new language graduate), but the energy produced by love and our new life together completely changed the idea we had of ourselves, leading us to what we are now (and obviously what we hadn’t been before). Art is our personal form of permanent education, our way of life. The works show the evolution of how we relate to life and to other people.

AT: The spontaneous and the planned. How important are these opposite figures in your artistic practice?

The planning of the evolution of a project will generally include a flaw somewhere, and it is exactly in the difference of what one had foreseen and what actually happens that lies the fortuity of our work. The ability to accept this, and actually thoroughly exploit it in order to make the work more lively, is something one learns over time, and in the end does produce a nice feeling, making one smile while thinking about what did not happen.

AT: In your works – and I am specifically thinking of works like Home, soft immaterial home (2000), Volatile (2001), Slow Brain (2001), I Should Learn from You (2003) and Relational Domain (2006) – my feeling is that the video is not just a tout court footage, but always seems to relate to the space in which it is shown in order to highlight it or modify its internal order.

When planning a site-specific installation, we carry out an on-the-spot inspection, and generally try to ‘use’ our work not so much to alter the space as to highlight its peculiarities, the history of the people that had to do with it, and at times even its imperfections.

AT: To produce your works, you sometimes team up with technical specialists. I’m thinking of Mario Masullo aka Mass, to his genius (which I would like to remember here with you). Would you like to tell us about what promotes a collaboration and what this contributes to your output?

The way we work makes teamwork easy in a natural way, as we have in fact developed the ability to share all aspects of work. Our first collaborative effort goes back to 1998, and was with 24Grana, with whom we produced the video Welcome X. That was followed by collaborations with sound designers like Andrea Gabriele, with whom we still have a great personal and work relationship; then we met Mario, at a concert held at the Enoteca in Pescara, during the PEAM in 2003. We immediately felt a great affinity with his music, which lead to producing many videos and installations together.
Mario was sweet and rash at once, and was able to overcome moments of great tension with sudden huge smiles which immediately had everybody laughing. He was a person you had to love, and this is also confirmed by the many friends who still keep saying hello and leaving messages of love on his Facebook account. It hurts having to speak of him in the past tense, to think about all the projects we had planned and which we kept postponing, foolishly thinking we could always do them later (forgetting that, unfortunately, we are not immortal…).

AT: You are always painstakingly taking pictures of anything that piques your interest or curiosity. You photograph places, objects, friends, acquaintances, situations. What is your relationship with the camera?

In the last few years, we’ve been using the camera a lot when we meet friends or when travelling, especially to make portraits. Until around the end of the Nineties, we were doing the same, but using an analogue video camera. We used to extract single frames out of the footage, which resulted in pictures with a very low resolution but fascinating. Also in producing our works we had a similar path, again at the beginning using analogue devices almost exclusively, while now we also use a digital reflex, mainly to document installations.

AT: Let’s talk about the areas of perceptography and perceptology. In your technical, theoretical and artistic propositions, the mental product (an extended and expanded mind) and the natural one (always revisited and moulded according to viewings which give new meaning to things) always overlap, connect, agree, mix. The perception of reality is always altered – and, I would add, elegantly grounded – by a bipolar perception which puts mind and body on the same level. Would you like to expand on this aesthetic approach of yours?

The exploration on the body-mind duality is the core around which our work evolves and set itself apart. We are fascinated by the way in which in every person these two apparently antithetical areas can coexist and evolve.
The body needs the mind to move and interact with the reality outside; the mind seems to be no more than a mere expression of the body, but is able to give us the cognition of ourselves, the ability to imagine ourselves from outside, and, especially, it allows us to escape from the physical and chronological limitations of our organic part.
Many works by Bianco-Valente focus on the analysis of these processes of perception and definition of external reality, such as the changes in the electrical and biochemical states which enact our personal map of the world, the model of reality that we use to move around and interact with space and the other entities.

«We work on phenomena related to perception and cerebral processes which allow us to retain the memory of our experiences, to perceive mental images through which we set up an ever-evolving reproduction of the reality outside». This is what you wrote, a while ago, to define some of the main points of your work.

The relationship of the human being with external reality is not direct, but mediated by the image of reality we store in our mind and which is constantly updated by every new experience that confirms or contradicts the previous ones.
What makes this process interesting is that our mind is crossed by ephemeral images related to dreams, to altered states of consciousness, and to possible chemical dysfunctions of the brain, so that at times reality and imagination tend to blur one into the other, like in a game of reflections and distortions.
Thus, at times it can be interesting to try and penetrate, with one’s work, the space between reality, perception and imagination.

Art, science and advanced technology. This is a core trinity in all of your artistic output. How important are science and technology in general in your aesthetic excursions?

Art, science and technological progress evolve following similar patterns, in which intuition, perseverance, chance and error all play a major role. Many artists work with concoctions of art and science, and many others convey into their work their fascination with scientific progress.
The essential point is in the perspective from which one decides to investigate these processes. If science and technology as such are put at the centre of the work, there is a risk of producing art pieces which may be charming but doomed to become old quickly. If, instead, the main focus is man and his contradictions, with the progress of science in the background, then the work will reflect themes more connected to the universal rather than to a specific time.

It is sometimes possible to perceive that a work of yours may not only have been inspired by a direct relationship with everyday life, but also by some book. How important is literature in your art?

There are books which compel you to see things in a different way, especially right after having read them. This otherness compared to the ordinary can be the input for a new piece, and sometimes the book leaves a little quiet seed inside of you, a seed that will sprout when the right time comes.
Bateson’s Mind and Nature, for example, read almost at the same time of Buchanan’s Nexus, prompted us to produce Costellazione di me [Constellation of Me], while the video Sulla Pelle [On the Skin] was made after reading Anna Maria Ortese’s Il mare non bagna Napoli [The Bay Is Not Naples]. (We are mentioning only our latest works, otherwise the list would be long). Other readings, such as Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene trigger deeper reflections able to alter the way we see things and think out works.

The relationship involving urban knowledge, that of its places and territories, seems to be another essential factor in your work. What are the roles of the urban and the communitarian elements when tackling a city’s texture?

We love nature and feature it a lot in our works, especially grass, bushes and the sky, but we are city animals, of a strange species which has adapted to live in one of the trickiest places in the world. Naples’ old town, which we attend almost daily, is akin to a giant open-air sociological workshop, where the most extreme forms of coexistence take place: it’s dirty, it’s ugly, it’s nasty, but, for some strange reason which all Neapolitans feel, we cannot stay away from it for long.
The city was founded 2,500 years ago by Pythagoreans (and even today numbers are a popular way to look into events), in an area surrounded by the sea and two potentially destructive volcanic areas, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, so, potential energy in all its expressions is the city’s main trait.  

Some of your works are inspired by anthropological, sociological, geophysical explorations (this is the case of L'insostenibile calma del vento, 2010, which you set up for the event Interferenze. New arts festival). How important are these methodological approaches in your work?

For the 2010 edition of the Interferenze festival, we produced a computer-based sound installation focusing on the movement of winds, and the idea came right after our on-the-spot investigation in Bisaccia (the site of the 2010 edition of the festival), a small town in the Avellino area, often called the city of wind due to the particular orography.
L'insostenibile calma del vento collects, via the Internet, information in real time on the speed and direction of winds in various locations in the world, transforming the data in an ever-changing soundscape, which is distributed throughout the environment through a loudspeaker system with a subwoofer that can reproduce even frequencies that can be perceived as vibrations rather than actually heard.

What about Relational, an ever evolving work…

Since 2001, we have been experimenting, on ourselves, the theory of Aimed Solar Returns, as formulated by Ciro Discepolo in his books starting in the Seventies. This theory is based on a very old form of knowledge, halfway between Astronomy and Astrology, which has been passed on up to today. It involves a cycle which starts from each anniversary of our first cry as babies and ends one year after, when the Sun, seen from the Earth, returns to the same position in the sky. In that moment, our being is supposed to be ready to receive astral influences from the planets of the Solar System, according to their position in the sky above and below us. A new birth every year.
Ciro Discepolo’s take on this theory is that every year each of us should decide upon and reach a specific place on the globe where the symbols connected to the planets and their position are supposed to provide the best influence.
Leaving aside the validity of this symbol-based system (obviously dismissed as nonsense by scientists), the actual journey to reach each time a specific site, which you would have never imagined visiting and having an impact on your concept of time and existence, definitely has an impact on your growth as a person, giving you a new awareness and detachment from everyday’s ordinariness.
Over the years, we have thus developed the idea that events and people are connected to each other by the means of countless invisible ties, which we try to make visible through our installations.
One detail we tend not to reveal is that the initial layout of these relational networks is based on connecting the geographic coordinates of  some of the destinations of the trips we were talking about.
These installations built using electroluminescent wire have served as a basis for other works in which we connect people and their stories, weaving them into one work, as in the case of the project  Come il vento [Like the Wind], for the installation Costellazione di me, or, more recently, for the project Agli occhi di tutti [In Everyone’s Eyes], which we presented at the Museo Riso in Palermo.

In describing your work, the term emotional aesthetics is possibly more appropriate than relational aesthetics (Borriaud), in the sense that each of your projects fine tunes its visual formula along a path that aims at shocking the viewer’s senses, at first producing an estranging feeling, and, immediately after, an emotion which only later is perceived either as visual enchantment, audio wonder, and olfactory piece spreading into space…

As opposed to everyday life, which can be so ordinary and alienating, art would have all the reasons to astound, enrapture and inspire thought in its users – even the ones who didn’t read the press release.
The question is not about producing an aesthetically beautiful or not beautiful art piece, but about the opportunity of disclosing a first level of interpretation able to activate an exchange of emotions among people.

And concerning the viewer, how important is this additional figure in your artistic path?

To us, the viewer is not an additional element: the people who get in touch with the works become a part of them, and this is an essential aspect to bear in mind when planning an environmental installation.
In this sense, we are not interested in producing markedly interactive works, because if you reveal that the behaviour of people can produce changes on the work, you will be promoting an unnatural, even ridiculous behaviour in the people as they try to make out how to further influence the flow of events.

Materia prima [Raw material], 1994-2008, Adaptive (2007), the already mentioned Relational (the 2007 one), visibile invisibile (2009), are some of the works in which there is a strong sense of a geography remoulded according to methodological actions aimed at disrupting established horizons, revealing, among other things, the nexus (to say it with Buchanan, whom you recently alluded to in a piece for vm 21 arte contemporanea in Rome).

Geographical maps represent the order of places, islands and seas on Earth, but simply looking at them does not reveal much about the network of relationships and exchanges that connects them. This is one of the reasons for our interventions on geographical and nautical maps (at times imaginary, invented by us), something we do in order to add new levels of emotional and relational interpretation, to place on top of the regular representation of reality.

A recent work of yours, which you presented during Net Space, a project curated by Elena Giulia Rossi’s at the MAXXI, features a story which mixes natural and artificial history, something you do quite often in your works, and through which a artificialisation of the natural or, vice versa, a naturalisation of the artificial can be perceived. What is the importance of these two themes in your creative reflection?

What we define as artificial, branding it as something extraneous, is normally a product of man, a particular extension of the body or of the mind which always includes features typical of natural expressions. In addition to that, many scientific or technological discoveries have been made based on errors or faulty assessments, and error (together with the energy provided by the Sun) is the main source for the diversity of ecosystems.
The site-specific installation Convergenza evolutiva [Evolutionary Convergence], exhibited at the opening of the MAXXI Museum in Rome, consists of two parts: a web page where a generator system shows the birth and development of a false dichotomous ramification, according to a mathematical model used in nature by many tree types.
The second part consisted in applying this same model to hand-draw, using a white wax crayon, a huge ramification on the whole glass structure of the elevator connecting the two floors of the museum. This action obviously introduced errors in the development of the mathematical model, producing a fluctuation between natural and artificial.

In your work, verbal language is a place for reflection, a fine opening to a dialogue with image, at times a membrane of words which itself arranges the image, the artistic element, the installation.

: In the last few years we have produced different videos and installations connected with the word, especially focusing on the brain’s ability to arrange the shapeless flow of thoughts into a standard structure (language), in order to then verbalise it: [this can be seen in] the computer-based installation Breathless, the video Altered State, the installation Unità minima di senso [Minimum Unit of Sense], the videos Sulla pelle [On the Skin] and Entità risonante [Resounding Entity], to mention but a few. One of the latest installations is Costellazione di me, where with words we wrote/traced a series of fine lines to form a relational net on the walls and vaults of vm21’s art gallery in Rome. The project involved asking about eighty people we know to tell us the titles of the essays or novels most inspiring to their lives. To these titles, we added the ones which were more significant to us, and for each and all of these we transcribed a chapter on the gallery’s walls, each line representing one of the writings, the whole representing the great constellation of our friends, each with his/her own individuality, but all related to each other, even if only through Bianco-Valente.

: One last observation. Every work of yours seems to have a hidden aim in wanting to enchant the world, to cover it with an artistic veil which disrupts the territories of reason (the prearranged) in order to project the user into the territories of fantasy and imagination.

As we were saying before, what we define as reality is only a simulacrum concocted between the folds of the cerebral cortex, our personal map of the world. A game of endless reflections and cross-references between the inside and the outside. At times, the deforming or repositioning of these mirrors produces wonderful feelings, which we are no longer able to ascribe to reality or pure imagination.

R. Sheldrake, The sense of being stared at, Three Rives Press, New York 2003.
G. Bateson, Mind and Nature. A Necessary Unity, Bantam Books, Toronto 1980.
M. Buchanan, Nexus. Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks, W. W. Norton, New York 2002.
A. Tolve, Ubiquità. Arte e critica d'arte nell'epoca dell'informazione globale, in «Exibart On Paper», yr X, no. 71, January-February 2011, p. 35.
Taken from te book Geografia delle emozioni - Geography of Emotions, by Antonello Tolve, MMMAC publisher, 2011

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