Getting too close to art: An email conversation between Les Liens Invisibles and Luis Silva

Luis Silva: So, how close did you get to Duchamp’s bicycle?

LLI: Too much I think. With the ambiguous title Too close to Duchamp’s bicycle — one of our last small pieces — we wanted to suggest our poetical proximity with Duchamp’s conceptual approach, but, at the same time, the necessity to find a way out of that complacent mannerism often abused in many contemporary art practices.

In what way is your work (for instance subvertr or A Fake is a Fake) close to Duchamp’s conceptual approach? And in a time where every artist proclaims his or her closeness to Duchamp, what is the relevance of such a statement?

Duchamp has influenced net art as well as all contemporary art, but I don’t think there is a strict connection between that kind of approach and the one ofsubvertr or A Fake is a Fake(FIAF). The detournement of popular web services like flickr or word press, is a practice that involves both a conceptual and a pop approach. Regarding your second question, I think that relevance is not so important in our statement. Words are like a funny playground: you can have a lot of fun with them, but, in times of semiotic saturation and media proliferation, you shouldn’t give words too much importance, especially if we are the ones who spoke them.

The conceptual approach is self evident, but I got really curious as to what you mean by a “pop approach” in works likesubvertr or fiaf. Is this notion of pop a reference to the pop culture as we know it in the early 21st century (a certain MTV generation, if you wish…) or to pop as the movement in the field of visual art, that to a certain extent reacted against more conceptual (and cryptic) approaches to art making? Can conceptual and pop coexist in one of your pieces?

As the Pop Art movement came out from the massification produced by rising visual commodities and the popular mass culture, we think that our approach to the newest media homologation sources like social networks and tagging process is quite similar: used to work with brands and style of the image society, we manipulate web 2.0 symbols and imagery isolated from their original context. This attitude is most evident insubvertr where we encourage our users to embrace this practice in first person.

Anyway, beyond this playful and glossy appearance our works want to be a vehicle for conceptual messages — this is what we mean when we talk about invisible links. Peking 2008 can be considered an example of the exact bipartition of these two components: behind the hijacking of the event’s popular brand and the rising mediatic context of the Tibetan repression, a pixel advertising system offer allowing everyone to buy visibility: a manifest criticism of the attention economy.

subvertr is a very interesting example, when you encourage users to interact with it (whatever that means…) you are encouraging them to do the exact same thing as if they were using flickr, so the process is exactly the same, it is the underlying concept of subversion that changes. Could one say that there’s no difference between flickr and subvertr? That they are one and the same thing and that it is the use one makes of it that makes the difference? To me, it seems like such a great wake-up call, you know, returning agency back into the hands of the user, the individual… which is in a way, the case of A fake is a fake

Of course, using flickr is not different from using subvertr, from a strictly practical point of view. So if you already have used flickr before you can find a seeming familiarity with the application and its workflow.

Besides this undeniable advantage of usability copying, this kind of detournement makes self-evident the different goal behind: while many people still think that user generated contents are going to build up a huge global networked mind, with the practice subvertagging instead of usual tagging you can realize that this so-called global mind is not a sum of all human intelligence at all, but its least common multiple, a global flattening trend where an homologation needing prevails against individual imaginaries.

In the same way, A Fake is a Fake is born from the disillusion of the nano-publishing revolution. Detourning one of the most famous blogging platforms - the Word Press platform - AFIAF wants to be the ironical answer to the visibility needing of the small blogs, where independent contents have difficulty to come out.

Detournement is an expression you utilize very frequently. Is it a key element for defining and understanding your work? And can there be work by Les Liens Invisibles outside of such strategy?

Cut&Paste techniques are very common in digital/remix cultures. The reappropriation of logos, symbols, pictures and videos taken from the web (or from any other medium) is a funny and joyful activity. We often utilize the expression detournement just because we want to stress the political implication of the process of manipulation. I mean, it’s not just art for art’s sake but a kind of reaction against the violence of the hyper-representation of the real.

Of course, outside the detournement strategy there are many approaches and techniques we like to play with too, and that’s why, as you noticed, some of our works (Too close to Duchamp’s bicycle or Neverending Happy End) look very different from other ones.

One of the most obvious remarks one can make when paying attention to your work is that you can be easily affiliated to a critical/political discourse towards the medium you explore and from there to society in general. Do you consider yourselves activists? Why?

Well, it all depends on what you mean with activism: activism is a complex body of practices and, in recent times, due to the exponential pervasion of technology, there has been a lot of attention to its new forms of recombination with art and technology (e.g. artivism, hacktivism, media-activism). We like to cross the borderlines between art, politics and technologies but even if, as you say, in our works the critical/political component is fundamental, we generally don’t consider ourselves activists. We play with any kind of representation of the real taken from mainstream contexts in order to shift meanings and to ridicule the aura of media. People tend to give too much importance to media and their representations of the real. This is why we do not consider ourselves activists: we just work with reproductions of reality. I think activism today mainly needs the participation and the interaction of the body with other bodies and it’s quite strange to remark that in the era of self-organized social networks, what’s lacking is a new culture of body-based political participation.

But by making visible those “invisible links”, by simply working with mediated representations of reality, and bringing awareness to them, what do you expect to achieve? Why do you do it in the first place? For instance, going back to one of your recent projects, Google is not the map, what led you to get interested in Google Earth and Maps?

A peculiarity of all the mediated representations of reality - of which our life is oversaturated - is this drive to explain their particular truth in order to persuade people with their particular message.

On the opposite side, in each work we do, we look for those things that we usually call invisible links (les liens invisibles): an invisible link is like a hidden path toward a state of uncertainty and possibility. We are interested in throw a doubt in the spectator, as a starting point to reveal the ephemeral layer on which perception is based on, and to discover the importance of his own subjective reality against the imposed/suggested ones.

That’s why we got interested in Google Earth. Maps — and we’re not referring here only to Google Earth/Maps — are one of the most influencing medium for the perception of physical territories around us. Beyond its scientific appearance, a map, though it is supposed to neutrally reflect the physical space, imposes its particular point of view. But dots, lines areas and any other cartographic element exist only as will (of who detains the power to control and manipulate them) and representation. Think, just for instance, to maps’ boundary lines: boundaries are non-existent perimeters, invisible overlays over people’s mind which generates identitarianisms, struggles, conflicts and discriminations. The subversion of the conventional grammar of maps is the way we chose to refuse and subvert their implicit, dogmatic rules: maps become geoPoeMaps, absurd and poetical points of view in which any dot, any lines, any area becomes sign of a joyful abstraction.

You tend to call your video works small pieces (Too close to Duchamp’s bicycle and also Neverending Happy End). Is there a hierarchy of importance between video and your “bigger” pieces?

It’s not a matter of hierarchy and it’s not strictly referable to our video works, we love all our projects in the same way. We used to call them small against our other works just because their creation is not planned: their realization is more spontaneous and takes us less time than other long-term work or FIAF.

Being more spontaneous, they don’t seem to be as engaged in “linking the invisible” as your other work. They’re more cheerful, or playful, in a way. Would you say they are the opposite of your other projects?

We’d like to consider them not as opposing each other but coming from opposite sides and converging to the same point. Tracing new directions, we want to stress one more time that different ways of reaching the same goals are always practicable, and they might look funny too. This kind of approach is often useful even for ourselves: really, we don’t like to take us too seriously…

In your website you define yourselves as “an imaginary art-group from Italy”. If you’re imaginary whom am I talking to?

Well, this is quite simple. You’re talking to Clemente Pestelli and Gionatan Quintini two — among many others — human interfaces between you and the invisible.

And Guy The Bore? Who is he? A boring version of Debord? And why did you choose it, or how does it relate to Les Liens Invisibles?

Guy The Bore is just a name taken from a text of Luther Blissett. But this is not so important. There are many alias in les liens invisibles: Guy McMusker, Angela Merelli, Guido Segni, Guy The Bore, Rudolph Papier, etc. They are like dresses: we can have a funny and/or serious interface depending on the context of communication where we are acting.

Why do you need those interfaces?

The point is not about the need for interfaces. It’s the same as asking why we need clothes or names. The point is about needing identities when they are nothing but conventional labels. As artists working on the internet we think it is just too narrow, naive and frustrating having to replicate online the same identity games we play in the real world.

But choosing them isn’t without a purpose, or is it completely random? I mean, their existence serves a purpose, within the Les Liens Invisibles existence, or not?

We choose names for our aliases as a writer chooses the names for his characters. I mean, sometimes we choose a name just because of its sound, sometimes for its evocative power, sometimes for its symbolic meaning. So Guy The Bore, for instance, just evocates Debord but it is also a reference to Luther Blissett and it tastes ironical. Our attitude to handle and manipulate all these names depends on our point of view on mediated realities: identities, like other fiction-based media, are conventions, and a fake, in the end, is only a fake, anyway. Let’s just play with’em.