‘The virus started changing the way in which we use technology, but also the way we access, create and produce art’

Voxeurop: European Alternatives recently launched or took part in two new initiatives that link arts and digital transformation: Artsformation and Studio Rizoma in Palermo. Can you describe them briefly and explain their purpose?

Marta Cillero: For almost 15 years, European Alternatives has been committed to establishing long-term processes and transnational relations starting from local communities working in the intersection between arts and politics. With the establishment of Studio Rizoma in Autumn 2020, we are launching a new international institute based in Palermo directly emerging from the work we did last year with the Biennale Arcipelago Mediterraneo and Transeuropa Festival. Studio Rizoma will take forward our experimentation at the crossroad between culture and politics and do so from the heart of the Mediterranean. 

With our new project Artsformation, launched by European Alternatives, Studio Rizoma, and eight partners, we are exploring the intersections between arts, society and technology. The last decade has seen a rapid growth of arts for social change initiatives as well as artistic practices that combine digital and social practices. In response, digital culture has come into the agenda of almost all cultural institutions. The work on research that Artsformation is implementing aims to connect the artistic, technological, policy, enterprise, and civil society spheres. We believe that the arts are becoming a strong political actor, making already conscious efforts to participate in politics and social change and this should be approached from an empirical perspective. 

Are the two initiatives linked one to another?

Artsformation is a project co-developed and supported by Studio Rizoma. Artsformation combines the digital and physical presence of the artists and researchers involved, and we are already working on the launch of our first open call for participation and artistic residencies to co-create opportunities for artists and collectives. We will be using different participatory initiatives, such as online Arts-assemblies, to try to have more accessible spaces for artists who are working in different locations. Studio Rizoma has developed experience in curating artistic projects for the digital dimension and will bring that know-how to the mix.  

Both initiatives seem timely in the sense that, with the “second wave” of the Covid-19 pandemic hitting hard Europe and new lockdown and confinement measures being imposed in most countries, digital and remote seem to be the only way to reach the public. Same has happened with conferences. Is digital the new artistic experience?

Studio Rizoma has begun its journey presenting PANDEMOS, its first project conceived since the beginning as a multimedia project and a digital exhibition. PANDEMOS, conceived by Lorenzo Marsili and curated by Izabela Anna Moren, is a digital collective exhibition of the works of 13 Italian and international artists working in Sicily, selected during the lockdown, who worked during the summer to develop a series of works related to the experience of the pandemic and its overcoming. 

PANDEMOS is unique because it presents the first multimedia artistic reflection on the pandemic in Europe, conceived as an artistic initiative entirely usable online where all the works have been produced imagining a situation of confinement and closure of public spaces. Museums and artistic institutions have been developing the digital dimension of artistic productions for decades, what is new, is the location from where the user enjoys and gets the artworks, which is now very often from home. In this sense, PANDEMOS pioneered a new artistic experience through a special online platform, allowing everyone to enjoy a digital-native exhibition from their own home.

How can art and culture help social change in the digital era? Can they be of use to those less familiar to digital tools or who have less access to those tools? How can they reach and help the less privileged?

These are the type of questions and challenges that Artsformation is dealing with. One challenge related to the potential use of technology in remote, low income communities around the world is that most research related to the use of technology in social change contexts come from high-income environments. We are currently examining the potential role of the arts in the digital transformation, specifically focusing on communities and groups of people usually left behind by current technological developments.

We have recently published one of our first reports entitled “The Role of the Arts in Digital Transformation” that investigates how the arts can help citizens, civil society but also more marginalised communities to make sense of and overcome the challenges brought about by the imposition of technology in our lives. One of the key conclusions of this report is that, very often, the best technology is the one users already have, know how to use, and can afford. In most cases, this is increasingly the mobile phone. This means that having art that is developed to be used through our tablets and smartphones, is becoming more and more convenient. This does not mean neglecting the offline dimension of the arts, but adding a new layer to the user experience and more options to access art.

With online meetings came the “Zoom fatigue”: psychological and physical tiredness due to prolonged attendance. Is there a risk of a “digital culture fatigue”? If so, how can art overcome it? Are we condemned to enjoy art only through screens and digital devices?

Technology has created amazing tools and resources, putting useful information at our fingertips. Modern technology has paved the way for multi-functional devices that allow us to live our personal and professional lives in the digital world. During the lockdown we have seen our lives turned upside down. Many of us started working from home and we started doing online dinners to meet our friends and family. With the rise of social distancing, we also started seeking out new ways to connect and access movies, museums, exhibitions, theatres, podcasts, etc. mostly through technological platforms. The virus started changing the way in which we use technology, but also the way we access, create and produce art. Probably we are not condemned to enjoy art only through screens and digital devices, but as we were saying before, technology is offering new ways to access it. Data and the current situation of global emergency show some record highs in internet use, and also in the way we participate and engage with the arts. Users need to understand this new trend and have the right to make a conscious decision about the way they choose to access and enjoy art.

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