Italian artists love humor. There’s Maurizio Cattelan, one of the most famous jokesters of the art world, makes sculptural works that range from Pope John Paul II being struck by a meteor to a little praying boy who may or may not be a certain, nefarious dictator. Along with Pierpaolo Ferrari, another Italian artist, the two publish Toilet Paper, a bi-annual publication filled with surreal images and no text, under the guise of a magazine from the 1970s.
While Italian artist group IOCOSE aren’t yet full-blown tricksters in the vein of Cattelan and Ferrari, and certainly won't admit to it, works that include sneaking real sunflowers seeds into Ai Wei Wei’s Sunflower Seeds exhibition and attempting to accelerate Earth’s rotation are, to the casual observer, often quite funny. The latest project of the collective is entitled Drone Selfies, and it presents drones photographing themselves as if they were the smartphone-obsessed youth of today.
Alongside the humor, however, the works of IOCOSE have important philosophical and political suggestions and inquiries. There is a depth beneath their playful surface. We interviewed Filippo Cuttica, one member of IOCOSE, to unearth the meanings and intentions behind Drone Selfies.
The Creators Project: How did Drone Selfies come about?
IOCOSE (Filippo Cuttica): It is difficult to locate the exact source of an idea, at least when it comes to art projects. We usually work as antennas; we capture particular stimuli, aspects of society and stories that resonate in our minds. In this case, it was the ubiquitous diffusion of drones on the one hand, and on the other the obsession with photographic self-portraits on the web. We imagined what would the ‘life’ of a drone be like in an alternative present where war and terror were over, and beside the instrumental perspective that we humans might have of drones. Drones could be seen as an extension of our eyes and arms, and we use them as weapons and as useful tools for doing different sort of things. However, what are these extensions telling us about ourselves, our modes of thinking and using technologies? This project shows a series of drones taking selfies, but it is us at the center of the picture, and our difficulties to imagine life ‘in times of peace.'
Traditionally, the selfie is taken by holding your arm out and pointing a camera at one's self; the act attempts to find a personal 'best angle,' and change self-representations at will. Doing it through a mirror becomes a more self-reflexive and confronting action, where the mirror of reality flips one's representation but does not alter it. Do you see the drones as confronting themselves, or presenting their own images?
Funny that you mentioned that, because actually we discussed the opportunity of developing this project further, mounting a mechanical arm on drones that will allow them to find their best angle. However, most drones in commerce come with a built-in camera, so if they were to take selfies of themselves, their easiest option would be to use those. The fact that the outcome looks kind of awkward adds an interesting layer to the images, as it captures the (failed) attempt of technology to mimic human behavior. We imagined drones using their skills and potentialities in different and unusual ways, flying just for the sake of jogging and using their built-in camera for trivial purposes. Our drones are definitely presenting their own images, taking photos to create and promote their public image. We cannot really say whether they like themselves. They are not humans, after all.
With Sunflower Seeds on Sunflower Seeds, NoTube, and your other projects, humor seems crucial to your process. How do you see it functioning in Drone Selfies? Is it valuable to your process or is it an unintended result?
There is no humor in our works. We’re deadly serious. Or maybe there is, but we cannot really say what the cause of it is. Nothing suggests ‘laughing’ in very explicit terms. Actually, there is an element of tragedy in the narratives we suggest through our work, a sort of immobility in which we are stuck. In this project we are saying that there is no way to imagine life in times of peace. NoTube deals with the ridiculous amount of useless data produced and saved on social networks. The Sunflower Seeds project involves concepts of authorship and authority in the arts. Another previous work, A Crowded Apocalypse, involves the difficulty of communicating affect through network technologies, fears of our own death and of humankind as a whole. It is about the apocalypse, and how it can be narrated for $0.50. What is fun about all this? Nothing at all, and yet there is something desperately ironic. We like the undecided nature of the work: there is something ironic but we do not know what it is, we do not know who or what we are laughing about.
Can you explain your decision to join your other work In Times of Peace, which involves a drone race, with Drone Selfies? Is it only due to the repeated use of drones?
We could almost consider In Times Of Peace as a concept album, and Drone+ and Drone Selfies being the first two singles released. There is more to come. The common thread is the investigation of war technologies when completely detached from their original purpose. Paul Virilio noted how logistics at the end of the ‘40s was defined as the procedure following which a nation's potential is transferred to its armed forces, 'in times of peace' as in times of war. We find it particularly interesting how in modern times specific war technologies have been made “more acceptable” by society through the commercialization and gamification of such technologies. The gaming industry has a massive role in this.
Beyond sending a message that emphasizes the power of the individual, as evidenced by Spinning The Planet and A Crowded Apocalypse, what other recurring themes do you attempt to incorporate in your works?
The relationship between humans and new technologies and media in general is an important theme in our work, but we do not focus directly on it. We grew up in a world where technological innovation and widespread adoption of new technological products are taken for granted. We do not think that focusing on this is interesting anymore in the artistic discourse. Let’s say that we deal with the aftermath of it. We do not necessarily take position in analyzing the world, we like to instigate doubt rather than give answers. We like to take certain aspects of the world around us, and put them on steroids, until they become hypertrophic, working on the verge of what is believable, or unbelievable, on the alternative presents and the possible futures. We like to lead our audience to what we call a ‘semantic pitfall’. We gather a certain level of satisfaction from this.
Are the very domestic surroundings next to the mirrors an effort to represent the drones as 'people?'
We wanted to recreate the feeling of those sorts of selfies on Instagram that we have been collecting, studying and archiving while preparing this project. Indeed, in this scenario, the drones act like regular people. They are banal as much as the average human being. They could fly pretty much anywhere, and yet they like to take photos of themselves in domestic contexts, replicating existing paradigms for the ‘selfies’ genre. It is this non-imaginative aspect of the selfies that we wanted to capture. After all, we believe that if drones were left free to roam, they would behave like birds grown up in captivity. They would always try to come back home, to their cage.
Were you aware of this project, also known as Drone Selfies? And can you comment on it? It takes a very different approach by using drones to reflect the camera back to the user, and uses video as its format.
The project you mention is one of the examples we had in mind when we first discussed, between ourselves, about the instrumental perspective on drones. We really wanted to shift this human centered point of view towards a drone-centric perspective. In our project the drone’s camera is pointed towards a mirror, as in the ‘human’ selfies, rather than at another human being (the drone’s ‘master’, presumably). What would drones do, if they did not have to ‘serve’ human beings? Indeed, the banality of the ‘drone selfies’ we are proposing puts us at the center again, as soon as we realize that there are not many original things that a drone can do. This lack of originality is the real drama of these pictures.
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