Interview with Franco Palioff: the artist behind Anitya’s Genesis NFT’s
‘I hope there is a political movement in the digital world through art. That’s my focus as an artist.’ — Franco Palioff
Franco Palioff was born in Argentina in 1988. A self taught painter and musician, with a degree in nuclear engineering — he has always strived to combine his passion for the arts and science. After living in Brazil for some time, he now lives in Berlin, Germany (in a residency called Moos which is meant for artists). I sat down with him for a chat about his transition to art, his inspirations, his process of creation, some of his and my favourite projects (of his), and finally the future of NFTs and Web3.
Ana: Hello Franco! Thank you so much for talking with us. So, you have a degree in Engineering, that too in nuclear engineering. Yet, we are here today talking about your art. How did you become interested in art?
Franco:I have always been interested in art — since I was young. I have also been interested in science. I liked working with electronics and chemistry. At the same time I was painting. Both ends of the spectrum have always been present in my life.
Ana: That’s very interesting! Let me digress a bit here. You mentioned being interested in electronics, can you talk a little bit about why you studied nuclear engineering then?
Franco: I studied nuclear engineering because I was very interested in working on interstellar nuclear rockets. However, parallelly I was still painting and even showcased my work in exhibitions. I am also interested in music and have taught myself to play the piano, violin and the flute.
Ana: That’s quite a lot of musical instruments to learn on your own. Coming back to the topic of art. Clearly, you have always been working on it. How did you make the transition professionally and manage your finances in the process?
Franco: I researched computational fluid dynamics in Argentina and Brazil for four years because I liked it at the time and I also needed the money. During the times when working on art was not possible, I could still work on simulations, mathematics and programming. However, after working in Brazil I quit my job and decided to concentrate on art 100 percent. I started including simulation and coding in my art. I designed robots with different social and poetic concepts — with special interest in psychology, sociology, sex, religion and spirituality in South America. During this time I was also working as a tattoo artist to sustain myself. Then slowly I started doing exhibitions and started earning money from my art.
Ana: Were these artworks digital or paintings?
Franco: Oil paintings were my main field at first. However, I have dreamed from a young age to introduce installations and robots to the art world. Slowly I started merging electronics and digital art.
Ana: There is indeed a strong presence of technology in your work. Generally speaking, what is your art inspired by and what is your creation process?
Franco: I have always gotten inspired by concepts of memory and its relation to the human body. I am also inspired by music, mathematics, chemistry, and how different cultures react to different things. Generally my ideas come from a lot of writing and merging different ideas. The process begins with thinking in bed, meditation, yoga and writing — as the four of them are connected. When I put my thoughts in writing, the concept becomes clearer. I feel that the process of social catarsis is indeed essential from a human perspective. I like creating ideas that have different concepts attached to it. For me artwork is a complex chaotic neural mass of information that we have to shed light on to reveal what is beneath the surface. Playing with this surface in a sarcastic and humorous way is an obsession somehow. I would also like to say that I enjoy programming machine behaviour and I use sarcasm and irony to critique existentialist post-modern society.
Ana: This is something anyone who has seen your art will agree with. Your projects are a culmination of several ideas. So let’s discuss a few of your work and how you conceptualised them. Let’s begin with the W Clock ( a clock that speeds up when internet traffic is high and slows down when traffic is slow in the city where the clock is).
Franco: I was always interested in physics and mathematics. ‘Time’ has always been a very mathematical and abstract concept to me. With maturity I started thinking about it in a philosophical way. What is time? Not just in the mathematical sense but in a subjective sense. I realised that the concept can be humanised and I could reformulate it into an art. I started questioning it. Scientifically one second is measured by the number of cycles of radiation from a Cesium atom. In other words, a specific amount of decay represents one second. However, this definition does not relate time to humans in a subjective way. And as we are living in a time where information is crucial and constantly consumed, I wanted to include the chaotic mess of information in my art. I see the internet as a posthuman extension of ourselves. I wanted to make a magnitude of time spent which is human and has flesh. In other words, this w.clock measures a human relativistic time. The clock is presented as a fictional product, you buy it to live even faster when you’re awake.
Ana: which I found was absolutely brilliant — the way you depicted the subjective essence of time. Now let’s talk about another of your art — Today’s Madonnas. A robot that paints 16 Madonna portraits (for four hours) everytime the Vatican tweets . Fascinating concept, how did you think of it?
Franco: So, when I moved from Argentina to Brazil, the first shock to me was the vast complex religious and spiritual culture. It is different from Argentina which is majority catholic. I started thinking about this aspect — about how we experience spirituality and religion in South America. In Today’s Madonnas I transport an artist in time from the Renaissance, but I equipped him with new tools. He’s an automata. Everytime the Vatican tweets he travels in time and draws a new Madonna which is an output of a neural network that I programmed and trained with 3000 Madonna paintings. However, what are these new Madonnas? They are morphed versions of the original, almost like copies but not.
Ana: So is it a commentary on creating art similar to one that is famous or popular?
Franco: Yes, in a way. I bring the artist back in time to ask for whom we artists are creating art and which formulas are we using? I also question what Madonna signifies today. These days we sometimes look for the formula to make a successful piece of art. Art might unfortunately have become more about success than the process itself . This could be related to other cultural shifts in our society. To achieve success we repeat similar art — for example in Instagram posts. So, with this installation I wanted to ask the question -what is the purpose of an artist nowadays by comparing it to the initial establishment setup.
Ana: I want to ask you more about your work, but since you brought up the topic. What do you think is the purpose of your art?
Franco: I like to bring out social concepts in a playful and sarcastic way. However I would say that visual art and music are my passions as well. They fulfil me as an individual and I can communicate in a way to expose flesh and blood. I would say that the main purpose of my art is — programming behaviour to express a political, or social idea.
Ana: Circling back to your art, what are the most recent projects of yours that you are very excited about?
Franco: I created an exhibition here in Berlin about a month and half ago. It was about symbolic non-physical violence ( for example speech or glances). I put a robot with machine learning which was walking all around the gallery. It measured how happy or sad the people in the gallery were. This robot would then trigger two different installations. When the critical mass of happiness (of people in the gallery) was above a certain threshold one installation would be triggered, and another would be triggered if the critical mass of sadness, disgust and surprise was above a threshold.
One installation was a robot hanging from the ceiling with a motor. This ‘person’ was 3D printed and was surrounded by edible jelly. It was an amorphous being. This robot when triggered would fall from the ceiling to the ground. The more happy or neutral people were, the higher from the ceiling the robot would fall. This violent act would be triggered only when everyone in the audience accepts this act through their glances (read by the robot as happiness or neutrality). With this project I want to highlight how we as a society accept or allow certain silent violent acts to happen in front of our eyes. I put the visitors as accomplices of the violent act (the fall). They were the ones who triggered it and they knew about it.
Ana: Wow! That’s such a fresh and unique way to talk about violence. Do you have more projects on violence?
Franco: Yes. There was another installation that spoke about human addiction to violence. I used the concept of game addiction which can be represented by a triangle. For example, let’s say, you buy new gears and with this you kill some monsters. When you kill a monster you get a reward and with this reward you go back to buying more gear. So it is a cycle where you release dopamine when you buy new gear. I created another robot which was also hanging from the ceiling but this one moved in a triangle shape. While moving on one side he picked up screws and left them on the other point as a form of reward. Then he went to the middle and shouted at the people in the gallery, thereby exercising violence. From here he waited for the other robot to detect sadness or disgust or surprise (because he shouted at them) in the audience. Once sadness was detected, he went and bought more gear. I basically created a being that is addicted to violence.
Ana: When we discuss such new concepts of art which involve robots and installations it is clear that these forms of art can be achieved only digitally. NFTs and digital art have opened this whole new genre of artform. Do you believe that NFTs have changed the landscape of art in general?
Franco: Of course. I think the landscape is changing as we speak and we are in the first years of this process. This is just the beginning. We are already seeing projects that are more conceptual, that have more intricate concepts inside of them, that can be useful for different things. The human race has already experienced an impulse of this new technology. In the next few years things will get more and more interesting, conceptual, and collaborative.
I think this opens a new field where there are a bunch of unexplored ideas. Digital art has opened a new arena and it is starting to intersect with contemporary art.
Ana: You sound very excited and hopeful about the future of web3 and digital art. How hopeful are you?
Franco: Like I said, this is the beginning of NFTs and digital art. I see that in the near future it will be more conceptual and interesting from different points of views. Conventional art is merging with the digital world. This is one of the first decades — a very special moment. Lots of artists are now merging into 3D. Several artists are migrating to the digital space in order to express their ideas through digital media. I see the next decade as where lots of interesting projects will arrive. I am also interested in seeing how artists express their political points of view through NFTs. That’s important and it takes time. I hope there is a political movement in the digital world through art. That’s my focus as an artist.
You can follow Franco’s work on his website, instagram. And also stay tuned for the first NFT collection of Anitya in collaboration with Franco Palioff.
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