GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!
GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!
by Laura Cherubini
“I heard someone say that dreams Come true with the sound of music A bud would bloom I would see my dream come true” (from the translation of the Japanese Pokémon theme song)
Up there… in the blue
“my mind is an unreal space, my life a screen, my body the videogame of my mind. and neen is the way to transform myself into lara croft, to feel fake but less alone. talk to me, mmm…” alessia
She was up there, beautiful, blond, ethereal, wrapped in azure veils. High, high, high in the space of Fac-simile two platforms hung from the central lighting fixture, one to support an old blue reclining chair, the other supporting a typewriter. Seated in front of that sort of suspended desk, Vanessa typed (little texts that described people on computer labels) as if she were playing a musical instrument, following a score, producing music. It was an apparition, that first work I had ever seen by Miltos Manetas (Comparse, 1993), and I still think it was a work of great beauty, that beauty Miltos defines as “irresistible but irritating”.
Demo of dementia
“free or real? real or free? i would choose… to transform myself into a machine. free to have handicaps. is anything realer than that?” bruno 203
“I don’t believe in photography as art. For us it is no longer something more than the representation of reality, it is reality itself: as children we have learned to recognize the world through its photographic reflection, in books and printed images. Have you ever seen a flower? You never have, because what seems like a flower to you is just a memory of its photographic image”, Miltos Manetas has said. But a photograph can be of use to the artist as a “demo”, like a trial sample of a computer program, ready for use but without the full range of options offered by the software. For Miltos Manetas the way of working of the computer is very important, an object of desire to which the artist is linked by a feeling of affection and friendship, an inseparable companion: Manetas has made a series of portraits of his machine, abstract paintings that reproduce the computer’s cover like a painted surface by Rothko. So the artist also makes use of the camera, but in a thrifty way, as an initial way of looking for demented situations. This dementia isn’t madness, nor is it stupidity: for Manetas, a Greek, the behavior of Socrates as described by Plato is a good example. Philosophy is dementia, but also miracle: another example cited by the artist is that of Jesus walking on water. I think Miltos Manetas recalled this biblical episode when he used the computer to create a work in which an airplane flies on water thanks to a flight simulator (Miracle, 1996). Within the series of photographic works on dementia there is one very significant photo, that of a man barricaded behind a round table, as in a trench. Manetas captured the image in a half-empty Greek shop that sold Christmas tree lights: the man was there, behind his desk, as if defenseless. When he showed this photo at “Fuori Uso” (Pescara, 1996, my first edition) the artist accompanied it with three other photos of sleeping men, to put it into a suitable
atmosphere in the context of the group show. In a certain sense the three photos surrounded the image of dementia, almost as if to replicate the useless circular barrier of the desk and thus protect the weak character, a typical anti-hero of the sort often found in Manetas’ work, in similar images of men caught by surprise in the most defenseless phase of their life, that of slumber. Even Supermario falls asleep in the video after videogame dated 1998.
Breaking the Waves, in spite of it all
“maybe real space is inescapable” salmonhead
Miltos wrote me (by fax, because I don’t have e-mail, and he probably thinks of me as a prehistoric person in his categories of Eighties, Nineties, etc.) that watching Breaking the Waves (1996) by Lars von Trier (a filmmaker we both love and about whom we had spoken in the past) he thought that had he not purchased that Powerbook in 1994, he would probably have made a work of the same kind: “How much you miss the landscape! You turn your camera to the characters. And if all the characters have already been reproduced by others, then you compose your material in the manner of Dostoevski: make it seem to focus on the ‘tragedy’, when actually you are setting up a subversive situation, a piece of dialectic that begins to make itself felt inside your brain once you have finished reading. Lars Von Trier doesn’t make ‘cinema’, in the same way that Dostoevski doesn’t write ‘literature’, and I don’t make ‘painting’. But none of us refrains from making deliberate use of the charm of ‘atmosphere’, because beauty is irresistible, though it’s also irritating”. Lars Von Trier doesn’t refrain from using the beauty of atmosphere: Breaking the Waves is a film permeated by romanticism and subdivided, like a book, into chapters whose titles are shown against very intense landscapes, underlined by a musical emotion that seems to accompany the states of mind. “The film reveals that von Trier is not only a cinematographic technique (Breaking the Waves is shot with nervous images, with a hand-held camera) but also a director capable of obtaining extraordinary performances from his actors” (Casper Tybjerg). This ability to direct actors is essential, because the films of von Trier are all based on their characters. Bess is a “woman who loves too much”, when her husband Jan leaves for work she screams her pain in front of the waves breaking on the rocky shore, in an impetuous, sublime natural setting. She splits in a sort of schizophrenia: “You must learn to resist” – “I don’t know how to wait”. When Jan has a terrible accident leaving him paralyzed he asks Bess to have other men, to continue to live: “Love is an enormous power, isn’t it?… I will surely die if I forget it!”. She obliges, going so far as to sacrifice her own life, effecting the miracle of his recovery, while in a melodramatic finale bells festively peal. It is no coincidence that the film was an enormous success with audiences. The fact that Lars von Trier loves operatic melodrama is evident in his latest film, Dancer in the Dark, featuring the singer Bjork in the role of Selma, where “the dramaturgic construction plays with certain characteristic elements of the narrative structure of the operatic melodrama and the musical, offering the possibility of identifying a particular key of direction” (Gino Ventriglia). Dancer in the Dark is a tragic musical in which a mother feels responsible for the encroaching blindness of her son (the theme of blindness was already present in the film made by von Trier for his diploma at filmmaking school in 1982, Befrielsesbilleder), just as Bess felt guilty about Jan’s accident because she had begged him to return home. To recoup the money saved for the operation that can save her son from a fate of perpetual darkness, the mother kills the thief, causing her own hanging which actually disguises a suicide “with the aid of the judicial system”, as the director himself points out (can we imagine that Bess did the same thing, going to meet her end with the aid of a psychopath?). The most interesting fact is that “the musical dimension is not forced over the story, it is constitutionally grafted into the character of Selma, a Czech immigrant who loves old Hollywood musicals” (Gino Ventriglia). Selma/Bjork, in fact, is rehearsing for the role of Maria in The Sound of Music (speaking of classic musicals: there is also a citation for Top Hat, and the first film von Trier recalls having seen is Singin’ in the Rain). Together with Idiots the two films form the so-called “golden heart trilogy”. Perhaps this idiocy has something to do with the practice of dementia of certain characters of Manetas, also through a possible inversion of signs. Idiots is the tale of the failure of a group of hapless idealists who, as in an extreme form of revolution, wear the idiot’s mask: “more than in any other case, the innovative style of von Trier, with hand-held camera, fragmented editing and accentuated grain becomes a mode of vision that removes the spectator from a pre-established cognitive position with respect to what he sees… the unstable camera is the construction of a vantage point that can only be passionate, an interrupted and continuously resumed flow of emotional waverings… The only thing that strongly engages the spectator is the intensive phenomenology of the life of the characters,
i.e. the viewer is guaranteed access to the mood of the situations” (Pier Luigi Basso). It is possible to see with the heart… “How much you miss the landscape!”. But Manetas has decided to give it up, although he is
aware of its seductions. He turns to the technological “landscape” of his own room and its “characters”, which he depicts: first of all the Powerbook Manetas shows us from above, creating an abstract surface; then, looking around himself, by metonymic contamination, come the mouse and the connection cables… “Then, when I got tired of painting only the cables I looked next to them… and I saw my Nike slippers”. The slippers appear to him as an extremely interesting object, “the image of exercise for the lazy”. The gymnastics of the lazy would probably have intrigued Oscar Wilde, who said: “I would do anything in life except rise early, do exercises and be respectable”. In Photoshop and real brushes Manetas narrates that Maurizio Cattelan asked him “Why the computers?”. Manetas responded, “no one has painted them before” and Cattelan replied that that wasn’t important, “because it doesn’t matter if you paint oranges or machines, what matters is the language” (this reminds me of Picabia’s reply to those who accused him of having copied a technical drawing in a mechanical painting, Les yeux chauds: he was surprised that anyone would be shocked by a painter copying a turbine instead of an apple). The fact is that Manetas makes communications media the very subjects of the representation. “No one has ever represented a computer before me”: it is no coincidence that some people have now thought, as Miltos puts it, that “our true home is the www”. Our city can be the one Manetas has designed for the Internet with the designer Angelidakis, where there is a Chelsea Hotel for the art world, a world so small it can exist inside one hotel. From this point of view, the only possible “homeland” for the Greek-Italian Miltos (heir to two of the greatest, most ancient and refined cultural traditions) is America, a nation still under construction that “will grow together with the history of the Sony Playstation”. Instead “Europe no longer exists: it has become the land of Cinema, where the old Godard and Lars von Trier release their exercises for a Beige culture”. So the artist’s farewell to the landscape, the characters, the romantic expressionism typical of Lars von Trier is therefore a farewell to Europe, a parting that causes suffering, but is also motivated, determined, decisive. “How much you miss the landscape!”. How dear the price the artist must pay for this, how great his courage in abandoning all the things he loves (you always kill the things you love, as Querelle would say), the things he understands so subtly and acutely! But he has decided to belong to his present and future time at all costs, to restrict himself to the use of absolutely “contemporary” tools, although this is already a very ancient word for Miltos Manetas, who considers the world of contemporary art not only old but also boring (at a conference in Geneva he compared it to the poorly dressed people of San Francisco) and defines it as the last episode of an obsolete “serial”, that of modern art, firmly based on the mechanism of disorientation (Moving and Shooting, written for the exhibition Museum Meltdown by Palle Torsson and Tobias Bernstrup, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 1999). If he makes videos that are almost d’après for videogames, or reproduces the world of the Pokémon, it is because he feels all this is a premonition of future everyday life: “Soon we’ll be able to say: ‘A man is his Web page’, and also: ‘A man is not just his Web page’. My work tries to create the conditions to justify the first statement, while secretly making propaganda for the second”. So this is a very important attempt: to envision the future world while, at the same time, already preparing the antidotes for its poisons.
Monsters in your pocket
“reality? reality is that i have never had a pc although i have always had an email address. now i have a pc but i don’t have a phone.” gigiottodv
A license states that someone is “a certified Pokémon trainer”. This is the ambition of most children, who know their mission is to collect and train as many Pokémon as possible from the 150 known species. These are the “pocket monsters” that have invaded our homes, cult objects for post-toddlers, monsters in miniature and therefore amusing, loveable but aggressive. “To catch a Pokémon”, recites The Great Official Pokémon Guidebook, “you need a Pokésphere. These are spheres capable of containing your Pokémon. Almost all the Pokémon leave the Sphere only when you want them to. Some may complain about being closed up in a Pokésphere, but in the end only Pikachu will categorically refuse to enter!” Pikachu is a cute, cuddly little electric mouse who accompanies the young aspiring trainer Ash Ketchum on his adventures. Each “pocket monster” has its own special abilities and techniques (listed in their profiles along with their number, height, weight, etc.). The fighting techniques of Pikachu are: thundershock and roar. There is a bulby Pokémon named Bulbasaur, a lizardy monster named Charmander, a turtle-ish creature named Squirtle, and even a butterfly named Butterfree… “The Pokémon are fascinating because they ‘evolve’ and change form, but also because they materialize aggressive desires while at the same time disciplining them in the form of a duel, because they are simultaneously bad and good, because they express the identity of the child perfectly: a being that modifies itself day by day, that doesn’t know about itself and is frightened by its change of ‘form’, and therefore
looks for continuing reassurances and confirmations”, writes Marco Belpoliti. “Based on mixtures and syncretism, the narrative in the Pokémon stories makes ample use of the films of Spielberg, the Japanese samurai tradition and the heritage of fairy-tales and fables”. The theme of training is, in the end, a metaphor for the life of the child, and the Pokémon stories always teach that a trained Pokémon is stronger than a wild one: the training of the pocket monsters is the education of the child, the reference to the sporting and scholastic activities typical of the age of evolution. “The story of the POKEMON is a story without points of reference, you can’t connect it to the rest of the visual landscape. It is evidently a Japanese story we interpret in our occidental way, without knowing much about Japan… but that’s not important, this sort of transforming of cultural objects is positive… especially for the POKEMON, rather than the battle, what’s important is their evolution, which is what they win when they defeat another POKEMON… they too become another POKEMON”, Manetas says. “I don’t play with the POKEMON, the game is too difficult for adults, but that doesn’t matter either – what matters is that the POKEMON are already symbols, true catchers of the collective imagination”. And, above all, as all the manuals say: LOVE THEM! In this universe in evolution composed of transformations and metamorphoses everything can change into something else, including the most authoritative of the characters. Jesus is another recurring figure in the writings of Manetas: in a text entitled Save As…he speaks of the resurrected Christ according to the evangelist Mark, “under another form”, and Caravaggio, in fact, in the Cena in Emmaus, paints Jesus without a beard. “Jesus returns in a new format”, Manetas comments, “a version probably lighter and easier for people to copy. He probably lost some pixels during the compression but that was necessary”. Save the Savior. In another text, Choose Expand, the artists notes that were Jesus to want to return today he wouldn’t settle for a shaven face – he’d rather appear as a giant Pokémon. And if he wants to try walking on water, he should come equipped with a joystick. What Manetas presents here is precisely a giant Pokémon, Exeggutor, who, as the manual tells us, “is a coconut Pokémon with three heads. Each coconut, or head, has a different face and a separate personality… This, perhaps, is one of the few Pokémon that get worse after the evolution phase. It is said that on occasion one of the three heads falls off to give rise to a new Exeggutor”. The Pokédex profile informs us that his element is grass/psycho, his height 204 cm, weight 119 kg, evolution stone-leaf, effective against water, rock, earth. His combat techniques: rain attack, hypnosis and a secret weapon: trampling! The technique Manetas uses to make the images of his Pokémon “collection” is that of the “vibracolor”, a sort of fake photography that imitates painting, a print on glossy paper that is then washed and enlarged. As he has developed these techniques, which underline the similarities he perceives between art and videogames, Manetas has always continued to paint (he began at the time of his move to the States, with the plan of continuing to do so for a period of six years), almost as if painting were the most “virtual” of all techniques (“painting will be the only available point for navigation”). After all, he doesn’t see much difference between the new technologies and painting: he says the way Caravaggio uses oil paint in his still lifes is similar to the “vibracolor” technique. Caravaggio makes a trompe-l’oeil, an image that could be painted by a person in one of his paintings, by St. Matthew, for example, were he to get tired of being a martyr, as Miltos puts it. In his “vibracolors” Manetas sees nothing “photographic”: “I make them by printing a frame from a videogame on glossy paper, then I wash them to tone them down, and I enlarge the print. They are photos that could have been taken by SuperMario if he ever stopped being a hero”. The fact is that for Miltos Manetas the problem of techniques just doesn’t exist, he can interchangeably use performance, photography, video, painting… just as he can simulate a male-female boxing match, depict a Pokémon or dedicate a website to the next Dalai Lama. Because the true problem is the way of working and thinking. In a text entitled Fabric of Reality he writes that as we enter the 21st century Reality is nearly about to take the place of Freedom among the ideals of the century. What is real and what is fiction, how to tell the difference and communicate that knowledge: this will be the focus of the new debate. We tend to think of contemporary life itself only as a fictional story. “The problem of the 20th century was Freedom (for society) and Space (for aesthetics). The themes of the 21st century are Reality (for society) and the Screen – what is commonly called virtual (for aesthetics)”, he says in an interview with Costantino D’Orazio. I am always struck by the acuteness of his texts and words. “The computer has always been the subject of my work. I have never had any other. I’m not really interested in the computer per se, or in any other object in particular. I’m interested in what they represent in the world, their symbolic value”. For him, paintings should be like the icons on the “desktop” of a computer: references to something important and new. Italian painting, the large painting created for the collection of the new Center for the Contemporary Arts in Rome, represents a pink floor with a gathering of all the subjects of the work of Manetas: computers, cables and pieces of figures (introduced in a certain moment as contiguous and adjacent to computers, cell phones, VCRs…). This view from above is typical of Manetas and may remind us of the approach usually used in cinematography to frame exteriors, whereas here it is used to reveal the details of an interior (Claudia with gun II, Bernadette, Cables on pink floor, Claudia and playstation…). In Powerbook this same type of vantage point leads to total abstraction. In one of his writings Manetas compares his paintings with floors to one of the best-known software programs for graphic layout, QuarkXpress, which includes a function called “Group”: “The pink floor behaves like an empty QuarkXpress page. What is a floor? Why do we not consider it a part of the ‘Group’? Is it because without a floor the Net of objects will float in the air?” (it occurs to me that the text I am writing, too, is rather a Net of phrases, thoughts, things arranged in a disorderly, almost random fashion, but with some links, on a floor-catalogue). Perhaps this is why an artist like Paola Pivi (who included the catalogues of Miltos Manetas in her project of close encounters between artists and the scientists of CERN in Geneva, one of the most important centers for the study of pure physics) can say: “My use of the work of Miltos is utterly free of reasoning. Although the work is very complex and apparently dense with concepts, I use it like a painting by Matisse. In other words, I contemplate it like a large image”. The overall work of Manetas (and not just each single painting) is composed of many heterogeneous elements, paradoxically juxtaposed, yet it is true that the result is a single, large image. But, as Molly Von Hacker reports: “This November Manetas, bound by his promise (and probably also by his production advisor Mr. Sushi Matsuda), has decided to stop painting”. His last painting is a “smart card”, used in digital cameras to record a large quantity of high-resolution images. But the particularity of the smart card of Manetas is a defect, the fact that it can contain only one icon: “a handicap of representation in the face of reality?” Will there no longer be Miltos Manetas the painter, will there be others still, after those we have already seen? With the Internet you can now split and multiply yourself into many personalities in an utterly natural way. One and many Miltos… But today with 100,000 dollars you can also buy a new word, and Miltos Manetas has done so, ordering it from the California agency Lexicon (the inventors of words like “powerbook” and “pentium”). He wanted to find a new expression to take the place of that dear old family, “contemporary art”. Today the word exists, and this is only the beginning:
(…to be continued…)
The quotations at the beginning of the sections are from a Forum on Neen at Domusweb. the question asked by Manetas was:”Freedom is not the main argument any more. The question today, is Reality. You may be free but are you real?”
From the web site “I love Pikachu”: The Theme Song of the Pocket Monsters translated by Shou Tsurugi
(Got a pokemon!)
I'll go through flames, flood, weeds, forests The soil, clouds, and under the skirt of the girl (Scream)
And through here, through there And through here, through there A long, long road to go To get pocket monsters
Good-by, my home I'm starting with the cute guy (Pikachu!) Win and win with a trained ability Go to a new town with new friends
Success is not guaranteed (A matter of course) What the matter You, monsters, always go all out