Fotograf Magazine

Federico Díaz

Towards Originality

The situation of originality in the Czech Republic is difficult. One the one hand, originality is attractive; on the other hand, it is unreliable. “At the beginning of the 1990s, the digital revolution was invisible. Art school students, influenced by their teachers, dealt with the issues from the 1980s. Instead of going further, we went back,” artist David Možný told me in an interview for Živel magazine several years ago. The term “new media” was being used at that time, but it was pronounced shortly and rather quietly. An important exception was the establishment of the Department of New Media at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague by Michal Bielický. And more things were happening: Stelarc presented his work for twenty enthusiasts at the creepily titled exhibition Hi-Tech/Art (1994) in the Moravian Gallery in Brno; Peter Weibel lectured in English at the Goethe Institute several times and Vilém Flusser lectured there for the first time; and Živel magazine became a mouthpiece of cyber culture. Woody Vasulka lead a department at the newly established Faculty of Fine Arts in Brno, and the school was supported by Silicon Graphics (and Federico presented 3D programmes at their Invex fair booth). For today’s young Czech generation, sucking the udders of the post-Internet era, the 1990s are unknown territory. It seems funny that we are re-discovering virtual reality now (how many times have we already done that?). Once again, we look towards something that can inspire artistic practices with new… what? When I see someone with a VR helmet on their head, I always remember my friend, who, influenced by fax communications with Jaron Lanier, made an architectural office buy a VR simulator worth a few million Czech crowns and used it for a show at the Invex fair in 1993, where he loosened the brakes of its rotating ring. The company soon went out of business, by the way… About 25 years later, the main topic of Spike art magazine is… virtual reality.

Federico does not like the term “new media”. To him, they represent a burden from the 1990s. When we established a department at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague ten years ago, we came up with the concept of supermedia. New media limited us. Where did the new media in arts go during the last twenty years? Nowhere. They have always been here. I do not have enough space here to theorize, but it was enough to read the reactions to the provocative text by Claire Bishop, Digital Divide: Contemporary Art and New Media (Artforum, September 2012), or to see the parallel in the work by the net. art couple Jodi and Cory Arcangel. 

The situation of Federico’s artistic practice is similar. His work with robots (e.g. Outside Itself at the Venice Biennial 2011 or his current project Big Light at the Brno House of Arts and later in London) is a follow-up of Generatrix (1999). Or take the objects of Photon and Blob, which would be 25 years old today if there was time in virtual reality, and not continuous latent presence, i.e. timelessness. An interesting question is how his Tacuzcanzcan (a solo exhibition of his thesis in the Old Town Hall, the Prague City Gallery, 1997) with the projections of the 3D Fermion object and the Photon installation would work today and what reactions it would evoke. And what about the fictional Muscoxen Corporation, transformed into the Big Light project? That was created 15 years ago. It was a platform both in general and other contexts (as it is presented today).

I met Federico while working on the Forum 2000 conference in 2001. I was surprised by his role as organiser of a virtual global discussion forum. In his conception, however, it was a direct outcome of the E-Area project, the construction in Letná, Prague, coincidentally built on the same spot as Kaplický’s Blob was meant to be 10 years earlier, that never materialised, but demonstrated Federico’s way of thinking: an attempt to overcome the boundaries of art (and the misunderstanding Federico began to meet in the Czech Republic), to create his own place and space, where communication would be more important than art. E-Area was a system, a way of thinking, an attempt to materialise the techno-optimism of the 1990s. And, just like techno-optimism, E-Area never ceased to exist. It became another platform, the basis of Federico’s (and not only his) current visions.

It would be short-sighted to see the current post-Internet art (is it still current if we think of the fast development?) as something that came out of the blue (key) sky on a green (key) lawn. Similarly, to suspect Federico of chasing new trends (such things also happen in the world of art) is to be ignorant. Trends are not chased; they exist and come one after another, just like styles; they are reactions to movements in society and culture. If we want to resist them (although there is no reason to!), we fall into the snares of the past and become a part of retromania (see Simon Reynolds or Mark Fisher) – which is just another style. And I know that Federico feels a lot more comfortable, for example, in the long-standing installation by Pierre Huygh than running around in Kassel.

David Kořínek