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In the countryside surrounding the town of Modena, immersed in peace and silence, a big luminous country farmhouse is home to one of the most up and coming protagonist on the Italian digital art scene: FUSE*, a studio for digital art and design founded in 2007 by Mattia Carretti and Luca Camellini. Their mission is to explore the expressive possibilities and potential provided by the creative use of coding and digital technologies, realizing connection between light, space, sound and movement as never seen before.
We were lucky enough to have the chance to meet up with Mattia, to ask him about his, and his team’s, passion for using innovative techniques and aesthetics used in their work, continually seeking new ways and means: the secret of their relentless and overwhelming success.
For ArtCity 2016, the 27th January saw the inauguration of “FLUX-US” at CUBO exhibition centre – Centro Unipol Bologna, where you presented Amygdala, a site-responsive art project. Could you tell us a bit about the project?
Amygdala is a project that was brought to life due to our curiosity of finding a way of depicting the listening and interpretation of our continuous flow of thoughts shared on the net via social network. The heart of Amygdala is an algorithm able to analyze in real-time thousands of tweets, interpreting our emotional state through a process of Sentiment Analysis, integrating the open source library created by Krcadinac U., Pasquier P., Jovanovic J. & Devedzic V. Synesketch (An Open Source Library for Sentence-Based Emotion Recognition, IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing 4(3): 312-325, 2013).
The algorithm splits the emotions into six typologies: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust and surprise, and starts a textual analysis for every single tweet. A tweet, once analyzed, is represented by six values, one per each emotion. The textual analysis processes a word at a time, using a dictionary consisting of over 5000 words, giving each word a point for each emotion based on its singular meaning. During the analysis of a tweet, a heuristic approach is also adopted. For instance, eventual negations in the text are checked and if a word is written in capital letters to emphasize its importance , word points are doubled.
The aim is to make data flow and emotions (which we are constantly exposed to but rarely actually conscious of) visible. By doing this, we hope to stimulate reflection on the accessibility of this information, considering the opportunities and risks of the digital revolution in which we are living. On the plus side, the Big Data can be used in real-time to monitor the extent of an epidemic or to prevent a crime, improving the safety of a city and helping to safeguard the feeling of carefreeness in individuals and groups. On the downside, it could also be exploited by companies and institutions in order to accumulate, often unknowingly, an infinite quantity of information on our private lives.
Photos Marco Mioli for CUBO
Amygdala takes form in one of the spaces that we created inside CUBO in 2013 called MEDIA GARDEN. Here we fitted an installation composed of 125.952 LEDs distributed on 41 pillars positioned inside the two big gardens next to the cultural centre. In one of these two gardens, the pillars are positioned in a circle, creating a sort of inverse arena where the spectator is surrounded by the LED lighted pillars and by sound amplified via a 360 degree sound system. The sound element is an important part of the installation because it metaphorically represents the process of this emotion analysis and recognition. Six sound textures represent the six emotions and are mixed up, receiving the data collected from the analyzed tweets by means of OSC procedure (Open Sound Control). In the initial stages of data collection, distortions are applied, variable delays from 0.1 to 100 milliseconds, creating unrefined, coarse acoustics, hardly recognizable, but then the emotions are gradually recognized, slowly slowly, making the sound clearer, revealing a melody that represents the measured percentage. The sound system is done with Max MSP; the patch that we have developed which also allows, thanks to a quadraphonic system, to play the six tracks around the spectator, creating a disorienting effect until the moment the emotions can be recognized. When this happens, it means that a Amygdala cycle has ended. Each Amygdala cycle is different to the one before.
We’ve had an ongoing partnership with UNIPOL since 2012, the year that we were commissioned to plan and realize CUBO – Centro Unipol Bologna. It’s a broad-spectrum venue that tells the history of the company and its relationship with its territory, through various technologies and installations. Amygdala is one of the most complex projects that we’ve done so far: it’s the first time we have weaved architectural design and multimedia together so closely, starting from the concept and then striving to converse various styles harmoniously. All the software, technology and architecture of CUBO have been planned and realized from our sister studio FUSE*ARCHITECTURE, the division that deals with planning narrative projects.
FUSE* is a multi-media art collective, but also among the most well-respected professional studios for digital art and design, on the wake of European models and international work in digital art. Who are your maestri?
FUSE* was founded in 2007 by me, Mattia, and Luca Camellini. At the start the idea was to try out various directions, uniting our interests and freely experimenting, driven simply by our curiosity and the thirst to explore new styles. We sensed that different techniques and digital technology would allow us to tell stories in different ways, unfolding endless possibilities of composition using sound, light, space and movement.
In 2008 we decided to create FUSEINTERACTIVE, a division of the studio dedicated to realizing communication projects. The commercial activities, the business side, FUSEINTERACTIVE allows us to completely finance the research and FUSE* experiments, guaranteeing economic autonomy and the most creative freedom possible. Viceversa, the research the we do with FUSE* goes back to FUSEINTERACTIVE in terms of knowledge and imagine, fueling a virtuous and winning circle. Over the years, FUSEINTERACTIVE has grown and the nucleus currently consists of 5 people that also work on FUSE* projects. Besides me and Luca (directors) there is also Riccardo Bazzoni (Sound Designer), Paolo Bonacini (Software Developer), Matteo Mestucci (Software Developer), Filippo Aldovini (Production Manager) and Giulia Caselli (Interface Designer). Moreover, we also work with a dozen freelances including a project manager, 3D designer, software developer and architects. To highlight one collaboration, we founded FUSEARCHITECTURE in 2011 together with Fabrizio Gruppini, architect, for the project “luoghi narrativi” via architectonic and multimedia design. Since 2014, we have been based in a wonderful place that stimulates interaction with all our different skills to explore new paths: a house in the country on the outskirts of Modena that we call FUSEFACTORY.
There are many studios and artists that we admire and that represent a constant font of inspiration for us; it’s a sector so fundamentally vital and every day we make new discoveries. We follow artists like Ryoji Ikeda, Ryoichi Kurokawa, Alva Noto, Nonotak, Adrien M & Claire B, Kimchi and Chips, UVA, Robert Henke, Joanie Lemercier, Quayola, and also many studies that interest us like aesthetics or organizational models, for example, ART+COM is a constant reference point for us.
You had the opportunity to preview various projects at roBOt festival 08 in October 2015, here in Bologna, one of which was Ljòs, perhaps it’s your most well-known creation, being invited to festivals all over the word with it: what do you think the secret is to having success in this field?
The acknowledgment that Ljós got was pretty unexpected and we think it also came from a series of lucky coincidences. One of the fundamental insights behind the success for Ljós was definitely the choice of working with a dancer called Elena Annovi, creating a show through dialogue with technology on the stage, something never done before in the field of digital performing art. This choice, together with the powerful presence of Elena, and the interaction between the generated video graphics and the acoustics, allowed us to recreate a sensation of suspense to give life to a captivating show, surprisingly emotional, never seen before.
We also need to consider that over the last few years, widespread availability of the use of digital technology has been increased significantly, thanks also to some technology that was once was very expensive but now economically viable. As a result, the production of these types of art installations and performances are being less laborious, for both the companies or organizers and for host venues: we can say that we’re living a historic moment in favour of developing these styles.
Another aspect that we believe distinguish us and that has played a winning role in the creation of Ljòs, is the central role that technique and technology research has taken in our creative process, preparation that puts digital techniques in a leading role, in the foreground. Obviously it’s not for us to judge the quality of Ljós, but we can say that we are immensely satisfied and flattered by the result.
You have a lot of international collaborations and projects going on at the moment: Do you feel as well known in Italy as you do abroad?
If we had to compare Italy with abroad we can say that in terms of structure, festivals, institutions and interesting projects between art, technology and performance art, there is still a lot of room for improvement here in Italy. As respects to us personally, we’re pretty convinced that we’re still only be at the start of a journey that we’ve only just set out on: the road is long, we are curious to see where it’ll take us.
What’s next on the cards?
After Artefiera we have planned other exhibitions with Ljós in Europe and in February we’re going to start producing a new show. It’ll be a continuity of Ljós where we’ll be experimenting new techniques and technology, aiming to take a step forward in our journey that we have already started in the field of performance art. At the moment we in the pre-production phase and the script is still in it’s early stages. While in Ljós we talked about “dare alla luce” (giving life), in this second chapter it’s about the “ombra della luce” (the shadow of light), playing on the perception of space and time. In addition to this, in the pipeline there are new collaborations and partnerships that we’ll be revealing in the near future.
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