Environment, Objects
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Homo Ludens’ Playground – Mattia Casalegno

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Mattia Casalegno will be Spring/Summer artist-in-resident at Eyebeam, the leading North American art and technology center in New York. He was selected citing Flusser: “The new human being is not a man of action anymore but a player: Homo Ludens as opposed to Homo Faber: life is no longer a drama for him but a performance. It is no longer a question of action but of sensation”.


In human history artists often function as sensitive measuring devices of global shifts. Mattia Casalegno (multifaceted Italian artist based in Los Angeles, 1981) takes inspiration from disciplines such as anthropology, biology, ecology, and neurosciences, deploying a vast array of technologies and expressive forms, with a natural inclination for new media languages.

The focus of his artistic inquiry is the human physicality: the body on stage is the one of the audience, confronted with their own sensorialities. Balancing technical virtuosity and a research-based art practice, Mattia Casalegno stages a playground where we can shape new negotiations towards reality – just as kids do. In order to return to a place of awareness we need to take action and engage in the most subversive and enriching of the human practices: play and experimentation.

He has recently been accepted into a residency program at Eyebeam, one of the major centers dedicated to art, technology and society. There he will spend five months at the center’s new location in Brooklyn.

FP: Last fall you were in a residency at the Budafabriek in Kortijk, Belgium to work on the “GrassRoller” which was included in the “Green Light District” show. You presented a related work, “The Open”, at the RoBOt Festival in Bologna, Italy, few months earlier. Can you talk about these two projects and how they evolved from one to the other?

MC: The “GrassRoller” was produced with the help of the students of the Industrial Design Department in Kortijk, and subsequently added to the show. This exhibition -something in between a scientific lab, a town fair and a dystopic amusement park- was curated by Christophe de Jaeger, a Belgian curator with a really interesting take on the new languages of contemporary art.

As you walk through the exhibition, you may find an indoor forest with olive trees, roaming hens producing high-vitamin eggs, an RV scale olfactory-mixer machine and living prototypes of GMO fish, one of which was stolen during the exhibition’s opening!

The “GrassRoller” is a machine the size of a canopy bed, comprised of a queen size aluminum bench on which you lay and a six feet long barrel covered in grass meant to roll over your body.

Then you have “The Open” a series of masks lined with fresh sod that are also equipped with headphones and mic systems. The mask’s design follows a sex fetish quality, employing the aesthetic use of leather and buckles. It forces you to inhale the soil’s smell with your eyes closed. You can then only hear the sound of your own breathing, but with a slight delay, bringing a sort of a-synchronicity between the act and its perception.

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They have different scales – in “The Open” just your head is wrapped in, where as in the “GrassRoller” your entire body is framed – but in both your bodily freedom is constrained. You are confronted with your own body, and at the same time forced to have a sensorial confrontation with a natural element.

FP: In your interactive works the audience is invited to perform simple actions, although there is always some disruption to destabilize the experience. What is the role of technology in provoking these estranged effects?

MC: In times of quantified selves and full-time connectivity where the sensorial is narrowed down predominantly to the visual, I’m into the idea of “experiential machines”, apparatuses that produce sensations and affects acting on the visceral, the olfactory, the tactile.
I’m interested in generating complex, conflictual sensations -frightening and alluring at the same time, like the relationship we have with nature. It speaks about this idea of vulnerability, but also to the desire to control and master nature.

FP: Your proposal for the Eyebeam residency is based on a project from 2011: “RBSC.01”, a version of which you also showed last November at the NTAA – New Technological Arts Award in Ghent, Belgium. This work is part a bigger “ouvre” designed as an epic poem: the non-linear hero’s journey of the enzyme RuBisCo, the most abundant protein on Earth. How is this work structured?

MC: The project is based on a speculative narrative inspired by the chemical reactions of the photosynthesis cycle and by RuBisCo, a key enzyme for plants and the link between the inorganic world of solar energy and the organic compounds on which plants and all living organism feed off. RuBisCo is “famous” for its relatively “inefficiency” and slowness. Through bioengineering we are trying to make it more “efficient” to ultimately design plants to absorb more pollution– in my view to justify the fact that we can be able to pollute more, or waste more food.

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RBSC.01” is a kinetic sculpture somehow inspired by the “inefficiency” and “instability” of RuBisCo, where you literally ingest the by-product of the machine. Lingering between a guillotine, a stripped-to-bones altar and a baking machine, it produces a sacramental-bread resembling wafer, on which a logo comprised of the infinite symbol is impressed along with the chemical elements of “O2” and “CO2”.

The show at the NTAA was designed as a sort of archeological site with parts of the machine and remnants of its products displayed as futuristic relics. Other pieces from this project comprise a monologue, a 4 notes custom-designed double flute, a musical score translated from the chemical reactions of the Calvin Cycle, and a performance of a musician playing this score in front of an empty audience.

FP: In this epic poem of the most abundant enzyme on Earth you’ve been fascinated by imperfections. According to contemporary evolutionary views, error has a generative function: nature proceeds by attempts, sometime dull and useless, and might progressively re-discover vestigial traits, the utility of non-functional rejects. Also in the Human Genome Project, 95% of our nucleotide sequences have no direct genetic function. We still have to fully explain the biological meaning of the identified sequences. Also, only less than half of the genetic material analysed corresponds to recognisable functions in terms of known proteins.

I’m thinking at “The Laboratory of Doubts” by Carsten Holler: are you trying to activate the genetic waste to see if we, as a species are still able to evolve towards unpredictable directions? Or are you just having fun, with no particular reason?

MC: Yes, errors and mistakes are fundamental for evolution. I like to design spaces for interaction and possibilities, to imagine dysfunctional solutions, not finalized toward a determined purpose. And obviously I also have fun in the process..

Mattia Casalegno | Eyebeam | NTAA | gld-kortrijk | RoBOt Festival

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