Looking at the Internet is a project by Greek artist Miltos Manetas for the Internet Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale 2015. Looking at the artist is a contribution by radicate.eu, created spontaneously on July 6, 2015 — the day after the Greek bailout referendum. A memorable day, when a popular democratic negation affirmed the need to question values Europe is built on.
The Skype conversation with Miltos Manetas starts with screenshots from his Facebook page and ends with a view of the sea from Derveni, in Greece. Between Italy and Greece, English and Italian, virtual and real, “yes” and “no,” the artist who looks at the Internet has been looked at by the Internet itself; and by you too, watching the video on the platform that Manetas defines as the Über Artist: the Internet, indeed.
Looking at the artist
Conversation transcription below
All images have been kindly provided by the artist.
Michela Alessandrini: Miltos…
Miltos Manetas: Michela, ¿Cómo estás?
MA: Ciao, ¿Cómo estás?
MM: Fine. I’m in the middle of a linguistic confusion in these days, I can speak all languages. Εσύ με βλέπεις? Εγώ δεν σε βλέπω…
MM: Can you see me? I don’t see you!
MA: I don’t… I mean yes, I see you. Are you outside? Where are you?
MM: I’m outside, in a village here in Greece, near Athens, where I have a cottage.
MA: Where are you?
MM: This is the village of Derveni.
MA: Where is it?
MM: It’s facing Delphi. Delphi is on the other side.
MA: So, why did you come back to Greece?
MM: To vote, can you believe it? For the first time in my entire life!
MA: I read that on Facebook.
MM: Yes, because these elections looked interesting to me. For the first time, I thought it was worth voting. It’s also because I want to show my daughter (Alpha, editor’s note) her country, in this beautiful moment of its history. I’m not being ironic, I truly believe this is a wonderful moment for Greece and for everybody — as long as we look at it in a positive and optimistic light. I believe that we are also in an alpha moment of life. Being an Alpha moment, it is a positive moment.
MA: Tell me the reason why you think it’s positive. Why is it an important moment? What does your vote mean?
MM: The vote is a symbolic one, started by the Greek government. This is a joke government, a government that plays at government, because they are smart people. They have other things to take care of in life I suppose; I don’t know them personally, but looking at them I feel some kind of trust. I can feel that these people are not professionals, in the way that other governments have been in Greece before. I can imagine they have other things to do than waste their time governing Greece. But why not, sometimes people dedicate their time to the common good and form a government. These people, whom I really respect a lot without knowing them, came to the Greeks with a very symbolic question: say “yes” or “no”. Yes or no to what? It wasn’t even clear to what, because Europe has made an approach to the Greeks, and the Greek government has thought “let’s take this to the people.” They were very interesting. For the first time, without a real question — of course people started thinking that it was a real question about Europe “yes” or “no,” but that’s not true. At least, I believe that it’s not true. There is no “yes or no to Europe” question. Why not? Europe has been around as a concept for many years and we all pretty much like it. As a mythological entity, you can’t really say “no” to Europe, but neither we can say “yes.” It’s an acceptance that goes beyond; just as one can’t say “yes” or “no” to sunshine or sunset. You just look at it, right? But you can say “yes” or “no” for the sake, the pleasure, the opinion of “yes” or “no,” for the power that this negation or acceptance embodies. It’s symbolic. In this case, symbolically, it was better to say “no” because over the past years the Greeks have always said “yes” to the other so-called European peoples. After all this “train” of yeses, which was a wonderful train and one we enjoyed very much, now it’s the moment to say “no.” This is not like the leftist “no,” the yesterday’s “no,” the communist “no” or the “I don’t want this, I don’t want that.” It’s a “no” with a phonetic, symbolic power. A negation of the “no.” And, of course, it’s also a “yes.” When you negate in this way it’s also an acceptance. In sex you have that, a lot. You can say “no, no, no” but then “yes, great.” It’s a sexual “no.” If it was expressed as a “yes,” it would not have any sexuality, it wouldn’t hold passion. For the first time, maybe, in European History these elections got something erotic. I thought “that’s important, let’s go and vote.” I came to vote, but of course I didn’t succeed because I had completely forgotten how to vote – I’ve never done it in my life and I thought I could vote here in Derveni but I had to do it in Athens… So I couldn’t vote.
MA: So you did not actually succeed in voting?
MM: I did not succeed, in fact, but this is a problem of democracy. I should be able to vote on Facebook. That’s how you should be able to vote today, on Facebook, which I did. I’ve been very political. In real life, I didn’t succeed in being political… Never mind. Even without me, the Greeks gave a strong “no.”
MA: Your virtual action was probably as important as the real one.
MM: Today the intention is more important than the action, actually. This is the historical moment where intentions are really more important than actions. Why? Actions are mostly for satisfaction and intentions create karma. I also believe that sooner or later they will solve this kind of problem and we will be able to vote through Facebook. I believe in Facebook politics more than politics they way we know it. I think that the polis of today, the city of today, is Facebook, Twitter, these electronic cities, and that’s where we are political entities more than in real places.
MA: I’ve seen that you have reposted on your Facebook wall so many statements from a lot of your friends, underlining something in red or making drawings… in a way, you were re-enacting what they were saying! Tell me something about this.
MM: All this started from the secretary of the European Council, his name is Michel (ed.: Michel Reijns). He wrote something accusing the Greeks of having broken the negotiations and “now what can we do, Europe made such an effort to arrive at a compromise, the Greeks are bad boys and girls, they left the negotiating table.” On the same web-page there was written “is there something wrong with the website? If yes please send us a note,” as they usually do with websites in case there is something wrong technically. I thought “wow, Michel is asking if there is something wrong with his website.” So I registered a website, yesmichel.com, and create a YesMichel Facebook group. I started collecting all the possible answers to the question of Michel “Is there something wrong with our website?” because I really think it’s actually more significant to look at the websites of the people and not to look at their opinions as if they were websites, because that’s more open. In today’s civilization, if you look at opinions of people as websites they are more open, they are a plateau, they can be hacked — because websites can be hacked, you can interfere with them. So I started interfering with what my friends say, because what do we do? We put things on Facebook, and then we can always delete them. This is, more or less, what you can do with real life. I can say something to you and, if you are not recording, then I can change it and tell you something else. Today we can look on this surface, this public media water, and capture a little bit of it. To capture some media foam. Capture something of this media foam and present it. I think that this is very politic: instead of expressing opinions, to capture media foam and let it talk. I think that this is very important today. The media foam is very important! We need to draw something on it, intervene a little bit. Like surfing on the waters of the moment.
MA: You gather and then distribute it.
MM: Exactly. When you are using the wind, you can let it take diverse forms while you’re surfing with it… It’s as if you produce it by yourself. This summer I’m doing also something for the Venice Biennial: this is the theme of the Internet Pavilion this year, “Looking at the Internet,” meaning “Guardare Internet.” I’ve diverted slightly, because of the current Greek situation. I’ve left to one side the work I was doing: while I’ve been looking at the Internet, I’ve started looking at politics. In the same way, politics is the Internet. I did not interrupt my work for “Looking at the Internet”: I’ve kept on looking at it, but politics has become the topic of the moment. Internet is not real life.
MA: The Internet is looking at you too.
MM: Naturally! This is the meaning of this year’s Internet Pavilion. It’s a portrait of the human by the Internet. The Internet is the Über Artist, the number one artist, let’s say. An artist today can simply collaborate with the Über Artist, help him, and become his assistant. So, the Über Artist makes his own portrait and, at the same time, that of the one who is painting him.
MA: What support does he use for this portrait?
MM: The Internet, directly. In effect, I’m filming the Internet while I watch it, but my computer records me at the same time. It’s a double portrait. I’m watching it and it is watching me watching it. But, as contemporary science tells us, while you are looking at something, you are also influencing it. Today, in order to influence a landscape you just need to look at it.
MA: It’s a matter of perception.
MM: It’s a matter of looking, of perception — but active perception. When you look, when you pay attention to something, as when you record. Recording is important today because it’s possible. Yesterday too you could record stars, but today you can do it effortlessly. In an A mode, an Alpha mode, without any additional war. You just hold in your hands whatever device that records. Recording today is not even a choice, it’s something you let happen because you want to change something.
I hope that this kind of wave of so-called crisis is going to move westwards and reach Italy and Spain too, because they badly need it. I love Italy, it’s like my second, even first country, so I really believe that Italy needs a Greek crisis, and Spain too. They need a crisis like ours that is going to burn down the old fantasies about Europe and build a new idea out of it.
MA: So you think that we need a crisis to build up a new Europe.
MM: I believe that things need to be re-elaborated: we need a new situation in the South of Europe. A crisis makes this possible: it obliges us to build a new platform. We cannot hang around with the old fantasies about Europe: they are not enough. They are based only on economics. Economics is a fiction. Money doesn’t make happiness. Happiness can be produced only by happiness, by active work towards happiness. It depends only on our intentions. We have all the motives for achieving that, so why not? We have to give up on the economics.
I also thought of a new concept: the concept of Medio Sud. Something like the Medio Oriente, the Middle East, a situation where the East is not fully east, not even the real East. It is mostly a West that occasionally becomes “more East.” Brakes the patterns of the West. In the same way, we can start to entertain the idea of a Middle South, which is not a South but a North. But it’s a North that doesn’t follow the strict pattern of the North and becomes more and more “southern.” I think that we should break out from the classic pattern of Northern Europe and go towards a Middle South Europe. To start moving towards this Middle South, not from the South itself but from the North — people from the North, living in Paris or London, for example, not farmers from the South, because South doesn’t exist any more. It has disappeared, right? You cannot have the South if you have organization, and today with computers you have a lot of it. Life becomes prevedibile.
MA: The South no longer exists.
MM: Right, but a new Middle South is replacing it, a denial of the North that doesn’t enclose the South. A Middle South, a new situation. Like the Middle East, which is not East. You cannot say today “let’s go back to the Middle East,” because the East no longer exists. The Western lifestyle is the one we accept. Nevertheless, in this West there is a Middle East – an Israel, a Palestine, without the negativity of violence: without the impact of the Middle East. Anybody going to those places realises that there are wonderful human and social relationships regardless violence. When it is not surrounded by disorder, the Middle Eastern way of living is really beautiful. There is something similar in Europe, some kind of Middle South. This is what I dream about. It’s not a philosophy one can apply from Naples down, it’s not for Greek or Spanish people, but for Monaco or Geneva – for those rather unfortunate citizens living in an empire driven by economy and needing a philosophy. Where can they find it? Here, among us, in a “no” that means “yes.”
MA: So true! Can you show me the sea?
MM: Sure, espera.
MA: It’s magnificent.
MM: See, the sea is radically Middle South. It’s positive; it’s effortless. Your eyes drink it in for free, you don’t have to pay for it. Life is not about money, and never was.