Simone C. Niquille is a graphic designer and researcher in visual strategies from Zug, Switzerland. She is part of the design research collective Space Caviar, based in Genoa – Italy.
Lorenza Baroncelli is an architect, researcher and curator. She is one of the founders of “White Hole,” an exhibition space whose purpose is the production and dissemination of critical investigations on the relationship between technology, authority, the landscape and everyday life, which opened in Genoa earlier this year.
This interview, made possible thanks to Skype technology, introduces the video “Fortress of Solitude” by Simone C. Niquille and presented at “White Hole” in February. The author attempts to find answers to questions about the meaning and the function of today’s home. Does a place, an architectural space that we can call “home” still exist?
Simone C. Niquille talks about the video “Fortress of Solitude”
Conversation transcription below
Lorenza Baroncelli: First of all I would like to thank you for being the first artist to take part in this project. Twelve interviews that “White Hole” gallery is promoting with Radicate.eu. You have been the first artist that we’ve shown in the gallery, so first of all thank you very much.
Simone C. Niquille: Thank you.
LB: Your contribution to “White Hole” was a video called “Fortress of Solitude” and I would like to ask you how you came up with the idea of this video and what the video is about.
SCN: “Fortress of Solitude” was part of a bigger project we were doing at Space Caviar, a design research collective in Genova. We were doing the cultural program for Biennale Interieur 2014 (ed.: in Kortrijk, Belgium) and that was a broader research into the home today and what it means to have a home, as an architectural space and if a home still exists. Our premise was saying that the home does not exist and that it has been infiltrated with… Well for one who starts moving a lot and doesn’t necessarily has it… Home is not a place anymore but it is more a state of being. Thinking about things like airbnb, so that you sort of start monetizing your home. “Fortress of Solitude” was then a film investigating the future of that, specifically looking at what it means to live with technology in your home.
And “Fortress of Solitude” itself, the title, refers to the home of Superman in his comics; it is his hidden place, up in some icy mountains, and there’s a key that is really heavy so only superman can enter it. And in the Fortress of Solitude there are all of these different compartments. So one is the technology compartment where he has all of these weird robots that automate his home and do all of the chores while he is away. And so as that (the film). “Fortress of Solitude” is looking at a similar idea that has been around since about the 1920s, since electricity has been introduced to the home. A wish we have to not having to do all of the cleaning or upkeep of the home and passing that on to… You know, if you can’t afford a butler or maids then you start dreaming of this robot that is going to do that for you for free, and what are the consequences of that.
LB: Why did you decide to speak about domesticity of the home?
SCN: The biennial has two sides, one is the cultural program and the other one is a quite traditional fair environment of furniture and interior devices or appliances. What was interesting with that is looking at the space where you would place all of these things. If you are trying to buy a chair, what are you buying it for? You’re buying this for your home, but what does it mean to actually have a home? Or what are the things we are supposed to exhibit in a context like this, in a context of interior? Are those actually still things like furniture or has this sort of moved on to very different objects? Should an interior fair show a smartphone because this is what we live with? So for us it was quite nice to question this space you’re supposed to put these objects in and asking if this space even still exists.
LB: What is the role of surveillance of spaces in your work, or maybe not just of spaces but also in relation to the body?
SCN: I think it sort of extends something quite interesting which I see as, name it, survenience for now. Survenience is a mashed-up word out of convenience and surveillance.
Looking at a surveillance that happens accidentally because we want convenience, because we want to ease our life, so to speak, or try to do tasks differently than we would be used to. Because of that we might not be entirely aware of the consequences and this could in some situations be surveillance. So, for example, looking at this in the home, looking at something called the Internet of Things, this idea of connected devices, and that devices speak to each other. So the coffee maker is going to realize when there is no coffee anymore, then it is going to tell the fridge and the fridge is going to order it. That kind of interplay sounds like a really convenient thing when you think about it: I don’t ever have to buy coffee anymore and I don’t even have to think if there’s coffee in the coffee maker, it just kind of happens magically in the background. And the thing there is that, if we buy these objects and introduce them in the home, it is something that we don’t fully understand, there’s a communication going on behind our backs taking care of our domestic space but we don’t actually entirely know how these things are communicating or with whom. If you don’t know fully how these things work and you’re not protecting these things, then you have all of these other visitors coming through these side tunnels, or side channels, that you are creating by introducing these products into your home.
LB: Can you tell us about the structure of the video, about the narrative of the video. How you built it, who are the main actors, how you use the images in it, and the graphics.
SCN: It’s divided up into three chapters, the whole film is twenty minutes long. It is filmed in four different places geographically but it is all mostly filmed in interiors and the locations were chosen, some by being future visions by architects. So for example the Nakagin Tower, the Capsule tower in Tokyo, or the van Schijndel House in Utrecht in The Netherlands which is this architect’s home that was done, very avant-garde for the time being, and it is really interesting. It’s his house that from the outside has a completely closed façade, but when you enter it is very light and very transparent. It is almost like a castle. The outside is very walled-in, but when you’re inside it doesn’t feel like that at all so they are playing with the idea of transparency, invisibility, and privacy. Some things were really architectural works that were specifically chosen and then others were airbnb’s that I used while traveling to these places. So while traveling to Hong Kong and Japan, Tokyo, specifically. That I was choosing on airbnb for specific reasons; for travel one in Hong Kong I chose it because I saw they had a smart lock so that you would have to put in a code and you don’t get the key.
This is the visual layer and then there is a textual layer which is a script or an essay that was read by a child, who is a voice-over actor. And than there is another layer which is a text message conversation that pops into the image every once in a while. This conversation is between a fictitious single mom and her home. And sometimes the voice-over that the child is reading is addressing things that have just happened in this text message conversation, but essentially they don’t necessarily have so much to do with each other. The mom and the home conversation is thinking of words we are using, like the word of housewife. So suddenly the house becomes the housewife because it is always with the child whereas mum is out working. So it is looking at these relationships which in the end, without spoiling too much, is ending up with the mom jealous of the home, an van Schijndel House it is spending all of this time with the child while she’s out working. And they are having all of the fun and drawing pictures together and stuff like that.
Another layer is the music, or the soundtrack, which was done together with an artist called M.E.S.H. Together with him we were asking questions like what would an open window sound like in a smart home, expecting that it wouldn’t necessarily sound much different to our current home. But still thinking of these scenarios that you would do in a home like getting up, washing your dishes and kind of imagining that in this smart home context.
LB: How did you see your video inside the “White Hole” gallery? Because “White Hole” gallery has strange rule, you cannot enter it, you have to look at the space and it is very small, it is 24 hours open. How did it fit with your video?
SCN: It was quite nice because a lot of the shots are interior shots. To see this within a space that you cannot enter was quite a nice analogy.
Thinking of future spaces in general, or future housing, not necessarily home, the fact that you can’t enter but there is something going on inside. In one way it feels a little bit doomsday. But at the same time it is quite interesting, there is something mesmerising within a space that you cannot enter so you just end up standing in front of it, staring in. Which is normally something you would do with your smartphone, you walk around and stare onto this thing. So it was quite nice to see architecture treated like that, like something you stand in front of and stare into. So if you’re not standing behind the person looking into the gallery, you do not realize that they’re actually watching a film. I think that is a quite similar experience to being on a bus where everyone is looking down to his/her smartphone. It was really nice to have that transposed to an architectural space.
LB: How is your Twitter profile? Your Twitter account is quite strange, it’s “TechnoFlesh.” Why did you choose it?
SCN: It is the name of my practice in a way, it is something I mentioned earlier, I’m interested in the marriage of technology and the flesh, or technology and the body. I think this is a weird thing we start doing, knowingly or not, where we start combining technology with the body much more intrinsically than wearing a watch or having crutches when you brake your leg. We start inserting pacemakers because our heart doesn’t work right and than it needs batteries so you create dependences to this which is not necessarily something we ever expected. You do it because you think it helps you. It’s strange dichotomy again of wanting something that helps you but in the end it requires a different standard of time or maintenance just like a smart home. “TechnoFlesh” is that, I think it is just a nice word. If I had a metal band, I would call it “TechnoFlesh,” which I do not. In the end it’s a nice word to talk about these two things.
LB: Thank you very much for the interview and for being the icon of “White Hole” gallery, because you have been the first and gave the start and the first imprint to the gallery, and that’s quite important for the gallery. Thank you very much.