GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, and gallery owners operating in the field of Game Art, as part of our ongoing investigation of the social history of this fascinating artworld. Our goal is to illustrate the genesis and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.
The conversation between Mathias Jansson and Fabio Paris took place via email in August 2010. Fabio Paris is a gallery owner - he's the mastermind behind, Fabio Paris Art Gallery (Brescia, Italy), which played (and still plays) a key role in disseminating Game Art in Italy (and beyond). Paris is also a publisher (FPEditions).
GameScenes: In describing the goals of your gallery on the official page, you state that your priority was to showcase art that reveals the “pervasive nature of popular subcultures (from manga to videogames)”, which is something that many gallerists/critics - the traditional art establishment/network - tend to dismiss as "non artistic". What is the story behind your gallery?
Fabio Paris: I had the privilege of growing up in the 1970s, an extraordinary period of research and experimentation, willing to embrace new artistic languages and challenge to dominant artistic traditions and the social establishment. This particular environment and attitude shaped my own approach to the world of art, moulded my tastes and stimulated a growing interest everything that breaks with conventions and recognized patters. My personal reading of recent art history springs from these influences. I also had the privilege of being a grown man at the dawn of the new millennium, a period in which many of the dreams (and nightmares) of the 1970s appeared to come to fruition.
It was then that I decided to do what years of frequenting artists had led up to: opening a gallery. Getting directly into the field, walking alongside the artists, following their paths. It came about on 11 May 2000, in the spring of a new Spring, a new century full of new discoveries: the Digital Era.
For ten years now the Fabio Paris Art Gallery has explored the art that aims to represent the age we live in, where mass information and communications have a powerful influence on our everyday lives. The gallery selects and presents works that talk about the present: a present in which man’s relationship with his environment and culture are constantly being redefined by new discoveries, new technologies and new paradigms of thought.
Eva and Franco Mattes, Taba Asturias, 2006, Stampa digitale su tela/Digital print on canvas87 x 114 cm - 34.3 x 44.9 in ("Avatars" @ Fabio Paris Art Gallery)
GameScenes: You have exhibited artworks directly inspired by new technologies of communication, e.g. the internet, online worlds and videogames. What was the attitude/reaction of art buyers and collectors to this new kind of art? Has the situation changed in the last decade? If so, how?
Fabio Paris: The first real signs of change for my gallery came between 2003 and 2005. At that time this kind of artistic expression was dubbed “experimental art”, a label that made it difficult to promote on the market. There were very few galleries in Europe dealing in this kind of art and for years the label kept many collectors away. But in the art world, just like in all other sectors, there are always people with a little bit more foresight than others, and if the gallery survived it is probably thanks to those “pioneering” collectors who were the first to believe in what it was offering.
There is an example I often use in this regard. Think of the new languages in art a century ago, at the beginning of the industrial era, when Dada came into being. At a time when the art market was still bound up with 19th century Impressionism, which and how many collectors were bold enough to buy Dadaist works? Now, a hundred years later, the situation is similar. There is an art form that breaks from the past, an art that reflects the new, digital, hyperconnected world we live in, and there are farsighted collectors who believe in this art, well aware that this is the art of today.
In 2008, I had the opportunity to contribute to Holy Fire, Art of the Digital Age, a show curated by Yves Bernard and Domenico Quaranta for iMAL in Brussels. As a publisher I also published the catalogue. The exhibition, which was part of the collateral programme of ArtBrussels (an important contemporary art fair) set out to debunk the myth that digital art was not collectable, by drawing only from private collections and galleries. It also wanted to raise awareness among collectors and gallery-goers by presenting works that too often circulate only in specialised settings such as electronic art festivals. Many of the works of art on show were already in important collections. It was a kind of consecration to the art market.
GameScenes: How can artists make a profit from works that, in many cases, are ethereal, that is intangible objects? Can net.art and Game Art be collected?
Fabio Paris: Growing up in the Seventies taught me not to be afraid of the digital world. At the end of the day, the digital is more “tangible” than conceptual art! The digital can never exist in the form of pure data: software is necessarily channelled by a piece of hardware, whatever that might be. If the work is not in object form (for example an installation or a sculpture like the Self-Disinfecting Machines by Eva and Franco Mattes), it can be sold with its own display, or saved on a magnetic storage medium. Video art has long got us accustomed to dealing with works which are not in object form and tackling archiving issues, and it is no coincidence that many collectors who look to the new technologies have a background in video art and are familiar with the concept of editions.
“Intangible” works can also be translated into objects: digital prints, video, sculptures, 3D prints, etc.. This translation process is often viewed as a compromise, but that is not the case: variability, as Lev Manovich teaches, is one of the key features of the new media. There is no such thing as an original, only versions. Then if we want to get philosophical, everything is sellable, there are no limits. And today there is nothing more intangible than money itself.
GameScenes: Have you experienced episodes where specific artworks violating copyright laws became a casus belli with corporations/companies that own such content? After all, some artists appropriate commercial videogames in their artworks, images, characters, etc. from videogames or the net and some companies are very protective of their IP. Does that represent a problem?
Fabio Paris: Not for me. Appropriation has always been a legitimate artistic strategy. Pop Art showed us how to use media imagery and iconography, taking inspiration from film, television and billboards. I don’t see why we can’t do the same with the internet and videogames. I can use Coca Cola, why not Super Mario? Obviously the level of appropriation has changed, many works of Game Art use the whole game. What has not changed are the rules of the art game: the mainstream media churns out characters and settings that strike the collective imagination and become modern-day icons, and artists grant themselves the right to reinterpret these and use them to make something completely different from the original idea that inspired them. In general for me the net and digital languages are a means for freely circulating data and knowledge. Information wants to be free, to quote those who invented the new media, and my anarchic and free-thinking spirit can only go along with them.
Jeremiah Johnson aka Nullsleep, "Data Spills", view of the installation (Data Spills - FabioParisArtGallery, May 22>June 26, 2010)
Gamescenes: You are also a publisher. Your small press, FPeditions, has published a series of monographs on such artists as UBERMORGEN.COM, Todd Deutsch and Gazira Babeli. Why did you start a publishing house? Did you feel that the publishing world has been neglecting Game Art for too long?
Fabio Paris: The publishing business is just one of the elements in my artistic and cultural project. It’s another way to convey the same contents. It’s not for me to say, but the response from readers has shown that the books we have published so far have effectively filled a gap in the market.
Link: Fabio Paris Art Gallery
Link: Fabio Paris on flickr
Text by Mathias Jansson