The Link Art Center Closes Down. Interview with the Founders

Debate, Texts
Collect the WWWorld. The Artist as Archivist in the Internet Age at 319 Scholes, New York 2012. Curated by Domenico Quaranta

What follows is the English translation (courtesy Google Translate, with some editing by yours truly) of an interview originally published in Italian on Artribune, about the end of the Link Art Center (here the official announcement). Together with my long time partners Lucio Chiappa, Matteo Cremonesi, Fabio Paris, I discuss with Valentina Tanni about the increasing awareness of digital cultures in mainstream contemporary art, media art institutions, collaboration, curating, publishing, and working on all this from Italy…

Valentina Tanni, in Artribune, September 19, 2019

After eight years of editorial, curatorial and exhibition activity, the Link Art Center, a cultural association engaged in the dissemination of new media art, announced its closure. We spoke with the founders – Domenico Quaranta, Fabio Paris, Lucio Chiappa and Matteo Cremonesi – to take stock of this important experience.

Let’s start with the inevitable question: why do you stop? Why now?

Domenico Quaranta: The Link Art Center was founded as a cultural association in 2011, with the mission to foster, at national and international level, a greater diffusion and awareness of the “arts of the information age”. At the time we perceived this mission as a burning necessity. We were spectators of a dynamism of the artists that did not find an adequate response in the institutions, in the magazines, in the market. We had to do something, and we did it. But on this front, from 2011 to 2019, there have been enormous changes, both at the artistic level and at a more general level of society, in Italy and in the rest of the world. Just visit a mainstream contemporary art event such as this year’s Venice Biennale to perceive the scale of this change. Themes that once would have been defined as “digital culture”, such as artificial intelligence, are now on the agenda, and not just in a discursive niche; languages ​​that once would have been defined as “new media”, such as virtual reality, are placed in the hands of contemporary art veterans such as Marina Abramovič or Anish Kapoor.

Are you saying that the art world was finally able to keep up with new media art?

Domenico Quaranta: The art world, over the last decade, has managed to do what, in relation to the so-called new media, it had never succeeded before, not even in the golden years of the New Economy: moving in concert. Not just museums, curators, and non-profit organizations, but also gallery owners, collectors and trend magazines. It is this evolution that has made us proclaim, in our closing statement, that we consider our mission to be “fullfilled”. It is a statement that must be taken, of course, with the right dose of relativism: we feel we have achieved at a good level of quality what we could do while remaining what we are, that is a small non-profit organization of four people, not supported by public funding. A space for self-criticism can be opened, and we have done so, on our inability, or unwillingness, to evolve into something more structured and solid, with greater firepower. But not having taken this path, the most reasonable alternative seemed to be the closure of the project.

What are the most important things you feel you’ve learned from this experience?

Domenico Quaranta: Difficult to make an exhaustive list. For me, that in 2011 I could afford the luxury of considering myself still young, it was important to understand that when you don’t see an operational space in the existing panorama, you have to find the courage and boldness to create one of your own: with seriousness, enthusiasm and in collaboration with the right people.

Lucio Chiappa: Among the founding members, I was the farthest from the art world: my professional experiences are related to communication, to brands, to classic advertising agencies. This is why the Link Art Center experience was for me a “test of the will”. A stubborn desire to approach new languages, to experiment innovative forms of production, to look ahead, beyond the usual logics of Brand Communication. The Link Art Center was an exciting and professionally enriching experiment. Even if it closes, I still believe that there is a space where the world of communication (let’s say the most enlightened one!) and that of artistic research can collaborate in an innovative way.

Matteo Cremonesi: Personally I feel I have learned a lot from this experience, both professionally and on a human level. When I was asked to join the Link Art Center, I had just finished university and was already working as an artist. I accepted with great enthusiasm because it seemed to me an excellent opportunity to enrich and broaden my point of view, also falling into the shoes of the curator and the organizer.

The project that gave you the most satisfaction?

Domenico Quaranta: Personally, the exhibition Collect the WWWorld. Above all, succeeding in bringing it to New York, in the spaces of 319 Scholes, in 2012. “Exporting” to the United States a project born in Italy, which dealt transversally with the post-internet, a movement which had found in New York one of its places of elaboration; involve new artists, from Penelope Umbrico to Brad Troemel, and get to know them personally; produce for the exhibition the first version of Since You Were Born, Evan Roth’s browser cache project which has also become a small Link Editions book and an impressive museum-scale installation; to meet prominent figures among the public who in the following years would have explored similar themes and worked with some of the artists on display. All these things were a nice confirmation of the road taken, and a charge of energy that lasted for years, feeding other projects of the Link Art Center.

Fabio Paris: There are two projects that are close to my heart: 6PM Your Local Time Europe (2015), and (2016), and both are based on collective involvement. 6PM Your Local Time is a one-of-a-kind large-scale exhibition format: a contemporary art event distributed and networked, which takes place simultaneously in different venues over a single evening. The venues (institutions, non-profit spaces, private galleries, artist studios) are located in an enlarged geographical area and the various events are documented and shared by the organizers and the public in real time on social networks and on the dedicated web platform. After a test event in the United Kingdom, the launch of the platform was coordinated from Brescia and involved more than 100 locations from 23 European countries. The number of connections on the site was so large that it had become unavailable for about an hour. An indescribable emotion, which amply repaid the commitment to organize a one-night event distributed on the European continent.

To celebrate the centenary of the Dada movement, from 5 February 2016 to 5 February 2017, the platform has digitally shared high quality copies of original Dada artworks and magazine covers, inviting artists from all over the world to use them in their work. In that year we received as many as 148 artworks, all published on the site. Every morning, when I turned on my computer, I found some new proposals. It was an intense year full of emotions.

Matteo Cremonesi: The project to which I am most attached and which gave me the most satisfaction is definitely Link Cabinet, our online exhibition space, which I designed and directed. Link Cabinet consists of a single web page that has hosted personal exhibitions, presenting unpublished works designed to be exhibited and enjoyed in that specific space. Between April 2014 and July 2019 Link Cabinet hosted 30 exhibitions. For me it has been a pleasure and a privilege to be able to collaborate in these years with artists such as Jonas Lund, Addie Wagenknecht, Nicolas Maigret, JODI, Eva Papamargariti, Guido Segni, Carlo Zanni, Nicholas Sassoon, Morehshin Allahyari, Michael Mandiberg, David Horvitz, Sara Ludy and Lorna Mills.

The other project I have at heart is the exhibition Situations / Postfail (December 2017-February 2018) which I curated and realized in collaboration with Fotomuseum Winterthur. For me it was an excellent opportunity to confront myself with the curatorial role, grappling with an exhibition no longer online but in an important museum context like that of Fotomuseum.

Is there anything you think you keep on standing? For example Link Editions? You leave a big void from that point of view …

Domenico QuarantaLink Editions started off as an absolutely innovative editorial experiment, from the bet that to exist as editors were enough a talented graphic designer, an eye for quality content that needed more circulation, and an account on a print on demand service. Link Editions has released all its contents from the beginning in free download and without copyright restrictions. It has filled a void, and as such it could exist in the total absence of economy: no fee for the authors, no profit on our part. As a successful project, it began to be imitated, even by institutions that could afford something more, and this brought it to the same fork in front of which the Link Art Center was found: the relaunch on a different scale or the closure.

Individual projects for the future?

Domenico Quaranta: In recent years, my position as a teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts has evolved, from freelance lecturer to full-time professor. Since last year I am in the role at the Academy of Fine Arts of Carrara, where I am also Dean of the School of New Technologies of Art. At the moment many of my energies are pouring into that direction, which is not merely educational but also includes a lot of managerial work. Last year, for example, we launched Cloud Workers, a series of meetings with important figures in artistic practice and critical reflection on new media, to which we would like to follow up; this year we are launching a new MA programme (in Cinema, Photography and Audiovisual) and other projects that are still too early to be communicated.

As a curator, with Aksioma Institute for Contemporary Art Ljubljana I am working on an ambitious program called Hyperemployment, which will open in November, focused on work in the age of automation, accelerationism and the “end of work”.

Matteo Cremonesi: I will certainly continue my artistic activity with IOCOSE, the group I belong to. Recently we started a new series of works that further expands the perspective on a theme dear to us: the role of technological innovation in shaping the idea of the future. The work is focused on the renewed interest in exploring and conquering the space, proposed and supported by some important Silicon Valley figures as a solution for the future survival of our species.

Then I will also continue my theoretical and teaching research, as I would like to carry out the curatorial one, either independently or with new collaborations.