Today we head towards the southern part of Milan, close to the Parco della Resistenza, where the close-knit Discipula collective recently found their studio space. Marco Paltrinieri, Mirko Smerdel and Tommaso Tanini form a trio whose passion for underground music then led to the exploration of visual arts, maintaining the same attitude towards their work. Perhaps that very same attitude that pushed them to establish their publishing house “Discipula Edition” in 2013. Its name is inspired by one of their recorded songs – “La discipula del velocimetro” [“The speed-test pupil”]. “We were looking for a simple yet ambiguous name”. Critical and autocratical, their projects never leave room for predictability – with the most varied means of expression they delve into society’s threats and values, with a polished and sharp gaze.
How long have you known each other?
Marco – We have known each other for a long time. There was a period during which we worked independently. Then we met again – with Mirko first, when working on “The Looking Game”; with Tommaso afterwards for “H. said he loved us”. The birth of Discipula reactivated some mechanisms that were only waiting to be restarted.
What is your Modus Operandi, as a collective specifically?
Marco – Mirko, the academic, is the one that “officialises”; I spend more time on textual contents and on research; Tommaso has a great technical competence and above all, he is a great photographer. Having said so, each and every step of our work is brought to the table and together we discuss, negotiate and criticise. So before a project sees the light of day, whether it being artistic or commissioned, it has to go through a long analysis process.
Your work is strongly analytical, especially in relation to the role of images in contemporary post-internet society – “post-everything” as you call it. Could we say that there’s a fine thread that connects all of your production, even if the thematics and the means shift incredibly and unexpectedly…
Tommaso – Yes absolutely. With “The Looking Game”, in 2013, we found ourselves reflecting on some of the essential characteristics of visual language – ambiguity and liquidity. This allowed us to define a quite specific area of interest and a methodology that then refined itself from project to project. Research and method have been growing hand in hand ending up determining new theoretical and formal discoveries that helped shape our practice, stimulating and questioning us. Each work can be viewed as a chapter of a greater project – namely Discipula. Reinvention and subversion of a specific modus operandi are the two important rules of this macro-scale-project. Seen from this angle, two projects like “H. said he loved us” and “How Things Dream” result much more alike than what it might seem on paper.
The first body of work, clearly photographic, was born as a documentary research on a specific historical period, which was then “sabotaged” and made universal; the second, more complex in its formalisation, dealt with contemporary problems filtering them through a sci-fi narration process. Even if using different strategies, they both talk about surveillance and control, trying to make the viewer reflect on the language used to present the themes.
The power of images is definitely one of those systems you question yourself on, and you do so by, for example, following the advertising language in order to understand the consequences – like in “Efficacy Testing Stream”..
Appropriation is central to our practice – “Just Like Arcadia” and “Efficacy Testing Stream” are just two examples. We take existing images and we decontextualise and reprogram them, thus opening them to new readings and interpretations. We want to put the viewer in the position of being able to reconsider what he/she is looking at, rethinking its uses and meanings.
You have a publishing house, so the use of the printed page as a mean of photographic divulgation is something you acknowledge. In this specific period, photographic books are receiving a great deal of attention – maybe too much? What is your take – do you see any negative implications in posting the spotlight towards the editorial word?
Generally speaking, it is a positive tendency – it allows the artwork to reach out in a broader way. Moreover, in our specific case, being artists and publishers altogether is definitely stimulating – it pushes us to reflect on the relationship between creation and production as well as on the possibilities of getting your work around instead of it being confined to the gallery walls. When looking deeper, this “trend” becomes negative when everyone starts wanting to make a book. This results in an enormous production of books that all look the same. This phenomenon leads to the “container” becoming more interesting than the “content” itself. In a few words – beautiful yet useless books.
Marco – Often when visiting big fairs, Offprint in London to name one, this trend seems to be generating white noise. Maybe there is an overproduction problem. However, we are still talking about a niche industry – not even to be compared with the rebirth of the vinyl in the music world.
Maybe its just a bubble; maybe the major problem is that we are missing a proper critical apparatus that filters and organises the spread?
Maybe. But perhaps we are also lacking a proper judgemental apparatus. Having said so, we are strongly attached to the editorial world – making books helped us and we will certainly continue in the future.
Talking about effort – how much effort do you reckon it takes to live and work in Italy?
Albeit the current situation, we are still looking at things in a pro-European way. We often work abroad and we like to consider ourselves firstly as citizens of the European Union.
Having said so, we live in Italy and for an artist, things are quite complicated here.
Mirko – The artists here are simply not safeguarded – there is some sort of turmoil but we are lacking an overall view.
Marco – I find Milan very lively and stimulating, even compared to London, where I’ve lived until a few months ago. I get a good feeling here, you just have to find a way of picking up on the things that are happening.
Our usual question – elevator pitch. You find yourself in an elevator with a famous curator or art critic and you only have one minute to say something about your work.
We never take the elevator.