Elisa Muscatelli – How would you describe your artistic practice to an audience approaching you for the first time?
Irene Fenara – In my work I have always sought a vision, starting with an attempt to understand the vision itself. Vision is a cultural construction that is learned and trained today more and more quickly with the circulation and saturation of images. The history of vision is then inevitably linked to the optical visual technologies that are grafted onto our eyes and that transform our ability to see and therefore also to think. I am very interested in devices, any device we add to our vision determines a way of seeing differently and sometimes creates alternatives. Over time, I have felt the need to appropriate the tools of our contemporary world, the devices of vision, the technologies that orient and determine our way of seeing, going so far as to use images from surveillance cameras. A tool is never just one technology, but represents a way of thinking about what is visible.
EM – Many of the places captured by surveillance cameras appear as random landscapes. The low camera quality, angle, and lighting create images that are sometimes surreal, even giving rise to perceptual misunderstandings, as in MEGAGALACTIC (2017), where lights from computer servers appear as distant stars in a galaxy. What is it that is put on display and what is concealed?
IF – Most of the time nothing special happens, it is mostly a still and empty world that you see through private surveillance cameras, there are not many human beings because since they are private cameras, people often turn them off once they get home. It becomes interesting for me to try to understand why a camera has been placed in one place rather than another. Sometimes being able to see the explanation is quite straightforward, but many others are not. Sometimes there are constant places of interest depending on the countries I go to, for example in England I have found many indoor gardens, in China many car parks, and in California, several LED advertising signs. Then it can happen that a video camera is accidentally moved by a blow or a gust of wind and remains to stare at a white wall for years. But sometimes something happens, and it seems unbelievable just because I’m standing there looking at it, maybe it wouldn’t be so amazing if it happened at any moment, far from any kind of gaze, it would just be something that happens sometimes like the flight of a bird, and part of my research is real technological birdwatching of surveillance cameras where I collect these extraordinary moments.
EM – Today there are signs that art is migrating towards a virtual terrain, in your works, there is a process whereby the real passes through a virtual open-circuit channel – the surveillance cameras – and then returns to real life through the exhibition by means of photographic prints, projection on monitors or physical locations.
IF – Unfortunately, or fortunately, I cannot do without the concreteness of the image, even when I work exclusively in digital. I am used to living with images printed on random test media or just having them in my studio every day. I often think about how delicate photography is, sometimes I feel the need to mistreat surfaces, touch them, cut them, crumple them or throw them in a corner, and then see what survives by living with them. For me, giving body to an image means taking it to another dimension, a dimension closer to our own, and making an image concrete can make it live with us, a body among bodies, and I think this is the only way we can fully understand it in our experience.
EM – Often your eyes become those of the control technologies you choose, whose movement is programmed and limited. The work becomes a synthesis between what you want to see and what the machine is programmed to control. With all the devices switched off and without the mediation of the screen, what is your favourite thing to observe?
IF – Actually, the machine seems to me almost freer, even if it is limited in an infinity of other things, such as technical limits or limits linked to specific and delimited functionality. It seems freer to me because it doesn’t allow you to work on an aesthetic ideal that is already set but allows you to investigate a new one. What interests me about less usual technological tools is that they can really help us to dissuade our human attitude, to look at things in a way we have always been used to seeing them. In any case, I’m interested in landscapes, seen with my eyes or theirs.
EM – At the Academy you initially approached the sculpture, moving away from more and more from the materialization of the work-object towards liquid media such as video. Is there anything that has remained of your sculptural approach and that influences the way you work and see today?
IF – It may be that my need to constantly relate to space is something that stems from having studied sculpture, but also from the fact that I had the opportunity to work in a studio, in a personal space used for work at a very early age, and although the need to have a studio may seem strange, as I often work remotely and digitally, I always feel the need to project my research into the physical and tangible world, which then often takes the form of installations.