Interview by Chiara Moioli for Mousse Magazine, 2019
“If you know, you know
This thing of ours, oh, this thing of ours
That’s the reason we ball for
If you know, you know”
Pusha T, “If You Know You Know,” from DAYTONA
(New York: G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam Recordings, 2018)
Imagine walking into a gallery to find, neatly displayed, screened videos capturing websites of several well-known galleries, their online portals lustrously gleaming, random songs playing in the background. This bizarre rendezvous forces us to deal with a kind of “contextual Daltonism” that is ostensibly enigmatic. One might ask whether this arrangement is an appendix of the gallery’s setting—a brand-new promotional tool considerately shared among associate spaces—or a blunt joke we’re not “schooled” to get. When confronted with Patrick Fabian Panetta’s work, the weirdest queries arise, and it’s legitimate for the viewer to question whether everything’s gone bananas. Maybe that’s exactly what Panetta intimately aspires to achieve. Distinguished by a reckless gusto for probing the very activity characterizing artistic practice, Panetta also shares a considerable skepticism toward the status quo with respect to authorship and authenticity. His soliciting of art’s axioms—possibly an outcome of his early involvement in the art system—has over the years led him to investigate art’s power structures and their patterns of action; to analyze markets, trends, and forecasts that are being exploited in art production. To Panetta, delving into contemporary art allows for a better understanding of art’s contribution to the debate of its own field, and to make something out of it. Panetta is ultimately a reckoner: to him, art making is raising questions; his practice is made of the art world by means of its auto-poetic powers.
On the occasion of EXILE’s presentation at Ars Electronica 2019, for which Panetta exhibited a long-ongoing work, Formal Structures (2004-2019), the artist retraces the genesis of the project and his steps into the artworld; the computer as a tool to think about physical space, and the issues virtual space has generated over the years; the forces and mechanisms ruling art’s context as a way to highlight its contradictions and redefine our perceptions by putting a crack through an established format of what we call “art.”
CHIARA MOIOLI: Showcased at Ars Electronica 2019, Formal Structures started way back in 2004.
How does this work relate to this year’s festival program, titled The Midlife Crisis of the Digital Revolution?
PATRICK FABIAN PANETTA: Formal Structures was chosen for different reasons. The videos are incredibly simple. They were a mindless play, in a way, but I now feel they are quite effective at hinting at larger ideas of progress—and lack of progress—within art and technology. The three videos shown at Ars Electronica are a small portion of an immense collection that makes up the series. I see these thousands of videos as practical parts of a system where the piece can take on many shapes and ultimately be adapted into various and endless combinations. There are so many segments that seem to unintentionally reenact the phases of abstract art, from its very beginnings to its never-ending repetition (or reinterpretation) in the digital age. These somewhat primitive digital videos raise questions about progress, while emulating a kind of modern crisis. The Formal Structures videos seem now like ancient digital mantras foreboding current questions and uncertainties. I think it is easier to understand this work as a whole, a collection. The collection itself is more important to me than the individual parts.
CM: What was the original concept behind the Formal Structures videos, and how has it evolved over the last fifteen years?
How did you handle the aesthetic changes of the platform employed to realize them (Photoshop) according to its improvements in interface, speed, quality, et cetera?
PFP: In 2001 I started capturing more or less random and banal material with a crappy digital camera. In the beginning I did so obsessively from whatever media sources I could find: TV, magazines, photos, DVDs. After a while I also began to film my own actions on the computer screen, like filming an open Photoshop window while playing with the trackpad. Accidentally, the first thing I moved over the screen in Photoshop was a black square on a white layer, and the sound recorded was a random song playing on iTunes. Over the years the practice of collecting thousands of short clips without intent, especially without improvement in terms of quality—or even content—felt extremely right for me without knowing exactly why. From today’s point of view, I see this as a kind of premonition of what was to come. Simple videos of banal moments are now common ground. The more unpolished they are, the more they reveal. Digital imagery has a different currency—you can also say that digital imagery has become currency.
CM: What’s the reason you decided not to screen-capture the animations directly from the monitor, but settled on filming the live action instead, outside of the actual production machine?
PFP: I like the idea of using contrary technics and strategies to reflect and challenge given structures. To use screen-capture technology—which was not common at that time and diverged from my intuitive approach (which at times lacks technical knowledge)—never came to mind. Using the camera was instead way simpler, but as a result it got aesthetic and, in terms of content, more complex.
CM: Soundtrack is very relevant in your production, for instance in the already-mentioned Formal Structures,
but also in WATCHED AND RECORDED (2010-2019). Would you open up about this?
PFP: Music and the consumption of pictures are equal in my production. I usually record sound, music, and pictures in an indirect way, through filming the sound or picture source directly in the physical space, to get a certain distance between the two. I’ve never consciously decided to use music and sound. They were simply there. There is no silent picture; there is always environmental sound.
CM: Your work is concerned with the very activity characterizing artistic practice itself—its expectations and assumptions, its trends and flows. You have to research pretty hard to keep up with this fast-paced environment. How do you do it?
PFP: On the surface it’s not that hard, as most power structures and their leading representatives are quite obvious in their patterns of action. In the last decades the concept of an avant-garde has been more or less replaced by an economy of attention. I no longer see any difference between artistic practices and other forms of production in terms of economic success, because they depend on the same sources. It is fascinating, banal, and truly way too complicated. I don’t think market analyses, trends, and forecasts are interesting topics on their own, but nonetheless they are being used in art production.
I believe we should notice the forces and mechanisms in distribution and marketing at all times, to understand the changes and transformations of values and their reliability. In 2002 I started to take pictures of gallery ads in art magazines, which years later led to WATCHED AND RECORDED, an ongoing observation of gallery websites recorded while listening to random music and talk radio. It’s now an archive of hundreds of videos screen-captured over the last ten years, displayed in a variety of common modes of video-art scenarios such as stacked-cube monitors, flat-screens, projections, and multichannel presentations. The content of these websites focuses the viewer’s perception processes not on the artworks, but on a hyper-visuality where the experience is flattened and limited by the screen. The hyper-visuality does not communicate the quality of individual works, or the artist’s intentions or concerns, but sells an overall necessity for visual satisfaction.
It’s my impression that the virtual space has generated the same issues that the physical space—museum or gallery—has dealt with in past decades. At the core of this conflict is the impossibility of justification or authentication of art’s quality. Virtual and physical spaces construct an amplified visual experience where the intention of the artworks doesn’t necessarily challenge an idea, or reconstruct, destroy, or create a new perception. This material way of working begs the question of authenticity and authorship. The works I talked about are a denial of the idea of “artistic production”—even a resignation that there is anything new that can be produced.
CM: Institutional critique, appropriation art, and practice of dissent from the early days of the net are all inherent in your practice. You equate “creativity” with “well-employed strategic decisions.” What are you aiming to expose through your work and “parasitic strategies”? And what role has digitalization and its new paradigms (peer to peer and copy and paste, to name a few) had in the redefinition of what creativity is, for you?
PFP: As Gilbert and George said: “It’s rude to choose.” I’ve always seen myself confronted with very specific decisions in terms of making art, and art in general. From my first interaction as a student with the art system and its history, I had the strong feeling that everything had already been said, produced, and reappropriated thousands of times. Using a computer or working with new technologies felt already old-fashioned and not at all interesting or exciting even in the early 2000s. Yet somehow the computer was a good tool to think about physical space, and material and economic sustainability.
Everything I built, painted, or drew at that time had more meaning and potential after taking photos or short videos of it. The intension wasn’t documentation at all, but rather finding a plausible form (Werkform). I began to organize the files into digital archives with ongoing numbers and titled them Proxies, which describes the preliminarily status of their existence. To show or to produce physical work no longer made sense to me; it didn’t even feel possible. In 2005 curators first asked me to do a studio visit to show my work. This put me in a contradictory situation: How could I physically show work without contradicting the ideas taking form? The decision was to take a different approach, which emerged in NICE TO MEET YOU (2005), a work in progress carried out over the period of one year, regarding the 4th Berlin Biennale curated by Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, and Ali Subotnick.
I cleared my studio of all traces of work and painted the floor and the walls. I set a table with glasses, cooler, bottles of Veuve Clicquot, and mineral water. In one corner there was a monitor installed and a video camera. On the wall were three frames that held printouts with the phrases: “Nice to meet you,” “Fantastic,” and “It’s been a pleasure talking to you.” In the background, music by Charlie Parker was playing. During the studio visit there wasn’t much to see or to talk about; the mood was pretty good and after a few drinks the visitors left. Then the actual work began: I edited the footage the camera had captured, extracting a sequence where Cattelan noticed the camera and began to play with his image on the monitor, making a face and taking selfies. Later I looped this sequence, accompanied it with music and put it on DVD, which was then published in a boxed edition of five. The contact name on the case was Maurizio Cattelan. Three copies were sent anonymously to Cattelan’s representing galleries (Emmanuel Perrotin, Marian Goodman, and Massimo de Carlo). Whatever happened to these DVDs is not really important. One year later, I managed to convince three Berlin-based gallerists (André Buchmann, Barbara Thumm, and Christian Nagel) to present this work during the 4th Berlin Biennale in their spaces. In the end it’s art as a system shaping itself into a work of art by means of its auto-poetic powers. This way of producing was an initial development that informed later works, such as The Absurdity of Marking Art, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist (2006), which questioned again the power over meaning and their given structures.
CM: How do you deal with being recognized as an artist—hence taking part in the system you put into question? Do you perceive it like being an insider’s—or a reckoner’s—act of witnessing?
How would you define your role in the contemporary art scope?
PFP: To me, art making is raising questions, and defining what makes a good idea “good.” All the good ideas throughout art history were about targeting with a fine-toothed comb how we see things, highlighting contradictions and redefining our perceptions by putting a crack in an established format of what we call “art.” I would assume that every artist strives for this, but I don’t really know. I’m often confused by the intentions of others within the art system. My attitude toward the art system is affirmative: I analyze less than I perform a synthesis. I do not question the system, but I use it as my working material. Behavioral patterns become form in a way; individual attitudes become color. By their own accord and by virtue of their inherent potential for complicity and appropriation, they develop into a structure or shape. This should be understood like an abstract painting. This painting, however, is not a painting of the art world but rather a painting made of the art world.
Patrick Fabian Panetta`s parasitic strategies, recall William Burroughs dictum of ‘Language is a Virus’ and ‘Words beget image and image is virus’. The question is, what happens if the host becomes immune to its illness?
And thus, what if creativity is just a synonym for “well-employed-strategic-decisions”? It should have become clear, that this term and its fellow friends such as innovation, ingenuity or originality, have altogether been successfully assimilated to commercial and managerial practices, making them virtually unable to consider serious. In the wake of digitalization, reshuffling and copying from the fluid circulation of images and open access, the employment of ‘creativity’ is likely a euphemism for what is trending and upcoming. It is in this way understood as an adaptive mechanism, constantly filtering its surroundings for every bit of context, information and morphing into anything that could be of interest at this given moment. Patrick Fabian Panetta’s works concern the very activity of artistic practice itself, its expectations or assumptions, sharing a considerable amount of skepticism towards a status quo of renewed traditional ideas of authorship and authenticity. Over the years of working, he slide into a relentlessly booming optimism of ‘artistic progress’, envisioning ever newer and better products of art.
(Text: Jonas Schenk and Patrick C. Haas, 2018)
THE ABSURDITY OF MARKING ART, CURATED BY HANS ULRICH OBRIST
28th Nov 2006, Serpentine Gallery, London:
“Mr. Obrist, would you like to curate my degree show in fine arts?
In the following months during numerous interviews via e-mail and telephone Hans Ulrich Obrist and Patrick Panetta developed the concept for this degree show, which was then eventually curated by Obrist. The members of the examination board, however, could not actually see the presentation on site but had to rely on the information given to them by the curator, who was available during examination time by means of an ad hoc telephone connection. The result was a process-related artwork as exhibition that only gradually took shape in each examiner’s imagination. The information given on the phone by the curator to the examiners consisted of descriptions of four artworks by PP. HUO: – “On the wall on the right-hand side there is a black canvas…” – “If you turn left, you will see…” etc. Although these works were not present in the room, they actually do exist and had been described to Obrist during the preceding interviews. Some of these works had already been shown in different contexts during the examinee’s academic career and might have been encountered by some of the examiners before. In the room itself the only things that could be seen were excerpts from the interviews that had been fed into an LED billboard display on the wall: WHY FEAR? - FAILURE IS IMPOSSIBLE. - WE ARE FREE TO CHOOSE?, plus a table and the telephone. Apart from this and, of course, the participating people the room was empty. The basic idea of this piece was to answer the special situation that in order to receive a degree an art student has to present their work to an examination committee within a supposedly neutral test environment. To tackle this almost contradictory fiction of the artwork as a standardised and qualifiable product this work develops a discourse on power relations and the mechanics involved in relation to the artwork and its reception, coupled with an attempt to inverse these relations with regard to expanding the spatial dimension into the realm of the imaginary.
SCALE OF RATING
The material is the medium – is the message – equals questionable content – or is there any content left?
The shown material is an appropriation of screen recorder visits of various gallery websites with randomized sound in the background. We follow the user clicking through anything he can find, presenting us the “latest trends” in the art world. The choices of websites to visit is based on the scale of rating, which is determined through algorithmic rankings based on probability of importance. The websites’ designs become almost cinematic, while the actual content – information on artists’ works, gallery, and more – becomes a blown up spectacle. These programmed “pieces” create a spectacle, that should be a basic tool for information, tend to reduce its content to superficiality, while excitement is strictly limited to coded effects. The actual idea of works of art is not the subject of consumption anymore, it is in fact the “Informationsapparat” (information device) itself. Design, shine, glamour, and standardized forms press everything into a representative surface for a power play inside the art market. The content of these websites are focusing the viewer’s perception processes not on the works of art, but on a hyper-visuality where they experience a flattened dimension suited and limited by the screen. The hyper-visuality does not communicate qualities of individual works, artist intentions or problems, but sells an all over synchronized perception of a need of visual satisfaction. A gallery’s website in today’s art market is equal to the old fashioned idea of the “Präsentationsapparat” [Hans Zitko: Kunstwelt. Mediale und systemische Konstellationen, Fundus, Frankfurt 2012.] in the art world, an idea which has been extensively discussed in the 1990s through institutional critique. The virtual space has generated the same issues that the physical space – museum or gallery – has for the past decades. At the center of this conflict is the impossibility of justification or authentication of “good” art. These spaces – virtual and physical – construct an amplified visual experience, not necessarily the intention of the artworks existence as dispute with its producers problems.
By the act of reputation Panetta accumulated a dense collection of material. This material or way of working begs the question of authenticity, authorship and of production. The works are not really produced, and are a denial of the idea on an artistic production – even a resignation that there is nothing new that can be produced. Panetta’s use of “Informationsapparate”, which at the beginning feels like an appropriation of art, are nothing more than a homage to the impossibility of a constant reinvention of art itself spiced with an ambient sound. In sum, it suggests the viewer as part of a personal entanglement with the subject on the screen. But it never becomes a choreography – and is not as calculated as it could be. The modes of display only cite common formulas of presenting a video, thus showing their co-dependence on technical development.
Text: Patrick Haas / Jonas Schenk, 2016
NICE TO MEET YOU
In April 2005 a strange note reached the students of the Stuttgart Academy of Art and other art schools in Germany: the team of curators of the Berlin Biennial – the artist Maurizio Cattelan among them – were announced to visit the academy and a few students had been chosen to show their work to them. One can well imagine what inner turmoil this news must have caused: Hopes and fears, followed either by panic-stricken fits of work-mania or apathetic despair. How often, they might have thought, does it happen that the Discoverers, of their own accord and with prior announcement, come to those who, above all, want one thing: to be discovered. The artworld is on the lookout for tomorrow’s stars and it is ready to find them in Stuttgart. Patrick Fabian Panetta also belonged to the happy few who were chosen but he met this news with cautious enthusiasm. If one thought about it in a sober way the chances were very low that this visit would turn out to be the ticket for entering the Biennial. And in fact, none of the Stuttgart students have made it that far – apart from some of them being mentioned in the “Checkpoint Charley” project. On the other hand, this is exactly that kind of situation that is of interest for Panettas artistic work: the meeting of two distinct parts of the art machine. Therefore he decided not to present himself as favourably as possible during the curators’ visit but to make use of it as an opportunity for a new work. He considered it as one of those rare occasions when an art student has an exquisite cast for a video at hand, free of charge and willing to play their parts without even having to ask them. Based on these thoughts there evolved “Nice to meet you”, a long-term project that repeatedly occupied the artist for more than a year. From April 2005 until the end of May 2006 this project underwent four different stages and in the end it took him to Berlin, not directly to the biennial, one has to admit, but at least he was able to show parts of this project during the biennial on the premises of three well-renowned galleries.
1. The first stage is, of course, marked by the visit of Maurizio Cattelan and his fellow curators to Panetta’s studio at the academy. Instead of sexing up whatever works there were he cleared his studio of all traces of work, painted the floor and the walls and thus created a neutral stage for his visitors to act. He installed a classy notebook on a pedestal, on which the label of Yves Saint Laurent twisted and turned against a black background, set a table with glasses, bottles of Veuve and mineral water, and installed a CCTV in one of the corners of the room. On the wall there were three picture frames that held printouts of rather clichéd phrases such as one can hear at gallery openings or similar social events: “Nice to meet you”, “Fantastic” and “It’s been a pleasure talking to you”. In the background there played music by Charlie Parker and during the whole visit an assistant accompanied everything with her video camera.
For those entering Panetta’s studio this was a familiar context, an opening reception or private viewing, if only there was not very much to look at apart from each other and themselves. At least the animated fashion logo did not offer too much of a distraction or even visual sensation to be taken seriously as the content of what they had to see. After the artist, clad in a black suit, had greeted everyone with the inevitable “Nice to meet you”, they wandered about the room and soon made for the table with the drinks, chatting and joking, just as was their wont. Everything went off normally and nobody seemed to have taken any further notice of the artificiality of the situation, even though they might have noticed the artist using as often as possible those three phrases mentioned above. And so it is to be wondered whether any of the visitors has ever realized that neither the video animation, nor the table or the printouts were the actual objects of this “exhibition”, but they themselves. When they had left, thoroughly cheered up, Panetta closed his studio and checked the spoils of his operation. There was enough material of curators on his videos to enter the second stage.
2. From all the footage he had gathered during the visit the artist extracted a sequence when Cattelan noticed the CCTV and began to play with his projection on the monitor, pulling a face, taking photographs of him checking the frames of the video screen – a classical situation for visual studies scholars and a perfect opportunity for a video piece. Panetta looped this sequence, accompanied it with music, put it on DVD and showed it in the Stuttgart Kunstmuseum during a show of academy students without any other comment than a small sign referring the viewer to the galleries representing Cattelan for further information. Cattelan had thus become a ready-made artwork that Panetta had spotted in some obscure context and which he had now made accessible to the public.
3. The DVD with a Cattelan fooling about in it was then published in an edition of 5, complete with a customised cover and jewel case, on the inside of which all those that were present during the academy visit were mentioned. The contact name given on these DVDs was that of Maurizio Cattelan and the whole object – Cattelan or the DVD, one might ask – was claimed as being published by courtesy of Cattelan’s galleries Perrotin in Paris, Goodman in New York and de Carlo in Milan. These said galleries therefore also got the first three sample copies of the videos in a specially designed envelope with only “Re: Maurizio Cattelan” written on it and sent to them anonymously by registered mail. Whatever happened to these letters after they had reached the galleries, Panetta does not really know, but it is not really important anyway.
4. As a final step, Panetta made for Berlin and presented his project so far to several gallerists there. Buchmann, Nagel and Thumm agreed to show parts of it in those exhibitions that took place during the Berlin Biennial. Thumm, for example, showed the video and Buchmann the frames holding the printouts of the worn out phrases from stage one. In addition Panetta had invitation cards printed with “Nice to meet you” on their front, “re: Maurizio Cattelan” and all the previous and current locations of where the project had surfaced in one way or the other on their back, including the dates when the three letters had reached the respective galleries of Cattelan. Just like in the letters no mention was made of Panetta as being the author. But in a way he had made it. He was present in Berlin during the biennial and his project was spread throughout town.
Now that the project has come to a provisional end one might ask the meaning and purpose of such a lengthy work. This question, however, is not easily answered, the least of all by those who have participated, either willingly or without knowing, as they have never had the chance to see all the project’s stages as a whole. The initial visitors to the studio might have noticed the artificiality of the situation in which their wonted patterns of behaviour were staged and enacted and which demanded of them either to agree to participate or leave. But what must have been the most interesting and memorable event during their visit has never reoccurred again in the following stages. This was marked by the table on which the drinks had been served as it had been revealed to them as having once belonged to Salvador Dalì. If in the beginning Panetta’s “presentation” was nothing short of informational and visual blandness now there was finally something to pay one’s attention to. But, as was already said, this incidence was only intended for the visitors to the studio and not really part of the ensuing work. Already the visitors to the museum were only offered the video with Cattelan in it. This certainly raised more questions but gave even less answers and it reduced the viewer to a baffled observer of some pointless gesture. And one has to be frank: this ominous video is only mildly interesting. Undoubtedly, it does have some aesthetic merits and it can be understood as a comment on the self-generation of the artist as his own work of art, but it is hardly satisfactory enough to represent the main point of reference from which the whole project can be understood or even justified. And already for Cattelan’s gallerists this video might have functioned in a completely different way: the envelope without a sender’s name, the large lettering on its outside, a black DVD in a black jewel case, and on the DVD a short film with nothing in it but one of their artists in some unknown location. Was this the beginning of a blackmailing campaign? But with what? With Cattelan pulling faces? To be honest, this would not be completely unexpected. So, who sent this pointless material and to what purpose? And the last possible answer: that they were provided with a work of art will hardly have occurred under these circumstances. It is also open to speculation as to what had prompted those three prestigious galleries in Berlin to host a small presentation of Panetta’s project. If the initial thought had been to present the viewer with a documentary of the whole project, what Panetta decided to actually show was insufficient as far as information is concerned. And the artist himself? He was almost invisible, the invitation card being again anonymous. So, it may well be that somehow intuitively they realised when Panetta entered their galleries and presented them with his project, that here there was an artist whose project in a subtle way was closely connected to the biennial and its curatorial concept, and maybe even more so than many of the officially chosen works. Since the almost unasked for visit to his studio Panetta had in a way been forced to pay attention to the Berlin Biennial, to all its preliminary activities, the expanded staging of its curators and their position within the system of the artworld, the playful way in which these curators handled institutional frameworks – as it can be seen, for example, in founding the unofficial Berlin branch of Gagosian. And as it is precisely these aspects of the artworld that are of interest to Panetta for his own work it almost suggested itself to him that he should answer this situation by creating an alternative one by himself. “Nice to meet you” therefore evolved as an independent systemic field of relations as they are inherent to the art business and which he spread in analogy or rather in parallel to that of the Berlin Biennial and its curators.
Over the course of one year he made his field approach the other one step by step. His actual ending up in Berlin in close proximity to the biennial for him is less a success to flatter himself with but rather a proof for his work to have worked out, so to speak. So that in the end it is art as a system that has shaped itself to a work of art by means of its auto-poetic powers. The whole project seen as a work of art – immaterial as it may seem on first sight and in which video, invitation cards, artists, actors and viewer share the same preliminary status – gradually turns out to be a conceptual work on the driving forces of the operating system called art. The key terms to be employed for describing this are complicity and appropriation. We’ve known these terms for quite a while as they are used by art dealing with issues of so-called institutional critique in order to describe basic principles for the creation and reception of art. And one could now make a list of all their respective manifestations in the different stages of “Nice to meet you”. But, and this is what makes Panetta’s work special, they would have to be seen as purely formalistic terms. Because, contrary to most artistic strategies in the field of institutional critique – in which more than often critique is mixed up with criticism – Panettas attitude toward the art system is affirmative. He analyses less than he performs a synthesis, he does not question the system but he uses it as his material. Behaviour patterns become form in a way, individual attitudes become colour, and by their own accord and by virtue of their inherent potential for complicity and appropriation they develop into a structure or shape and it should be understood like an abstract painting.This painting, however, is not a painting of the artworld but rather a painting made of the art world.
Text: Andreas Pinczewski, 2006