Federico Delfrati (b. in Legnano, Italy) completed a BA in graphic design at the Politecnico University of Milano and applied for a Master in printmaking the Brera Fine Art Academy, Milano. He completed the studies and graduated as a sculptor at the Fine Art Academy of Munich in 2015. With every aspect that mankind’s curiosity touches, paradoxes and opposites arise in their interpretation. Ethical dilemmas, vulnerability and megalomania. Delfrati’s works try to connect this human longing for more knowledge with the scientific interest in the “Big Picture” and the search for their proper formal implementation. Until a few years ago he increasingly approached the fields of physics and astronomy, trying to translate the absolute realities of Nature and its phenomena into artistic forms. The interest in astronomy led him to a substantial fine adjustment: the perspective of the astronomer became the anchor point for the observation and interpretation of human identity, its history and its role within Nature. Federico’s artistic practice focuses on the need to express the constant flux of natural and cultural patterns (that since thousands of years host and shape our social and individual lives) and tries to frame their overwhelming complexity between humanly meaningful and ephemeral boundaries of interpretation.
Multimedia durational performance 2017
This project consists out of a journey around the entirety of planet Earth, from Legnano (IT) – the city where the artist was born – all around back home using a virtual representation of Earth (Google Earth), a Virtual Reality headset, a treadmill and a diary. Due to its nature, the performance is developing over a long period of time as he is trying to literally live in and travel around this alternative version of Earth for as long as possible. As the performance unfolds through the days, months and years he records drawings, videos, thoughts and physiological data on this blog: a carnet de voyage that functions as a dialogue between virtual and physical realities. As a platform to disrupt their boundaries and overlap their nature.
The aim of this work is to re-proportion the physical self to the virtual representation of Earth, questioning the relationship between a human being and what its natural environment really is. The project is about recording and being recorded: the explorative act of following the horizon, documenting new experiences and cataloguing the physical and psychological effects that every long journey entails. Google Earth is a software that accesses satellite and aerial imagery (and other geographic data) over the internet to represent the Earth as a three-dimensional globe on a 1:1 scale. It is in this scenario that the performance takes place: a desolated and distorted version of Earth that resembles a metaphysical painting and a post-apocalyptic scenario without borders. A world whose only political, economic, cultural and natural boundaries are set by algorithms. Virtual reality has the illusive power of separating our body from our mind and eyes. The aim is to focus on this disconnection and to apply it throughout all levels of the project.
A disconnection synchronised in two different realities: between presence (walking on the treadmill) and location (wandering across the Earth), between experiences (eyes that see) and their documentation (hands that draw). Although he doesn’t modifying his physical position, the kilometers walked on the treadmill are increasing. This triggers the question whether this trip around the Earth is taking place after all. The only tangible clue lays in this “human vs. planet” diary.
A.S. How do you think the impact of virtual places can influence the living of the public, from a social to a political level?
F.D. I think it changes society in innumerable ways. Every new, well established, technological breakthrough does that in the long run. The problem is that the direction of the change can very often be hidden behind years of wild-testing-around. As we see right now, various approaches have already been established: from widely improving social aggregation, to the creation of personal worlds; from a strict, specific system to an open source sandbox. If “virtual” can be interpreted as a non-tangible representation of a physical object, then the stories, needs/dreams and ideas we (humans) tell one another since thousands of years are part of this super-family of virtual entities, and their space of action is the brain. They did influence us socially and politically. It’s happening the very same thing right now: the only difference is that the space where the exchange of informations (/stories) takes places isn`t created by a dual relation “sender-receiver”, but is mediated by a technology that holds the information for a while before releasing it. Even though this mediation role could be seen as ancient as the exchange of information itself, it is through its privatisation and decision-making policies set by a combination of human thought and computational algorithm, that its new identity accumulated an ever increasing position of power.
The moment this technological breakthrough, The Virtual Space, came into existence, society reacted. It happened overwhelmingly quick within areas whose political and economic structures allowed it. Other areas witnessed it and re-shaped their political agenda and their markets to merge with the technology, sometimes spoiling their own environment and population to achieve that, sometimes being spoiled by others. A third kind tweaked and shaped the technology itself to match its needs. Even though its birthplace has always been society itself, technology always set and moved the socio-political boundaries of its parent society. So even if different societies morphed the technology to suit short term needs and produced different derivatives of the same principle, they will ultimately merge together. How and when is one of the most debated themes from political science to science fiction.
It becomes then evident that when a technology offers something new, starts to work and gets adopted, its impact upon generations of public spheres and their social, political and individual behaviors (and needs), gains weight. In this case, a parallel, alternative space where everything becomes virtually possible and where its side effects translate back into the physical world, had the same life-changing potential of agriculture or writing.
If you search for “Virtual Place” you get an overdose of worlds. The architectures and laws of this Virtual Places vary depending on the target they’re aimed at (just think about the border differences between China and India on Google maps looked at from European, Indian or Chinese IP addresses). From Second Life to WoW, from Twitter to Google to vkontakte to Wikipedia to change.org to rotten.com, each new platform suits a need we didn’t have 50 years ago, tells its story and lets us shape ours (with different degrees of action and sharing opportunities). This is where we are now. A specific time in history where something as intangible as an electromagnetic impulse can shape something so real as getting physically married after chatting on Tinder, design public opinions and disrupt political elections with the Adobe Creative Cloud, fund/block environmental/humanitarian actions through “likes” or murdering someone over the digital theft of several hundred Bitcoins. Even though the technological effects of Virtual Places that impact our socio-political and individual spheres are singularly analysable (and sometimes even predictable), their ultimate, overall impact on societies are still beyond our horizon of comprehension.
So to the question about how Virtual Places can influence the public, i suppose my short answer would be: they can in innumerable ways, from the most libertarian (an environment-friendly-public-blockchain-based-second-life-sandbox-app-potential-with-real-world-controllable-consequences-version of Buckminster Fuller’s utopic “World Game”) to an AI-based-social-like-credit-virtual-reality-hamster-wheel-dystopia-type of inferno. The incognita is how societies are right now reshaping themselves to this new technological offer and which ideologies, markets, political entities (and why not religions) will play a role in reshaping us, the public, and our needs tomorrow.
A.S. The project documented experiences and talked about the physical and psychological effects of the long journey. What about the psychological effects of this virtual trip?
F.D. The journey started from my hometown, Legnano; for days i crossed lots of badly rendered known places and it all felt like a pleasing stroll through forgotten moments of my life. The total absence of people, animals and movements besides me-the-camera-in-space didn’t bother me much. It is around the time in which i reached the Alps that the first tangible “psychological effects” started to appear. They followed along an increasing number of graphic glitches and bugs: when the surface under my feet rhythmically disappeared and i found my eyes zipping through the absolute nothing below and unrecognisable polygons above. The physical effects were dizziness, vertigos, the impulse to close my eyes; the fear of another glitch-moment became the first psychological effect that i recorded and it still is one of the strongest. The further away from a familiar setting, the increasing and more alienating the fear.
All of a sudden, the absence of any life, be it digital or physical becomes distressing indeed. The reaction to this unease is to look for high ground. To “walk up” a tree or a tall building and have a better picture from the comfort of a safe spot. From a fair distance, structures (be it natural or artificial) look pretty real and that has some sort of calming effect. On the ground things are different, more crude, more distorted. The trip (in its most classical term: new places, new faces) transforms itself in an entire new experience. You know you’re not really there and yet you are, surrounded by things that represent other things even if you don’t recognise them from up close. You don’t see your footsteps, you don’t leave any sign of passage, you’re not intervening in the environment as any physical being does. That’s perhaps the effect i wasn’t truly considering at the beginning and the one that mostly leaves its mark: the frustration of not existing. The independence of a space that renders itself around your digital presence mixed with your complete inability to modify it by just putting a foot on the ground, makes the environment sometimes indifferent and other times hostile. The impossibility of sharing that strange experience with someone else plays also a major role in this sense of hopelessness.
In some cases throughout the journey, the consequent psychological byproduct of walking through vast flat non-rendered landscapes for weeks shifts often towards pure boredom. It’s an interesting moment because i know i’d like to skip the region, to jump to the next highlighted city or natural attraction. At the same time though, it is fascinating to walk, sweat, sing, talk to yourself, make music and sleep through the boredom in a dead part of a Virtual space that isn’t supposed to be really given any attention to. I suppose it is because of these moments deprived of stimuli that after a while i get used to being alone. Then it’s as if i’m living inside a stream of consciousness.