‘The eye, at first, would glide over the grey carpet of a long hallway, tall and narrow.’ Thus opens Georges Perec’s Les Choses (Things, 1965), a wonderful book about the unsatisfactory pursuit of happiness through the possession of objects in a consumer society. What follows is a detailed description of the furniture that the two main characters, a couple of Parisian pollsters – or, as we would call them nowadays, in the age of cognitive capitalism, data analysts – would have in their dream apartment. Soon, further objects enter the scene, like the tape recorder the protagonists use every day to interview people for their work. Riccardo Benassi’s exhibition at Marsèlleria, entitled ‘Techno Casa’ (Techno House), took me straight back to Perec’s book. Not only did it open with a narrow strip of carpet, hanging vertically from the stairs and running across the floor of the exhibition space, it also focused on household furnishings as a means of surveying our social habits.
The starting point for Benassi’s project is the video Techno Casa – an introduction to (2013), screened at Marsèlleria but originally produced for Live Arts Week at MAMbo. Digital animations (by Jurij Magoga) of floating modular furniture, flying laptops and cascading smartphones dance to a soundtrack of hypnotic electronic music, while a text scrolling across a news television-style red ticker reads: ‘Mobile phones have replaced design in mediating our relation to the surrounding space […] so that even the very idea of décor has been reorganized. The military wing of the digital revolution was the transformation of every room into an office, just in time for the colonization of every instant.’ During 2013, Techno Casa evolved into a ten-part series titled ‘Attachments’ (presented at the Gallerie d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Ferrara, Museo Marino Marini in Florence, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, and V8 Plattform für Neue Kunst in Karlsruhe).
At Marsèlleria, they were projected in sequence on the top floor, their abrasive, energetic soundtracks filling the entire building and conditioning the audience’s emotional responses. Each work in the series is introduced by an identical teaser, and is similar in structure to the others, although they all vary slightly in length, with the total running time amounting to around three hours. Shot in black and white on a smartphone, the videos collate images of corporate architecture and rural landscapes, as well as people moving across offices, parks, squares, gyms – occasionally interrupted by 3D digital animations – while a first-person text runs below on a red scrolling ticker. The viewer’s attention is held captive, having to work quickly to read the text against a backdrop of moving images and intense sound. Benassi (an Italian-born, Berlin-based artist, musician, writer and designer) doesn’t so much fetishize contemporary technology as use it as a medium for mirroring the daily pace of contemporary life with its multitasking, attention-deficit disorders and shifting borders between self-exposure and the compulsory performativity of our online existence. Such ‘busy’ lives act as a counterpoint to the disappearance of real jobs during times of economic crisis. By scrutinizing our daily interactions with portable machines and solid architectures, Benassi brings economics, politics and speculative realism into play. One work in the ‘Attachment’ series, for instance, starts with an image of a drop of olive oil running down a person’s arm before jump-cutting to scenes of recycling, evincing notions of voluntary work (separating waste, or producing data online by clicking buttons), the difference between productivity and occupation, and back again to the physical evidence of bodily gestures.
Perec’s novel ends on a train, with the main protagonists en route somewhere else, somewhere better; likewise for Benassi, reckless mobility, or rather a constant illusion of movement, is key. In 2008, the artist co-wrote with Gian Piero Frassinelli (founder of the legendary 1960s radical architecture group Superstudio) a fictional dialogue entitled Autostrada Verticale (Vertical Highway), which starts with a road trip and ends, after all humans have left earth by using their apartments as vehicles, with a rave on Saturn. Let’s make sure we find the way.