2022 / Florence Contemporary Gallery Interview

Intro

Nero Cosmos is an artist who invites the viewer to see the world through the eyes of a machine. His work focuses on ideas of perception and transformation through Artificial Intelligence in the reciprocal relationship between humans and technology. He is interested in how consciousness evolves in digital space and affects daily life. Using data collection, machine learning techniques and algorithms through Generative Adversarial Networks, he creates images and videos in a constant state of metamorphosis. The result of his artwork is an amalgamation that combines an extensive quantity of image and video-based sources inspired by the aesthetics of life forms and structures.

Due to the training of the Generative Adversarial Networks model, the artist loses temporary control as the algorithm takes over the creative process. The machine and the artist are intentionally forced to collaborate and exist in a constant symbiosis, breaking the viewer’s perception into a multitude of possibilities. The more images involved, the more spontaneous the results. Through visualizations of these outcomes, Nero Cosmos creates work that mediates between a real and an abstract world, seemingly threading logical patterns in the midst of random and chance.

Welcome Nero Cosmos, first and foremost, tell us about your background.

Thank you for having me on here. I was born in 1964 in Bern, Switzerland but my roots are originally from Italy. My parents immigrated in the 1960s from Northern Italy. At this time the area was poor, unemployment was high and the economy was dominated by agriculture. Switzerland was an opportunity for my family to have a better life. I grew up in a typical Italian family but we struggled to fit in. We had to deal with a partly xenophobic culture at that time.

It was during my computer science studies when I discovered my artistic interests. In the post-punk era around 1982, I created bootleg cover art for music cassettes (bootlegs) by indy bands using rudimentary design techniques. Since then, my interest in visual design grew as I began experimenting with different media and methods. After that, I worked as a creative director in the Swiss and international design industry for well-known companies in the fields of technology, fashion and luxury. In the 90s, I founded the design agency Walhalla with my former business partner Ibrahim Zbat. Our visual style was a part of a subculture that influenced the underground scene and Swiss design of the time. It was then, we had the opportunity to exhibit our work at the Kunsthalle Bern, with renowned artists, Sylvie Fleury and Nicolás Fernández. Later I was a co-founder for several art and design collectives like Soulengineer and Komamako with designer Kosta Stathakis, which are still active today.

As technology advanced into the digital age, the type of visual work we were making changed and expanded our artistic possibilities. I became fascinated to create something new, art that explored these different techniques. Digital art moved more and more into my focus. I wanted to express something bigger in my work, to take a critical look at the interrelationship between humans and technology.

We can define you as a Generative artist, a branch of Digital art a relatively new discipline in the history of art; who are the artists who inspire you?

This term partially fits in with my work as an artist. However, I don’t want to limit myself. I don’t know how my future work will change and I choose to stay flexible and open to new ideas. I would describe myself more as a conceptual artist who uses technology such as Artificial Intelligence as a means to an end. I consider any form of technology that I integrate in my concepts as an important and complementary part of my work. As these technologies evolve in the future, so will my art.

Generative art has established itself considerably in the past few years. The emergence of NFTs, a niche in digital art, has also been significant to this. However, this is not entirely new. In 1923, the artist László Moholy-Nagy commissioned the technical instructions i.e. programming for his work by telephone to a factory. It was the start of an early form of generative art. Further examples can be found in the 1950s when the first plotters were developed. This development made it possible to transfer the data of an algorithm to paper. This form of generative art is still used by artists today.

If I’m honest, I’m more inspired by artists in the classical sense, although I’m inspired by a broad range of artistic work. This also includes literature, science and mathematics. I’m not just interested in how my work is being created, but the philosophical connection between my work in reflection of technology in our world. Some other artists that inspire me are, American artist Matthew Barney, the minimalism of Phil Sims, and the author Miriam Meckel. In Meckel’s book Next, she describes a hypothetical, dystopian age where algorithms survive without humans. I would also like to mention Mathematician Alan Turing, who developed the Turing Test in order to test the thinking ability of a machine.

Your digital works would lend themselves well to becoming NFT pieces. Have you ever worked in this way or do you plan to? And what do you think about the Metaverse?

Yes, I have several projects in planning stages, including a collaboration with Art Mine by Playform and also on Knownorigin. Some of my artwork will soon be available as NFTs through these collaborations.

I waited until now to mint my work as NFTs because first, I had to come to terms with the type of media that was being sourced. After all, my works have a real origin and only becomes digital art through the machine. As I mentioned before, I collaborate as an artist with an algorithm. I want this objective, where the physical meets the digital, to be a space where human and machine is reflected in the form of the algorithmic medium. This means that my works should obtain a hybrid form. With one approach it can exist as NFTs in the blockchain or as analog art in a physical environment.

Despite the hype and fascination of Web 3.0 (Blockchain, NFT, Metaverse, AR, VR, etc.) I think it is important to question the ongoing process of digitalization. Like for example the video project Hyper-Reality (on Youtube under the channel Keiichi Matsuda) ironically and critically demonstrates the merge of physical and virtual realities, creating a media saturated world. In relation to the Metaverse, the question for the future is, do we really need it? I had a dejavu while experiencing the Metaverse, giving me a flashback to Second life (an early version of an online virtual reality from 2003). Even with the progression of technology, the perception and experience has remained the same. I think there is still a long way to go in terms of the innovation of virtual realities and the acceptance of the Metaverse.

What projects will you be developing in 2022?

This year I want to spend more effort and time on exhibitions and the launch of my first NFTs. I have several exhibitions planned. One will take place at SPARC* in Venice and the other in autumn at the CICA Museum in Seoul. I have several NFT projects in the pipeline. To expand my horizon, I would like to start collaborations with other artists this year. I want to continue to develop my art and experiment with other types of mediums like mixed media. I am open to the possibility of new things and I’m excited for what this year will bring forth.

We are at the end of this short interview, would you like to add something about your research or something we should know about you and your art that has not emerged previously?

As always, I want to explore more opportunities and continue developing both personally and in my artwork. Within my practice, I have my doubts which constantly force me to reflect and positively slow down the creative process. Sometimes this causes an ambivalent relationship to new technologies. But regardless of this, I will always be open to new experiences. Self-development will always reflect in what I create.  As an artist, I would not want to miss any great moment. Every experience is inspiring to me and there’s many fascinating changes happening in the science and technology world. My art continues to grow and change with me. To wrap it up, many thanks for selecting my work to be in the Limitless exhibition, and thank you for having an interview with me. It has been a pleasure.