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Interview with Marco Mancuso (Digicult)


About Marco Mancuso

Marco Mancuso is an Italian-based critic, art curator and journalist who specialises in digital art and culture. Founder and director of Digicult, Marco works specifically on contemporary audiovisual art and design, with a focus on electronic music and visual art, software culture, generative art & design, open source technologies, as well as interactive and ambient space installations. He curates exhibitions and events, organises meetings and workshops, promotes Italian artists and critics worldwide within the curatorial project +39:Call for Italy, takes part in lectures and forums in Italy and internationally, and teaches at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti) and IED (Istituto Europeo di Design) in Milan.

About Digicult

Digicult is a cultural project and platform focusing on promoting and disseminating digital art and culture, on the impact of new technology and science on art, design and contemporary society digital culture and electronic arts. It provides a range of services and resources, including: an international newsletter; a monthly magazine; an electronic music and audiovisual podcast; and an art agency that promotes Italian artists abroad.

The following interview between Annette Wolfsberger and Marco Mancuso took place via email in March 2009.

How would you describe Digicult?

Digicult is a critical and journalistic multiple online project, focused on the promotion and dissemination of digital art and culture, on the impact of new technology and science on art, design and contemporary society. Digicult is based on the active participation of 40 professional contributors, who represent the first Italian-wide network of journalists, curators, artists and critics in the field of new media art and culture. This network was created originally by me as founder, promoter and director of the project, but it has been growing in the past four years. Digicult today is a web portal updated daily with news, calls for artists, events and project highlights, links, Web 2.0 tools, RSS feeds and more.

What do you cover within Digicult? And how do decide what to cover or not?

Digicult is also the editor of the monthly magazine DigiMag, which discusses net art, hacktivism, video art, electronica, audio video, interaction design, artificial intelligence, new media, software art, performing art with a critical and journalistic approach. Digicult produces an electronic music and audiovisual podcast, DigiPod, and also has its own newsletter international service called DigiNews. Digicult is also involved with the art agency DigiMade in activities like media partnerships and special journalistic/critical reports of important festivals, special projects and curatorial events in Italy and worldwide. We also work as curator/promoter of some Italian artists presenting their work at festivals, events, platforms and cultural centres in Europe and worldwide, within digital art and new media culture.

This sounds like DIGI-EMPIRE! And it sounds like you are covering a lot. What are your specific areas of interest?

Generally Digicult is interested in all art forms that involve the use and misuse of digital technologies, the mix between analogue and electronic instruments, the impact of scientific phenomena and studies on visual and sonic aesthetics. As a critic and curator, I’m very focused on contemporary audiovisual art and design: in other words, on those crossing borders between art and design forms concerning the immersive and sensorial relationship between vision and sound, moving from experimental cinema to video, from live media to live cinema, from graphic animation to generative art, from electronic music to audiovisual installations, from audiovisual interaction design to hyper architecture.

Is your focus Italian or international?

From the very beginning, Digicult was written in Italian and English. I collect the news for Digicult in English and directly translate it into Italian. Also DigiMag is always translated from Italian to English. My idea was twofold: on the one hand, to promote Italian critical culture worldwide using the Net, to shine the light on a new Italian generation of critics, artists, curators and journalists, and on the other hand to include an international attitude and work with other realities worldwide, to create a monthly magazine for an international audience, following events, making interviews, creating networks and spreading culture.

How much do you know about your community? And how far does that knowledge influence what you’re publishing?

Honestly, although I follow the Digicult demographic data and visits with a counter, I’m not addicted to statistics. So, I’m not an expert on the Digicult community in terms of age, country of origin, and so on: this always seemed to me like a sort of marketing tool that does not fit with my attitude towards networking and the Internet. At the same time, I get strong daily feedback from the Digicult community, so I can tell you that Digicult is mainly for people addicted to or interested in digital art and culture: students, artists, critics, promoters. Many of them are new to the world of digital art. They are curious and want to know as much as possible, and they also want to learn about the possible business opportunities within the field. Many others are like us, they know this world very well, and look for a more critical approach to digital art and design and culture.

You just referred to marketing tools. Do you have an explicit marketing strategy? Which tools do you use to inform people about the existence of your blog?

I have always tried to develop a sort of marketing strategy for Digicult. Who doesn’t do it? Especially if you open a generalist/information/critical blog or website. You want and need to reach a larger amount of people. Of course, I’m not a marketing strategist, so my only weapons were and always will be our professionalism and knowledge of Internet dynamics and communities. On the one hand, I think that people found and find out about Digicult through word-of-mouth: someone who tells a friend or colleague about us, or links on other sites, or references. Or they might be surfing on the Internet, searching for something like Digicult and a magazine like DigiMag.

On the other hand, when I started Digicult, I also worked on some ‘marketing’ strategies.First of all, I started to work with some mailing lists like Rhizome, Spectre, Syndicate, Nettime, NetBehaviours, Aha, etc… which represent the worldwide community of people interested and focused on digital art and culture. Secondly, I worked hard with my programmer on ranking and Googling of Digicult and DigiMag pages. And thirdly, in the last year, I pushed strongly towards implementing Web 2.0 tools like RSS feeds, tags, social networks (Facebook, Vimeo, Flickr) and microblogging.

Are your readers, or is your community, actively contributing to your blog?

Over the years, I have realised that Digicult and DigiMag are perceived more as informative and critical platforms, tools and magazines rather than pure blogs. I do not speak directly about myself. I don’t give direct impressions or comments about the content. I don’t speak about what I like or don’t like. Digicult and DigiMag are not perceived as open platforms, but as cultural and journalistic tools. So when people arrive on the websites and take the information and inputs they need, they might comment a bit, and they are active in discussing items in various degrees. At the same time, our community is very active in a more ‘private’ way: they write to me, they speak with me, they suggest items or put themselves forward to contribute to the magazine, by email or by using social networking tools.

How difficult is it to build up a kind of blogging community in your view?

I think it’s very, very difficult today to establish an active community, especially for cultural projects like Digicult, which are not perceived as ‘pure’ blogs: and I do agree that Digicult is not properly a pure blog, but something far more complex and articulated.

How have you dealt with languages?

Digicult is both in Italian & English.

Digicult was created as a platform to spread information and news through the web portal and the newsletter service DigiNews and to report critically about new media art issues through the online magazine DigiMag. For this reason, and also because it is an Italian project, I always considered it to be important to first write in our native language. This is the reason why the homepage is in Italian. At the same time, I always thought that it was important to translate everything into English, as the international language understood by a wider audience. But I have to point out that it was and is very, very difficult to find good translators to translate into English, especially because Digicult is not supported by a publisher or cultural institution, so we do not receive any money for our activities, for writers and translators.

Do you think there are far less blogs about media/visual arts compared to, for example, blogs for popular music or film?

It’s not that there are no blogs about new media art or visual arts. A blog like We Make Money Not Art is a perfect example. There are various specific examples of media/visual arts blogs that cover specific interests. Let’s think about all the blogs that have grown out of the Generator X, Marius Watz’s group of blogs about generative art forms, which are focused on visual and graphic issues, or think about some other blogs about audiovisuals, experimental cinematic art forms, or some others about visualisation of complex data, like Visual Complexity by Manuel Lima for example. Other examples are Pixelsumo, the blog of Chris O'Shea; workshop.evolutionzone.com, by Marius Watz; and Information Aesthetics by Andrew Vande Moere.

Of course, many other online resources related to visual arts and new media arts are not proper blogs, but are something hybrid, like a mix of blogs and journalistic platforms. And they are made by a small group of people, academics, researchers, art critics, speaking about ‘new’ forms of art and culture for an elite; critics, curators, journalists, intellectuals and art lovers, open-minded people or tech addicts. In other words: a small community. A community, of course, that is growing bigger and bigger, as you can observe every year if you join the main festivals/happenings like Transmediale or Ars Electronica. So we cannot consider new media art as something popular, like a ‘pop’ form of art, even if it’s becoming more and more popular.

Less popular at least than music… How can we compare that to music? Come on, music is one the most popular forms of art and expression that we know: there are so many different kinds of music; music is everywhere and everyone listens to music. In other words, there are thousands of people who speak about music on their blogs, share their music, their opinions, buy and sell music through web platforms. And their potential audience is enormous, much bigger than the audience following new media art or visual arts.

How is Digicult financed? Do you receive any funding? Do you finance it via other channels, or is it financially self-sustainable?

I’ve never had – and still do not have a proper ‘economic model’. I started non-commercially and I’m not commercial now. I am operating more on a cultural activist approach, also because of my experience and my background. Last year, I considered becoming a little bit commercial to survive, accepting advertising, for example, rather than dying, because at the moment the amount of work on Digicult is impossible and totally out of proportion for only one person.

So, I’m a volunteer, but of course I’m more professional than many other people who are paid for what they do. I stopped thinking that professionalism is only when you’re being paid for the job. And what should I say about the people belonging to the Digicult Network, who write for the magazine? Of course I cannot pay them, so they are volunteers, but they are the best professionals I’ve ever worked with.

About funding: it is a sad story. As I told you, there was not one cultural institution or editor in Italy that seemed to be interested in helping Digicult, in giving a small amount of funding to pay the authors, or translators, or in sharing sources or initiatives, or giving a space to develop projects or relationships, or organise events, workshops or meetings. In other words: no funding to remain alive and work. I’m now working on the bureaucratic side of things to turn Digicult into a cultural association, because that’s the only way to be able to apply for European Community or Italian state funding for culture.

What do you consider is the role of blogging in the cultural sector? Is it complementary or an alternative to print-publishing, and a (rather) new way of dissemination? In other words, why do you blog?

What a good question! Mmmmmh, it’s not so easy to answer. I opened Digicult on the web, so I became a blogger – or a web editor if you prefer – mainly for two reasons: first of all because of the big potential of the Web to be democratic and perfectly suited to spread culture and to reach a wide range and number of people worldwide. Secondly, because of the financial implications: the Internet is the only democratic and economic place in which you can open a blog or a journalistic/critical platform and magazine and remain independent!!! I run Digicult on something like 50€ per year and everything is on my hard disk and on a web server. The only expenses are my energy, my time, my knowledge, and the expertise of people belonging to the Digicult Network of course.

I consider blogging or web journalism and critique the present and the future of critical and independent information: it is today, and will be in the future, one of the most important voices in the cultural sector. Not only in new media art and culture, of course! I do not agree with people who consider blogging as a lower form of journalism, critique and information, compared to big editorial, cultural and entertainment groups: first of all, because blogs will always be an alternative form of culture and information, really free from economic or political links (and you have these kinds of links also in arts and culture, ooooh, you can swear it). Secondly because a larger group of freelancers, independent journalists, independent critics, independent professionals will shift their activities to the Internet, understanding its potential of networking, sharing, following, reporting, and being independent, answering only to their creativity, instinct and community.

How would you describe your blogging environment? Is it competitive? Lively? Are you a sole voice?

Fortunately I’m not alone and I’m not a sole voice at all. In Italy we have a great tradition of blogging around new media art and culture: think about seminal projects like Neural, Aha, Random, Noema, Hacker Art and many other platforms and communities.