14 Nov 2017
Elena Mazzi is talking to you
During August and September 2016 Elena Mazzi spent some time working first on the island of Suomenlinna, then the Cable Factory HIAP studios in mainland Helsinki. She worked on her project I am talking to you (2016) during her collaborative residency with HIAP and m-cult / Collaborative Arts Partnership Programme. The work is set to explore our relationship with the media.
TA: In your research you looked into our relationship with the media by using media. Is the irony intentional? What does the use of media and video bring to the research?
EM: The work intentionally wants to investigate how we use and perceive media, that is why it was important for me to create a direct dialogue with them.
It all started by a sense of frustration I realized I was perceiving each time I was watching news, combined with the direct observation of a bunch of old people I met last year during a summer residency program in a small village of central Italy: they were constantly watching TV all day long, non-stop. Their reactions intrigued me and I kept on thinking about it.
Nowadays we are facing a one-way dialogue with journalism and media system. Even if we can get easy access to counter-information on the web, television is still strongly driving our vision to the current state of facts. We passively accept news regarding politics and migration, without protesting or criticizing anymore. This causes a lack of information, and a completely unbalanced perception of the world.
That is why I wanted to give voice to all our inner thinking and I did it through a series of interviews and consequently videos recording of people watching news, trying to interact with media devices. I realized that more and more people envision their feelings while using media tools, and they naturally start speaking with them, to free their thinking. I find myself sometimes getting angry with my phone without realizing I am speaking with an electronic device. When I realize it, I find it intriguing as well as scaring.
That is why I thought to create a video installation with different subjects who, like me sometimes, naturally communicate with electronic devices while doing their everyday life tasks at home or in community centres, trying to answer and communicate their vision on important contemporary issues affecting life.
TA: You are interested in how humans are influenced by their surroundings and their contexts. How did your residency in Helsinki affect your ideas?
EM: The interest for a specific area, or for a specific culture comes from the reality I live and I experience. It’s a need I had since I was very young: understanding the places that I was visiting, and getting deeply into them. Usually, this happens by discovering the place with the people living within it. To better explain, it is how the human being perceives the surrounding place and decides to operate in it, making a change. This action is almost always determined by either a political or a social necessity, which could be a period of distress or crisis.
How do people react from a top-down approach imposed on their land? What are their needs and how do they find out strategies to face different situations? For instance, I am talking about Berlusconi’s new town operation in L’Aquila after the 2009 earthquake; or Benetton’s displacement of Mapuche community in Patagonia; the mass tourism impact on Venice; the gentrification phenomenon operated by big corporations in San Francisco. I am quoting some of the cases studies that I have been analyzing during the past years.
Helsinki affected me in a different way: I look at Nordic countries as territories where the public sphere is affecting, guiding and directing the society. The use of the space is different; man/land ratio affects the relationship humans have with nature if compared to the very dense lands I used to live in. But on the contrary the weather, light and homogeneity of the landscape deeply affect the human beings in their everyday life. These aspects seem obvious, but when you live them every day you start to perceive how to read a country, and see the problems they could get stuck in, and understand why, even if democracy is still considered on a high level compared to other countries, a young man can be killed on the street during a sunny afternoon by a group of Nazi next to a bunch of policemen.
TA: Tell us a bit about your project with m-cult. What was it like working in Maunula?
EM: Maunula has been a fantastic place to work in. It is a periphery but not so far from the city centre. There are amazing facilities for the community, such as Saunabaari and Mediapaja. Soon they will open the new Maunula centre, where also my video installation will be presented. All these places are literally made by people. Here you can schedule and decide your activities, going from ceramic to singing to knitting and so on. Libraries, dance rooms, cafe areas are at disposal and this might be common in Finland, but not in other countries. Finnish people are generally shy I have to say, but I felt at home in Maunula, where I was always welcomed and helped in any difficult step if I can use this word to define them. For example, sometimes some people didn’t speak proper English and I’ve always been helped by locals to translate and communicate. I had an amazing 82 years old assistant, but what’s more is that I was asking people to film at their places and they always accepted (and this is not always the case in Finland I have to say). One more thing I appreciated is the piece of forest crossing Maunula, where I could go each time I had to focus on my thinking. A real luxury for me, that helped me looking at things in a different perspective.
TA: How does the fact that world news is so readily available these days affect our everyday lives?
EM: Sometimes we feel we are aware of what is happening around us but is not always true. We are living an extremely delicate time, with many changes in the building of a future. Our opinion is extremely important and we need to be aware and conscious of our choices. We always underestimate the common thinking in favour of our personal choice, believing that another person will take the same decision because ‘this is what is right’. The problem is that we are getting more and more lonely, we don’t know each other anymore, and we under-evaluate other people’s opinions, then we get surprised by the final result. We need to dialogue more, to discuss more, to share more.
This work is just a little experiment to enjoy our daily life, and understanding how we all relate with media devices.
People (and me with them) will gain awareness on what surround them, as well as communicate it with the rest of the community around the neighbourhood, or with the public watching the installation.
TA: What brought you to Finland and where do you go from here?
EM: I’ve always been attracted by Nordic countries and their public sphere structure. I’ve always wanted to know more, to learn more with the idea to take the best from it and export that model in other places. We always have to learn from each other. I actually hope to come back soon (and it will probably happen) but at the moment I am developing a nine-months project for the Modern and Contemporary museum in Turin (GAM) in collaboration with Spinola Banna Foundation in the province of Turin (IT). The two institutions invited me to lead a workshop for young artists as well as outlining a series of panels of discussions, performances, new productions in parallel with the teaching part. I’ve just started in October and I found it exciting and well-structured so I look forward to the next steps.
Documentation of work in Maunula: