NERO is an international publishing house devoted to art, criticism and contemporary culture. Founded in Rome in 2004, it publishes artists’ books, catalogs, editions and essays.

NERO explores present and future imaginaries beyond any field of specialization, format or code – as visual arts, music, philosophy, politics, aesthetics or fictional narrations – extensively investigating unconventional perspectives and provocative outlooks to decipher the essence of this ever changing reality.

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Federica Di Pietrantonio, Solo, 2024 (detail). Courtesy the artist.

Solitude as a Meeting Place

A conversation with Federica Di Pietrantonio

Solo is a machinima work created from the manipulation of scenarios from the videogame The Sims and observing the mechanisms of self-representation of the body on social platforms such as Instagram, Twitch, and TikTok. 

Often used by the artist as a synthetic alter ego, a queer-looking avatar moves in a liquid digital environment. Halfway between tragic hero, influencer and cyborg, the avatar inhabits this vaporous abyss, his movements embody the aesthetic imaginaries of posers on social platforms but what dominates the scene is solitude and introspection which sometimes push the protagonist to dissolve, become one with the same environment.

Through this project Di Pietrantonio investigates the epochal changes brought by digital platforms to the contemporary imagination, inviting us to reflect on the possibilities of rethinking the idea of ​​sculpture in video extension; giving up experiencing it as an indissoluble memory over time, in favor of its impermanence.

The project was conceived specifically for OVERTON WINDOW, Matèria’s latest vitrine project curated by Re:humanism—with the aim of shedding light on the intersection between art and technology and pave the way for new models of artistic production. Daniela Cotimbo interviewed the artist to delve deeper into her practice, interests and critical vision.

Federica Di Pietrantonio, Solo, 2024, installation view. courtesy Màteria, foto by Roberto Apa.

Your artistic practice oscillates between two poles, painting and digital. In particular, in creating your videos, you use a peculiar language: that of machinima. What is it? What fascinates you about this medium, what are its advantages, potentials and limits?

Machinima is the portmanteau of machine+cinema and corresponds to the video production within virtual environments and video games. Simulation, the premise of the virtual, allows me to think about new possibilities, how the world could be different and/or how I could be otherwise.

On the other hand, it allows us to rethink the physical laws that support reality, consequently, our being in the world and our relationship with it, through technology. The aspect that fascinates me coincides with its limitation, that is the software architecture: retracing the infinite tunnels of the folders to discover how the relationship between the files is constructed, to understand the associated values ​​and numerical data and find the hidden and original files of the 3D models involved, the dynamics of the particles in the effects, the panorama of sounds associated with the experience and so on. Every video game is a universe of mysterious relationships, and understanding the structure of these brings me closer to new revelations about our surrounding world.

Fail fail fail, again.

In simulation, failure leads to the acquisition of new data and the preparation of new imaginations. It is a generative and inclusive practice.

Finally, modding (software modifications) and worldbuilding are ways to rethink our reality and the state of things, giving shape to identity and the world with new parameters and resulting in unexpected or impossible scenarios.

I conceive modding as a performative practice, in which modifying the videogame takes on conceptual meaning and an act of responsibility towards the community of users involved. A way to bring the narrative universe out of the medium, as events, and occasions.

Federica Di Pietrantonio, Solo, 2024. Courtesy the artist.

Presented as part of OVERTON WINDOW at Màteria in Rome, Solo is made with this technique and reflects in particular the idea of ​​sculpture in the video extension. What in particular are you investigating in this sense?

We are in a phase in which the relationship between life and death is more exposed than ever, the entire history and current affairs of art could be built on these two categories. Eternity has lost meaning. What sense of permanence can I ascribe to the future if the present crumbles into rubble? 

The video presents itself as a sculpture of moments, dedicated to the ordinary, to an exhausted everyday life that is supported by motor inertia and habit. There is no room for romanticization. The search for immortality, often sublimated by art, is condensed here into moments.

An alternation of sculptural states/moments, in which the sculptural subject is in relationship with objects and space, is a set of relationships that don’t allow the sculpture to be isolated in a single object. Solo diverges from the idea of ​​eternity and sculptural permanence, claimed in favor of a sculpture in time, 60fps.

Federica Di Pietrantonio, Solo, 2024, installation view. courtesy Màteria, foto by Roberto Apa.

When you talk in these terms, I cannot help but find a parallel between what you call “sculpture in movement” and the way of self-representing through digital platforms. We know that the internet has completely changed our aesthetic and iconographic imagination, what does this change represent for you?

The speed of creation and propagation of new online trends makes me reflect on the constant repetition of models and templates. When I imagine to represent it graphically with a curve, I am uncertain whether to draw it as an increase or closed in a historical circularity and disconnected from the linear conception of time. Bodies are images and images are sculptures. 

The Internet is the space where we expose our digital practices, where we convert our experience into data, numerical values, and statistics. The datafication of our experience takes us out of the story of human complexity, out of the relationship with the other world.

Bit: the fascinating binary computer language, a base 2 numerical system typical of digital devices, doesn’t represent the contemporaneity that moves to affirm the non-binary nature of being, to break down traditional dualisms. How to defuse this nuclear explosion? Language sets us free as it accustoms us to express ourselves in an alienating binary.

Federica Di Pietrantonio, Solo, 2024. Courtesy the artist.

Talking about identity and representation, the discussion on gender seems almost inevitable. Your avatar is a creature fluid, she only wears lace panties, some metal inserts and fox ears. As you imagined it, it seems to embody Donna Haraway’s cyborg figure in an exemplary way. In what way do you think the universe of gaming and platforms contribute to an idea of identity self-determination?

Let’s take into consideration the relationship between users and the platform. We could describe it, lowering ourselves with an electronic rope, as a relationship between digital citizens in a digital society. What happens if we look at this association as a social relationship between the servant/user and the master/platform? This spark, caused by the friction of our electronic cable, gives rise to the concept of Technofeudalism expressed by Yanis Varoufakis in the eponymous book. With a further descent towards the bits, we realize that the comforting daily life of digital services becomes a relationship of servitude towards big tech science fiction.

In the epic novel between the user and avatar, what are the vicissitudes of these subjects? A relationship of representation, of manifestation, of mutual dependence, of alienation, of self-determination of identity. There are numerous nuances (far from the 0 1 binary) that describe this controversial relationship. Is our image still a sculpture, an avatar?

If the architecture of the computer and the internet mirrors that of the world, I find it difficult to distinguish between these two interchangeable entities. Despite these theoretical reflections, every user prosumer (media producer+consumer) self-determines one’s being by looking in a double direction, looking and being looked at. For this reason, I affirm posing as a daily practice of affirming one’s existence. In an age of surveillance, we are both surveilled and overseers. Out of the media and in the media, in the eyes, in the mirror, in the rooms.

Solo seems to inherit part of the melancholy already present in the previous project, Farming, guiding the two experiences is precisely this idea of loneliness which is also made explicit in the title here. What role does loneliness play in your work?

I perceive my work as a relational necessity with the world and with others, as an encounter that I have to realize. I see art as that ground 0 from which I can reach new singular or multiple worlds. In this world, solitude becomes a place of meeting and inclusion. More broadly I find that technological development is directly related to loneliness. This is yet another novel with numerous chapters, for example, the story of bots and the birth of AI, social networks, networks and connections. Technology invariably underlines the solitude of our existence and the exhausting drive towards an idea of ​​completeness, of perfect union. In this insoluble relationship, we construct technology as a divinity in our image (again, to see ourselves or to be seen?), and we decline it into encounters and clashes. 

The term “techno sentimentalism” (tendency to perceive and interpret technologies through an emotional filter) establishes this relationship of interdependence and contributes to the development of a technology which, following a datafication of the human, attempts to create a double.

Thus technological thinking poses the complex problem of belonging and identity in the digital age. If the world belongs to no one, when we point to solitude, to whom do we belong?

Federica Di Pietrantonio, Solo, 2024. Courtesy the artist.

Some time ago, while we were planning this experience, you told me about one of your latest readings, Le paludi della piattaforma by Geert Lovink. In this text, the author essentially states that digital platforms have “eclipsed the Internet”, canceling those possibilities of generating spaces of freedom. Do you believe it’s possible to conquer these spaces again? How?

Let’s deplatform! Like landless pirates, we don’t want to conquer but we want to find both the wrecks and the treasure. Navigating in saturated waters, among dirty and inaccurate data, we extrude non-datafiable singularities from datafication and algorithms, we attribute new meanings to numbers that do not represent us. We stop understanding numbers, we expropriate numbers from their hierarchical and quantitative relevance. For me, a practice of extrusion from the platform is painting.

If the privatization of the internet has sanctioned the mutation of capitalism into techno feudalism, we are expropriated from the spaces, they are not ours but we pay for them with a pledge and we have the illusion of possessing them. Our attention is commodified, like our experience, our nostalgia, our melancholy.

How can we save ourselves? We take the context and lead it to other places, we establish relationships with no place, of poetry, like the testimonies of users on the platforms, let’s recover them and bring them to another place, to another medium. Translation can save us, the company of solitudes.

We ought to expropriate the world of the internet into an internet in the world. The Internet is physically in the world, and the world is physically in the network.

One last question related to your work as an artist. You are one of the few in Italy who manages to masterfully keep together the art world’s attention to traditional practices with that to digital explorations. What do you see in the future of media art, there will be a greater chance of expression and market?

I find that often a shortcut to talking about media art is to identify it in a specific and digital aesthetic. If we instead understand aesthetics as a potion of conventions and experience, mediated by our senses, then it has the ability to transcend the medium and to become a philosophical, or techno-philosophical, discourse. 

Media art transcends the medium used, it may seem like an oxymoron but it participates in the aforementioned attempt at deplatforming. By participating in the progressive datafication of the world we generate a reductionist culture, which highlights inequalities and discards singularity.

With my research I take care of waste, I extrude technology to search for new relational meanings, and I want to create disorder in the numerical hierarchy. I believe there are many pirates in this sense, and that to escape from the medium will be necessary for anyone who wants to open a dialogue.

In regards to the mysterious art market, I hope to receive new insights and understand how to navigate this unknown sea.

Federica Di Pietrantonio, Solo, 2024. Courtesy the artist.

Writing time:
4 cigarettes
1 long coffee
1 beer

Federica Di Pietrantonio was born in 1996 in Rome, where she currently lives and works at the artist-run space Spazio In Situ. She graduated in painting from RUFA – Rome University of Fine Arts in 2019, completing her thesis at KASK (Ghent, Belgium). In 2020, she was awarded the Emergent prize by Fondazione Cultura e Arte, XIII edition of the Talent Prize promoted by Inside Art, also being a finalist in the 2021 and 2022 editions. In 2021, she was selected by NAM - Not a Museum for the Superblast residency at Manifattura Tabacchi (Florence). In 2022, she participated in VRAL #49 as part of the Milan Machinima Festival and presented her work at MEET – Digital Culture Center in Milan during the international conference The New Atlas of Digital Art. In 2023, she received an invitation for a residency at SODA - School of Digital Arts (Manchester) in collaboration with Quadriennale Roma, one of her films was selected for the Oberhausen Short Film Festival (Oberhausen), and she participated in the VISIO residency within the context of Lo Schermo dell’Arte and in the Biennale di Gubbio Imagina, curated by Spazio Taverna. In the same year, she was mentioned for the Conai Prize and the VDA Award. In 2024, she was nominated among the best digital artists on Artribune.
Daniela Cotimbo is an independent curator and researcher based in Rome. She is focused on the problematic issues of the present, investigated through different media, in particular advanced technologies. In 2018 she founded the Re:humanism cultural program, which focused on the relationship between contemporary art and artificial intelligence. In 2021, she co-founded Erinni, a curatorial collective that combines transfeminism and media languages. Since 2022, she has been a lecturer on the Theory and Method of Mass Media at the Rome University of Fine Arts.