Whether you call him a media and information artist, sculptor, manipulator or hacker, Brooklyn-based Italian artist Paolo Cirio’s provocative art interventions grab attention by challenging conventional ideas about how we communicate with each other. In P2P Gift Cards he created illegal counterfeit virtual money. For Street Ghosts he printed images of people captured in Google street view and pasted them on the streets where the original photo was taken. For his latest project, Persecuting.US, he stole the data of one million Twitter users to rate their political affiliation.
Using his incisive eye and uncanny ability to visualize the power relations inherent in information structures, Paolo manipulates media in a way that reveals, influences, and reconfigures social processes. After investigations by the US and Canadian Departments of Defense and a cease-and-desist letter from Google Adsense, his dedication to his work is clear and we can’t wait to see what his next project will be.
What do you think are currently the most pressing questions, problems or misunderstandings regarding the role of digital media in everyday life?
I think digital media is evolving exponentially and with that the way we share information. As the way we communicate changes, so does all of society. I think that if we were to have an equation capable of calculating the degree to which computational power will increase in the future we should relate that to how our mindset and culture will change as well. Just look at how, in only a few years, we have changed through Facebook. Remember, only a few months ago the total investment in internet advertising surpassed that in traditional media and so I have to say that even more of the internet is definitely yet to come.
In Digimag you define yourself as more of a tactician than a strategist, which reminds me of Michel De Certeau’s distinction between the two terms. To what extent is your work in conversation with critical theories of narrative, information and media? Are there any specific works that have influenced your art?
I prefer not to mention a particular work or an artist because several historical artists influenced my work and, as you mentioned, there have been artistic media interventions for decades now. Actually, if you extend the notion of media to radio, cinema, books and other devices that distribute messages, the history of this art form is much older. However, with each new development in media, any artist has a particular aesthetic and potential.
For instance, in my case what is unique is the enormous number of people and material that I can use for my artworks. I just published my second project, which uses one million people as material, this is something that was not available for artists before social media.
People continue to talk about privacy and the right to privacy. Do you see privacy as something that can and should be defended, if so by whom?
I think the notion of privacy is cultural and it’s changing very quickly, so it’s hard to say whether or not it should be defended, given that in the future perhaps no one will care about it. But here I would draw a line between moral and ethical issues related to privacy, that is, when it’s not just a social norm but can actually harm people or limit their freedom. Common sense already regulates the way we respect each other’s privacy; however, it should be enforced when authorities or big companies greatly abuse it. I don’t delegate, so I think anyone should do something to point this out.
Do you remember the first time you ever used the internet? In what context was it?
I went to a technical high school where I studied telecommunications. My first time on the Internet was in 1994 and, even if it wasn’t through a web browser, I was quite excited about it. I already felt like an artist and I remember I did some small art projects over the following years.
You’ve undertaken a lot of projects in these years, is there one of them that has gotten more attention than the others? Do you have a favorite that you feel hasn’t received the attention it deserves?
Probably People Quote People didn’t have much exhibitions in the art world; however, for a while it was very well-rated on Google. Also, my last project, Persecuting.US, is slowly becoming popular, probably for several good reasons, but I still think it has good potential.