Auto Italia South East is an artist-run project founded in 2007 by Kate Cooper, Amanda Dennis and Richard John Jones. Since its inception, Auto Italia has produced and commissioned new work in collaboration with a growing group of artists whose projects have taken many forms, exploring an emerging 21st century digital culture that has yet to be defined. Kate Cooper talks to Stephanie Bailey about how Auto Italia moves fluidly between the online and offline realms, building creative and administrative networks, while reflecting on how such practices respond to the unfolding culture of the contemporary.
Stephanie Bailey What is Auto Italia’s form and function?
Kate Cooper The short answer is we are a type of “production agency” that commissions and produces new work. The key ethos of Auto Italia is situated in the projects we organise and the community of artists that has built up around that, exploring how artists as a group can produce projects that are not possible alone. We see real value in self organising; attempting to create the terms in which you work. This has really been fundamental to what we do, primarily exploring ideas surrounding the discussion, distribution and production of art.
SB In terms of production, how has Auto Italia’s output diversified since its inception?
KC Our output has changed a lot. At first, we organised exhibitions, becoming involved in the practicalities of having a donated space and working with no funding. But we soon became invested in projects that involved producing new work and presenting that work: that has been the shift in the past couple of years – how we think of Auto Italia as a whole project being something that can facilitate our ideas and interests. This has taken many forms over the years, from live performance, internet TV, weekend long events to collaborating with other organisations, such as Cinenova and Upset the Rhythm.
SB This year you produced projects with public institutions: Auto Italia LIVE: Double Dip Concession at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London [ICA] and performance screening “It’s Like Staring Someone Out Who’s Not Even Looking at You” as part of The Fearless Frame, a survey of Barbara Hammer’s work at the Tate Modern. What was interesting about these collaborations?
KC When we worked with the ICA it was an interesting position for us as artists to have the support of the institution while also trying to challenge the roles and limits of what we were able to do within the institution. As Auto Italia, the position of turning the ICA’s “gallery” space into the site of production extended our interests in how to produce collective work within our own, self-defined methods of distribution while interrogating the community of labour that surrounds such production.
SB Auto Italia LIVE is performed, filmed and broadcasted live, in real time, over the internet. In its origination, Auto Italia LIVE was made specifically for the screen and space of the internet. Why was this important?
KC The online screen is a relatively unknown territory and, as artists, we are still only testing the water. The project, Auto Italia LIVE, was the first time we confronted that space: a really important shift in how we think about making work. It came out of an ongoing interest in collapsing the divisions between performance, production and distribution interest in the infrastructures of creative production. How each “episode” is made and disseminated is as important as the finished product: we want the tools of production and the “finished work” to become part of the same mechanism.
SB How did artists respond to the project at first?
KC There was confusion and excitement about what this space was, initially. Many artists we worked with didn’t know what we were asking them to produce. Did we want to them to work on performance, send them a video, or film a piece of work? We were like: all of the above and at the same time.
SB I watched your Double Dip Concession online from Greece via Thisistomorrow.info. The experience recalled in my mind that 1969 tele-happening, The Medium is the Medium, produced by Boston-based public broadcasting station WGBH-TV featuring videoworks, performances and communicative experiments by Aldo Tambellini, Allan Kaprow, Nam June Paik, James Seawright, Otto Piene and Thomas Tadlock, and broadcast live on TV. Do you see a connection?
KC I’m glad you mentioned this. We’re interested in the history that surrounds artists working with TV, and the commissioning of culture more generally. When we started the project we were thinking about what the format of live internet television could mean as a space for artists to produce work. This leads to what I’m interested in at the moment: where you locate the “work” and the speed of this cycle of performance and presentation in terms of the images we are producing when thinking about the internet and the flow of images we all process daily.
SB Double Dip Concession dealt with a number of issues running through Auto Italia’s projects: the transmission of images, image-constructed culture, the use of networks to disseminate visual, artist produced material, creating autonomous works that unite in a collective product, as well as exploring the potential in building working relationships between an autonomous collective and major cultural institution. How does your February 2013 project, Immaterial Labour Isn’t Working, extend on these ideas?
KC Immaterial Labour Isn’t Working will be a site for discussing wider issues to do with post-Fordist labour, particularly in the creative industries, which is something that came up in our work with Auto Italia LIVE. We are confronting particular working practices that create a general sense of anxiety, interested in how this leads or influences the production of the self. Now, more than ever, the conditions in which we work are creating a major shift in cultural output: consumption and production is constant, directly relating to how we perform and create an image of ourselves.
SB This idea of self-image is something you explored in My Skin is At War with a World of Data, which you showed recently at Artissima 2012 in Turin.
KC Yes. My Skin is At War with a World of Data is a collection of ideas relating more widely to identity, particularly gender, and the physical effects that come with producing an idea of the self within the context of being digitally connected, constantly. We also engage with the collective sense of paranoia that comes with producing and sharing our individual images online. At the same time, we also wanted to continue exploring the possibilities of image distribution and how these could be disseminated and situated within the larger context of contemporary production.
SB How do these two projects, Immaterial Labour isn’t Working and My Skin is at War with a World of Data, relate?
KC Even though we’ve been working with different groups of artists, both projects are related in that they both interrogate the digital space, which we explore through many different types of practices. Though Immaterial Labour isn’t Working is set for February 2013, it is key to note that the discussion has already started online on our website. How we use technology is affecting the way we live and work, and we want to open out this discussion across the creative industries so we can understand who is really benefiting from the working practices being imposed on us.
SB It’s interesting that Auto Italia investigates both the framework through which artists work while producing work reflective of that framework itself. And yet, in operating as an “agency”, to borrow your words, or perhaps, as a cultural institution in its own right in that you receive public funding, is there a danger of Auto Italia becoming more of an institution in terms of how it operates?
KC It’s always hard for artist-run initiatives to resist institutionalisation, but I guess we have some institutional qualities, if you like. We have core funding, and for a long time we had our own space, and I’m sure we’ll have our own space again in the future. Legally, we are a non-profit organisation, but I think that is just a formal term relating to the mechanisms we function within. Auto Italia has never been about a structure or even a physical building.