Since the mid-nineties, artistic duo Eva and Franco Mattes have been creating works that force an appraisal of the world we live in. A big claim, but the two pioneers of net-art truly create work of immediate relevance. Often taking place on the internet, in Chat Roulette, video games and Second Life, their mediums are fresh, accessible, but deeply thought provoking. Many works are duplicitous performances, lies and outright pranks. Occasionally jarring and consistently challenging.
For their first solo UK exhibition, the duo have brought an incredible collection of their work to Site Gallery in Sheffield. I caught up with Franco for an interview after the show had opened.
If people are expecting to be fooled by your work after so many years, is it now harder to present or do the lies need to be more elaborate?
Usually when we do pranks, the people that get involved are unaware they are part of it. The target of my prank, if any, is not the gallery goer. It is the people who get involved with the thing itself. For the ‘No fun’ hanging piece on Chat Roulette where I committed suicide, the target of that work is the people who happen to be using it. They don’t know who I am, they don’t know my story, they don’t know anything about me. The target is the people who experience it in reality.
So its life is out there? Or is it in the gallery when you exhibit it?
It’s definitely there. That’s the moment when it happened. In the gallery the works are the ashes of a fire.
The ‘CATT’ sculpture was originally a fake Maurizio Cattelan piece, exhibited in the USA by you and Eva. The reveal occurred after the exhibition finished and the fake was outed. Generally, when is the work done? When are they ashes and not a fire?
I think the work is done when it’s revealed. The ideal audience is the people who have gone through all the process. Who’ve seen the thing and believed it true and then found out that it was not and get to their own conclusions.
Of course it doesn’t work all the time. Meaning that a lot of times people see the prank in the first phase or not all them get to know that it was a prank. Such as Darko Maver [a fake artist created by Eva & Franco] I still meet people now more than ten years after that believe it’s true. There is no way that I can convince them that it’s a fake. People saw it on TV, and read it in the newspapers, they don’t connect the fact that it could have been our story, when in fact it was our story.
When you make a fake, it spreads, like a disease. You know where you start, when you start and where you start. But you don’t know when or where it will lead you.
This exhibition is titled Lies Inc. Are you showing all of the lies you’ve done, or is there some big lie lurking behind this exhibition? I don’t expect you to tell me, but…
Yeah, haha sorry I can’t answer that. Of course I will never tell you; I’m lying to you, but wait I’m gonna tell you tomorrow that I lied to you today.
If you tell someone that it is a lie before you tell them that, I’m not sure that counts as a lie?
I’m always honest about this. I never lie about something unless..(laughs) When the work is over, I just show it as it is. Like the ‘CATT’ we are showing at Site Gallery, the prank and the whole process. It’s not interesting for me to keep showing it as a fake Cattelan artwork. I don’t see any point in pretending to make pranks inside an art space – it’s like a fish tank. Anything in there is allowed and people expect this.
If you want to hit somebody, you don’t wanna do it when he paid for the ticket to be hit. At this very moment we are pulling a prank, not here but in the United States. Who knows what’s going to happen. We may reveal it in one month, maybe six months, or maybe people will discover it. Of course I cannot speak about that because otherwise I would blow it.
In the gallery all the pieces have had their reveal…
The gallery viewer to me is a voyeur, not a participant. I’m sorry for him. He missed the fun of it, just seeing the documentation.
But, there is one piece that isn’t in the gallery. That hasn’t had a reveal yet and its down the road.
You are implying that ‘Plan C’ is fake?
No…More that something is not entirely as it seems.
Yeah, you may believe that. But what’s the question? Did we go to Chernobyl? I know you didn’t ask that. But I think that would be so stupid. Chernobyl is one of the most famous and popular places on planet earth. Just Google it. We shot videos, took tonnes of photos. Steven Spielberg could have constructed Chernobyl in a Hollywood studio. It is way easier to grab a plane, go in there and get some scrap metal. It’s way easier than constructing that story in a Hollywood studio.
Of course you cannot believe me, I don’t blame you. The show is called Lies Inc and I’m a liar. But please don’t just do it with me, do it with everybody, do it with your father, do it with your priest down the church, do it with your teacher at school, with your boss at work, with your bank, the politicians. I’m not the only one who is telling lies.
Like if you can pull this off, what can people with means do? There seems to be more to it than “I’m just trying to show that people can lie”…
Its very hard for me to tell you the meaning of all of this. For me it is my life. I live this way. I dunno if there is an overall meaning. Fakes interest me, and forgers like De Hory, Eric Irvine, Eric Erborne. I also think that there is no such a thing as a distinction between reality and fiction.
Think to God. God doesn’t exist. That’s pretty obvious, I hope you agree. If you do not agree, I think you know the science has evolved enough for us to know that God doesn’t exist. it just doesn’t make any sense. It’s so irrational and so stupid that there is a God out there. Yet, a lot of people believe in it, and God is a great influence on our lives.
Is this your view from growing up in a Catholic country?
Catholicism definitely. When I was a kid I went to my mother and said, I’ve thought about this and what if Jesus Christ was never there and they just use it to for me to go to church. My mother got really upset. But after many years, she came back and said, you know what, I think you are right. I came to realize that maybe this is all a huge prank that they pulled on us and it is like the Matrix. The blue pill and red pill.
There’s a construction that we believe and take for granted. My dream is that some of our work is giving you a bit of an insight into the Matrix, or an outside. Even if it is just stepping out for a few seconds. Not only Darko Maver didn’t exist. Maybe a lot of that other news, in that newspaper, did not exist the way they told me. Maybe Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, it was just an excuse to go there. Maybe the priest just wants some money out of me. Maybe, you know, Maybe.
Or maybe it is the other way around, something that is about to happen, is a lie now. The ‘Nikeplatz’ you created. While it was a lie then, it could easily be the future.
Absolutely! I just read this quote some that “every lie creates a parallel universe, a universe in which that lie is true.” Lies Inc. itself comes from a Philip K Dick story, he’s one of my favourite writers, maybe my favourite writer. All of his work is about the possibility. Invisible things, myths, legends are really powerful, they can influence, reality more than actual real things and people, like God or Jesus Christ or anything that’s fake.
You turned down the Venice Biennale this year, so the story goes…
We did not turn down the Venice Biennale, we turned down the invitation to the Italian Pavilion. I think Venice Biennale is an awesome institution. There’s great art there. This year we turned it down because the organisation of the Italian Pavilion was ridiculous, I think it is a pretty good example of what is happening in the whole of Italy and a good mirror of the political situation.
Would you go back under the American Pavilion, or another one?
It’s not a matter of nations, it’s just a coicindence that you are born in a certain nation. I don’t feel any particular attachment to Italy, just because I was born there. That’s why I don’t really understand nationalism. How can you be proud of a country just because you happen to have been born there? You can be proud of something you achieved – how can you be proud of something that just happened to you by total chance?
I read that neither of you were trained in art school. How has this affected your work?
I dunno because I never really studied. I don’t know the alternative. I never lived the life of an artist. I never really consider myself an artist, I’m more of a spectator, setting up a situation, just sitting and watching the consequences.
Like a scientist?
Well, yes. Way less than that. Scientists are serious people. We are a joke you know. Haha. My school was travelling I think. Eva and I, since we were kids, travelled like maniacs, all around Europe and Eastern Europe, then America, and kept travelling and keep travelling, and we keep meeting awesome people that we learn things from. That was way more important than any kind of things we could have learned in school.
Thats how we also got involved in net art for example. We met Vuk Ćosić in 1997, and he showed net art and what net art was. It blew me away and I said, that is what I want to do. But there was no school. No matter how much money you could pay, there was no school in 1997 that could show you what net art was because it was just an ongoing thing. It’s like if you are in Europe in the twenties, there is no school teaching you Dada. There are Dada artists doing their thing. Either you happen to get to know one of them and start knowing the Dada or you miss it and wait for it to be taught in a school. Its gonna be over.
So do you see net art as the kind of twenty first century’s Dada? How much longer has it got?
I think that as any other avant-garde, it had its time, like any movement. Punk, or Dada, Futurism, Hip Hop, anything has a beginning and an end. It’s going to dissolve. It dissolves into culture, it becomes, what we considered avant-garde, totally normal and excepted. Free software, in the nineties it was crazy science fiction idea. Now half the world runs on free software and open source. So what does it mean? It’s not avant-garde any more? No – it’s because we won the war.
So are you not avant-garde anymore?
Not at all. There’s not an avant-garde. Kids are using the internet now and they grew up with it. For them its always been there and they don’t see it. We are the last generation that had a life without any internet and the life with the internet. All the people younger than us, they never had a life without it. I really love what net artists are doing now. I don’t think that they really consider themselves as net artists which is cool. It’s like doing collage in the fifties, you are not going to call yourself a Dada artist because you are doing a collage, even though Dada artists were the first ones doing the collage. It just becomes a new form of expression that anybody can use.
Lies Inc. continues at Site Gallery until 30 July 2011.
Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG
Interview by Ben Dunmore. Photographs courtesy of Nigel Barker