work 5

The Possible Ties Between Illness and Success, by Carlo Zanni (Italy), 2006

A Work by: Carlo Zanni

Words by: John Haskell

Music by: Gabriel Yared

With: Stefania Orsola Garello and Ignazio Oliva

Italian and English Version (Qucktime).
Downloading time: about 6 minutes

"They all happen, and then they're gone: clouds, people, buildings, laughter, darkness... it all happens and then it's gone."
John Haskell
American Purgatorio

A man lies in bed. His skin is covered with stains. A woman enters the room, he notices her as she approaches and sits on the bed next to him. She puts a pillow under his head, to make him feel more comfortable. She is looking at him, lovingly. He looks at her and then he realizes. He's scared. He covers his face with his hands, but she tenderly puts them down. She grabs his hand and lies next to him. As they both lie in bed, she's asleep but he's not, a far-away look in his face, dark dots spreading all over his body.

The Possible Ties Between Illness and Success is a work by Carlo Zanni in the form of a short, one-minute movie that plays over the web. Starring Stefania Orsola Garello and Ignazio Oliva, the film has been produced with the quality of a major motion picture, yet it will be screened exclusively on the Internet. The reason for this is, the movie is meant to be transformed by its own audience. When users visit the website to watch it, they leave a trace in the form of data (date and time of access, IP address, country of origin and so on). This data is collected by Google Analytics, and then sent to the server that hosts the film. A program interprets this information and fills the body of the man in the movie with stains, their number and location depending on the number of visitors and their origin. The film is then re-edited and uploaded so that the next users can watch a newly made movie. Their presence is monitored by Google Anaylitics, and the whole process starts again. The work premiered on August 3rd, 2006 at La Rada Centro per l'Arte in Locarno (Italy), and has been online producing versions of the film since September. The movie keeps reproducing itself constantly, and although two versions are stored every day, only one version is uploaded every week for the visitors to follow on the history of this project.

The Possible Ties has been labeled as a piece of Data Cinema 1, and as such it could have simply been the enhancement of a medium with the data flux on the Internet. Instead, it is a work of art.

Zanni's film is in fact a Gesamtkunstwerk, an integration of art forms, which are presented as layers of a complex narrative. A story that is simple and short enough to be grasped at a first glance, but at the same time so rich and evocative that it can be watched over and over again. The artist has been precise on every detail, collaborating, as in previous works, with other creators in order to achieve the level of quality he envisioned for this piece. On the first layer, the sequence was performed, filmed, photographed and edited by a team of professionals from the motion picture industry. The result is a procession of images of an extraordinary beauty, in which one is tempted to interpret a recreation of fifteenth century Italian paintings depicting the death of Christ, or even Gustav Klimt's allegories. The image alone is eloquent and develops its own form of narration, which is enriched by the music, on the second layer. The score was composed by Gabriel Yared, who already collaborated with Zanni in Average Shoveler 2, a net art piece in the shape of a computer game. Yared's music evolves along the film, growing in emphasis as the story reaches the end, taking the viewer to a highly emotional state just as the sequence finishes abruptly to reveal the title of the work. The mood is then turned down again, as the notes slowly disappear, the tune becoming erratic in the same way it started. Along with the music, the narrator's voice plays a determinant role in the experience of the film. This layer is made of the words of writer John Haskell, extracted from the last page of his novel American Purgatorio 3 and read by Haskell himself, in the English version, and by actress Stefania Orsola Garello in the Italian version. Haskell's voice is sober, somewhat neutral but not impersonal, his words speaking of presence and absence, of the impermanence of all things (and beings). These are the words of the end of a journey, the end of the novel in fact, and so we perceive the sequence also as the end of the story that is presented to us. There is a past to this story, but not a future, as we leave the man lying next to his partner with Haskell's final words: "and then it's gone".

The last layer is the code, the program developed by Agustín Garzón that reinterprets the data unknowingly provided by the viewers. Hidden beneath the words, the music and the images, the data flux permeates the film in the shape of these tiny dark dots that spread over the skin of the actor. These dots perform a determinant role in the narration. They tell us that something is wrong, that this person is ill. The stains give proper sense to the actions of the characters, they visually explain the illness, which in turn explains the despair of this person who, as we can infer, is dying. More stains on the body of the character mean a worse condition, and as those stains are actually generated by the people who watch the film, it is in the end the viewers who provide the closing element of the story: the illness itself.

Although the illness that is presented in this movie appears to be of a physical nature (the stains remind us of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer), the title of the work refers to the relation between manic-depressive disorder and the artist's success, as proposed by psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison 4. Zanni was inspired by Redfield's text both in terms of the suffering of those who live close to a person with a bipolar mental disorder as in the way in which success appropriates the identity (and the soul) of the artist. Therefore, one of the main subjects of the film is the relation between the two people, the inner strength and love of the woman confronted with the physical weakness and despair of the man. In the Italian version, it is the actress who reads Haskell's words: the female voice was important to Zanni because, as he states, the concept in the movie is reversible. Success is the other key element in this film, symbolically represented by the infection that spreads over the man's body. Just as the "success" of the movie is rated by the number of visitors who watch it over the Internet, and the act of viewing affects the film itself, "success" will also determine the work of an artist and even his emotional state. Viewed in terms of attracting a large audience, success takes the form of a myriad of visitors who invade the inner world of the artist, appropriating bits of it, just as this imaginary virus spreads over the body of the main character in the film.

The possible ties between illness and success are thus those that are ultimately, although inadvertently, created by the viewer. It reminds us that the act of watching incorporates a certain aggression to what is being watched, and that contemplation is, in the end, a form of appropriation.

1 : R. Bosco, S. Caldana, "Carlo Zanni relaciona el éxito y la enfermedad en un corto interactivo", El País, 12/21/2006.  

2 : Carlo Zanni, Average Shoveler.  

3 : "John Haskell Reads From 'American Purgatorio'", New York Times.  

4 : Kay Redfield Jamison. Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and The Artistic Temperament, 1993.  

Pau Waelder
(N.B. First published in Furtherfield, United Kingdom, February 12, 2007)

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