Exploring web-native formats: from interactive spaces to Instagram filters with Arte-19 and Art Layers


Valentina Tanni  Marialaura Ghidini 



Project Title

Arte-19 | Virus Virtual Reality Game; Art Layers



Marialaura Ghidini: What brought you to curate Arte-19 – Virus Virtual Reality Games?

Valentina Tanni: In April last year — in the middle of the first lockdown — I was contacted by Dario Minghetti, director of Fusolab, which is a non-profit organisation located in Rome that organises cultural, educational and social exchange activities with local communities, especially in the suburbs. Fusolab was working on a project for the programme Estate Romana of the City Council of Rome and wanted to put together a team of people with different skills. Specifically, they needed some curators to help them select artists for a very particular project, which tries to connect different levels of reality by exploring different configurations of remote and physical participation. Arte-19 – Virus Virtual Reality Games is in fact conceived as a festival in three stages: one year only online, one year in hybrid format and one year only in presence.
I immediately joined with enthusiasm because, especially in that very particular historical moment, it seemed useful — if not essential — to experiment with ways of exhibiting and communicating art online. I was also immediately struck by the professionalism and imaginative capacity of the team at Fusolab, which has created an original and engaging project. Besides me, the other curators who worked on the project are Gianluca del Gobbo and Roberto Di Maio.

M.G.: Arte-19 used the MozillaHub platform to create a space for interaction between artists and the public. How did you approach curating the project?

V.T.: I tried to involve artists who had in some way already experimented with interactive formats, both online and offline. I was also interested in having a performative component; that is, the works would have a duration and would be experienced as much as possible live and in real time. Obviously, everything that happened was also documented and archived, so that it could also be experienced asynchronously. Another aspect to which I paid particular attention is the diversity of the selected projects, for which I tried to offer a spectrum as varied as possible of what can be done on an online platform: the performances of Mara Oscar Cassiani and Guildor (which took place both outside and inside the platform), the projection of the short film in machinima by Luca Miranda and the collaborative drawing sessions led by Maria Chiara Gagliardi.

M.G.: MozillaHubs is a service that was created as a place to socialise in a virtual space, and in Arte-19 socialisation took place within an environment that was presented to the public as a “pirate platform”. Can you tell me more about the concept of piracy behind the project?

V.T.: The concept of “pirate platform” is linked to the meta-narration that anticipated and accompanied the actual programming of Arte-19. Fusolab’s idea was to give to the festival the shape of a game, inspired by current events in the closest sense. A virus threatens society and the artists are confined in a prison, accused of spreading the contagion and unable to express themselves. Participants therefore transform themselves from simple spectators into “fighters” and, after enlisting online, must metaphorically “liberate” the artists in order to enjoy their works. So it is a pirate platform because the artists have a “subversive function” in the narrative framework that accompanies the festival.

M.G.: In this respect, I find it interesting the way the project experimented with communication. Arte-19 has proposed engagement strategies based on different narrative levels. I’m thinking of the #VVR Brigade’s announcements on social media and the Fuso-Society VVR’s emails. What role did meta-narration play in the project?

V.T.: The narrative framework, as I mentioned, was an idea of Fusolab, which built a strategy of “enlisting” viewers organised through a campaign that began several weeks before the event. In that phase, a separate website was used for recruitment (, but also email and Whatsapp messages. There was a “battle name” to choose and a “virtual swab” to do. Finally, one could take a selfie with a revolutionary “mask” available as an Instagram filter. The meta-narrative was very important both for the communication of the project and for building a feeling of community among the participants even before the (virtual) doors of the festival opened.

M.G.: You recently organised the exhibition Art Layers (2021), a programme of artist’s Instagram filters. Again, can you then tell me how you approached curating the project, and the viewers’ engagement?

V.T.: Art Layers was born in the context of the celebrations for the tenth birthday of Artribune, a magazine of contemporary art and culture with which I have collaborated since its foundation. We liked the idea of commissioning something original to young artists and of working on social media platforms, trying to involve readers in a direct way. Hence, the idea of an online exhibition composed only of Instagram filters. In this case, the main guiding criteria were two: I chose only Italian artists and I left them complete freedom in choosing the type of filter to create. I deliberately avoided assigning themes or concepts to encourage diversity and customisation. Luckily this choice worked and the 10 filters that have been created are a great sample of the many different ways augmented reality can be used on Instagram. The filters are released every two weeks (we started in June and will end in October) and will always remain available on Artribune’s Instagram profile. In order of online appearance, the artists are: Mara Oscar Cassiani, Giulio Alvigini, Valerio Veneruso, Sofia Braga, Giovanni Fredi, Federica Di Pietrantonio, Chiara Passa, Martina Menegon, Kamilia Kard and Clusterduck. The response of the public has been incredible and obviously we re-post and archive all the stories that are produced using the filters. This will constitute, I think, a very interesting testimony of how these objects are actually used by the final users.
Each time a new filter is released online, we also publish a long interview with the artist on the Artribune website to explore in depth their poetics and discuss the different approaches in the production of AR filters.

M.G.: I am interested in exploring the idea of disrupting and interfering with digital technology, and how curatorial projects explore and work with the characteristics and assumptions of the services we are offered online. Is there a connection between appropriation and interference in your work with Arte-19 and Art Layers?

V.T.: When you work with artists who use technology, you almost always generate some form of “interference”, because you deviate from the conventional uses of the tools involved. Artists have always been interested in questioning technologies, forcing them, deconstructing them and finding new ways of confronting them. This strategy serves not only to explore the aesthetics that technologies produce, but above all to explore the collateral effects that their use provokes in society and in people’s behaviour. This is an aspect that has historically characterised the relationship between art and technology — ever since the invention of photography — and continues to do so today. I believe that all my projects, in different ways, express this attitude.

M.G.: Since the introduction of the smartphone, and then App Store and Android Market, the web, as we knew it, has progressively become corporatised and dominated by the logic of commerce. How do you conceive the role of online curating in light of the changes in the online environment?

V.T.: The web, as you rightly say, has changed profoundly in the last 10-15 years, and not in the direction we hoped. The weight of the activity of big corporations — and in some cases also of governments — is felt more and more strongly, generating an infrastructure and a social environment centered on extractive logics, based on profit and detrimental to privacy. I believe that curating — and not only online curating — must take these issues into account and encourage as much as possible a greater awareness on the part of artists and the public. The only way we can try to fight this drift is primarily through the knowledge of the dynamics that govern the production and distribution of the technologies we use.

M.G.: The project Arte-19 was presented during the first lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic. That year we saw a mass migration of contemporary art exhibition programmes online due to the inability to have cultural experiences and encounters in a physical environment. Many online projects showed a tendency to either want to replicate the gallery experience (OVR) or use platforms primarily as broadcasting mediums. Arte-19 presented a different experience, as did the recent Art Layers. How have you positioned yourself in relation to this scenario?

V.T.: I have never liked the idea of the “online gallery” in the literal sense of the term — i.e. virtual spaces that reproduce the appearance of the traditional white cube — and I am not particularly comfortable exploring the classic “viewing rooms”. I’ve always been convinced that every environment has its own specificities and that it doesn’t make much sense to “mimic” places and works that you would actually like to be physical on screen. Partial exceptions are cases where “real” exhibitions are digitised and made explorable online through photographic reproductions that can be explored at 360 degrees: in that case, these are advanced forms of documentation that can be extremely useful for a segment of the public who is unable to travel for various reasons, as well as for scholars and researchers of the future.
For this reason, I always try to explore web-native formats, leveraging the familiarity that users have with certain platforms and interfaces. In the case of Arte-19, the environment that welcomed visitors was the farthest thing you can imagine from an art gallery: it was a three-dimensional reproduction of an existing square in Rome, in the district of Centocelle, populated by unrealistic avatars and with a setting much closer to the world of videogames than to that of online art fairs. Art Layers, on the other hand, totally bypasses the concept of a container, presenting itself as a selection of works that is released “in episodes” and remains free in the ecosystem of the app, accessible to all users, even those who are not aware of the existence of the curatorial project. The Instagram filters produced by the artists in fact do not have a special status, but are included in the app’s database along with all the others.

M.G.: There is this widespread idea that being online allows for more audience engagement; whereby engagement is often measured in terms of quantity and the country of registration of an IP address. What did it mean to engage an online audience in these two projects?

V.T.: This seems to me to be a cliché that only in some rare cases is matched by real data. Being online allows you to involve more people only “potentially”, but it is not necessarily successful. It’s not enough to put something on the Internet to get the public to come, let alone interact actively with it; it’s necessary to work on communication, on involvement and on building the process of participation as much as you do for an “offline” project.

M.G.: I think the pandemic marked the death of curating on the web as I understood it, or at least it marked the end of its role as a space for exploring the production, display and distribution of art on the web. What’s today’s web?

V.T.: I don’t think the pandemic has resulted in the death of online curating. The difference is that we are now working in an ecosystem that is increasingly crowded and increasingly mainstream. It’s no longer a niche. We work in a hypertrophic context, characterised by an almost unsustainable offer in terms of numbers and tremendously homogenised in terms of formats. However, for this very reason, it is even more necessary to experiment and propose alternative models to avoid homologation and to continue to keep alive the communitarian and liberal spirit that the web still possesses and can express.