Ahead of my performance of “Queering The Digital Space”, my new A/V work premiered at roBOt Festival on October 26th, L’indiependente magazine contacted me for an interview that goes through my backgroung, experiences and what inspired this new audiovisual show about digital spaces and queerness.
The italian version of this interview can be found here.
For the eleventh edition of roBOt Festival, on Saturday 26th October in the main hall of Ex-GAM the Bologna native artist Guenter Råler, pseudonym of Irene Cassarini, will present her new work Queering the Digital Space. Irene has been active for several years as a DJ, producer and visual artist with performances at international festivals. She has now her base in the Netherlands where she runs a radio show for Stranded FM in Utrecht, called SoundExtremism, and last year she published Mobile Energy for the label Bene Tleilax. We had a pleasant chat with her to talk about her latest project, Italian clubbing and the issues related to gender discrimination to which Irene is very sensitive.
Hi Irene, tell us how did you approach the world of electronic music and what was your path?
I started with electronic music when I enrolled at the Conservatory in Bologna after high school, where I studied Electronic Music and Sound Design. After that I spent a year in Stockholm at the Royal College of Music exploring some areas of interest including multi-channel spatialization and diffusion, algorithmic and audiovisual composition, and getting in contact with artists from the Scandinavian experimental scene. Now I am in Holland for a two-year master’s degree in Music Technology and Music Design, at the University of the Arts in Utrecht, focusing on music production, digital art and doing research on queer culture related to artistic practices.
What do you think of the current Italian clubbing scene, which unfortunately, we all know, is languishing between the closure of historic clubs and the lack of experimental spaces?
I believe that in Italy a scene at a local level is missing, there are big festivals and events of great importance at an international level which, however, fall a few times a year, and which also give space mainly to the big names of electronic music. I’m thinking of course of Club2Club and Robot Festival itself, that is returning to the international levels of the previous years after a fallback. Unfortunately, there is not, or very little, continuous and scattered programming troughout the peninsula that could give the opportunity to young and emerging experimental artists to perform. Probably this does not happen because of the lack of audience and of a clubbing culture which in other European countries is very much alive, consequently there are not a lot of money and energy invested in this sector and the space open to experimentation is ever smaller. On the other hand, I think that the electronic experimental music scene it is a solid reality that has born years ago and keeps expanding, especially from DIY small realities, even if it often remains in the hands of big festivals.
Continuing on the Italian situation, you are also very active about LGBTQ issues and sensitive to the topic of feminism. Since you studied and worked in Italy and abroad, what are the differences in the approach to these issues?
When I studied in Italy I did not always feel at ease as a woman and queer person, there are many preconceptions and widespread misinformation that spoils human relationships. Especially when I was the only woman in my class I did not find a very inclusive environment, many topics were taboo or could not be treated in a thorough and clear manner. I was also a sound technician, and if maybe playing on stage the situation is easier, when you’re behind the scenes for a woman it’s not easy. In general, in Italy there is a lot of closure with respect to these issues, we don’t talk about certain topics or we do it with the ignorance of those who flag them up as slogans. We often forget that behind the labels or the acronyms there are people with their problems and their history, but there are places that show a certain openness and activism, also in relation to art practices, such as Macao in Milan. Abroad it’s different: in addition to a greater openness to dialogue and knowledge of these problems, I noticed a kind of neutrality towards women or queer people, in the sense that your gender or your sexual orientation are not categories that are considered when you work. You are a person first.
Let’s move on to Queering the Digital Space, the project that you will present at the evening of 26th at Robot Festival. What is it about, what should we expect?
The project stems from a research on gender identity and art, I wanted to give my critical vision also from the more political side of my work: in fact it is an exploration of today’s digital culture, of how the digital world takes into account the fluidity of the human being, how gender stereotypes are represented and a series of other clichés about the individual and our identity that are reinforced in online environments. I tried to create an audiovisual work that was provocative, but without the desire to give an answer. It is the result of a personal urgency to bring up this discourse linked to woman-hood, feminism, queerness, and I am especially happy to be able to do it in Italy. In short, it is a disintegration in a visual and digital format of norms that we stick to and spread daily (for example on social media), for the most part in a passive manner and without thinking about it.
So it will be a work of art that does not hide and does not disregard the ideological and political level, do you think it can be read as a provocation, a breaking action?
A provocation maybe yes, my intent is that as well. I’m not sure it’s a real break. It is a reflection on how I see a very mainstream binary culture strictly tied to gender roles. The fact that I can’t find any solution in the end an integral is part of my work, I could define it as oxymoronic: I push the audience as much as I can to reflect, using images from trends, such as memes or viral videos of Donald Trump, and by deconstructing them I try to offer another perspective. I think it is necessary to acknowledge how much the internet can make us superficial, nullifying our depth of thought: it is a trivial example, but how many times do we read a super serious article of politics, finance or news in one internet tab, and in next one we can watch a make up tutorial from the Kardashians. The fact that everything is on the same level makes us unable to give weight to online content.
You worked on the question of splitting between a true ego and a digital ego, between the concrete experience of the “real” life and the immaterial one on the web. Tell us your thoughts.
From my point of view, the idea that there is a separation between the true self and the online is utopian: I believe that digital culture is now so integrated into our lives that the two aspects have become indistinguishable. The internet to me is an extension of our concrete life, even if they are considered on two different levels, real and online are two realities that exist simultaneously and depend on each other. Precisely for this reason it is interesting to analyze how we express ourselves on the internet and explore in which ways we can fight against norms or express our fluidity in an immaterial dimension that still strongly influences our life. In my opinion, social media is seen as a personal and intimate space when in reality it is not: we open up as if it was were because we have a freedom of expression that perhaps we cannot find in the real world.
The Internet at the beginning was actually the realization of that “liquid society”, offering an immaterial and potentially infinite space, without borders and with maximum freedom of expression. Now we are witnessing more and more the phenomenon of an internet normalization, which between algorithms and platforms in the hands of a handful of people, is putting a brake on that freedom that has been the revelation of the web. Do you think this could be a threat to the free expression of oneself and one’s own ideas?
It is certainly a delicate subject. The great opportunity offered by the internet was to be able to publish content anonymously for example, the fact that it could let us expose completely with potentially great freedom to address any kind of issue within an online community. I believe that this process is still possible, even if it is inevitable to clash with the capitalist reality of the Internet. If an artist wants to show his works or sell his music, he must turn to those same websites everyone use, because after all it gives you visibility and exposure. Despite this, I believe there are still many possibilities to resist, or to create places of inclusion without being ‘sold off’. I try to do this with my online space called “Art Extremism” and I wrote a sort of manifesto about this.
To close off, would you like to tell us your way of approaching the production of your music and your performances?
For this audiovisual work I am also presenting new music, produced recently. I tend to create everything on my computer with different software, which lead my music to have a certain cold, digital side to it, but I always blend it with an emotional component expressed through melodies and chord progressions. Generally I aim to create certain types of deep sounds and atmospheres that go in contrast with hard and insistent beats. So, on the one hand the digital “coldness”, on the other the warmth of emotional expression, which is the ultimate human heritage in the digital age. My idea is to create a contrast that can trigger feelings, emotions or a personal reflection in very digitally-sounding production.