Much if not most of his work over the last twenty five years has been concerned with the city and with real-time technologies of surveillance and information and has often involved using and even making electronic devices. In 2009 he did a residency at Lanternhouse in Cumbria, near to the Lake District, in which he applied some of the same techniques as he has used in relation to city life to more rural contexts. Yet this bucolic interlude was an exception to the normal location of his artistic practice.
Yet I would like to claim that Stanza presents an exemplary form of art as craft, in the sense that he takes the materials of our current technologised culture and materially engages with their possibilities in order to reflect upon what it means to be living in that culture. What is particularly interesting about Stanza’s work is that he understands how to use in creative and novel ways a whole range of tools and technologies, which, along with his prodigious rate of production, means that his output is a kind of map of shifting technological realities and possibilities. He groups many of his artworks over the last twenty five years under the rubric The Emergent City Projects.
Image: Stanza Music Performance with touchscreens: 2004
Stanza artwork above 2004
In the mid-1980s he was making music videos about ‘cities, networks and urban situations’ using ‘VJ decks and experimental TV techniques’. In 1989 he started a series of monochrome paintings of cityscapes, based on his own photographs, entitled Control… In 1997 he started Central City…….
In a situation where the virtual realm becomes more and more the place where we, in the so-called developed world at least, work and socialise, the material, lived environment of the city becomes a locus of greater authenticity, much as the rural landscape did during the period of industrialisation. Yet, much as representations of the countryside in the 19th century were often made with much more awareness of the social and ecological issues than we now imagine,
Stanza’s work does not romanticise the city. He portrays it as a complex, informational space, networked by different complex systems, some visible and some invisible. He also makes the work in the most direct sense; he is a maker, a craftsperson, who knows how to program, how to use live video feed, and how to build robots, and sensing devices.
Above all he knows how to use and to work with the technologies of real-time computing and visualisation that have become an increasingly important part of our technologised culture.
To a certain extent Stanza’s practice and that of others like him, embodies the idea of ‘immaterial labour’ and the ‘social worker’ as discussed by, among others, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt.
In the context of a capitalism increasingly dominated by information technology Hardt and Negri distinguish between two forms of the ‘immaterial labor of analytical and symbolic tasks’, on one hand ‘routine symbolic tasks’, and ‘creative and intelligent manipulation’ on the other (293). They claim that, inasmuch as such labour necessarily involves cooperation prior to its subsumption by capital, it seems to ‘provide the potential for a kind of spontaneous and elementary communism’ (294). Hardt and Negri have been widely criticised for the naivety of this statement. What might be claimed is that immaterial labour does offer a new model of craft production as opposed to the dehumanising mass production of industrial capitalism.It seems to me that the work of Stanza offers us a model of not just an artistic but also an ethical engagement with technology, at a time when such a thing is, I believe, increasingly needed. His work does not comment on, for example, surveillance technologies or sensing technologies, or other public manifestations, in a political or polemic manner. Rather it engages in what they might be for, how they might be used, in ways that explore their meaning and potential beyond the obvious kinds of use. As such he works against the cool aesthetic of much work made with such technologies.
By contrast with the reticent of such stuff, Stanza produces an abundance of vivid, complex, often baroque work that is unashamedly aesthetic in the sense of being concerned with the sensually beautiful. In this he is like Ruskin’s gothic builder, whose love of variety and for beauty for its own sake was, for Ruskin, evidence of his freedom, as compared to the ‘enslaved’ worker, endeavouring to produce regular perfection. The modern equivalent to such an enslaved worker might be an artist committed to a conceptual programme of work as much as it might be a computer programmer endeavouring to find the most economical and ‘elegant’ solution to a logical problem. That said Richard Sennett’s book on The Craftsman explicitly claims that programming can be a craft and offers the example of Linux programmers.
Image: Detail from live CCTV software system by Stanza 2005.
Stanza artwork above 2005
The difference between Stanza and the Gothic craftsman discussed by Ruskin is that the latter works spatially, making things that occupy space and endure, unchanged over time.
Stanza works in time, in the sense that he manipulates real-time and time-based technologies such as CCTV cameras. He does not so much ‘sculpt time’ as Andrei Tarkovski described the process of film making, as ‘craft time’. In the context of a culture in which time has increasingly become a commodity, this crafting of time takes on a more pressing and even political dimension.
Head of Department
Institute for Cultural Research