The artist Kosta Tonev developed the work »Late Night in Sorrento« for the Solitude & ZKM web residencies on the topic »Violent Consumer Media« curated by Dani Ploeger. In his work he deals with the role of media technologies in the representation of reality and the contradictions of modern consumer technologies. In our interview with the artist we talked about his work and the paradox of the information age.
Schlosspost: Your work is concerned with the representation of terror and conflict through modern consumer technology, which initiated from a residency in Russia that you recently undertook. Can you tell us more about the residency and how your project evolved from it?
Kosta Tonev: The residency was organized by the Austrian Federal Chancellery in cooperation with the Centre for Creative Industries »Fabrika« in Moscow. I spent three months in Moscow focusing mainly on research. Recently, I have been developing a body of work that deals with the political and economic reforms that unfolded after the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. While in Moscow, I was mainly researching the history of the past 30 years. The project I developed for Web Residencies tries to reconstruct some of the most violent events that took place during this period.
SP: For the web residency call »Violent Consumer Media« you are proposing a video of footage that captures the sites where attacks in Russia took place, as well as motion graphics and sound effects. Can you tell us more about the concept of the project and how it is being developed e.g. design, usability?
KT: About two months ago I visited a number of places in Moscow that have suffered terrorist attacks in the 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The attacks have had a strong impact on post-Soviet Russia’s political trajectory. I recorded videos of all of these sites using a format related to the visual language of modern to consumer technologies, namely the selfie.
»The work reflects the contradictory nature of modern consumer technologies – their undeniable ability to preserve the memory of events on the one hand, and their tendency to banalize them on the other.«
There is something absurd about using technologies to reconstruct events that predate them – some of them took place nearly 30 years ago, long before mobile devices appeared in their current form. Combined with special effects and video filters the short clips appear almost indistinguishable from posts on social media. The work reflects the contradictory nature of modern consumer technologies – their undeniable ability to preserve the memory of events on the one hand, and their tendency to banalize them on the other.
SP: The working title Late Night in Sorrento refers to a song you heard playing in the underground system in which many of the terrorist attacks in Moscow took place. What are your thoughts on the role that songs and videos can play in talking about such terrible events?
KT: I like to quote songs in my works. Late Night in Sorrento is not the first work in which I refer to music and popular culture. It adds a poetic dimension to the work. As an artist, I seek to create work that goes beyond simple research into history and politics.
»The real question is not whether new technologies (and art) can offer alternative narratives, but whether they mean anything in a world where fake news and alternative facts have conquered the media landscape; or as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, once said, »truth isn’t truth.««
SP: The mainstream media is often used as a site where violent images are shown; it is no longer in the hands of these media, but more in the hands of the people who use these media. What are your considerations about this and what role can new media technologies or perhaps in your case art play in offering alternative narratives to these mainstream media?
KT: In a way, my work questions the role of media technologies in representing reality. My project tells obvious lies – it couldn’t be more obvious that I haven’t witnessed any of those events, let alone have them on tape. That reflects the paradox of the information age – we have more facts and evidence than ever before, and yet none of it matters anymore. The real question is not whether new technologies (and art) can offer alternative narratives, but whether they mean anything in a world where fake news and alternative facts have conquered the media landscape; or as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, once said, »truth isn’t truth.«
SP: In your work you often intertwine historical references with political systems in which you materialize these elements. In what way do you see your work as a means of bringing these elements together? Is there a specific language you like to use in your projects?
KT: I think nearly every historic event can serve as a metaphor for events that are happening in the present. Ultimately, it’s the present that I’m interested in. History simply offers a deeper understanding of the status quo and counternarratives to the global hegemony of neoliberalism today.
SP: What are other projects you are currently working on? Is there a specific direction you want to go in with your work, which the web residency project can also a part of?
KT: I am still in the process of digesting the residency experience. An idea I had earlier was to create a video essay centered on the Russian White House – a building that appears in Late Night in Sorrento. Its construction was developed in honor of a famous arctic steamship. In this work I want to explore the course of history as a concept through the metaphor of a ship, which is set on a particular course. I may even reuse some of the material that I edited for Late Night in Sorrento.
SP: Looking back at the web residency period, what was your overall experience?
KT: I am glad I was able to bring the experience from the residency in Moscow into this residency. It was a very busy time for me. I did not expect that my project would be so technologically challenging. I spent many hours on it, and I’m happy with the result.
The interview was conducted by Sarie Nijboer.