STUDIO AZZURRO / ONE SOUL, MANY HANDS

37 mins read

In the panorama of digital art and multimedia innovation, few names shine with the same intensity  as Studio Azzurro. Today we celebrate the extraordinary journey undertaken by this collective of  visionary artists. With a career spanning more than four decades, Studio Azzurro has consistently  redefined the boundaries of artistic expression, pursuing a bold mission: to unite traditional art  and advanced technology into immersive and extraordinary experiences. 
Founded in 1982 by Leonardo Sangiorgi, Paolo Rosa (1949-2013) and Fabio Cirifino, Studio  Azzurro has become a point of reference in interactive art, pioneering new media to explore the  relationship between spectator and work. The studio has challenged artistic conventions through  immersive installations, multimedia performances and innovative projects, embracing digital  evolution with limitless creativity. They were joined from 1995 to 2011 by Stefano Roveda, an  expert in interactive systems. Through the creation of “video environments”, “sensitive  environments”, museum tours, performances, films and theatre shows, we create a transversal  path between many disciplines and form a working group open to different contributions and  important collaborations. 
In recent years, Studio Azzurro has continued to leave an indelible mark on the world of  contemporary art. Their works, enchanting and provocative, have touched deep emotional  chords, taking the public on extraordinary journeys that go beyond simple artistic contemplation.  Studio Azzurro has left an indelible mark on the contemporary artistic panorama through the  creation of sensitive environments, video environments and video installations that challenge  conventions and offer unique experiences. 
The sensitive environments of Studio Azzurro are interactive spaces in which the public becomes  an integral part of the work, transforming the viewer from a passive observer to a protagonist of  the artistic experience. This form of active engagement represents a milestone in the evolution of  interactive art. 
The video environments produced by the studio are immersive journeys through extraordinary  visual and sound worlds. Using advanced technologies, Studio Azzurro has been able to capture  the imagination of the public, taking them to otherwise inaccessible places and offering a unique  perspective on the relationship between space, time and perception. 

Studio Azzurro. Le zattere dei sentimenti, 2002

Studio Azzurro’s video installations are works of art that go beyond the simple screen,  transforming physical environments into virtual canvases. This fusion of technology and creativity  has redefined the concept of art installation, inviting the public to immerse themselves in complex  and engaging visual narratives. 

In summary, Studio Azzurro has revolutionized the contemporary artistic landscape through the  creation of works that go beyond the traditional boundaries of art, pushing viewers to explore new  sensory horizons and reconsider their role in the artistic experience. Furthermore, they have  attracted the attention and praise of numerous curators and critics in the contemporary art world.  Prominent figures have helped shape the critical debate around the studio’s innovative work. The following interview will allow us to delve into the beating heart of Studio Azzurro, exploring  the roots of their inspiration, the key moments of their career and the future vision that continues  to guide their creative path. 

Marika Marchese: How was Coro born? 
Leonardo Sangiorgi (Studio Azzurro): Coro was born out of a great desire to investigate interactive  possibilities. Let me explain, at the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s there was the  great technological leap in which analogue technologies became digital and this happened, in a  sort of prologue, even if apparently it had nothing to do with the “swimmer ”. We tried to interpret the collective imagination of people, in those places and at that time, with  The Swimmer (Going to Heidelberg too often) we proposed a life-size electronic figure, which was  difficult to see at that time because we only had televisions. In short, it was possible to see people  whole or 40 cm tall, that is, life-size in the half-length portraits of the news. The intuition did not come immediately, but we had three principles, three nodes that we wanted  to investigate through digital and interactive multimedia systems. One was certainly the theme of  chorality and it is no coincidence that Coro, which is the name of the installation, was not  interested in investigating the 1:1 relationship between device and user, but the interaction  between people who participate in the dialogue between devices. Here perhaps it responds  indirectly to the issue of immigration, but we wanted to focus on inclusiveness, that is, opening up  to participation. We wanted to create a mutual relationship with natural interfaces. We wanted the  dialogue between user and device not to take place through keyboard, joystick, or mouse but  with something closer to each of us, and therefore touch, the weight of people, their movement,  voices, and sound. Thus it was that, intrigued, with more knowledge, we began to cross paths in  our research with those of other professionals, not least Giulio Calegari, a paleoarchaeologist  specialized in African cultures. Known by Paolo, he told us about his works and how  archaeologists proceed by laying grids on the ground, also telling us about the cultures in which  the textile dimension, and almost distorting what has always been known, that is, this an activity  reserved for the female world supported the culture, the clan, and the tribe, and completely  overturned everything. Weaving implies knowing how to count, both the number of children and  the number of passages of the warp and weft to arrive at the design therefore counting was a truly  great power that in these cultures women had, even in certain cases becoming a dominant  knowledge. Well, all these ideas, suggestions and knowledge have been intertwined and  condensed in Coro’s project which proposes a large carpet which, as a natural interface, must be  crushed and, unlike traditional ones, has its own life, activated by the visitor. The grids of the  carpets are active by the archaeologists who, box by box, work on the various layers to learn  about the history, telling about the past therefore there is this sort of analogy because the carpet  in its apparent mobility can tell stories that are always in motion. 

Studio Azzurro. Testimoni dei testimoni Sensitive path, PalaEXPO, Rome, 2019. Photo Studio Azzurro

M.M.: How did you approach interactive video installations? Did you rely on external researchers, in  addition to Stefano Roveda? 
L.S.: Once again it all came from natural interest. At the end of the 80s, RAI (Radio Audizioni  Italiane) used projectors, which at the time were called Eidophor, which, through an RGB disc,  allowed the projection of electronic images. After this, the technological leap introduced liquid  crystal video projectors with a series of advantages, in addition to being smaller, they were  functional on any surface and inclination. This allowed us to project electronic images not only  based on any type of surface and to experiment with sensors and interaction, pushing our  imagination even further. 

After the chorality, the natural interfaces, the third theme concentrated on the storytelling  methods, the narrative segments. 
Narration has always been a theme that since our first works is linked in all parts to the great,  main and fundamental theme: space. 
There is no installation project by Studio Azzurro that is not regulated, sometimes dominated, by  the presence of space, unlike some video artworks which only appear two-dimensionally on the  wall. 

M.M.: How do you design your works? Do you study the location first or adapt the work? 
L.S.: Space has always been an element present in our projects, even Luci di Inganni (1982), the  very first project envisaged a relationship between multimedia content as they say now but at that  time we called them “video programs”, the technologies therefore the television and the space in  which these technologies as in the programs were placed, and the importance was evident. In a  period in which design, architecture, dance and theatre were the disciplines that proposed original  language solutions that could be crossed and very probably Luci di Inganni, the first work was as  if to say it is evoked by the work of Memphis, (a famous group that brought the design to the  world through Ettore Sottsass and Associates) who wanted to present their design objects and  we responded with objects that existed only through television programs (the project was been  reinterpreted in a totally new way for Design Week 2023) 

Studio Azzurro. Miracolo a Milano Environment for the exhibition Sensitive Images, Sala of the Caryatids, Palazzo Reale, Milan, 2016. Photo Studio Azzurro

M.M.: The themes of memory, of the Other, of the body, as subject and object, used and abused,  were a commitment for you. Are they still? What other social and artistic commitments have you  carried out? 
L.S.: For the Salone del Mobile in ’82, we had done Luci di Inganni and this project, this first video  environment, as it was called, was like, it made an impression. So much so that at the time Carlo  Massarini who hosted Mister Fantasy, tried to re-stage it in the program and for the occasion he created a neologism to explain our work, he defined us as “video explorers”. In fact, at that time,  research on videos was carried out by very few people and we, driven by this flow of investigating  this medium that was now beginning to pervade our lives: video clips and free TV, was quite  natural. 

M.M.: The swimmer, strongly desired by the curators in 1984 of Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, which  we saw again at Artissima 2023, what idea does it have behind it? 
L.S.: The following year we proposed Luci di Inganni again for Memphis, Sottsass asked us to think  of something new and “The Swimmer”, began to be born, due to the fascination of the water in  the video, which was truly very strong. Perhaps due to the complete extraneousness of the two  media, the electrical and electronic dimension and the liquid one but also the same synergy of  electrons that move just as the particles of water and then the blue of water move. It returned with  a certain effectiveness that was truly very compelling. 

So little by little we begin to put together the theme of water and we begin to think about the  possibility of creating a life-size electronic figure. Due to the initial difficulty of putting together all  the technological, theoretical and productive elements, the project failed. At a certain point, we  came into contact with JVC, this Japanese company that was the creator of the VHS format and  at that time, still at the beginning of the 80s, the willingness of large companies to experiment was  really high and therefore we began to enter in contact with this company which in turn put us in  contact through rounds of people and situations, with Silvio Fuso and Sandro Mix, the two  curators of the Documentation Center of Palazzo Fortuny. The photographic archive became an  important video archive, therefore with the two curators and with the desire to increase the  attention and importance of the research activity that we developed with JVC the theme of the  swimmer, who moved through the monitors used as a mosaic and the project was born. 

Studio Azzurro. Le zattere dei sentimenti, 2002

M.M.: Why did you choose to propose again The Swimmer (Going to Heidelberg too often) at  Artissima, in the form of a 1:1 scale maquette, and why did you choose the Benappi gallery? 
L.S.: Then the Benappi gallery contacted us. In our history, work has always taken place and  developed somewhat outside the traditional art market chain. 

This was one of the topics on which Paolo, Fabio and I often discussed and we concluded that  galleries with the system of critics, collectors and gallery owners were not the most suitable place  to carry out the experiments we wanted. They didn’t leave us the possibility that other places of  experimentation would have allowed and therefore all of Studio Azzurro’s work took place in other  ways. 

Another work of ours that was presented in Japan Landing Talk questioned in a somewhat  peripheral way the parallelism, for example, between an opera by Mozart or a comedy by  Shakespeare, staged even now through a score or a screenplay and we asked ourselves if our  works could also live through the description and how they were created. On the other side,  however, there is the other path, of having the possibility of keeping the work able to present  itself, being a work that turns on and off. 

Speaking of this, Paolo had his idea and it was a fun idea, what our work is ecological, compared  to other artists, because if a work is ugly you turn it off, whereas an ugly sculpture cannot be  turned off and an ecology of multimedia works in a certain sense. 

We had spoken to some journalists from Il Sole 24 Ore who had done research on the video art  sector in the art market and were beginning to collect a whole series of information. The main information we had was that the work of art and not just video art has the problem that  all today’s technologies have, it must be viewed. Especially works of video art, video  environments, or multimedia installations in which there is a whole scenographic and spatial  aspect in which the reference figures are more similar to museum curators rather than collectors.  To think that in 1982 when we created Luci di Inganni, again with Memphis objects, we found a  customer who, in addition to buying a teapot by Matteo Thun, bought the video teapot with the  video smoke from whose spout near the monitor he threw smoke out coloured. Here he bought us  the VHS of video smoking which in those days with portable video recorders he kept on when he  wasn’t watching television programmes. 

So we were interested in the galleries to understand what strength and willingness there was on  the part of gallery owners to purchase, promote and safeguard multimedia works. We had contact  with the Verrengia gallery in Salerno which presented a series of works and photographs thanks 

to Fabio Cirifino, who is a photographer as well as director of photography of Studio Azzurro.  Therefore there was and is the desire to make the video documentation that accompanies all of  our work more visible to make the video environments and sensitive environments that we have  created more perceivable and understandable. 

A little enlightened, in our choice, by our tutelary deity Marcel Duchamp, who was one of the first  to create boxes and suitcases that contained his works in miniature, we too have practised this  idea of creating large container suitcases in the what were the most important sensitive  environments, video environments that we created. From this point of view, we were helped and  we did a sort of co-work with the Installations Laboratory of the School of Design of the  Polytechnic of Milan which threw itself into the project headlong with us. We have created around  18 or 20 working models of video environments and sensitive environments. 

Studio Azzurro. Coro Sensitive environment, Mole Antonelliana, Turin, 1995. Photo Studio Azzurro

M.M.: Theatre, cinema, stories of men and feelings. Who and what did you bond with during the  study and implementation of the projects? Were there external figures with whom partnerships  were born? 
L.S.: It’s not a simple question. When we created the exhibition at Palazzo Reale, in Milan, Fabio  Cirifino had the recklessness to start making a list of all the people with whom we have  developed, worked and created projects and there are more than 200, so in this journey we have  never limited ourselves to a specific dimension of art or video art but our work has been a  continuous crossing of disciplines, figures, people and encounters. 

The first works with the composers, who all became our friends, they called us “those with the  cropped ears” because it happened very often to Paolo, Fabio and me (we have visual training,  we are not technicians, as I said before Fabio he is a photographer, Paolo and I attended art  school together and the academy) as much as we loved cinema, which was our first love, moving  images, sound and music came slightly into the background. Now, after the reproaches of our  friends, we have the sensitivity to perceive the integrity of two worlds, both the much more  metaphysical one of sound and that of images, but here the first emblematic encounters were  precisely those with the musicians who composed first works. 

We used a soundtrack by Brian Eno, with whom we made a video for an installation work that had  been exhibited in San Carpoforo in Milan, in the Brera district, with Tommaso Leddi, and Alberto  Morelli. Another artist with whom we collaborated is Peter Gordon who created the Swimmer’s  music and therefore we had many reference figures. All very important for us, also remembering  those critics who had immediately perceived and recognized the importance of the  expressiveness of that medium which was normally a household appliance, the television, and  which instead began to become an instrument of experimental, evocative and original language. 

M.M.: Films, books, interventions by and with philosophers or other personalities who have  contributed to/enriched the production of Studio Azzurro. 
L.S.: Starting from Vittorio Fagone, Valentina Valentina and many others and as usual, they slowly  helped us a lot in this navigation. Because, as I repeat, we worked much more with our guts than  with our heads and the work of the critics, of those like Bruno Di Marino and many others, were  navigation tools, astrolabes that showed us whether we were staying on course or whether we  had gone somewhere ‘other side. 

Later, the experience with Giorgio Barberio Corsetti and the theatre was very important for us.  Once again, verifying this video’s ability to metamorphose, an almost spongy ability to absorb  from all disciplines, led us to a still very strong dimension, namely the encounter with  philosophers. The sense that no later than two days, three days ago, we were in Cesano Maderno  at the Palazzo Arese Borromeo which is the headquarters of the San Raffaele’s Department of  Philosophy of the Image, where Francesca Pola strongly wanted us and curated and  commissioned a workshop called “Laboratory rooms”. Francesca Pola curated the conference  (created as a commentary on the book Portatori di storie, published by Mimesis Edizioni and  published during 2023) in collaboration with Studio Azzurro and on behalf of the “European  Research Center for the History and Theory of the Image ICONE”. The conference is part of the  process of meeting between disciplines undertaken by the ICONE Center, founded and directed  by Andrea Tagliapietra.

Taking inspiration from our Story Bearers Format, but speaking and listening to them very important reflections by Pietro Montani, Andrea Pinotti and Roberto Diodato spoke precisely  about how the theme of image testimonies was defined as the moving matrix for multimedia  works, and to what extent an interactive work through its ability to interact with people manages  to maintain its original format whether or not there is the possibility that the spectator becomes a  spectator- author and of pushing himself to change the meaning or intention of the interactive  multimedia work. 

Studio Azzurro. The Swimmer (going to Heidelberg too often) Video environment, Palazzo Fortuny, Venice, 1984 Photo Studio Azzurro

M.M.: What were the most interactive moments of your career? 
L.S.: No, I hesitate, because I should answer with the last question on the list, the three words, then  the advance. I had thought of four words, but two can be read together, “it can’t be done!” When  we hear this type of statement from technicians, that is the door to start researching and  developing. And our relationship with technology has always been like this. It happened to us in  Italy but also abroad, and it was the task of those who put the technicians, the researchers, to the  test. Always arriving at point A and the world that hasn’t quite arrived there yet… At the beginning  it was certainly like that, perhaps still now in some ways. 

I remember that in Japan, one thing that struck me was that they sometimes proposed the  possibility of finding some dreams that could be realized. I remember back in the days before  DVDs, CDs contained a very small amount of images. 

MM, have you had the opportunity to experiment with artificial vision systems? 

LS: More than twenty years ago when the theme of the network, of what the Internet represents,  began to be important for our lives, the Tamburi installation was an incursion of our work into  computer networks, through messages that were produced and written by percussion. The  development of technologies has helped us understand and grasp different meanings, such as  whether they could also have a poetic dimension, or be used for purposes other than military or  designed, created and developed only for the people who use them. Like a sort of antibodies,  being immune to them, and making us more aware of the functioning of these means and the  methods of research. We have known and used these augmented reality and virtual reality  devices, in some cases in museum-type creations where they lend themselves to mediation  between the public and the project. However, one thing that has always limited us in our  exploration is the fact that on these means the body has a limit, it is put in the background, and  instead for us the bodily dimension remains highly fundamental because it is perceptive. It is no  coincidence that we were talking about space right from the beginning and when you, the  observer, have a space at your disposal, you can move, and observe at any point and you can  look at the work from another point of view. You are a fourth author, the last director of that work  because you compose in space, your last version of the work of art and this is fundamental for us  just as the relational space is fundamental, which cannot be replicated through social media. 

M.M.: Darkness is present in many of your works, metaphorically we are witnessing a rebirth, both  of storytelling and the video tool, to analyze all the ways of “feeling”. The “space around us”,  whether it is a space of respect or a world of things, to quote Heidegger, is no longer just physical  space. You have, in some way, also contributed to studies on perception. 
L.S.: At the beginning of November, there was this conference in which we participated, including  the speech by Vittorio Gallese who presented the theme of mirror neurons, then Pietro Montani  focused on another very strong theme regarding imagination or rather, the distant relationship  between artificial intelligence and human intelligence. The artificial one could be “versatile” while  the human one is “plastic”. Its strength lies in the sense of being predisposed to making mistakes,  to learning, to connecting. While the artificial one is also infallible when it comes to “reproducing  behaviours” which in all appear to be neural systems that simulate human choices. The ease with  which the human mind makes mistakes emerges. 

They were two very intense days in which many elements were accepted and we are still trying to  process all this data. 

M.M.: If today you were to participate in the Venice Biennale again, what would you like to  accomplish? Speaking of secret dreams, what would you like to see come true?
L.S.: There are different themes but now I don’t know if I’m anticipating, I think we’ve been  wondering for a while what Studio Azzurro will be like in another 40 years. Well, Studio Azzurro is  a single soul in many heads and here the heads do not always correspond exactly to the soul. It’s  no coincidence, sorry, I’m making a small detour, after the exhibition at Palazzo Reale in Milan, we  didn’t want everything to get stuck in a city recognition, but we immediately thought about what  to do next, how to continue. We tried to understand what directions of work to take and two  directions arose. One of Fabio’s interests is dedicated precisely to the “bearers of stories” and to  the workshop from which what we have already talked about was born, namely in collaboration  with Laboratory of the School of Design of the Polytechnic of Milan. With the “bearers of stories”  both as a format and as a very strong political gesture, we wanted and want to give a voice to  those who don’t have one. Among other things, “bearers of stories” have become, in addition to  an installation, also a theatrical show and this format has been transmitted to other people, to  schools, in other places, to ensure that the intangible assets, those cultural assets can be  collected, saved, and displayed appropriately. Fabio is taking care of everything and for my part  I’m taking an interest because I don’t know if it’s spontaneous or if someone has evoked this  question but looking at how life is and the great technological development, I have to say very  little spiritual development, particularly at this moment in which people still kill their peers, or  starve them to death, when instead there would be many other possibilities… We ask ourselves  whether the time has come also for the technological tools we have now, which are very strong,  and very powerful for our relationship with the outside world, to start exploring an aspect of man,  the internal one in relation to our planet and the many people with whom we can afford to come  into contact.

Marika Marchese

I have been living and working in Milan since 2016 where I teach and write about contemporary art. I follow my passion for art always, not only for my career, but also for my hobbies, in fact, I define myself an art lover. I also love to travel and read. I have been writing for Made In Mind since 2017, I have been manage the Streams column since 2020.

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