Mario De Leo, telematic farmer
As a “telematic farmer”, as he himself likes to call himself, Mario De Leo deals with Pop Art from the currently extreme perspective of visions begotten by computers.
His past does not so much involve the historical events of Pop Art, a storming of low culture into the territory of the self proclaimed high classes, which is now a story which has been judged and assimilated but which also, all things considered, was rather inconsequential.
He finds it much more interesting and fruitful to reflect on the artificial standardisation of all images, that sort of pc user-friendliness which now influences our way of looking, making it intuitive and fast but also voracious, even bulimic, leading to a kind of irremediable scarcity of discernment.
It was Jean-Pierre Changeux who told us about the “selective stabilisation of synapses” according to which the more stimuli we are bombarded with, the less flexible our senses are, a fact already proved empirically by Warhol & Wesselman & Oldenburg, which has now become a general cognitive condition.
Well then, the extent to which this concerns the visual arts is a well-known fact which is confirmed day in day out by the current scene of production and exposition. The question of why, and not what or how, seems to concern a small minority. The new media offer techniques of vision and what we continue to call creativity appears to be hidden in them. What has happened to art criticism, or rather the ability of art to proceed by strong or clear intellectual motions, by estrangement and plunging into the abyss etcetera is, at the moment, an incidental matter.
So be it. A person such as De Leo has become a “peasant” choosing to move in the opposite direction from forms of creativity weighed down by criticism, towards iconographies which finally reach self awareness using extremely elemental visual data.
He explores the computer beginning with the visual stereotype of its innards, and stripping it to its bones to the point of making it into a sort of decorative motif, on which he pegs other stereotyped forms of vision, but earthy, linked to ancient, rooted wisdom. Be they pasta shapes or the shapes of a feminine reduced to the constituent parts, De Leo breaks down the first level of meaning and uncovers a rich iconography which you don’t have to understand but which you greedily take in.
He deliberately chooses to behave towards this world of images in the same way as the aniconic barbarian faced with the human figure: fascinated, filled with wonder, imitating its patterns, ways, fragments without questioning its genetic reason, organicity, why.
Another, and all too forgotten protagonist of postpopism, Bruno Zanichelli, understood the significance of this way of looking - a blend of primitive wonder and the childishly playful - into the core of the intelligent machine par excellence.
For him the circuits were transformed into a sort of crazy and fascinating puzzle, redoubling in their suggestion of assembly boxes for model makers.
He did not know perhaps that we owe these circuits to a generation of young people who are capable of being filled with wonder and of being playful. The first hackers (who were the inventors not the destroyers of computers) abandoned the bits and pieces of their model railway clubs in the lecture rooms of the severe MIT in Boston, at the close of the fifties and in the early sixties, to work on the first jumbled IBMs, inventing consoles but also the first electronic games…
There is no telling what might become of the new kobolds of the machine like De Leo.
What makes us hopeful is the pure heart, the healthy naiveté and sense of wonder with which someone like him mentally dismantles the machine and reduces it to different sized parts that can be played with. It is great deal.