“Dispensa terzospazio” is a residency project curated by Giulia Mariachiara Galiano and Martino De Vincenti. Born to experience in depth and reiterated artistic work, it broadens the focus, from the finished work and its return, to the process and the context of creation. At Terzospazio – the last Venetian inauguration of the sulfurous cultural association – screenings, workshops, meetings, talks and study visits weave meticulous relations between resident artists and the public. The first series of events involves Greta Maria Gerosa (Lecco, 1997), visual artist whose research focus is the comparison with the aesthetics of control and with the films produced by surveillance cameras.
Alessia Baranello: Is it a bird, watching? , short film of 2022, was the first of your approaches to the aesthetics of surveillance. Storks’ nests scattered around the world became the protagonists of a script dictated by the artificial intelligence GPT3, in a fairy tale that traces interspecies encounters and perturbations. Where does the interest in CCTV (closed circuit television) as a film tool come from?
Greta Maria Gerosa: I approached the images produced by the surveillance cameras reading Memestetica. The eternal September of art (2020) by Valentina Tanni. I started thinking about cameras in cinematic terms, as builders of scenarios; their footage as sequence plans in continuous self-production, waiting to be discovered. I became obsessed with the filmic capacity of surveillance images, which were rarely used to produce new contexts, as in Is it a bird, watching?. The screenplay of the short film, presented first at the PACTA Theatre in Milan and then at Zolforosso in Mestre, was written by an artificial intelligence, in turn a crowd of script producers if used with specific parameters and insistent stubbornness. In the process of writing on GPT3, in fact, on the one hand, the A.I. persistently reiterates a point, a direction to give to the story; on the other, the human user persists in forcing the narrative towards its own subject of interest.
In the last meeting of “Dispensa terzospazio” that saw you protagonist and director – together with rob van den berg – of a happening that has crossed the exhibition space and the city of Venice, present the fanny pack. A camera device close to the latest wearable video surveillance systems. Tell us about webcams, parked car cameras, or even cop body cams.
I started sewing the first fanny packs in October 2022, while I was in residence at Dolomiti Contemporanee (Borca di Cadore, Belluno). We worked in a former Eni village, a complex of over one hundred thousand square meters that, with its empty corridors and consummate architecture, scared me. So, I decided to build a kind of protection from that feared place: with common pouches, in which I inserted phones, I operated a kind of reverse surveillance, speculate: I watched those who spied behind me. The idea of the fanny pack was born by asking me what was actually the most authentic feeling aroused by the pervasive presence of CCTV systems in our cities. Since 2001 it has been decided that the culture of fear must be fought with machine-eyes and, in fact, the most common reaction in the face of a pounding surveillance is to want to protect themselves in turn, through another eye that looks over our shoulders. Making fanny packs wearable, lowering the point of view, was a fairly instinctive physical reaction to the static work of nest surveillance that had kept me busy during the months of making Is it a bird, watching. I needed to get back in the game with the body.
What are the consequences that this lowering of the point of view has had on the linguistic medium and on the film product?
Surely an autonomous surveillance, at human height and in motion, reverses the hierarchies between overseer and supervised. To describe this reversal, the Canadian Steve Mann coined the neologism sousveillance, where he substitutes sur (in French “above”) with sous (“below”). But there’s more. In the fanny pack happenings, there is a split between two performers, a gift accompanied by a pact. The collaboration with a watchdog friend creates a mutual surveillance, lower, less hegemonic, since the one who watches with me, on the other hand, also watches over me. The performance works this way: once you put on the harmless surveillance devices, the two monitors operate their eyes and their electronic ears, creating two autonomous shooting channels that document the walk. After the first recording, made simultaneously, I started thinking about the potential of this dual channel audio and video. By manipulating the images and the sound environment in post-production, I realized that, despite this work of alteration, it was precisely the aesthetic and physical characteristics of surveillance that made the product always appear extremely authentic and tangible. The theme of the binomial reality-fiction is at the center of productions such as mockumentary, an audiovisual product deliberately aimed at generating confusion in the viewer, able to compose stories and fictional images through media and shooting techniques that possess, in the common imagination, a strong truthful character, as the shaky cam.
At Terzospazio you have put aside the manipulation of the image in post-production, to compare with the performative aspect of the fanny pack, making a film return in direct, where performance and return video take place simultaneously. Can you tell us?
It is, in essence, a live action, a happening in the actual. The fanny pack, more than a finished work, is beginning to be configured as a device with which to investigate and “monitor” places, countries, environments and ecosystems that are punctually different. The performance saw me and Rob van den berg leaving from third place to cross the public space: we went from the bar where we usually stop, from the place where I work… We met friends and strangers who, not knowing that the fanny pack footage was live, started chatting with us. Sound management was crucial: the sounds of conversations and meetings were manipulated live by sound artist Marco Billi, who received the signals from our fanny packs. The relational question is not to be put in the background. It probably constitutes the fulcrum of the lowering wanted by the fanny pack. The audience of “Dispensa”, as well as passers-by met during the walk, had the opportunity to intervene when they wanted in the course of the film product: the surveillance weapon, at the bottom, can be lowered by the same viewer.
The screened, stormy and dirty images produced by the fanny packs made me think about the story with which Hito Steyerl opens the text Documentary Uncertainty. During the first days of the American invasion in Iraq, a CNN correspondent who was on board an armored vehicle recorded the clashes between Iraqis and Americans with his mobile phone camera. The resulting images are indistinguishable, blurred and low resolution textures.
The indefinite appearance of the images produced by the fanny pack comes, in a sense, from its own material composition. The pouch, in fact, was made by sewing the headdresses of the cooks who worked in the former Eni colony of Borca di Cadore. Semi-transparent and textured retinas that are exploited in a twofold way: with transparency an illusion of total vision is generated and, at the same time, the retinated texture distorts the image by generating low definition amateur video products. The fanny pack contains an iPhone 12, but despite its technical capabilities of this device, I always look for the spontaneity of a poorly defined image. These “poor images”, to quote Steyerl, move away from the impositions of great cinema, rebel against orders, to return to a more familiar, more truthful aesthetic.
For Claire Bishop, this opacity is one of the founding features of contemporary imagery: in an age where the existence of unique truths is constantly questioned, blurred images tend to mirror the same process. Always for Steyerl, the fulcrum of the documentary image is not so much its veracity or the message it launches, as much as the doubt and interpretation it is capable of triggering. Doesn’t it seem that the more immediate the images are, the more they are, the sharper they are, the less there is to see?
It seems a paradox, yet, as Marco Bertozzi writes, low-definition images seem more suitable to express the breath of life itself, the uncertainty with which it develops. And again, Paolo Gioli, interviewed by Giuliano Sergio, said something similar about high definition: it is “truer than true”, perceives more clearly than the human eye and, perhaps because of this, is not believed. There is an anecdote that expresses in the most punctual way what I am trying to say. We are at the dawn of photography and some “traders” begin to sell portraits taken with the daguerreotype method, returning rough and blurry images, claiming that they are photographs of their ancestors, ghosts of their loved ones. A sort of amulet that somehow keeps them alive… It is here that lies the attractive power of the blurred: it is an open spot, a luminous but undefined surface, which makes the figure unstable and, therefore, desirable a deformation and possible a transformation.
This opening leads us again to consider the nuances between truthfulness and fiction in the moving image. The installation of the first surveillance cameras in public places is a promise of security, of veracity by the state control, but it seems that, over time, thanks to the intervention of artists and filmmakers has taken a completely different form, don’t you think?
Considering the aesthetics of surveillance and its products – be it surveillance cameras or body cams – means choosing to confront and put into play an image that is ontologically, but also politically and socially, linked to the real. This leads – both the director and the viewer – to consider the combination of reality and fiction. One last example: in Costanza Quatriglio’s 87-hourfilm (2015), the use of the surveillance medium is intrinsically linked and involved in the film’s concept. The title, in fact, refers to the eighty-seven hours that were recorded by some surveillance cameras inside the psychiatric ward of a public hospital in Vallo della Lucania, where a primary school teacher is hospitalized and undergoes compulsory medical treatment because of mental problems. Quatriglio, with the videos acquired by the hospital, reconstructs the stages of this cruel journey in a “civilized” Italy. The films produced by the CCTV system have been assembled together to highlight an uncomfortable truth. It is in the medium, therefore, that we find the founding character of this courageous act of denunciation and, at the same time, its reliability. In the soundtrack inevitably emerges a certain authorship, an artistic intervention of the director, which pushes on the sound to touch emotional keys. Interviews of those present in the moment before the internment alternate with disorienting sounds in direct and perpetrated white noises. The action of “re-signing” lies at the basis of the production process that involves the films produced by the CCTV, which can be carried out in both directions: inventing a story, or, on the contrary, returning truth to a hidden story and to the subjects that were part of it, thanks to the truthful nature of the found footage. In short, the idea that images are something authorial and socially constructed, therefore, does not exclude the fact that they can bring with them an imprint of real lives.
Greta Maria Gerosa, Dispensa terzospazio Volume 1
Curated by Giulia Mariachiara Galiano and Martino De Vincenti
Santa Croce 1996, Venice
 Shaky cam, jercky camera, queasy cam, run and gun and free camera are just some of the names used to define the specific way of shooting that characterizes the mockumentary and, in general, all those narratives that do not accept to be fictional. They rebel against stable recording strategies, to force the camera’s agitation by producing a turbulent first-person shot.
 Marco Bertozzi, Documentario come arte. Riuso, performance, autobiografia nell’esperienza del cinema contemporaneo, Marsilio, Venezia 2018, p. 55.
 Paolo Gioli, interview by Giuliano Sergio, Breve incontro con Paolo Gioli, Lendinara, 18 february 2014, in Sergio (curated by), Abuses, cit., p 10.
Alessia Baranello (Campobasso, 1998) is an independent curator. Her research focuses on the link between visual arts and historical, social and economic issues, with a focus on experimental exhibition practices. She write about contemporary art, cultural and memory studies. She was co-curator of the artist residency Uva Program (Nizza Monferrato, July 2022) and is co-founder of the curatorial duo Scania Trasporti.