Wemanage Observatory Interview #7: The Cool Couple on The Relationship between People and Images

A project by Wemanage Group

Wemanage Observatory is a project aimed at sharing insights and discoveries in key areas of contemporary discourse, such as sustainability and digitalization. The goal of this project is to activate an experimental approach, by creating new connections through interviews with experts in the field. In the seventh of a series of interviews with inspiring creatives of our times, we talked to The Cool Couple (Niccolò Benetton & Simone Santilli), the Italian duo researching the friction points generated in the relationship between people and images.

The Cool Couple (Niccolò Benetton & Simone Santilli). Image courtesy of MADE Program.

How did you two meet and what led you to work together?

We met at NABA, while attending the MA in Photography and Visual Design, ten years ago. We were classmates and often collaborated for the courses assignments. A year later, after we finished our internships, we decided to start a proper collaboration, and founded the artist duo.

Tell me about your name, how did you choose it and why?

We made a risky choice, but we wanted a name capable of labelling our approach and the consequent practice. We are a duo, first of all. It doesn’t matter to underline our individualities, our past backgrounds. We work together. The creative process is always a fluid exchange. So, we didn’t want to say that we were Niccolò and Simone just working together. The Cool Couple is far more than that. Hence the adjective. Cool is a taboo word in the art system. But it’s also the substance of our research. We are interested in the latest changes in the relationship between people and images, so we are digging deep into the trash, kitsch and the trendy. The “the” at the beginning of our name The Cool Couple is an ironic reference to the star system. We know what we do, and how things work. So, if you want us, you buy the whole package. And it starts with the name.

Can you expand on the concept of deciding to focus your research on friction points generated daily in the relationship between people and images?

Everyday we browse, appropriate of, recycle, share, comment, interact with, millions of pictures. We do that as individuals and as part of different groups: our family, our friends, our colleagues, co-workers, classmates, teammates, online and offline. This impressive amount of pictures affects us. Although our expertise in this subject — i.e. we all perfect our pictures, we all know they lie — we are still affected by them. Images affect the way we see the world, our thoughts, our judgement and therefore our actions. We won’t go too far if we add that this has inevitably a political consequence. Studying the way these complex interactions take place means connecting the dots between our efforts to represent the world and the most important political, social, cultural topics currently under scrutiny, from environmental to gender issues.

Would you define your artistic style as a “creative short-circuit”?

Perhaps…we try to design works that are attractive, not necessarily on an aesthetic dimension. The point is to establish a relationship with the audience. Then, we usually pose questions, we hope that our installations can provoke some meaningful questions.

Is irony posed as a criterion, as a way of approaching the research and the rendering of the work, or is it the irony of things that grabs you every time?

This is tough. It’s a 50–50. Historically irony is a powerful deconstruction strategy. The famous anarchist motto was nonetheless “A laughter will bury you”. Laughing was confined to the Carnival in the Middle Ages because of its power (In Il nome della Rosa Italian writer Umberto Eco tells a whole spy story about the danger of laughter).

On the other hand, how is it possible to stay serious looking at what’s happening right now? It’s so absurd that its irony is so evident.

Your latest contribution to the exhibit, Calcio Cultura ed Identità, will open soon. It is not the first time you have delved into the relationship between soccer and art (ng. Emozioni Mondiali). What first attracted you to explore this relationship between sports, politics and art?

The dynamics characterizing the art system and professional male soccer have many things in common as well as profound differences. We were thinking about the fact that both shared a narrative of sacrifice and constant practice, in a constant challenge to beat potential challengers

and become a celebrity. A comparison between the two would not only help to highlight the constant dialogue between these world, but also to draw inspiration for adopting new models of retribution for art work. There were many ways to talk about the many topics emerging in this project, but the best solution seemed to customize a videogame, to create an interactive experience that was also an excuse to subvert the traditional exhibition space.

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