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New Waves: Davide Di Teodoro

2015
03rd July

For his recent degree show at CSM’s MA Communication Design, Davide di Teodoro presented an interactive version of Kim Kardashian’s instagram feed, in which online viewers could manipulate and disseminate her image-based omni-presence even further. The Italian graduate explores the behaviour of the mass-circulated digital image, and for that, Kim (or her image) seems perfect; the title for her infamous Paper Magazine cover, Breaking the Internet echoes the potential realities of contemporary digital image-culture. Di Teodoro explains his practice and reflects on the idiom ‘Communication Design,’ and how such a category might be used to understand what happens when an image travels online.

“WE HAVE STARTED COMMUNICATING THROUGH IMAGES SO MUCH TO THE POINT THAT WE HAVE BECOME AN IMAGE OURSELVES.”

What led you to embark on an MA in Communication Design? What do you understand by such an idiom, and why does it attract you?

When I embarked onto this journey, I was fascinated by the mysterious yet paradoxical definition of Communication Design. No one really knows what this discipline actually is but only what it might be. I was fascinated by this paradox and ready to explore its potential within my — at the time — less clear practice. When I applied, I saw the discipline as an excuse to do whatever I wanted, as long as I was communicating. But anything you do communicates somehow, so it was more about defining what that ‘somehow’ was and giving a meaning to it. The body of work I produced in the last two years reflects such an attempt to define both my persona and the understanding of the discipline itself. I might sound arrogant — as I’ve been told lately — but Communication Design means anything and nothing at the same time. It means what you want it to mean: it’s up to you, it’s your call.

When did you first take interest in the dissemination and circulation of images online?

I have always been fascinated by the idea of visual culture and its articulation of the digital realm, but it wasn’t until I read Hito Steyerl’s “In Defense of the Poor Image” that I started thinking about how images circulate and what they do while e-disseminating. It’s a fascinating process, which involves many aspects of our daily life, which we rarely think of. We have started communicating through images so much to the point that we have become an image ourselves: we know through images, we date through images, we book through images, we buy through images, we judge through images — and this is a never ending list, isn’t it?

What happens, semiologically or otherwise, when images circulate so freely online?

We start thinking through them and, mainly, we evolve with them. On the Internet images are palimpsests, they’re multi-layered files that go through recursive processes of definition based on our acts of choice. Such choices produce meanings: we started semiologically producing meaning through all these processes of editing, posting, liking, re-blogging. Social networking dashboards have become the new agorà: we gaze, speak, talk, observe and think there.

“I THINK THAT ANYTHING YOU DO IS BASED ON SOMEONE ELSE’S WORK. THERE’S NOTHING NEW: CONSCIOUSLY OR NOT, WE REFERENCE TO SOMETHING WE SAW, WE LIKED OR WERE INSPIRED BY.”

The manipulation and re-dissemination of these images results in a sort of ownership within the network. Do you think it is useful to talk about ownership in the widely accessible digital landscape?

I think there’s no ownership whatsoever. I strongly believe that there is no ownership in an analogue landscape either. We go back to the idea of the palimpsest here: I think that anything you do is based on someone else’s work. There’s nothing new: consciously or not, we reference to something we saw, we liked or were inspired by. So even if a piece of work isn’t visually similar to something else, how could we own the conceptual process behind the production of such piece? Sometimes I feel we only care to own a visual outcome but forgetting where that outcome is coming from. I don’t believe in originality, I believe in smart re-appropriation. That’s also what the networked image is all about: appropriation, manipulation and re-dissemination. I think that the concept of ownership within the network lays in these acts. When we appropriate an image online we add a new layer of meaning and therefore construct the palimpsest I’m talking about. We don’t own the image itself, we own that layer of meaning at that specific moment — being aware that a new meaning will be added soon. Thus our ownership results to be, just as the networked image, only a quick and fugitive moment.

What do you hope to communicate with this piece?

This project works exactly as an illustration. I’m illustrating concepts that I’ve been dealing with and I communicate them through works rather than merely words. By taking the agency of mass media, this project wants to communicate both as a statement and a call to action for reflection. I wanted to design a straightforward tool that people could use and think: wait, what’s going on here? This is not it, is it? I want to communicate by asking people to reflect on the concepts acknowledged within the project. Mine is a call for reflection and participation.

“OBSERVING HOW MANY COMMENTS KIM KARDASHIAN GETS AT THE SAME TIME ON A SINGLE IMAGE ON HER INSTAGRAM FASCINATES ME AS MUCH AS A NICE SUNSET COULD FASCINATE SOMEONE ELSE.”

Why Kim, and not any other celebrity?

Kim Kardashian embodies the idea of the networked image: she’s an image and we know her as such. She depends on all those processes I’ve been mentioning before and she’s surfing the network in such a way that fascinates me. I’m not interested in her as a woman, I’m interested in her as the image she represents. I’m interested in what she provokes and does to society. What happens around her is just crazy, and I like to observe and contemplate this craziness. Observing how many comments she gets at the same time on a single image on her Instagram fascinates me as much as a nice sunset could fascinate someone else. It’s completely insane: you try and type a comment on an image she posted and in a few seconds you experience this hyper-fast sequence of comments she gets concurrently. It’s the most accurate picture of the world we live in and the reason why I chose her instead of someone else.

You’ve experimented with many different disciplines. Where do you see your practice going after this?

I like to think to design as a conceptual process disconnected from the actual outcome. This gives me freedom to experiment with different mediums and try out several directions. The truth is that I’m a very curious guy: curiosity is what drives me through this wandering process of research aimed at discovering both my practice and my persona.

Words Jeppe Ugelvig

All visual content courtesy of Davide di Teodoro