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MATTEO ZAMAGNI’s ‘Horror Vacui’, our dystopian perception of the world

Interview by Allan Gardner

Matteo Zamagni is a new media artist living and working in London. Through the use of emerging technologies, Zamagni creates audiovisual works, performances and installations as a means of generating an immersive, physical experience within his works. Conceptually focused on the intersections between art, science and spirituality, Zamagni explores many thematic territories through his works. This ranges from ideas of human consciousness and our bodies as an interface to the impact of mankind’s desire for progression on natural ecosystems and the repercussions therein.

Horror Vacui (translated roughly to ‘fear of emptiness’ or ‘fear of empty space’) is a short film consisting of computer-aided, digitally reconstructed and real images of the natural and built environment. Set into two acts, the film appears to juxtapose our perception of landscape in this changing world alongside a sort of dystopian reconstruction of brutalist utilitarian tower blocks, reaching impossibly high, slung up within inches of one another.

There’s an interesting sort of analytical component that comes along with working with this aesthetic. Using phrases like “computer-aided” to describe the imagery and stylistic production of the film is something I find very interesting. They seem to have this illusionary reality that comes from our internal perception of space, which speaks to the spiritual nature of Zamagni’s practice.

This piece of work appears initially as a sort of collection of spaces, finding relationships by being positioned together herein. It is described as being non-narrative, but I think perhaps a more fitting description would be that the narrative in the film is broad and without a specific timeline. The silence that comes in as the screen darkens, separating the act concerning the natural environment from the built one, is an example of this over-arching narrative. There is a desire to separate these two things.

As we’re taken through the dystopic towers, watching them ascend ever upwards, repeating panels over and over, the same windows and floors, a sense of claustrophobia is present. There is this feeling that the situation presented in the piece is one of impending doom, almost making the first half feel like a warning of our desire to look analytically at space not yet utilised by humans. It feels like a critique not only of expanding cities but also of our drain on natural resources.

Even some kind of intrusive landscape intervention like fracking comes to mind. The narrative may not be strictly linear. It’s more implied – but still, in my opinion, clear. The audio portion of the work is impactful. It builds and wanes, creating tension as we are taken through the various environments. It gives context to the way that Zamagni is hoping for these scenes to be perceived, pushing the viewer towards consensus.

Horror Vacui is an impressive film, melding emerging technologies to produce an engaging piece of work which encourages the viewer to think more deeply about urban sprawl and environmental impact whilst retaining a sort of cinematic quality.

You are a new media artist who uses technology as a tool ‘to explore themes of consciousness, the body as a perceptive interface, the expansive impact of mankind on the ecosystem as well as the recursive relation of natural phenomenon spanning across the observable world (in your words).’ For those unfamiliar with your background, could you tell us a bit about it and how and when the interest in technology, art and science came out? 

My interest in art has been present since an early stage. At first through fine art, then moved into photography and digital photo manipulation. Still, It wasn’t until I moved to London at the age of 19 that I transitioned from stills to moving images and began slowly developing myself as an artist. For the past 6 years, I lived in what once was a vibrant, unique community of artists known as Hackney Wick, an industrial area on the outskirts of London, now assaulted by property developers; being part of a community made me grow incredibly artistically and personally.

The context I was living in led me to profound transformational changes through meditation and esotericism. Within a day after moving there, I had an interview with Quayola, whose studio happened to be a few minutes down the road; I began working with him, and his works and process had a huge influence on me and pushed me to begin researching into interactive, real-time procedural, generative art. The recurring themes in my body of work can be classified into two main subgroups.

The first relates to mysticism, eastern philosophies, nature, altered states of consciousness, perceptions, and the relation between conscious and subconscious; I never showed any interest in this matter until I directly experienced meditation and progressively practised Vipassana silent retreats, which made me aware of my own thinking process, the emotional flow and the way I responded to situations as if I was an observer of my own self, I became sensitive to the subtle sensations in my body and for brief moments experienced stillness of the mind.  It felt like an explosion in my head.

I was eager and extremely curious to research and discover as much as I could to spot the similarities between the mentioned topics against modern science and physics; II was also highly fascinated by Out of body & Near-death experiences, Astral Projection, ancient spiritual traditions, rituals and ceremonies, immaterial entities, mystical visions, sacred symbology and lastly fractals, which I became slightly obsessed with.

On the other hand of the spectrum, another part of my work is somehow stripped from the mystical aspect. It touches the ground on the contaminated earth, a product of our decadent civilisation and the inability to maintain the natural balance. Themes such as Overpopulation and overconsumption, waste, exhaustion of natural resources, gas emissions and so forth have brought a fast-approaching climate change that is now threatening our existence.

My current practice addresses the above-mentioned themes through video works, Interactive real-time installations and performances, and immersive experiences using VR and sensory stimulation.

Horror Vacui is an experimental three-minute short film that juxtaposes real images of forests and mountains with metropolitan areas. What is the intellectual process behind this project? What do you want to bring to the audience interacting with Horror Vacui

The video isn’t necessarily a dystopia but rather depicts the present condition of anxiety and uncertainty about the future of mankind. I am hoping for people to feel this pressure through the work. Moreover, by mixing CGI techniques and real footage, I want them to question what is perceived to be seen as real and what isn’t, in reference to the senses and their biased interpretation of reality. I grew to question a lot my view of reality and its solidity daily, and thus I wanted to stimulate the viewer by making them ask themselves a similar question.

The film begins with ever-changing fluid-like natural patterns, a symbol of the impermanence of seemingly solid matter, it then moves on to the observation of geologies of the earth through computer vision and LIDAR scans, incredibly dense point cloud datasets of the earth that appear solid when observed from far, but reveal its true composition when seen from close;  moving on from pristine landscapes it jumps into earth’s geological man-made contamination, which culminates into an explosion within a desolated, dense city, stripped down from any natural contact.

The title ‘Horror Vacui’ (Latin: fear of empty space) was a term used in the Middle Ages to describe the artistic obsession of filling every empty surface with decorative detail. This concept in the film is translated into the relationship between man and nature. On the other hand, it also refers to the ‘Fear of emptiness’ from a Buddhist perspective, which does not account for the negative traits of the word, but rather refers to the fabric of reality stripped from the emotional and perceptive layers, aka the subjective experience.

A lot of thought and technical execution went into it. Thus far, I think it is the most ambitious project I’ve embarked on. It consists of various techniques spanning across Photogrammetry, Organic & Fluid time-based simulations, Satellite 8K + rasters, LIDAR point clouds (consisting of hundreds of millions of points) further manipulated into a GIS (geographical information system) software, a specialised scientific tool for geological surveys,  Google Earth Timelapse, 3D Modelling, Organic macro photography, aerial drone footage from multiple locations. 

This project could not have happened without the support of my team: Guglielmo Barzacchini, Claudio Giambusso,  Lorenzo Depascalis, Sabrina Haas, Lino Sabia and Thomas Weightman and the overwhelming support from Gazelli Art house and

What directions do you see taking your work into?

Within the next few years, I aim to expand into Sculptural practice, integrated with procedural design, biology and eco-materials for creating Self Sustained, Symbiotic, and biological sculptures. Create highly immersive experiences that stimulate perceptions by enhancing/depriving/altering the senses using real-time tools; Deepen procedural & interactive environments for live performances and installations.

Extensive research on alternative sustainable community living, consisting of field research in various communities worldwide for the creation of a document for the preparation, organisation and maintenance of a hypothetical hybrid (IRL/URL) community platform with a focus on natural restoration, permaculture, low environmental impact, renewable energy and, decentralised organisation.

How do you cope with creative desperation?

I came to realise that creative flow isn’t ever present. It rather oscillates between high and low periods; for this reason, when I cannot come up with any ideas, I try not to get frustrated and do something completely different. It usually works. But most times, I need to be aware of my current state and make the most of it when the time is right.

Nowadays, my biggest creative struggle is coping with social media and the huge amount of content baked out every second; It pushes me to be more productive on one side, but on the other, it constantly makes me feel anxious as if I’m not producing enough; I’m constantly practising not to be too influenced from this but still didn’t quite worked out how to detach myself from craving this feeling of inclusion and appreciation and solely focus on my practice.

One for the road… What aren’t you afraid of? 

Not sure how to respond to this one…

(Media courtesy of the artist)
On Key

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