Behind the Scenes: Matteo Marangoni

Lauren Jetty in conversation with Matteo Marangoni

The first question I’ve been asking everyone is the three words to describe your practice

It’s really impossible for me!

It’s impossible for everyone in some way I think!

There is a definition that some people have used that is quite academic I think but that I also quite like; ‘performative sound art’. It’s meaningful for me but you need to know context so I don’t know how effective it is as a formula to communicate to the broader world. 

I suppose it puts you in a ‘group’ with other artists that may also describe themselves in a similar way so it gives you some form of context in that regard? 

If I talk with professionals they might understand that or if I say this is what I specialise in and someone wants me to curate an exhibition of object based sound art I can say that my focus is more performance based so maybe you need to find someone who is more focussed on objects – but this is a very professional environment. What I think also with these technical labels, it’s not like I woke up one day and thought ‘Hey! I’m really into performative sound art!’ 

There’s also so much nuance within sound art – like you say with object based or more performance based, but there’s also a lot of overlap

Of course, but there’s also gallery art. I get excited about a lot of things within the visual art world but the commercial gallery is not one of them. You can do beautiful things in white cube spaces but if your purpose is to sell an object to a collector to put in a depot or something… you know…it’s just not very interesting.  

‘Lampyridae’ Dieter Vandoren and Matteo Marangoni

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a new sound creature. I’m working with Dieter and it’s based on an older piece called Lampyridae and this is going to be a swarm of electronic creatures. The original proposal was for a forest in Vlieland for Into The Great Wide Open festival – we wanted to have a swarm behaviour which interacts with the day cycle. Komorebi (which is the name of the project) is a Japanese word I found in a list of words you can’t translate, I find it very beautiful because it means sunlight filtered by the trees – you know when you get these beautiful moving shadow patterns. So Dieter and Mariska were working on ‘Shadow Puppet?’; Mariska makes these beautiful projections of moving shadows and Dieter was touching them and turning them into sound. I was then looking at the Komorebi shadows and thinking ‘how can we make little sound creatures that respond to shadows and light?’ 

How big are the creatures?

They’re going to be a similar size to the ones that we made before (about 15 cm long) – so it’s going to be an evolution of the same design but with new behaviors and improvements in the hardware. 

So how long have you been collaborating?

With Dieter – we’ve been working since 2014 on this project. We had a residency at STEIM in 2013 when we were setting up iii and it was an intensive brainstorm about what we could do together with 12 people. Dieter and I were then talking about our common interests and we came up with the idea which then became Lampyridae. 

Wow – that’s a pretty long time

One of the big challenges working in our field is I always see good projects that have development times of years but the support structures around our field are often very short term; mostly festivals that hire you to do something in 2 months/3 months and then they want something new – but you’ve spent years developing the other project you’ve just shown! 

Do you find it beneficial when you’re doing these long term projects to have a collaborator or partner? For support or to bounce ideas off?

I find that having a group of people you can get support from is very valuable and you have a very limiting individual art practice when you lack that. I don’t have the need to collaborate on other individual projects but in this case – why not? 

So do you have more individual stuff running alongside collaborative work?

Not at the moment. For the past few years I’ve only really had the headspace for one project at a time, apart from the organisational work that I do for iii. 

‘Shadow Puppet?’ Mariska de Groot, Dieter Vandoren

Which medium or media would you say you were an expert in?

Well I guess I’m an expert in sound but I don’t like the word ‘expert’ too much, I think that I recognise that we are living in a post-medium condition. I like to engage with people and I like to give people something that will help them to question how they perceive things, and you can do that in any medium. 

Would you say that’s something that’s behind iii as an organisation as well?

That’s a little bit more difficult as there are so many people. As an organisation I think that iii is mainly about supporting each other and then each person that is in the community has a different idea about what they want to do. 

So you’re one of the founding members of iii – what was that experience like? Was it fresh out of education?

Studying at the academy was wonderful and then I really missed the social environment after; we went from working in communal spaces, helping each other, supporting each other, inspiring each other to not being around anyone at all and I think that was difficult – why does it have to be like this? It didn’t make any sense to me. So I invited a bunch of people for dinner and I said let’s work together. We didn’t find a space until years after – it wasn’t our original purpose, we had the goal to show our work and organise shows. At the time that we started there were a lot of cheap studios available so there wasn’t really a need for space. But then that changed and suddenly we were all losing our studios, so we had a problem and we tried to solve the problem by finding a shared space. 

Do you have any memories of first experiencing ‘art’?

I come from a family of artists, my father would take pictures of me all the time and my mother would be working on a loom. They had two different studios; my mother was a textile artist and my father was a photographer so I would go from the dark room to the weaving room. 

Were they (parents) also musical?

No there was no one in my family making music, that was more my thing. 

Do you think you rebelled against the more traditional arts in a way? 

I’m not sure. I think I’ve always loved how music and sound can make you feel. I thought I could do this. 

Did you have any professional training?

I went to The Conservatory and studied classical music but then I realised that all of the really good players were coming from musical families or at least were more immersed in music than I was. There was always music in the house but my parents couldn’t play music. I also found the music environment very closed minded, not just classical but musicians in general are very focused, and I have more of a meandering mind. Then I found myself back in the visual world because in the visual world that’s normal. You can do all sorts of things, you can connect the dots. Musicians don’t really do that. I remember sitting in the orchestra next to a saxophone player who I found cute and I wanted to strike up a conversation so I asked if she liked Charlie Parker, she had no idea of any jazz players because she only played classical, I couldn’t believe it.

When did you realise you wanted a professional career in the arts?

I mean I never thought I’d be an artist until I came here and went to school here and I just loved what was happening and I wanted to keep doing it. So how do you keep doing it? You have to make money and support yourself!

Do you think that The Hague’s artistic climate has changed in the time that you’ve been here and do you see it moving in any particular direction?

Good question. The real estate issue is a huge concern. It’s the same for a lot of places but it arrived here a little bit later. I originally wanted to go to New York, like everybody I guess, but it just wasn’t possible with the prices – my parents went there in their youth. For a good art scene you always need the combination of space for studios with low rent – I mean, where do you find that these days?!

How do you relate this to gentrification?

Gentrification is a one directional arrow, it’s a little bit too simplified as a story, there must be a continuation to that story. And in a certain sense we may be going into a huge financial crisis and that might be a good thing for some aspect of society if it brings prices down.

We touched on it briefly but maybe you could explain the benefits of being in an organisation like iii?

I think it’s really important to have support and a community. The thing I’ve always tried to strive for in iii is on the one side to have a supportive group of people who are loyal in helping each other and also to have this as an ambitious organisation. It’s not just somewhere where you get peer support but we also want to reach out into the world and realise ideas which are challenging. 

‘Komorebi’, Intimate Open Studios, 2020

Do you have any events coming up?

Right now it’s the Komorebi project where people can receive a kit at home – it’s the first time that I’ve made something like that so there’s little things like packaging. I’ve never had to think about things like that before. I’m sure everything is going to go wrong! People will receive the stuff and then we’ll get lots of emails ‘what do I do with this stuff it doesn’t work!’ We’ll have a maximum of 50 kits. We’ve made it extra challenging for ourselves because we decided to make it for real beginners so you don’t even have to solder anything – so we have to pre-solder everything. So on one side if we sell 50 I’m happy because then 50 people get our project but on the other hand that’s a lot more soldering to do!

So is the idea that everyone keeps their little creatures or do they send them back?

No they get to keep it, it’s theirs but we’re also hoping to have a workshop at Into The Great Wide Open a year from now where everyone can bring them and we can make a little orchestra swarm. 

Are you reading anything interesting at the moment?

Well I just had to write an article, I like writing because before I write I have to read to find nice quotes and things. So the article is for the Into The Great Wide Open magazine for the stay at home edition of the festival so I wrote an article about the process behind Lampyridae and Komorebi so I’m reading a book by Steven Strogatz that Dieter gave me about chaos theory and how order emerges in nature. He writes about synchronised fireflies, in order to understand complex systems. It’s the same question that you have with the flocking of birds; how do these relatively simple life forms all collaborate without having hierarchy? It’s fascinating in many ways but also is a question that connects my organisational work with my artistic work. 

And how do you balance those two things?

Badly! I think since 2015 when we started having a big program it was difficult but then when we also got this building it became very difficult. It’s easier to want to do things but then you also realise the amount of hours it takes.