Re-arranging files and folders on the desktop is part of the daily routine for many of us. Structuring the desktop is often connected with organizing one’s own tasks and projects. César Escudero Andaluz gives this graphical interface an additional quality. He uses the desktop as a canvas for a critical analysis of characteristics of the digital world and the internet. In his series File_món, the artist inserts images he found on the internet as wallpaper background and arranges files and folders on the desktop. By adding the file and folder icons, he hides visual information of the original image so that its initial meaning changes. Once he has finished the procedure, Escudero Andaluz takes a screenshot to freeze this ephemeral state of the work surface, thus creating his own artwork. The series File_món is an ongoing series initiated in 2010. Escudero Andaluz has extended it to include animated versions, the File_món Gifs, and created the File_painting app and video games. These resemble a desktop, allowing the user to modify the surface by adding different file and folder icons.
Cesár, how did the File_món series start? How did the initial idea come up?
The idea came up while I was writing my postgraduate thesis for my Master in Visual Arts and Multimedia at the Polytechnic University of Valencia. I was influenced by professors such as Moisés Mañas or Marina Pastor and authors such as Walter Benjamin, Vilém Flusser, José Luis Brea, Paul Virílio, and Lev Manovich, to name but a few.
Is there a key quotation by one of them that you relate to File_món?
Yes, perhaps the Alan Kay quotation: “Doing with Images Makes Symbols.” But from my point of view, beyond these images, folders, menus and overlapping windows, a computer desktop also hides complex concepts that are relevant to decoding and understanding the visual structure on the desktop.
What does File_món mean?
The name means “file world” and is a portmanteau of “file” and the Catalan word “Món” which means world. But the real analogy comes from the comic “Mortadelo and Filemón” (Mort & Phil) by Francisco Ibáñez, a slapstick humor cartoon in which the characters constantly suffer unlucky accidents.
Why did you decide to work with desktops and icons?
Ever since the beginning, my work has combined interfaces, network practices and analog technology. The computer desktop is a fruitful environment for this combination of elements, offering a route to exploring its aesthetics and social implications. The desktop interface changes our perception, implicitly offering ways of reconstructing new artistic forms. In this sense, the computer desktop is an environment open to the exploration of new digital materials, mediating between the physical and the virtual. As Alexei Shulgin argues in Desktop is manifesto “Desktop is the main element of a human - machine interface” and “desktop is your window to the digital world”.
Symbolically, the desktop is a space governed by metaphors and visual elements. It reveals just a superficial appearance of things. Behind these images, icons and symbols, we see merely signs of the world, while the important facts are hidden. We have to take care about it. And think about it, whenever we look at images.
The images you choose from the internet appear very diverse. You mix Old Masters, iconic war imagery, and videos of cracking eggs and licking dogs. In particular, you seem to be interested in iconic and award-winning photojournalistic images, capturing crucial moments in history. These images have became part of our cultural memory, but there is a sense in which we forget their context. For example you use Kevin Carter’s photograph of a Starving Child (1993) and Jeff Widener’s Tank Man (1989).
Is there a common denominator to all of these images? Why did you choose them?
There is no common denominator. File_món is a visual recycling exercise fed with images that circulate on social networks. I choose them because they suggest something else, because they are symbols that are susceptible to interpretation and surfaces able to be manipulated.
In his book Towards a Philosophy of Photography, Villém Flusser says: ”Images are significant surfaces” and “The image generates new models of knowledge and the human beings are living according to the images they produce, projecting it outwards without decoding.”
File_món talks about the power of media, about the over-saturation of events, the loss of reference to the source of the image, the difficulty of accessing the veracity of that information. It speaks about the lack of affinity between spectator and referent, about insensitivity towards events and disasters. It opens up dialogues concerning the act of looking at images and our competence as a spectator. It enquires into the conditions and circumstances of its origination and how to visualize what is generally hidden or absent: who, how, when, where, why and for what purpose these images were taken.
You hack the visual appearance and change the meaning of the source image. Very often, you hide crucial details that are key to its originally intended statement or interpretation. How would you describe your process and the relationship between the original and your work?
To answer that question, I must return to Vilém Flusser´s book Towards a Philosophy of Photography, in which he argues that human beings live according to the images they produce, projecting them outwards without decoding. It was during 2000 (BC) that the human being started to lose their reference point in the world, so that the human being was alienated in relation to his pictures. People lived according to the images they made, but they forgot that they produce images, sometimes trying to find the way through them. "At this time imagination has turned into hallucination.”
File_món is a game of relationships; the relationship with the original image captured from the physical world and the relation with the same image once its form, size and content has been transformed. In the Eye/Machine trilogy, Harun Farocki mentions that the human eye is losing the capacity to distinguish between real and fictional images. For Harun Farocki, images are no longer simply an interface or “an object, but rather they are part of an operation". They are no longer limited to political and iconic representation.
You don’t refer to the author or title of the original image. Why?
A common characteristic of the post-media era associated with the circulation of images via the Internet is the loss of connection to the source of the image, the loss of author, the loss of place, the loss of connection to the moment when it was taken. This is the main reason why I never reference an author. The second reason is that sometimes I cannot trace them.
Do you fear copyright infringement? Or is this question outdated in the digital age?
Yes, I am afraid of copyright infringement. I frequently use famous images with strong copyright protection. I just take them without permission and then modify them, giving them back to the same place that I took them from, the Internet.
How do you describe the imbalance between the characteristics of digital files, their online distribution and copyright laws?
The appropriation of information and legal battles surrounding intellectual property rights are defining characteristics of the post-media era. This is a historical moment filled with interactions between intellectual property, piracy, and consumer goods and counterbalanced by cultural movements and communities who defend the open society and propose free access to information.
Appropriation as an artistic tool or strategy has a long history. How would you describe your approach towards appropriation in relation to the digital age?
An important characteristic of the post-media era is the collective and individual re-appropriation of digital information. Participants include tactical media groups and collectives such as Critical Art Ensemble, who espouse the appropriation of any kind of medium, any form of knowledge or visual production, and any social or political process, thereby challenging hierarchies. File_món participates in this interactive use of the mechanisms of information, communication, intelligence, art and culture.
Why did you decide to animate the desktop in your series File_món Gifs? And what is File_painting?
From the very beginning, File_món was intended to be trans-media, jumping from the static image to the hypnotic GIF to explore new possibilities. I have also ventured into video game territory: File_painting is an application that mimics the computer desktop and uses additive techniques to modify the screen surface. File_painting changes the whole way the desktop is used, with your actions becoming the GUI in a playful experience that everyone can download and use.
You started to create the ongoing series in 2010. How did your approach and the works themselves change over time?
The project mutated over time. Two years ago, in 2017, I worked with Martín Nadal to develop Time-Based-ScreenShot (TBSS) a NetBot programmed to produce automated screenshots from the computer desktop and post them on social networks every 5 minutes. Time-Based-ScreenShot addresses concepts such as invisibility, data pollution, privacy or dataveillance.
How does the series File_món relate to your artistic practice in general? What are you interested in as an artist?
Exploring the social implications of networked practices, new digital materials, and underlying algorithms in order to understand and to reflect the production of new aesthetics after or during the so-called digital revolution.
What are your current projects?
Nowadays, my artistic practices have to tackle the challenge of visualizing, modeling and predicting technological issues regarding interfaces, dealing with new technological environments that change the conditions of production, and affecting the way that art is created and shown, e.g. cryptocurrencies or distributed infrastructures.
In general, all of my projects are completely different. I focus on critical art practices, emphasizing the uncovering of problems hidden from the user’s gaze. Walter Benjamin (1936) argues that artists need to “enter into debate” with the apparatus instead of “thinking that they are in possession of an apparatus that in reality possesses them.”
In collaboration with Martín Nadal, we developed Bittercoin, the worst miner ever –an old calculator machine hacked to be used as a miner validating the pending bitcoin transactions in the blockchain. It works as the most basic type of computer, increasing the time needed to produce bitcoins to almost an eternity. Bittercoin is about the resources, effort and working time expended by technological devices. Bittercoin is a fully functional miner that connects to blockchain. Although it is very unlikely, in the event of successfully mining a block, the “nonce” would be sent back to the server, entering the corresponding Bitcoins of the reward to our Bitcoin Wallet.
Another project is Free Universal Cut Kit for Internet Dissidence [F.U.C.K-ID] – an autonomous cutting device, powered by marine currents, able to cut underwater Internet cables and available from the artist Web in a free download of .STL files for 3D printing. [F.U.C.K-ID] attempts to illustrate the geo-political nature of the undersea cables. The objective is to restore to users the ability to make decisions on their data and privacy, as well as to visualize one of the problems that technology hides away from the user’s gaze. In general, it is a project that serves to define technological issues and their effects on society, economy and human relations.