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Q&A | Dataflags by Fabio Lattanzi Antinori

Dataflags is a series by artist Fabio Lattanzi Antinori. Through exploring corporate systems and their fall from grace, he also examines the role data has in our contemporary society and highlights its failure as a complete independent narrative. Fabio used the Touch Board with Max/MSP and Electric Paint to print the giant sensors.

The piece was displayed in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London in September 2014 and was achieved with the Touch Board and Electric Paint. The printed sensors are concealed by another layer of black ink, and trigger a selection of the Lehmann Brothers financial trading data to be announced by an opera singer when touched.

Grace caught up with Fabio to find out more.

Hi Fabio. So firstly, why did you focus on the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy as a concept for the piece? 

Dataflags is a series of works I am creating that deal with the notion of failing; they represent fragile corporate flags that celebrate the ups and downs of those corporations that were thought to be invincible but went bankrupt. Lehman Brothers, in this context, made up for a very good candidate, yet there are others which will be explored in the next artworks.

Did you chose the opera singer because it connotes theatrical tragedy?

Yes, I chose to use the code of the opera as the artwork presents a tragedy of our contemporary times. Madge, the soprano whose beautiful voice is featured in the sculpture, sings the company’s financial status of the last ten years, until it filed for bankruptcy on the 15th of September 2008.

Madge announces a different set of numbers each time the sensors are touched. How did you program the board to do this?

All voices were prerecorded as different parts then the code reassembles each sample in real time depending on the set of numbers that correspond to the daily history of the share prices of the company. The Touch Board, which is the heart of the artwork, simply waits for someone to interact, just like many artworks which demand an interaction between the participating audience and the work itself. One could say that there would be no work at all without the intervention of the public, which is a continuation of the metaphorical aspect of the piece.

The Data Flag is quite large. What was it like working with such a big sensor?

The sensors are more than 1.7 metres long. Although I did several tests, I was not completely sure whether they were going to work until the screen prints finally arrived at the studio! I guess this is the exciting part of working in a new territory where rules haven’t been made yet and one often has to learn the hard way!

You chose to print on Somerset paper. Why did you chose this material over Tyvek for example?

I wanted this piece to be as simple as possible. Paper, despite being the result of a long and complex process of both traditional and contemporary manufacturing, still preserves a sense of heritage to which we all relate to. It has been a part of our culture for a such a long time.

It was the perfect material to represent a flag, it looks solid and eternal and yet it is fragile and ephemeral, especially when it is meant to be touched by hundreds of people, like it was during the show.

Make sure you check out Fabio’s website for more information on his work and upcoming shows.