1883 Magazine
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Taking its title from an ancient allegory about the enigmatic journey towards knowledge, A Mystical Staircase is an online/IRL group exhibition encompassing mysticism, fortune-telling and Internet art.

Curated by Francesco Urbano Ragazzi in tandem with artist-run space 63rd-77th STEPS, and featuring twenty-four international artists – Sarah Abu Abdallah, Basma Al Sharif, Johanna Bruckner, FAKA, Gina Folly, ForeverAdaForever, Foundland, Chiara Fumai, Tiril Hasselknippe, Jerome Hill, Institute for New Feeling, Karl Larsson, Kareem Lotfy, Malibu 1992, Miltos Manetas, Eva Papamargariti, Luca Pozzi, Tabita Rezaire, Harry Sanderson, Fabio Santacroce, Bogosi Sekhukhuni, Chai Siris, Berkay Tuncay, Brent Watanabe – A Mystical Staircase concerns the spiritual (and mystical) implications of data consumption and the poetics of what has been named “Vertical Cinema”. Held online at 63rd77thsteps.com, the exhibition will open to the public on 8th July at Villa Croce Contemporary Art Museum in Genoa, Italy.

1883 sat down for a chat with Francesco Urbano Ragazzi to find out more about the exhibition.

 

Can you tell us what A Mystical Staircase is and how it came to fruition?

A Mystical Staircase is a group show in the form of an online tarot deck. 24 new Arcana have been designed by international artists for the online contemporary art platform 63rd-77th STEPS. Although Arcana consists of 22 cards, we wanted to have 24 for the exhibition: we believe times have changed, and so has the art of divination.

For an online project such as A Mystical Staircase, we wanted to have a digital and conceptual landscape for the artists to play with. And since gambling and forecasting have a lot in common, we chose Cleopatra as our muse for this show; her face is on the main page of the website. She was an entrepreneur ahead of her time, whose name is associated with gambling, and a symbol of temptation and seduction. To us, she is an icon, she embodies the irrational power of the Ancient Egypt that echoes to this day. Cleopatra is not the only subliminal symbol you will encounter in the exhibition though...

And how does A Mystical Staircase work? I understand the website is designed to respond to the commands of a user.

Yes, in this sense A Mystical Staircase is like every online divination platform. You just ask a question, click on one of the cards and get a verdict in the form of a digital artwork. Every time you go back to the deck tho, the tarots will randomly change their order. There isn’t a specific way to "visit the show"; everything is left to chance.

A Mystical Staircase deals with data consumption and its spiritual implications, a theme that was central to The III Internet Pavilion and The Internet Saga, exhibitions you curated in 2013 and 2015. What is, in your view, the common thread linking the projects?

The Internet is the oracle of our times. We always interrogate it, looking for informations, data, hints, directions. And in doing so, we also seek ourselves, our future. We believe in what we read, in what we see, in what we find online. We are the “finders” of the Internet, as one of the cards in our deck states: it was created by Los Angeles based collective Institute for New Feeling.

However, we shouldn’t blindly believe in oracles – they often lie to us. And speaking of the Internet, the way a search engine algorithm works is in fact both scientific and mysterious: that’s why the motto of this project is "from mystique to mystification and back again". The Internet is two-faced: it is a mystical place and a mystification, a religion, a cult, and a virtual space representing the illusion of omniscience. This awareness represents the common thread of A Mystical Staircase, The Internet Saga with Jonas Mekas and The Internet Pavilion with Miltos Manetas, who created a very special card for this project: the only one that takes the user to another place, to a different website.

How did you select the artists involved in this project?

The 24 artists involved in this project really take us beyond the limits of a male-centred, western-centre technology. We want to thank all of them for helping us to “decolonize” the Internet: Tabita Rezaire would call them peaceful warriors... Some of them have created gravitational waves (Luca Pozzi), spiritual frequencies (FAKA and Bogosi Sekhukhuni), empowering symbols (Berkay Tuncay, Malibu 1992), hypnotic visions (Basma Alsharif, Gina Folly) and digital hallucinations (Eva Papamargariti); some others have shared their most intimate and esoteric artistic vision (Karl Larsson, Sarah Abu Abdallah).

Out of curiosity, where does you interest for tarots stem from?

As curators, we spend our time investigating images, asking them to tell us the truth. But in a way, everyone has to deal with the task of reading the signs of reality, everyday. Hans-Georg Gadamer once wrote that "all understanding is interpretation". Like tarots, artworks generate billions of stories and connections relying on the relationship that develops between the work and the beholder. 

A Mystical Staircase also concerns what you define as “the rotation of our point of view on moving images”; can you please expand on this?

Yes. We call it Vertical Cinema! Applications such as Snapchat and video-sharing websites such as Vimeo host vertical videos with a reversed aspect ratio: 9:16 instead of 16:9. Not long time ago this was considered some sort of taboo; and yet, upright is also the page on which we write. The card format we chose encourages us to explore the possibility of “writing” a vertical cinema, to embrace a new poetics that many of us have already adopted. Along with the artists we’ve mentioned before, Johanna Bruckner, Tiril Hasselknippe, Kareem Lotfy, Chai Siris, Harry Sanderson and Chiara Fumai have also explored the meaning and scope of Vertical Cinema.

Finally, what’s next for you?

We are planning the live oracle tour of A Mystical Staircase. The first stop is at Villa Croce Contemporary Art Museum in July and then we will see. We pick a card to find out about our future... We just picked a very special one, San Andreas Deer Cam: a video of an immortal deer created by artist Brent Watanabe. This creature inhabits the violent universe of Grand Theft Auto V with bravery and indifference. The deer represents our animal guide, the symbol of an imperturbable anarchy.

  

A Mystical Staircase will open on 8th July at Villa Croce Contemporary Art Museum, Via J. Ruffini, 3, Genova, Italy

www.e-ven.net

www.63rd77thsteps.com

www.villacroce.org

Words by @jacopo982

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