Networked Projects:
in the Formative Years of the Internet

M arcello Aitiani

Nave di Luce (Ship of Light)

For three decades, Marcello Aitiani's work has explored the relationships between computer mediated art and music, Italian culture, and telematic communication.

With a background in painting, musicology, and classics, and a graduate degree in law, his work has focused on intersections between real and virtual localities and on their changing roles in our lives -- including the interaction of real and virtual with objects and with the environment. In his words, his vision has "been expressed in permanent works for urban places and, in some cases, in the 'orchestrations' of complex, real-physical and telematic-digital environments (by music, performances, visual works), using both traditional means, such as painting on wood or on canvas, and technologies and digital processes."

Marcelo Aitiani's telematic installations, that have explored the convergence of traditional media and new technologies, include Nave di luce. Arte, musica, telematica (Ship of Light. Art, Music, Telematics), Siena, Florence, Genova, 1990 and 1991 (profiled in this Networked Projects essay); Spirale di vita vermiglia. Immateriale sulla Piazza (Spiral of Vermilion Life. Immateriality in the Piazza)1, which created a poetic triangle with vertices in Naples, Milan, and Florence; and Esse/Sibilla (in collaboration with Francesco Giomi; event by the Giuseppe Morra Foundation). For Esse/Sibilla, with allusion to the Cumaean Sibyl's prophesies -- written on oak leaves; sometimes wind-scattered, allowing passers-by to reassemble them and discover new meanings -- in 1988, inside the Sibyl's Cave in the acropolis in Cumae, Aitiani positioned twelve computers to form an "S", the first letter of the word "Sibyl". In a description of this project, he writes:

"The visual components are not videotaped, but produced by digital programs on the basis of Scritture p/neumatiche; shapes and colors are developed ad libitum in ever new dynamic configurations. People can stop, walk around, listen to it, go away and come back; they will always discover new acoustic and visual situations."

Marcello Aitiani's work has been shown at the L’Accademia di belle arti di Catanzaro; Le Centre d'Exposition et de Congrès d'A miens; Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro; Museo Nazionale di Buenos Aires; Triennale di Milano; Museo Novecento, Florence, Logge Vasari, Arezzo; Museo mart, Rovereto; Palazzo Vecchio, Florence; Palazzo Ducale, Mantova; Società letteraria di Verona; Corte degli Spedalinghi, Pisa; Museo-Centro L. Pecci, Prato; Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence, among many other places.

As a professor, he has taught as Faculty of Architecture at the University of Florence and as Faculty of Education Sciences at the University of Cagliari.

For his Networked Projects essay, Aitiani reflects on his telematic artwork Nave di Luce, (Ship of Light), that -- documented in a 1991 Leonardo paper (by Aitiani and the work's composer, Francesco Giomi)2 -- was created/composed using audio, video, visual art, and networked data to simultaneously connect and perform music with related installations in Florence and Siena. For instance, a digitally coded score, based on Gregorian chant, was transmitted via computer from the Consevatorio di Musica in Florence to Santa Maria della Scala in Siena and then was played/interpreted by an organist. "The process, the authors observed, "was based on structures that allowed varied possibilities and produced different and unpredictable formal results". 3

Telematic projects on this scale -- their magic diffused in the taken-for-granted connection of the contemporary Internet -- are less prevalent in the 21st century. However, not only for their aesthetic and cultural value but also in order to review long dormant practices of telematic aesthetics that might be further explored in contemporary art, these works remain significant.

In the process of exploring the complex systems, which inform the elements of music, painting, sculpture, performance, telematics and computer music in Ship of Light, Aitiani's Networked Projects essay looks at the role of technology in art practice, and he argues for the importance of human experience in works created with technology-intensive methodologies.

1. Marcello Aitiani, "Spirale de vie vermeille", Le carré bleu, Revue internationale d’architecture, 3/4, 1992
2. Marcello Aitiani and Francesco Giomi, "The Artwork Nave di Luce: a Journey into Telematics, Art and Music" in Connectivity: Art and Interactive Telecommunications, ed: Roy Ascott and Carl Loeffler, Leonardo 24:2, 1991, 179-183. This paper details the structure of the work as well as the theoretical assumptions and compositional and mathematical processes, which informed its creation.
3. ibid. p. 182

Marcello Aitiani:
Nave di Luce/Ship of Light:
Reclaiming Human Qualities in the Oxymorons of Complexity

With Esse (1988) and even more with Ship of Light (1990 and 1991), I have sought to creatively interpret the themes and conditions of our rhapsodic-telematic time, which is marked by the growing influence (negative and positive) of technology.

Esse and Ship of Light have a polyhedral configuration, complex and non-rationalistic; in this respect, I perceive in these works an existential sense that is characteristic of the centuries-long history of Sienese art. Additionally, taking into account obvious differences in the disciplines, I observe similarities with aspects present both in studies on thermodynamics by scientists such as Ilya Prigogine and in reflections of philosophers like Edgar Morin and Mauro Ceruti, for instance irreversibility of time and stochastic structure, typical of complex systems, in which there is randomness and free choice. A unique nature that is also multifarious. In fact, the Ship of Light composes and rearranges itself like a multidimensional prism with many faces that interact according to principles of the hologram and recursion (Edgar Morin.5).

The Ship of Light is a non-linear unitas multiplex (multiple unit) composed with visual and musical notation (for choir and organ, in styles ranging from Gregorian to electronic); musical arrangements by means of computers and computer-mediated remote transmission in real time; computerized installations and intangible digital sequences that dynamize analogous sculptural and pictorial forms.

1. Acknowledgments. Thanks to Justin Peyser for collaboration in the translation of the text.
2. «Queste due scienze non si estendono se non alla notizia della quantità […] ma della qualità non si travagliano, la quale è bellezza delle opere di natura ed ornamento del mondo», Leonardo da Vinci, Trattato della pittura, c 13.
3. Zhou Dunyi, in Boedicker Freya and Martin, Tai Chi Chuan: The Written Tradition, available in
4. Marcello Aitiani, Nave di luce. Arte, musica, telematica, Electa, Milano 1990, p. 10.
5. A recursive process is a process in which the effects are simultaneously causes of what produces them. According to the principle hologramatic, not only the part is in everything, but everything is in the part.

The Light Ship is an "aesthetic organism", with an evolving dynamic, which is not confined within a single repository (museum, theater, etc.). Indeed, Ship of Light was immersive –- and likewise plunged the audience, the musicians and the individual visual-musical works --– into an environment part physical/architectural and part virtual. Certain places in both cities (Florence and Siena) are in fact connected, and "dilated", thanks to networks and telematic circuits; a condition that later (in 1993, with the public use of the web) would become accessible to a wide audience.

From an artistic point of view, the Ship of Light illustrates certain conditions of our historical period: paroxysmal acceleration of our way of living with shortening effects of space and time to almost zero and moreover, an increase of entropy, due to excess information; the expansion of global virtual communications; and a diminution of real-life intimacy between people -- engendered by conditioning and control.

The Ship of Light, then, is situated in an oxymoron, in a challenge to the limits of the impossible, that has been read as a sign of a new technological Baroque aesthetic:6 to use the power and speed of the same technology to neutralize it and encourage the evolution of an ecological aesthetics, an "ecology of the mind" (Gregory Bateson) that will allow us, as I wrote in the catalog 7, to "refresh" and calm and clarify increasingly information-overexposed desensitized thinking. An ecology of complex systems in which art and science dialogue. A renewed conversation between aesthetics and science that is not, however, reductionist; a science that Leonardo envisioned over four hundred years ago.

The challenging motivation of Nave di Luce was to try to use the thrust of contemporary technologies, offspring of modern thought based on the dominance of quantity, to expand rather than demean the ability to experience emotions, to feel the qualities and sometimes the charm of our surroundings. In fact, the audience has not been situated in the detached observer status of a scientific/conceptual experiment; audience involvement was instead intense from an emotional and aesthetic point of view.

In the principles of Tai Chi Chuan, it is stated that "when the movement has reached its limit, there is stillness". I also thought that the "ship" of the life of today's humanity, having perhaps reached its maximum acceleration point, would finally be able to reach the threshold of "moving very fast in absolute stillness"; and so, I imagined that our meditative attitude would be activated, and I hoped that we would find the ability to feel ourselves and to perceive the qualities of the other, things, art, and forms of nature.

In fact, the numerical sequences of P/neumatic Scriptures, the visual "scores" and music that are the basis both of Esse and Ship of Light, are not intended as calculations, but as ways of creating form. The forms / configurations are not symmetric nor static, but structured according to an order of non-equilibrium. An asymmetrical order that, according to Ilya Prigogine, characterizes living beings.

6. Omar Calabrese, "Marcello Aitiani's Combinatorial Baroque", in Marcello Aitiani, Nave di luce, op. cit.
Omar Calabrese, "Il barocco combinatorio di Marcello Aitiani", in Caos e bellezza, Domus Academy, Milano 1991.
7. In Marcello Aitiani, Nave di luce, op. cit, p.57 e 72.

The numbers of the Ship of Light are substantially numbers-quality and not just quantity, introducing «the EXISTENTIAL FEELING of chance without 'warranty certificate'. This feeling grounds the existence of the individual, confronting an uncertain future, in the realm of the undetermined future of the universe delineated by Prigogine.8 This is the meaning that ultimately transpires, almost musically, from the artistic expression».9

I imagined (and maybe I still imagine) that only in this way the technology could be brought back within the fold of a methodology; that toward a (flexible) rule that people, conscious of their limitations, use not to dominate, but to be as much as possible in harmony with themselves, with others and with what we call nature.

In Arrow of Time (one of the computerized Ship of Light installations) the great wooden form is built on the basis of P/neumatic Scriptures. The large wooden form incorporates a PC which generates digital forms (similar to the shape of the structure that contains it), but in continuous dynamic mutation; these digital forms are aspects of a totality, in turn contained in the part, according to the hologrammatic principle.

8. Non possiamo prevedere l'avvenire della vita o della nostra società o dell'universo. La lezione del secondo principio è che questo avvenire rimane aperto, legato com’è a processi sempre nuovi di trasformazione e di aumento di complessità [We can foretell neither the future life, nor how the society and universe we belong to will be. The second principle of thermodynamics teaches us that future is not predetermined, because it is connected with always newer process of change and increasing complexity]», Ilya Prigogine, La nascita del tempo, Theoria, Roma-Napoli 1988, p. 62.
9.In Marcello Aitiani, Nave di luce, op. cit., p. 59.

The rich underlying environment of research and development in communications technologies from the late 1970's to the early 1990's not only produced ground breaking arts and humanities-focused virtual communities, such as the Electronic Cafe, ACEN, Arts Wire, and THE THING, but also was paralleled by a plethora of individual, pedagogical, and collaborative telematic projects.

With a focus on platforms and communities, in Social Media Archeology and Poetics (MIT Press, 2016), the words and work of creative computer scientists, writers, artists, musicians, historians, and digital humanists document how social media and related Internet platforms evolved.

Concentrating on vision and mission as expressed in individual and small collaborative projects, Networked Projects in the Formative Years of the Internet builds on and supplements Social Media Archeology and Poetics with a series of essays and papers that explore the theory and practice that was central to early telematic projects -- and in many cases also look to the future.

Judy Malloy