Save me for later



interview by: Pau Waelder
in collaboration with NIIO


A bot browsing autonomously selects items and places them in the basket. When the basket reaches its limit, items are automatically moved to the “Saved for later” list. The bot also embeds a floating window showing a webcam stream in which the artist can be seen looking at the screen. This performative act is carried out without end, an absurd dialogue between two autonomous software agents that speaks of the cycles of expectation, fulfillment, and dissatisfaction in our consumerist society.

This work connects, on the one hand, with Zanni’s exploration of the individual in a society mediated by digital media, questioning privacy and identity through portraiture, and on the other, with his conception of the computer interface as a landscape we stare at every day. These portraits and landscapes have also been deeply intertwined, from the “Icoportraits” (2000) that lived as desktop icons in the collector’s computer to the elaborate server-sculpture “Altarboy-Cyrille” (2003) in which a photographic portrait was populated by pop-up images automatically generated by Internet search queries. Zanni has also depicted himself in the role of an individual subject to surveillance and control, as in “Self-portrait with dog” (2008/2011) or “Iterating My Way Into Oblivion” (2010), as well as an artist questioning his own productivity and his role in the economy of the art system, for instance in “The Sandman” (2013) or “Life Is A Delicate Negotiation” (2017). “Save Me for Later” seems to peep into a mundane activity carried out by the artist, in an endless game of adding items to the shopping cart. The process is tedious, but in being so it leads to observe the interface of the Amazon e-commerce site as a landscape, a familiar environment in which we may lose ourselves, or maybe feel the urge to open our browser and just buy something.

While it may seem like a performative action patiently carried out by the artist, this is an automated process executed by the Python script that can be seen behind the web browser. As is often the case in Zanni’s work, the image is discreetly built with code, in a continuous and often uneasy dialogue with the Internet’s most influential companies, from eBay to Google, Apple, and now Amazon. In this exchange between the artist’s script and the company’s site, the artwork often ends up losing as the Internet giant changes its terms and conditions or directly kills a process that it deems potentially harmful to its interests. This fragility and ephemerality of the piece make it all the more a unique event, bound, as is every artwork, to its present time.

Pau Waelder: Save me for later (2022) is also an intriguing artwork in the sense that it is not what it appears to be, and it connects with a concept you have explored over the years, which is the computer screen as a landscape

Carlo Zanni: “Save me for later” is actually a bot browsing, continuously adding products to the cart that is visible in the right sidebar. When the cart reaches its limit, it automatically moves products to the “saved for later list”, making room for the new freshly added ones. The bot embeds a floating window with the webcam stream framing me while performing. This repetitive and almost hypnotic performance, with apparently no beginning and no end, speaks of the type of procrastination we all carry out while browsing e-commerce sites, looking for products that will bring us happiness and make our lives better.

As with the paintings, the experience of isolation during the pandemic was key to conceiving this artwork, in which the computer screen becomes a landscape, a place of escapism and daydreaming. The performance is consciously slow and cryptic, and as it is playing out in real time, in the real Amazon website, the items that appear reflect our present time just as the subtle writings on the paintings take us back to the world we are living in. For instance, when I first ran the program, the bot frequently picked up COVID-19 self-tests, which at some point were very much in demand and right now are almost forgotten.

I see this project also as a vehicle for meditation, an attempt to alienate ourselves momentarily from our daily lives and our anxieties (so the title “Save me for later”). And behind the activity itself, what you see on the screen that is apparently me browsing the Amazon site but is in fact an automated process carried out by a computer program, is an interesting exchange of data. Data collected by the Amazon site about this meaningless routine (constantly adding items to the cart without ever checking out), data displayed by Amazon about the articles on sale, data that is processed by Amazon’s algorithm to display new items related to previously selected products. 

Data is for me what gravity probably was for Bas Jan Ader. “The artist’s body as gravity makes itself its master.” These mysterious words were used by Bas Jan Ader to describe his short films Falling I (Los Angeles) and Falling II (Amsterdam) when he showed them in Düsseldorf in 1971. He was playing with gravity, he was becoming gravity, accepting its outcome: failures, fragilities, spiritualism, poetry, meditation, ascension. 

I feel that I use data in a sort of similar way, accepting the fact that most of my works will cease to exist quite soon after their birth. By using data from media outlets such as CNN, tools from Google, data collected from users, and so on, I consciously open my work to a vulnerability as the price to pay for creating a work that is always connected to the present and fed by data that circulates online. Then, an API is changed, a tool is discontinued, and the artwork cannot exist anymore. Sometimes you can fix them, sometimes you just don’t want to do it. 

Other times you start again from scratch as recently I did with Cookie Portrait (2002-2022), a work about online identity and privacy that had to be rewritten when it was launched at OPR Gallery last year, 20 years after it was first created. This work is based on the same cookie technology that is used – for instance – for the internal session management of an eCommerce site and more generally for user profiling and marketing activities. This work reminds us that, in our online existence, we are made of data. The body is thus the sum total of your data, the artwork is a temporary and transient experience of something elusive, like our own existence is.

Carlo Zanni is an Italian conceptual artist pioneer in the use of third-party Internet data and a painter. Born in La Spezia Italy, in 1975, Zanni works in a wide range of media including video, sound, animation, sculpture, AI, painting, photography, and installation. Since 1999 his practice has explored the public space of the web and the use of Internet data to create time-based ephemeral works that combine a pronounced social consciousness with a primary focus on privacy, identity, and the self. As a painter, he focuses his attention on a new kind of “shared landscape” that emerged with the Internet and that keeps transforming all human activities and relationships. He researches alternative selling models for digital art (ViBo) and he is the author of the book “Art in the Age of the Cloud”. Zanni has been the recipient of a commission and he has shown in galleries and museums worldwide including: National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan; Arts Santa Mònica, Barcelona; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Marsèlleria, Milan; Tent, Rotterdam; MAXXI, Rome; P.S.1, New York; Borusan Center, Istanbul; PERFORMA 09, NY and ICA, London. His work appears in more than 50 books and catalogs, as well as in hundreds of articles and interviews online.

Copyright © Carlo Zanni, Pau Waelder, Niio and PHROOM, all rights reserved

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