[NetBehaviour] salvatore iaconesi

roberta buiani rbuiani at gmail.com
Tue Aug 2 18:41:56 CEST 2022

Hi all,
coming out of my lurking mode. I usually don’t post. I tend to be super slow and quite shy about almost anything I write, but Salvatore’s departure has really shaken me and sometimes I find that writing helps a bit. 
I am pasting below the in-memoriam note I just sent to Leonardo. this is my perspective as a fellow Italian who worked several times with him and Oriana from a distance, but developed a solid friendship that I cherished for many years. 
last time I talked to him was in March. little did I know it would be the last time.



Writing to celebrate the life and work of Salvatore Iaconesi is not easy. It is not easy because his body of work is so extensive and diverse that one would never have enough space to fit it in a few pages; it is not easy because it extends over, it is entangled, and it is shared with a formidable network of collaborators and friends, which he and his life and artistic partner Oriana patiently and passionately built for many years. But it is especially not easy because his departure is hard to accept. It has been a slow departure, during which he planted many seeds for future work and activities, made new friends, established new collaborations. “Salvatore Iaconesi is alive” announces the website of HER: She Loves DATA, the cultural research centre he and Oriana had founded in 2013. Still, it is difficult to accept that his body, and his wit are no longer with us.  

Salvatore Iaconesi’s work was eclectic, ranging from projects supporting remix and opensource culture, to experiments with AI and hybrid marriages between human and non-human, community data mining and data sharing, collective performances, pedagogical initiatives, and much more. No matter where and by whom his projects were carried on, they were all conceived in the spirit of community participation and co-creation involving many actors, human and non-human; they could be remixed and expanded, recombined and played with.

I met Salvatore in 2010 at the SHARE festival in Torino. The editorial project he and Oriana presented gave me a taste of the spirit that characterized their future projects: a drive to reveal the narrow minded, exploitative and extractivist rules imposed by institutions and those who retain power, and a desire to rectify these rules by mobilizing a network of individuals and communities with whom to re-think and find solutions for these rules. REFF (RomaEuropa Fake Factory) became a fake cultural institution and an editorial project in response to the exploitative rules imposed by the institutions promoting a funding contest. Hopeful applicants had to agree to transfer any ownership of their work to the funding agency. The latter could then re-use, remix and republish said work. However, no project already containing remake, mashups, and remix would be admitted. The response was an edited book collecting essays, artworks, and editorial experiments that exposed this rather hypocritical and contradictory position and enacted the very practices that had been forbidden by the contest.

When I first invited Salvatore and Oriana to Toronto in 2014, they had been launching a data visualization project titled Human Ecosystems (HE) in Rome (Italy) and Sao Paulo (Brazil). The project encouraged members of the public to reflect on and visualize the city’s human geographies and affective flows, by capturing information from social networks. Instead of just collecting data from users and artfully laying them on a map, the goal here was to achieve a new and more reflexive understanding of the ways in which different cultures express opinions, emotions and affect. Most importantly, it sought to reveal how cities’ relational ecosystems are formed and which roles different people assume in their communities (influencers, hubs, experts, amplifiers, bridges among different communities etc...). This was made to empower the public to view data as relational agents rather than discrete bits ready to be collected to create more surveillance. Together, during a few (and very snowy) days, we worked with students at the Transmedia Lab (York University) and the members of the public at ArtSci Salon, our art and science collective, to build an affective map of the city. Even the very skeptical City of Toronto’s Open Data team was willing to listen.

Freeing data from the grip of institutional and corporate power, from their extractivist agendas, from their techno-solutionist patina of fake neutrality was at the core of Salvatore and Oriana’s work.  The main mission of their cultural research centre is to use data and computation to create new realities that would think past using, exploiting, and depleting data and instead rethink the configuration of, and the relationships being established in the neighborhood, the city and the environment.

The reappropriation, repurposing, and re-vitalizing of data had profound political significance for Salvatore. They also resonated personally.  In 2012, following his diagnose of brain cancer, he found himself trapped in the same situation he was rallying against with his art. Now a patient, he was stripped from his individuality, and found himself caught in a medical system intent to measure, visualize, and examine his condition only, one not seeing him as a whole person: “the patient is a strange being … entirely made of data: blood exams, images of body parts, lab values, diagnoses”. He describes his experience with the medical system as a ritual: “your body, personality, and social connections disappear, and are replaced by data and images”. In the medical ritual Iaconesi was caught in, everything is obsessively quantified and passed through body scans, software, and digital models. He had suddenly become a bundle of data, over which he seemed to have no control. But even that resulting disembodied entity had been taken away from him. In fact, to add insult to injury, all data collected from his body had been stored in a proprietary format impossible to share.

La Cura became a long-term life journey that extended well beyond medical treatment or medical data sharing. His rebellion against the reductive constraints imposed by the medical technologies, and against an inflexible and impersonal medical system, materialized into the release of his medical data online. He turned to the community at large to seek help, solidarity and comfort. His request was drawn by a need to open up “cancer’s “source code” as a biopolitical rite of healing, aimed at redefining concepts such as “disease” and “cure” “… to re-appropriate the condition of being ill, and to foster a society that recognizes disease as a complex experience — one felt by social bodies as much as individual bodies”.

His story far exceeds issues of information gathering and dissemination; issues of disease and control. This act of sharing was not meant to disseminate information with the purpose of receiving more. It was not meant to acquire knowledge to be used for his exclusive benefit. His act of sharing opened to a precarious and indeterminate space. By turning to a community made up of close friends and complete strangers, he welcomed and eventually recovered human and affective elements that had been lost in the extreme operation of reduction he was enduring during his experience within the medical system.

Maria de la Bellacasa explains that caring is “everything that we do to maintain, continue and repair our world, so that we can live in it as well as possible”. Caring also means becoming aware that “studying and representing things have world-making effects”. It is a way of thinking and speaking beyond what we assume to be some social and “politically” useful research. La Cura evolved into many other projects, all initiated with the same spirit of caring, using data creatively and for social causes: “the cure does not exist if not in society”.

Last time I had the pleasure to collaborate with Salvatore, and last time I heard his voice was in March 2022, during an interdisciplinary series of talks, workshops and events that I co-created with my colleague Elena Basile titled: “Who Cares? Sustaining relations of health beyond the time of crisis”. We invited Salvatore and Oriana and their team to facilitate a Data Meditation, because we knew that their approach to data to evoke self-reflexivity, empathy and mutual sharing, instead of impersonal and mechanical interaction would break the cycle of apathy that had characterized so many conferences and talks (including the one about health care!) during the pandemic. During one of the roundtables, coincidentally scheduled exactly 2 years after the beginning of many lockdowns around the world, Salvatore shared his extraordinary experience of being in a hospital just before Italy shut down: “The Hospital was shutting down. Surgeries were stopped, people were being sent back home. But the pandemic was hitting full strength in the realm of information and data too. People were massively exposed to horrible things about the pandemic, completely and carelessly fed with information about people who were sick, dead and dying, with no care for their fragilities…The use of data and information at the time was truly violent and careless. It was a very violent experience. We decided that we should do something about it. That’s when we started developing these new rituals where these data and information are not forces that divide people but unite people and bring them together. That’s the origin of what we call Nuovo Abitare” .

The “Nuovo Abitare” resonated greatly with our desire to bring together a community of users, artists, scientists and caregivers to reflect beyond the cruelty of a tired health care system and its triage based culture. Importantly, it gave us hope that this new concept could one day be adopted by many.

I want to remember Salvatore Iaconesi with these words, because I think they not only encapsulate the profound sense of justice and care that drove his work, but also his optimism and hopeful thinking, in the face of the violence imparted by and conveyed through data, in spite of collapse due to climate change, wars, political unrest, medical emergencies etc..

It is certainly not a chance that the logo that stands out on the site of HER: She Loves Data is a heart. A heart which will grow larger thanks to the way his thinking and his generosity touched and inspired many of us. Even though his body is no more, his legacy is here to stay.


> On Aug 2, 2022, at 11:59 AM, Alan Sondheim via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org> wrote:
> Hi Everyone,
> I was hoping someone would say something; I didn't know him, but from his work at Furtherfield, I felt his thinking resonated with my own the strongest in the show. 
> There was no bio for him in the back; was that his desire?
> Best, Alan, and Marc, I hope you're doing well. At the moment speechless, too much pain everywhere. And thank you everyone for this list and Furtherfield -
> On Tue, Aug 2, 2022 at 4:21 AM Helen Varley Jamieson <helen at creative-catalyst.com <mailto:helen at creative-catalyst.com>> wrote:
> last week my copy of "frankenstein reanimated" arrived & i immediately turned to page 175 and read patrick lichty's interview with salvatore, about "la cura", the collaborative artistic project to open source a cure for the brain cancer that he had just been diagnosed with (the interview was made in 2012).
> salvatore died a couple of weeks ago, on 18 july. has this sad news already come through on netbehaviour? maybe i missed it ... i am remembering salvatore's smile and laugh, his warmth and       generosity; and the cyberformance that myself, francesco buonaiuto and miljana perić created for "la cura" (which was only performed once, for salvatore & oriana, in 2012 or 13 & now exists only as fragments on my hard drive). 
> r.i.p. salvatore - i am glad to have known you!
> h <3
> -- 
> helen varley jamieson
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