interviews
Interview
Digital

Eric Boulo & Antonin Fourneau

The history of the Internet is a technological and political adventure that brings several cultures together.

The Institut français has invited Eric Boulo and Antonin Fourneau to curate its new exhibition Escape, voyage au cœur des cultures numériques, an entertaining and educational exploration of digital cultures through some thirty creations combining digital artworks, web documentaries, video games, augmented reality experiences and more. The exhibition will be presented by the French cultural network abroad from autumn 2021.

Updated on 14/09/2021

10 min

Image
Eric Boulo & Antonin Fourneau
Crédits
Antonin Fourneau et Eric Boulo © Manuel Braun

Exploring the major issues of the digital revolution, Escape, voyage au cœur des cultures numériqueswill be exhibited worldwide. Can you introduce yourselves and explain why you wanted to work together on this project?

Eric Boulo: I'm a producer and coordinator of cultural events, particularly for young audiences and digital culture: I've worked with Villette Sonique, Nuits Sonores, and Rock en Seine. I met Antonin when I programmed his Eniarof project at the Carreau du Temple. I was attracted by his DIY spirit, and by the scene of artist-makers*, tinkerers, hackers*, with which he is associated. 

Antonin Fourneau: As for me, I studied digital art at the École Supérieure d'Art d'Aix-en-Provence, where we did a lot of programming and robotics. I then went to the Arts Décoratifs for my post-graduate degree, after which I started teaching new media design. At the same time, in 2005, I started the Eniarof art project, which is still going today: it's a fairground format in a DIY spirit, based around technology, which has now travelled to around thirty cities in France and abroad. 

Question
*A maker is a creative person who makes objects or computer programs themselves, adhering to the DIY philosophy.

*A hacker is a person who creates, analyses and modifies computer programs in order to improve them. Hacker communities played an important role in the development of computers and the Internet in the 1970s.

The topic of "digital cultures" is especially vast and covers many notions, of varying familiarity to the general public. How did you seek to approach them? What did you see as the principal challenges?

Eric Boulo: Our intuition was to start with the notion of repurposing, which has been very strong among many French digital artists for many years. I am thinking for example of the demoscene, a movement that appeared in the 1980s and was not restricted to artists. Art was entering people's daily lives via technology, but we had not yet begun to talk about digital cultures. The demoscene appropriated digital tools to repurpose them, to create, but also to offer a different, more human perspective.

Antonin Fourneau: Since the 1980s, these artists have been ahead of the big corporations, including technologically. So we wanted to bring together these older works with current productions, to compare them. The desire to tell the audience a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end, to better understand digital cultures, was central from the start. We have designed an exhibition sequence around the works based on major digital concepts and word clouds: programmed obsolescence, artificial intelligence, cyber-surveillance, etc. 

 

Who is this exhibition aimed at? How can these occasionally complex notions be made accessible to all audiences?

Antonin Fourneau: The exhibition is aimed at a family audience. We have avoided relying solely on screens and favoured a wide variety of formats, with a multiplicity of interactions. Some pieces are presented As printed panels, such as Nakamoto (The Proof), by Émilie Brout and Maxime Marion, a reproduction of the possible passport of Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin. Other works, such as the video game Heave Ho, by the independent studio Le Cartel, use a screen, but not everything happens no the monitor: the interactions between the players take precedent! These interactions help to understand the exhibition and its concepts in a playful and involving way.

Eric Boulo: We also want to bring art to a younger audience, with contemporary artists who use visual codes that speak to children in their work. This is the case of the artist Systaime who uses emojis in his videos, like a painter. As seen in the video chosen for our section on overconnection. 

Image
Escape, voyage au coeur des cultures numériques
© DR

This exhibition is divided into three parts. The first part of the exhibition, Une histoire d’Internet ('A tale of the Internet'), focuses on the communities and countercultural movements that make and break the history of the web. What can we expect?

Antonin Fourneau: The history of the Internet is a technological and political adventure that brings several cultures together: soldiers, researchers, academics, men and women passionate about computers, or linked to the democratic movements of the 1970s! As a teacher, I often feel that I have to remind my students of the history of the tool they have at their disposal. The documentary Jurassic Web, which features in the exhibition, achieves this and reveals a lot of surprising tales about the misuse of technology in the 1960s and 1970s. There are also works like Windows93.net, by Jankenpopp, which revisits the operating system that was never released. 

 

This focus on a historical and political (re)reading of the Internet phenomenon and the digital revolution continues in La guerre des datas ('The Data Wars'), the second part of the exhibition, which focuses on the GAFAM. How did you choose to deal with this theme?

Eric Boulo: By approaching the phenomenon from several angles. For example, with his film Swatted, the artist Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis shows, through the prism of cyberbullying, that violence can also come from ourselves and our use of technology.  

Antonin Fourneau: We tried to find balance in our presentation of the phenomenon. While artists like Julien Prévieux (Where Is My (Deep) Mind) take a highly critical position, others, like Keyvane Alinaghi (Crossed Eyed Mutant Riot) use technologies such as eye tracking or facial recognition in a more playful and upbeat manner. The aim is to thwart the use of certain tools in order to bring out something else and open up new perspectives. 

 

Escape, voyage au cœur des cultures numériques also looks at notions such as transhumanism and, more broadly, our relationship with these technologies as human beings. Does the exhibition suggest ways to create a more peaceful and ethical relationship with the digital world? Does the title "Escape" seek to offer a way out, by understanding the phenomenon, a more critical and educated perspective?

Antonin Fourneau: Yes, the title of the exhibition refers to the "Escape" key on the computer keyboard, and evokes the need to take a moment, to step aside, to attempt to understand the dynamics of the digital world. Identifying them, defining them, understanding them better enables us to better guide our future uses, consumption and life choices.

Eric Boulo: It is also important to remember that, while the exhibition presents the work of French artists, it is essentially aimed at a foreign audience. We are therefore addressing an audience that does not share the same codes we do, and to which we had to give several possible entry points. The idea is of course to get the audience to imagine their use of digital technology differently! 

The Institut français and the exhibition

Initiated by the Institut français, the exhibition Escape, voyage au cœur des cultures numériques will be presented by the French cultural network abroad (Instituts français, Alliances françaises…) and his partners from November 2021. 

Members of the diplomatic network will find information on how to schedule this exhibition on this page

L'institut français, LAB