For my generation, the internet is the closest thing to the essence of God. Omniscient and ubiquitous, it is a democratic and miscellaneous god, who speaks to us of politics and kittens, string theory and pornography. An infinite archive, in more matter-of-fact terms. Even fashion pondered on this a few years ago with a collection by Raf Simons featuring sweatshirts and t-shirts with the sort of epitaph ‘To the archives, no longer relevant’. Where the comma made the phrase a definitive statement: a fashion chant about the irrelevance of archives, not a banal question of memory. There is quite an obsession about the archives of these times, a nostalgia for things we have never even seen, who knows why. Perhaps because we are lacking the future, the very idea of a feasible future, of technology in the lyrical form of attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion or space age psychedelia. It is all talk about happy degrowth and going to live in the countryside.
Technology makes archiving increasingly easier, accessible and manageable. The quantity of information packed into servers reaches mammoth dimensions, difficult to encompass with the types of thoughts we are used to having about human things. You feel like just standing there, gazing at these archives, with that sensation you get when you are in front of an oil tanker or a dam. Maybe I’m going on a bit, I was just trying to describe the general milieu, whereas the protagonist here is different.
Bruto is a paper fanzine that re-publishes digital content using an ancient medium. It is also an exciting story about obsessions and internet domain theft in a pre-GDPR era, in the early 2000s when the net hung in a limbo halfway between the Wachowski sisters’ Matrix and today’s Mark Zuckerberg. It’s a punk operation, primitive, arses and spitting but also domestic appliances or plastic buckets that become subject matter and storytellers. Lots of scouting, coarse shouting and action. Subjects repeated in infinite variations, like in the photos of Bernd and Hilla Becker, or like the selective interests we find in the autism spectrum, be it about Thomas the Tank Engine or socks.
Leafing through the fanzines reminded me of the booklet in an old record by Luc Ferrari – an undercelebrated French composer of musique concrète– in which he told this story: “One day, arriving at my studio, I realized there was a leak in the ceiling, with drops of water falling onto the magnetic tapes of some of my reasonably old works. I took all the boxes off the shelves. After opening the boxes and the soaking wet tapes, I spread them out on the floor, like a huge jigsaw puzzle. And so I got the idea of modernizing my archives, saving them by copying them onto CDs. And in copying these elements, I decided to transform what was a boring job by using my imagination. Instead of copying, I started composing. That is where the new idea of reformulating the 1974 archives (having to start somewhere, moreover…) came from, and it is why I decided to call these compositions ‘Les Archives Sauvées des Eaux’’.
“It all began in 2013, – Armando Bruno, founder of Bruto recounts – I had an Instagram account based on a photographic work I had been doing for some time since I had bought the Permanent Food domain [revered cannibal magazine by Maurizio Cattelan and Paola Manfrin which in the pre-recession 2000s was the simulacrum of absolute coolness, in a mix of schizophrenic pictures poached from who knows where and laid out in non-narrative but evocative sequences] and I had recreated an online Permanent Food, stealing photos from a range of very different websites. At that time finding free photos – that is – that you could steal, all you had to do was to enter codes in the search string and you could go straight into the websites’ back office folders. I stole photos from domestic appliance websites, of fridges, or from personal blogs, photos of birthdays, holidays, office parties. This led me to divide up and catalogue the photos based on certain passing obsessions (hunters, men with a moose, photos with the leaning tower of Pisa…) and that is when I fell in love with everything. Then having registered the Permanent Food domain, I was terrified, because I had come out, sending it all to Maurizio Cattelan and to Paola Manfrin from a German e-mail address to which it was impossible to reply”.
I’m wondering how the photos were selected to recreate this fake permanent food: ”I selected images that looked in some way like they were created by artists. There was a catalogue of industrial fridges with a still life of objects that were repeated, which looked like it was by Damien Hirst. I posted those, which looked like art photos, with a link underneath to the page they came from. Then it all finished there. I was scared about the possible repercussions of having stolen all the Permanent Food domains. Then it happened that one evening I was in Berlin and bumped into Cattelan in a queue for a club. So I stopped him and explained I was the one who stole his site. At first he didn’t seem so interested, but then during the evening I noticed that he was looking for me and that terrified me even more: I was already envisaging groups of hungry lawyers and such like. Time passed and I met Paola Manfrin and she explained that this project – my fake – was also one of the reasons for the end of the magazine. It had made them think about a paper publication and how it is impossible to keep up with the internet”.
So from there came the transition from the website to social networks. “At that time I began to fall in love with Tumblr, without having a place to post in yet. I liked those personal worlds, and when Instagram arrived, I started to create my own gallery. I began working on my profile, the numbers grew and then one day a guy wrote to me to tell me that the official Instagram profile had started following me. I was one of the 200 followed by Instagram, and in the space of a few days I reached 10k followers and even fashion magazines started following me. It was fun, because although it was a job, a studio with seventy people, conferences, university, when I went on holiday I was asked if I was ‘the Armando Bruno from Instagram’. I reached 68k followers and one morning I woke up to discover my profile had been cancelled. I was “socially” dead. It had almost become a job, even my holidays were organized in order to do research and find material to post. It had all taken on such importance in my life. I tried to recover it by contacting Instagram, but it was no use. So I decided to print my work on paper and send it to the people I had met during my life on Instagram, following certain rules. Send them by post, twelve copies every twelve days to twelve different people”.
And still following these obsessions with numbers, you started to produce Bruto. “For each issue there was a subject I was interested in, and I gave it a title. The whole thing became even more alluring than ever before. I sent it to galleries, and Gagosian called me to thank me and say that there was potential for an exhibition about the whole story. So I got up and I continued, forming a small editorial office to help me lay out, print and send… After one year of business, a photographer asked if he could create an issue, and that sounded like a good way to go forward, and then another one did and Bruto became what it is today. I also got some strange requests: Riccardo Tisci asked me for all the issues… And then an email arrived from Gucci which was about to open a space in Florence that month and was interested in having the fanzine there. I sold them 12 copies and they called me in for a conference. Then Marni called me to have one of the photographers shoot the advertising campaign for a capsule collection, Redbull called me for an exhibition in Amsterdam. Then I started to produce short films and a sort of spin off called ‘I wanna be a Model’ dedicated to these people that use stylistic elements of fashion and fashion photography to gain success on digital platforms”.
The subjects of each issue can be seen as obsessions or predictions about what will work or not, on “’market forecasts’. “I promised myself again that what I wanted to say would be an expression of everyday life. The sense of daily life has to be there. There has to be a portrait, where the subject can be an outcast, an aesthete, or even an object, it doesn’t matter. There will be issues devoted to just objects, but all images observe the code. And then inside there has to be the dirty side of heaven. An alluring yet slightly putrid aesthetic. No special attention has ever been paid to the aesthetic quality. The point is the subject matter and not the quality of the image. Perhaps the sole exception was Florian Hetz, who creates extremely refined pictures, but they are nearly always the fruit of a sexual encounter; they contain fluids and marks on the skin. He was a bartender at Berghain for fifteen years, so he combines an almost fairytale-like aesthetic with a nocturnal, dark background”.
Have you ever intervened in the production of the images? “There is only one issue I did myself. When Gucci asked me to produce issues, it set a really tight deadline and I had nothing ready. I didn’t even have a photograph to do the January issue and so I used work from 2013 where I had collected some selfies. And another one is coming out now, still an old project in which I took a selfie saying I was lost and I sent these photos all over the world asking friends to pin them up around the cities and photograph them. I have these pictures of myself, missing, everywhere from Rome to Hamburg, Tel Aviv and Sao Paulo. I wanted them to end up in my neighbourhood, in my supermarket, on my door. Then I abandoned the project, but looking at it again, I thought it was great fun”.
What’s your background in images?” I am the son of Wolfgang Tillmans, of all that. I am fifty years old, the fanzine exists because in the Eighties I had two punk fanzines, it began that way in my head because that is what I know how to do. Back then we went around with photocopies, with cut-outs. We wrote articles, music reviews. Punk was underground but the scene has always been very much alive. Then there was Cindy Sherman, who introduced me to what was new. When the cibachrome arrived I remember being astounded. Andres Serrano, whose extremely controversial exhibition I had seen in Rome when I was very young” Let’s talk about the future. “I would like to try to produce even more, moving from fanzine to magazine and have a budget to reinvest, especially into videos. I also like the idea of curating an exhibition, selecting a photo for each series. Which is the same method I use to pick out the covers, I realize they have a different power, which you can also see from the numbers of likes on Instagram”. After Tumblr’s new policies, who knows whether paper will become the true bastion for the free circulation of images.