Nanni Balestrini is a literary author, visual artist and investigator of the relations between words, texts and images. Since the sixties, Balestrini has participated in the most radical literary and political avant-garde movements. A member of the “Novissimi” group of poets, he was also one of the founders of “Gruppo 63,” a movement which brought together authors such as Renato Barilli, Achille Bonito Oliva, Furio Colombo and Umberto Eco from a desire for the renewal of Italian culture.
In 1963 Balestrini composed the first poem created by computer, identifying the key points of his future work of which Tristanoil is an ideal compendium: the exploration of the relation between creativity, intention and chance, with an analysis of computer languages and reflections on media and technology.
One of the founders, in 1968, of the group Potere Operaio, Balestrini has always worked on the idea that linguistic experimentation could become an instrument of critical understanding of reality and a means of individual emancipation. In this sense, materials taken from everyday communication – such as newspaper articles or full-page advertisements – generate new meanings through collage, by which the words become images and their messages are transformed. This tension between text and image is rooted in a line of research that unites the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé with the inclusion of words in Cubism and Futurism, the collages of social protest by Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Höch, and Surrealist poetry and cinema.
Presented at documenta (13) in Kassel in June 2012 and at the Museo Nitsch in Naples in the spring of 2013, Tristanoil is the longest film in history, being virtually infinite. Its development is generated by a computer that assembles 139 film clips lasting one minute each in sequences that are always different. The computer system selects ten items at random from a group of twenty and organizes them into chapters which are never the same. Though this combinatorial system is random, the images that make up the visual epic are not: the theme of Tristanoil is the destruction of the planet through the plunder of its natural resources, of which oil is the outstanding symbol. The raw material used to create the film comes from existing sources: sequences of the famous television series “Dallas” overlap television reports on recent environmental disasters, while images of trading on stock exchanges and accounts of global wars are immersed in the reflections of a sea of viscous oil. Even the sound track of the film is the result of a combinatorial process of sounds, including voices, from which emerges Balestrini’s own reading of fragments of his novel Tristano, published in 1966 by Feltrinelli.
The ambition of this literary work was to exploit the technology of the electronic calculator (the prototype of today’s computer) to combine the same basic text and create a book of which no two copies would be alike. The dream of countering the press as a technique of infinite reproducibility clashed with the limits of the technology available at that time, which was not capable of simply creating unique copies of the same book. It was only in 2007 that digital printing made possible the publication of Tristan in its original form, that of a book that negated the mechanism of mechanical reproduction and brought the book as object close to the forms of nature.