Gianni “Túpac” Toti

A tribute to Gianni Toti


José-Carlos Mariátegui


Considered the ‘father’ of video poetry, Gianni Toti is one of the most interesting and experimental video artists of today’s international scene.  It’s difficult to consider Toti a media artist: His experience as a poet, filmmaker, theater writer, journalist, among many other intellectual and artistic participations, took him beyond the aesthetics of the image. He questions and criticizes the image as a mere tool to represent the world and instead he argues that an image is something that is created by the confrontation of man and society.


Toti began to work with video since the early 80’s, defining himself as a ‘poetronic’, a creator that challenges theoretical thinking and cultural action in his insatiable search for new languages in the artistic and scientific creation, bringing to an extreme the visual and electronic poetry, considered by Toti as the sum of all arts in his infatigable search for a total art.  His interests in science made him use the most advanced technologies to prepare, in 1986, a series of video poems for L'Imaginaire Scientifique of the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie of Paris. In “Orden, Chaos y Phaos”, for example, he uses sophisticated fractal geometry programs to represent a diverse and open interpretation of the theory of chaos, that goes beyond the scientific discovery, where color forms and electronic compositions metamorphose themselves in a complex and systemic set.


Toti doesn’t analyze the world; he tries to change it through our mind, understanding that knowledge cannot be obtained only by traditional ways (what we call ‘western culture’), but also through the reinvention of history, legends, oral traditions, rhythmic forms and popular culture, trying to create a ‘new alphabet’ of the visual.  This is why it’s not by coincidence that Toti’s latest works had been related to Latin America, interpreting it as a land of hope for humanity, of new history in their past, in search for their future through traditions, misunderstood by many as ‘old’ or ‘primitive’ traditions, when they are really a mixture of old and new media art, a fusion of cultures and languages.


Historically, media art cannot be only represented from the early avant-garde onwards; we need to consider that media art was present since ancient times.  From Shamanistic rituals, that could not even be compared to today’s virtual reality immersions, to musical and artistic developments.  We are still analyzing media art as if it is a new way of creation simply because it tends to use electronic technology and digital computers. But I would like to emphasize with Toti that an assortment of “new media ecologies” can be found already in the Pre-Columbian art and techniques.  For example, the quipu is a network-technology [1].


Five hundred years ago, western explorers returned from ‘remote areas’ reporting that they had discovered ‘primitive tribes’ with ‘primitive technologies’ and ‘primitive languages’.  All those stories proved to be scientifically false, since many of those languages are more complex grammatically than English or even Chinese (languages associated in that time to human civilization). [2]


The language is one of the primary subjects in Toti’s work.  Composed of a rich mixture of idiomatic expressions, mostly in French and Italian, but with a deep influence from all the languages of the world, his works require no translation.  We can understand it as a new language, a ‘totian’ language, a magic prose, a poematic construction of words that interfere among them to create new ones.  In this sense we hear phrases in Quechua, Mic-Mac or Aymara (languages spoken by the ancient Pre-Columbian cultures) that reminds us to the ‘experience of the other’. With language we can invent, every sentence is a new invention, produced by combining familiar elements; the perfection of human inventiveness is linked to the perfection of human language.  In his videos Toti is trying to say us that language should be renewed, not technology.


We must think of the linguistic words and the problems of communication.  Power is based in thought, not in language, and then we have to define techné, not technology.  We cannot speak more on the science of though if we think it’s based on technology, we must first speak of the language of techné. 


Deconstructing the music into parts and mixing new and old compositions, as in the case of the languages, have also been present in the work of Gianni Toti: compositions are created with many traditional rhythms and voices.  The black screen is also an emblematic symbol at the beginning of his works: the voice of Toti in black reminds us to a dream in which we hear but cannot see, the voice guides us to a new metaphoric space.  The voice of Toti is the musical overture to the synthesis of images coming afterwards.


For me, thinking of Gianni Toti is also thinking on my own experience on electronic arts during the last seven years.  I found electronic art as a way of creation thanks to Toti, I found Toti thanks to Jose Carlos Mariátegui, my grandfather and one of the greatest Latin-American Marxist thinkers.


Gianni Toti was not only a pioneer in the use of visual language with his video poetries; he was also the first to write about Mariátegui in Italy.  In April of 1963, he wrote an article titled “Mariátegui, il Gramsci Americano”, in “La Situazione” journal of poetry and culture directed by Alcide Paolini [3].  Although a long time passed through, more than 30 years since this first article, this was the beginning of a gramsciateguian metaphor, that concretizes with “Tupac Amauta” project [4], as a living essay on LatinAmerIndia’s reality, as Toti calls it; but also planetopolitane, since its the necessary continuation of Planetopolis [5], the poetic essay on the negative utopia of the planetary uninterrupted city. Gianni Toti’s interests are related to the lessons of history: revolutions, scientific discoveries, technological inventions, but specially the revolutionary thoughts when they exceed the facts, “enseignent” anything and deliver signs.  Art gives Toti a way of applying the philosophical and scientific thought with an amplitude of dimensions to create, finding new mental models for a new way of anti-describing and re-evolutioning the world.


I first met Gianni Toti in La Habana, Cuba in 1994 during a conference organized by Casa de las Américas in the Centenary of Mariátegui.  In that moment I was more related to the technical and scientific research in new media technologies from a humanistic perspective, but I didn’t know how to apply them to real life.  Toti spoke to me about electronic art, about how there was a new perspective, a real salvation for humanity in the electronic languages, using the synthetic image as a metaphor of what could be done. The merge between art and science has made possible the application of these new conceptual proposals to space, a virtual space that is shown in Toti’s videos, and reproduced in our minds.


A year after, in 1995, we began the formal activities of ATA with an anthology of Toti’s works. This is also an historic event for the Peruvian electronic art movement, since this was the first of a number of actions that took place in Perú, that expanded to an International Video Art Festival, organized annually in Lima since 1998; the growth in number of Peruvian productions of electronic art from virtually zero to more than 80 works today; a National Price on Video and Electronic Arts, among other initiatives. Every action or questioning that take place in ATA are inspired by Toti: to think on the technique, the art and science as a way of producing works that questions and interprets our time and challenge us in the necessity of the creation of a new human personality…? 


During the same time we first met, we began to work together on the development of the VideoPoemOpera “Tupac Amauta”, an original verbal association among the name of Túpac Amaru (the last Inca to struggle for Peruvian independence from the Spanish conquerors) and the quechuan eponymous of José Carlos Mariátegui (‘Amauta’ means ‘master’ in quechua language). Túpac Amauta has a deep pregnancy of meaning, since carries for the first time the figure of the ‘Amauta’ to the allegoric and metaphorical dominance of the electronic language, according to Toti’s words:  "an extraordinary linguistic event, since the energy of the mariateguian thought will move from the semantic area of literature and film, to the fusion of all arts with the perspective of total work of syntheatronic art") [6].  The Project Túpac Amauta is composed of three parts, the first two already have been developed:  "Tupac Amauta Premier Chant"(1997) and "Gramsciategui ou les poesimistes" (1999).  The electronic creation process is being done at the CICV Pierre Schaeffer in Montbéliard Belfort, France.


Toti doesn’t analyze the world; he tries to change it through our mind. As he said once: “How can we speak about Courage?  How can we speak about frightening?  Not with modisms, but with gestures, with actions, the thought that re-evolves in every neuron, in every single synapses.  From the Song to the Cry.  We will not sing more, we will cry, from the Castle at Montbéliard to the castles of LatinAmerIndia”.  [7]


Some people think that because of the immense possibilities of the electronic image, Toti’s work are just a pile of electronic effects and ready made plug-ins used to an extended degree.  This is not true in the case of Toti’s creations; he is interested in revolutionary ways of thinking along with scientific revolutions, ways of seeing the world from the humanistic perspective of a real discovery.


As Toti points out:  “In many cases this is a fact that reduces the work to the condition of special effects, or a modern version of an old art.  This practice done with no taste shows the traditional aesthetic education rose around the surface of socio-psychological conditionaments. It answers an acceptance of a social mandate entrusted to the artist by the politic-industrial powers. A disfiguration of the pure desire which the more measurement to create a project against the destiny, the institution of predetermined forms of life to carry constant anticipation project of freedom, a non-alienated reconfiguration, a critical thought “. [8]


New media technologies don’t standardize and make much easier to perform the practice of making media from already existing objects.  It is not as simply as a cut and paste, the real question is whether the author finds that it is all said using just this kind of metaphor.


In Toti’s works the creative process goes beyond the new technologies.  Although for some other artists it could be just a “cut and paste” metaphor, for other more critical ones it is a “cut, paste and trash”, in the sense that they have more possibilities and had became more intrigued in getting what they really want, meaning that you can have even hundreds of hours of 'created material' to make a 5 minute work.  This is a way synthesis, meaning the artists should be able to really create something new, or just a never-ending work in progress.


The Tupac Amauta project is a work in progress, not a final work; it's a metaphor towards a new way of looking at things, a new way of interpreting that goes beyond technological images.  The new digital culture needs to shift from the paradigm of the beautiful image but also of the technological image.


After we see Toti’s works, we are not the same, we feel different, and we think different, as Rose of Luxembourg said: “To think is to think diverse”.  This is the diversity of languages that had been the fundamental weapons for Toti’s struggle and fight to change the world.  All languages form the diversity and by simple iteration, like in fractal geometry, create complexity, which is what we find in his synthetic and moving images.


Is this diversity that make us define Toti as a man of the world, not as an Italian, not as Greek, not as a French, not as a neo-European, not as Peruvian, not as Latin American.  Gianni Toti is simply terrestrial.



 [1]       The quipu was an Incan accounting apparatus consisting of a long rope from which hung secondary cords and various tertiary cords attached to the secondary ones. Knots were made in the cords to represent units, tens, and hundreds.


[2]        Diamond, Jared. “The evolution of Human Inventiveness”, in Murphy, Michael P. and O’Neill, Luke A.J. (editors) “What is life? : the next fifty years: speculations on the future of biology”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 41 - 55.


[3]        Toti, Gianni. “Mariátegui, il Gramsci Americano”, La Situazione (rivista bimestrale di poesia e cultura, directed by Alcide Paolini), no. 25 – 26, Italy, April 1963, pp. 46 – 49.


[4]        Tupac Amauta VideoPoemOpera.  By Gianni Toti, with the co-creation of José-Carlos Mariategui III, Elisa Zurlo, Patrick Zanoli, Gilles Markesi, Sandra Lischi, José Javier Castro. Musique Pré-Colombienne: Les Chimuchines (Claudio Mercado, José Perez Arcem, Guillermo Aste Von Bennewitz, Víctor Rondon, Norman Vilches). Production: Yasmina Demoly (CICV), France, 1997. (Duration: 53'18")


[5] For more information on Planetopolis, see:

            Heck, Georges. “Gianni Toti/autour de PLANETOPOLIS”, Realisation: CICV Pierre Schaeffer Montbéliard Belfort, France, December 1996.

            Lischi, Sandra. “PlaneToti notes” (Notes pour un voyage dans la "planète Toti", l'univers "poétronique" de l'artiste Gianni Toti: ses idées, ses rêves, Planetopolis, sa planète-maison, ses livres, le monde...), en coproduction avec CICV Pierre Schaeffer Montbéliard Belfort, Italy/France, 1997. (Duration: 30'40")


[6]        Handwritten document/manifest by Gianni Toti during the development of Tupac Amauta Project in Lima, Perú (circa 1995).


[7]        Handwritten manifest by Gianni Toti for the presentation in Latin America of “Gramsciategui ou les poesimistes” (2000).


[8]        Mercier, Marc.  Chimaera monographie “Gianni Toti”, Edition du Centre International de Création Vidéo Montbéliard Belfort, France, 1992, pp. 36.


José-Carlos Mariátegui (Lima, 1975)


Scientist and Media theorist. President of Alta Tecnología Andina (ATA), non-profit organization dedicated to the development and research of artistic and scientific theories.  Director of Memorial Museum Mariátegui (his grandfather and a Latin-American Marxist thinker) of the National Institute of Culture.  Resident at the CICV Centre de Recherche Pierre Schaeffer Montbéliard Belfort, Hérimoncourt (France). Coordinator of the Scientific Though and Philosophy of Science Program, directed by Dr. Alberto Cordero, Cayetano Heredia University (Lima).  Coordinator of numerous expositions and symposiums in Peru. General Coordinator of the International Festival of Video and Electronic Art in Lima (since 1998, organized annually).  Teaches the course: “The virtual museum” at Ricardo Palma University Postgraduate Museology Program.  Beta tester, producer and developer of multimedia programs and web sites.  Co-creator of “Tupac Amauta”, VideoPoemOpera by Gianni Toti in co-production with the CICV (France).  Recent conferences include: Festival de la Vallée des Terres Blanches (France, 1997), Isea Revolution Symposium (Liverpool, 1998), Invençao: thinking the next millennium (Sao Paulo, 1999), Coloquio Internacional de Historia del Arte “Arte y ciencia” (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Guadalajara, 2000), Medi@terra Festival (Athens, 2000), ISEA 2000 Symposium (Paris, 2000).  Member of several committees on virtual reality, interaction, visual computing and artificial life.  Is also a member of the Cultural Diversity Committee of the Inter-Society for Electronic Arts (ISEA).  Has been a member of the Jury for the 13 Videobrasil (2001).  His most recent publications include: “Techno-revolution: False evolution?” (Third Text, n. 47, London, 1999, and it's spanish version in Márgenes Encuentro y Debate, Año XIV, No. 17, Lima 2000), “Video-Arte-Electrónico-en-Peru” (in "De la pantalla al arte transgénico", book edited by Jorge La Ferla, Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2000), "Toti a America/America a Toti" (in 13 Videobrasil Catalog, 2001), “Visiones/contravisiones del vídeo y arte electrónico en el Perú”, (in “Perú: Resistencias”, Casa de América, Madrid, 2001)