Focus on: The Cool Couple for 2016 – On New Italian Photography

The Cool Couple is an artistic duo composed of Niccolò Benetton (born in Arzignano, Vicenza, in 1986) and Simone Santilli (born in Portogruaro, Venezia, in 1987).
Their work is based on a deep observation of very specific and peculiar phenomena, which originate a series of reflections and considerations of global interest on issues such as geopolitics, anthropology and philosophy. A Kind of Display, the project featured in 2016 – On New Italian Photography, is a wide collection of images and imageries on the theme of beard, which starts ironically from current events in order to trigger a series of meanings and considerations of historical and scientific nature.

Multiple #2 (rendering), 2016

Multiple #2 (rendering), 2016

F: What was your first approach to photography?
SIMONE: I borrowed my first camera from my father, when I was twenty or so. I do not know why I asked for it, and for years I was lazy: I was not interested in technique, it took me so much time to learn how to use it… It was much easier to push the button without asking too many questions. I was a dummy with a strong interest in art history, until the day I got frustrated by the lack of answers about the art world and I tried to look for them into that of photography.
NICCOLÒ: I can’t help saying that my father donated me a camera when I was a little dwarf, it was a beautiful one, of the Ninja Turtles. If anyone happened to have one, please contact me. As a university student, I had the possibility to pick some optional courses and I’d always wanted to get to know more about cinema and photography. I attended the course of History of Photography held by Claudio Marra, who started his first lesson by showing a picture by Wolfgang Tillmans – an artists I still love today. I understood such great nothing of it, that I digged my heels into trying to figure out what it was, quite uselessly, which is the reason why I am still here today.

F: Who or what had an influence on what you do?
SIMONE: In my opinion, there are a lot of things from our personal backgrounds that had an impact on our practice. Indeed, several encounters changed us in the past three years… Personally, I was deeply influenced by visual culture, especially Nicholas Mirzoeff and W.J.T. Mitchell’s work. Another fundamental figure in my growth has been the Italian artist Francesco Jodice. These are the first influences that produced a deep change in my approach to images and photography.
NICCOLÒ: I share much of Simone’s reply. Indeed, Francesco Zanot has been fundamental in the beginning of our path. During the Master in Photography and Visual Design, which I and Simone attended together, he represented a link towards many fields of contemporary research. In 2011, as a student, I visited the photography festival in Arles for the first time. One of the exhibitions, which stroke me immediately, proposed a selection of artists who worked with photography without necessarily producing images at all. From Here On (curated by Clément Chéroux, Joan Fontcuberta, Erik Kessels, Martin Parr and Joachim Schmid, Ed.) questioned the infinite possibilities that the Internet and the new media had opened in terms of image production. Among the featured artists was Thomas Maeilander, with whom I had the pleasure to work with at a later time, and who had a clear impact on our research.

2016 – On New Italian Photography, installation view. © Viasaterna

F: What stories do you like to tell?
TCC: We have been crossing many themes, sometimes radically different one another, thus it is hard to pick specific stories we like. We have a certain tendency to speak about geopolitics, however the incipit can hail from many different sources. At a certain point, something catches our attention and there, a new project is born.


Discovery Award, Les Rencontres des Arles, Installation view, 2015

F: What is the best photobook you have seen sofar?
TCC: Maybe we are not the most indicated people to speak about photobooks. We try to keep up with their development, but it is a hard job in our case. However, among the best photobooks we have seen recently are Federico Clavarino’s The Castle (Dalpine, 2016) and Jose-Maria Jongerius’ Edges of the Experiment (FW:, 2015). These are probably not the best photobooks published in recent years, but we found them interesting because they have several points in common with some of the questions we are currently dealing with.

F: What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
TCC: One of the most inspiring exhibitions we have seen recently is Electronic Superhighway at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, featuring a lot of multimedia works together with film, painting, sculpture, photography and drawing. It featured a lot of artists, among which Cory Arcangel, Roy Ascott, Jeremy Bailey, James Bridle, Douglas Coupland, Constant Dullaart, Trevor Paglen, Nam June Paik, Jon Rafman, Hito Steyerl, and many more. Perhaps the best room was the final one, with an amazing installation by Harun Farocki, Parallels.

F: And the record you like the most?
TCC: We have a really different musical background. When we were teenagers, Simone was playing in a progressive metal band and Niccolò was a writer listening to Hip Hop. Luckily enough, we now have more than something in common. One record we often listen to when we are together is Funeral by Arcade Fire. However, with our recent re-discovery of John Lajoie’s discography, we might have found a good challenger.


Still from Artist #2, 2015


Still from Ruler #2, 2015

F: What are your future projects?
TCC: We have just started a new research about the duality between visibility and invisibility, and its management as a form of power. We are interested in investigating two layers: the first one is purely political in nature, where images are considered as nodes of a network we interact with on a daily basis; the second one, a bit more experimental, is an attempt to use the web as a metaphor for knowledge, a reflection on the collision between aesthetics and the blurring boundaries between art and life in the networked society.


Pharaoh, 2015

The Cool Couple are based in Milan. Their work has been displayed at The Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina (CCCS), Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, Unseen Photo Fair, Circulation(s) festival and Les Rencontres d’Arles. In 2014 they were shortlisted for the Fotobook Kassel Dummy Award and were awarded the Francesco Fabbri Prize for contemporary photography and a study grant at the Fondazione Bevilacqua la Masa in Venice. In 2015, they were selected for the Plat(t)form programme at Winterthur Fotomuseum, and were nominated for the Discovery Award at Les Rencontres d’Arles. In October 2015, they won the Graziadei Prize, with a following exhibition during the FOTOGRAFIA festival at the MACRO in Rome. In the same year, they were among the ten finalists of the ArteVisione prize, promoted by Careof and Sky. The Cool Couple is represented by Metronom gallery in Modena and MLZ Art Dep in Trieste.


The Cool Couple’s studio in Milan