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Intervista con Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Philippe Parreno and Hans Ulrich Obrist, CITIES, Catalogo della Mostra presso il Museo di Arte moderna di Bordeaux, Francia, 2000.

Interview with Paolo Fabbri about Valerio and other Urban Rumors (2000)

Hans Ulrich Obrist (HUO)
Can we talk about the urban rumor Valerio?

Paolo Fabbri (PF)
It's not pronounced as a proper name. You say "Paolo" or "Jim", you don't say "Paaooloo!" or "Jiiim!". It's a cry, and a special cry, (shouts) "Valeriooo!", and this is very important.

HUO
We didn't know this you see because we only read about it. I only experienced it once in Italy, and this was in a motel. I wasn't sure if it was real or if it was a dream (laughs).
So you don't pronounce it "Valerio"?

PF
It's "Valeriooo!"

HUO
So this is why you wrote it with so many "o's"... (laughs all around).

PF
It's just a proper name, as a cry, with a particular prosodic structure, and a prolongation.

HUO
Tell me again the story about those people who want to be Valerio; many people identify with Valerio...

PF
For example, in the newspapers I found at least three or four people who assume and purport to be Valerio. They think this is not just a cry, but that it has the capacity for designation a proper name that is a cry with a specific prosodic feature. I hear a lot of explanations for the Valerio phenomenon. Theory number one: A man with a TV camera, perched in a very high place during the World Motor championships, in Italy near Imola. There were 3000 people waiting in the sun, bored. So high up there is this man trying to make the camera work and constantly trying to arrange the direction of the verhicles and would say "Valeriooo!". The crowd, waiting for the cars with nothing to do, began to repeat the cry, like in sports. Second story: During a rock concert in Bascarosa...

HUO
I head it is near Brindisi?

PF
There are allot of places pretending to be "the" place, one is Bascarosa. The common denominator in all the stories is a crowd of people bored and waiting attentively for the beginning of something. Someone cries "Valeriooo", and someone responds "Valeriooo!" I'll try to make a generalization: when you have a lot of people together with nothing to do, just waiting around, they have to do something. It's very appropriate for communication to say or cry something. The other explanation is very high level: This is a perfect metaphor for political public communication today: when you cry in a very high voice that you have nothing to say. If you have content (e.g. "death to fascists"), another person may refuse your content, but if you have no content, no one has a reason to refuse to say it.

HUO
But still there seems to be a kind of boundary. In Italy all the young people were shouting it and all the old people hated it. Can you explain this strange generation gap in Valerio?

PF
I have a rhythmic explanation for this: Young people always wait for a moment in which nothing is going on, for example, during the pauses in soccer games: they stand up and do the "ola", they cry, they sing... this is normal behavior now in soccer games, especially if it's a boring game. If you accept this idea, the old generation is defined by rhythmic life: night is the night, daytime is the daytime, but people crying Valerio disrupt the rhythmic organization of the day. For example, they pass during the night and begin to cry Valerio!

HUO
This has to do with insomnia (laughs).

PF
Or they cry Valerio early in the morning, or on Sunday afternoon when people are taking their naps; they try to provoke disruption in the normal rhythm of everyday life. When people are leaving the discotheques, they play roulette with red lights. They wait for the red light and they stop. I think there is some Valerio nature in that, this is probably about challenge. I received a lot of questions about this subject.

HUO
I heard that whenever somebody in Italy wants to know anything about Valerio they call you.

PF
They ask me and I try to give an explanation, but people form the newspapers can be absolutely absurd. There is another more reasonable explanation: people change habits and fashions very very fast - this is probably a metaphor for rapidly changing fashions - it's an event, without any meaning, without any functional efficacy, without an enormous investment of emotion, without a strong participation... no reason, but maximal efficacy; this is today, our post-modern society.

HUO
And what do you think about timing? I came across it the day I went to Torino this summer, in late July early August; in the plane I read a big article on Valerio in Liberation. A week later I went to Berlin and saw it in the local papers there... I wondering if it had something to do with a virus, in that a local story became global news virus. Do you think it had something to do with the summer break?

PF
It's true that news is slow in the summer and they have to fill it up with events...

HUO
When and how did Valerio first come to your attention?

PF
The first time was... people were going very fast, in bicycles, in cars, very fast, but this is because my brother is the owner of a large discotheque in Rimini and he is my indigenous informer. He said "Paolo, there is a new wave: people are crying Valerio in my discotheque. While dancing, someone begins to cry 'Valeriooo!' and everyone follows". We both grew up in a military college, and when we escaped from this jail, we decided to take two different paths: I chose the worst, professor, and he chose to make allot of money and allot of fun. But fortunately we are very close, and sometimes he gives me very interesting information. It's Valerio!

HUO
In the viral dimension, it went to Torino and some other cities in Italy, but it didn't go to Palermo or Naples, but with the press virus it became global (phone rings).

PF
It was very fashionable to cry Valerio into your portable phone.

HUO
We thought it was very interesting to shout Valerio in London, in France, then in Berlin... The place where people like it the least is London, because in London people think it's Brazilian football hooliganism. This is really interesting.

Philippe Parreno (PP)
In London, Valerio won't work, you'll have to shout Valerie!

PF
What is the problem of Valerio translation. In the future, to be correct, a women could insist back that one should shout "Valeriaaa".

HUO
It's funny, we were always pronouncing it wrong.

PF
Because it mutated, like a virus.

HUO
When I spoke with Daniel Soutif, he gave me the address of your web site and told me about your teaching, but he also said you do not publish books. We thought it could be interesting for you to tell us about this, and the link, to explain why people come to you about Valerio which has mainly to do with oral history.

PF
It's because I am so interested in rumors. Rumors are an epidemic.

HUO
You wrote about rumors?

PF
Yes, I wrote about rumors, urban legends, these kind of easily circulating things. If you say "Valerio is stupid", this is a good rumor, or "Valerio is a genius", this is also a good rumor. But if you just say "Valerio", this is not really a rumor. A rumor deserves a little information. But Valerio is an information in itself; it's very close to a computer virus. It's open to every kind of interpretation. It's an hermeneutic device - that would be a noble way to introduce it to philosophers.

PP
Why do you refuse to write books then?

PF
It's the books that refuse me! (laughs) No, I think the book is a very old form of expression; I don't refuse writing (I have a web site), just the book as a very old form of communication; I did it, but for me it's une partie honteuse de la vie humaine; when you are a professor you have to publish books, but I don' t do that seriously, I have more interesting things to do. With Valerio, you are able to diffuse information with just a proper name, why do you have to write a book? In books, you have to ask friends to make entendus, and journalists to make reviews... If you tell a story to friends, they will relate it to other friends; this is a very effective form of communication, but at the very end, the content of the information will disappear. However, if you have no content, as with Valerio, you have a perfect reproduction as a virus... anyway, I don't want to introduce my ideology in Valerio.

PP
Communication can work the other/wrong way around, like if you have a lot of things to say, you get less effective communication.

PF
Valerio has no intention; you don't produce intention, just through insight you push people to interoperation, and there are lots of interpretations: it's me, it's a friend of mine, it's that other guy...

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster (DGF)
It's more about participation than meaning.

PF
And people will share the experience, your right.

DGF
And this is really the future.

PF
Absolutely. The future is participation and not sharing meaning. People say we have to share meaning and values, but what is the meaning of Valerio? There is no meaning at all.

DGF
Participation is the meaning.

PP
Valerio wasn't there in the first place and everybody wanted Valerio because he was missing, so...

PF
The martingale, Valerio will be back.

PP
People are modeling themselves on Valerio. Like people in the suburbs of Paris writing their names on the walls, like a logo.

PF
You're right, it's vocal graffiti. This is a good idea to explore. I will steal the idea, but I promise you I will never publish it (laughs). I'll only tell it to friends.

HUO
Meanwhile, Valerio is a global thing. Why do you think it started in Italy? Whenever I'm in Italy I observe this obsession with cellular phones, and then the obsession with Valerio.

PF
Because in many ways Italy is a conformist country. In fact Italians are very ironic; it's both. They don't say Valerio because they believe in it; it's precisely because they don't believe in it. It's circulation is permitted because there is no belief involved. If it had belief, value, or meaning in the narrow sense, they would never repeat it. They repeat it because it's ironic, a quotation of other people, "it's not my Valerio, I'm just repeating it". It's not "your" cry, it's a cry in commas, repeating the cry of the other. Italians are fashion conscious, and fashion entails a somewhat conformist attitude, but at the same time they practice a very ironic form of conformism. From this point of view it is a very post-modern country; Italy is very old, it's not a modern country.

DGF
Maybe Christianity spread that way in the beginning...?

PF
This is an ironic belief.

PP
He would have his image repeated everywhere throughout the Empire...

PF
Probably... "I believe but I don't": it's a suspension of disbelief. This is a good definition (except by philosophers: if you introduce hermeneutics and suspension of disbelief, that would be an excellent tool for putting the bug of Valerio in the philosophical mind; it would be a good strategy).

HUO
How do you predict the future of Valerio?

PF
I think it will disappear very fast, but by mutation. It will be interesting to see what phenomenon will prendre le relai, take over from Valerio.

HUO
Next summer may bring the next phenomenon, like a chain reaction.

PF
Another phenomenon will take it's place, but it will be another type of phenomenon. It will probably be an object... The old Sociology during the 1930s in the United States called this a "craze". Do you remember the Chinese mushroom? Or people scooby doobing...

DGF
Or saying "yo yo yo"...

PF
Yes.

DGF
Could it be a gesture?

PF
Yes.

HUO
But the world will never be the same again.

PF
The difference with Valerio and Herpes is that Herpes is forever.

DGF
Before and After Valerio (laughs).

HUO
In different chapters, you show that Valerio doesn't have an origin that can be pinned down, it's very ambiguous. But in the reception by the press outside of Italy, in Germany, in France and in England, there always appeared this story of the sound technician who disappeared.

PP
A sound technician for a cry... it's like, who is going to record it?

PF
The definition of "rumor" is that there is no possibility to find its source. The source is constantly retreating and fading. From this point of view, the fading of Valerio will necessarily the attempt to find it's source. Infinite regression of course. I'm sure we will never discover it, as is generally with urban legends. I sometimes get inquiries from publications like the "New York Times" or "Le Monde", trying to find the origin of a rumor: impossible. Sure there is a first moment, but the first is not the origin, it's just the first... and the first as minus two, minus three, minus four... it's impossible to discover, and this is what is very funny: No origin, no cause, no meaning... in this situation the efficacy is in proportion to the lack of truth, and belief. From this point of view it's a very Zen practice: you void yourself, you void the content, and this is very effective. You know that a big pizza is a good mandala; you look at the pizza the same way you look at a mandala design. A pizza is a natural mandala, and you produce Valerio as a mantra (laughs). This is the answer to your question "Why in Italy?" I think the white wine helps in the Valerio phenomenon.

HUO
Thank you so much. We should all shout "Valerio" at the end: 1... 2... 3... VALERIOOOOOO!
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