This art project wants you to swap your Instagram account with strangers

Artist Matteo Domenichetti and curator Milovan Farronato envisioned a dissident artistic practice against surveillance and algorithms.

Curator Milovan Farronato, in front of a work by Camille Henrot. Mr. Farronato is the main character of one of the videos created by Matteo Domenichetti for the MyceliuMinds project. In the video he plays Mark Zuckerberg's psychoanalyst. Courtesy of the artists. Matteo Domenichetti

“We think of Instagram profiles not as identities, but as houses that can be swapped, or lent. One can move from one ‘house’ to another more fluidly, more freely, taking on new information,” said Milovan Farronato, during the presentation of “MyceliuMinds,” a project conceived by Matteo Domenichetti, a designer and artist, and curated by Mr. Farronato.

It is a practice of artistic activism that they call ‘Swinging Club,’ which consists of trading social profiles between friends and acquaintances: a simple game, but not a harmless one, which if adopted on a large scale could have destabilizing consequences, making ‘profile swappers’ unpredictable targets, unmanageable by the algorithms of tech companies, they explained.

“In some ways, it tries to hinder the fact that we easily become economic targets, but also propaganda targets, and it tries to create different experiences for those who decide to take part in it,” Mr. Farronato argued.

The ‘Swinging Club’ enables a different way of experiencing social media. It aims to allow a free flow of transitions from one world to another and experience firsthand the narrowness of the ‘filter bubble’ dictated by algorithms and the vertigo of disobeying it by accessing otherwise invisible content.

“Social profiles as we know them today are like tailor-made clothes that are sewn on us more and more tightly. Everything we do, everything we look at, even the amount of time we spend on a photo, or how much we zoom in on it, where we zoom out, leads the algorithms to sew us into this increasingly tight-fitting dress. And it no longer allows us to breathe,” said Mr. Domenichetti.

“We should change the metaphor and start to see them more like houses, which we can leave or swap. Houses, unlike clothes, have doors. We enter through a door and leave through a door when we are in social networks. We log in and log out. And the password is the key. So we can also think about misusing these doors,” he added.

“For example, I swapped with Ale Chad’s profile,” said Mr. Farronato referring to an artist he swapped Instagram profiles with and whom he did not know personally. “He lived in my ‘house’ for a week, and I lived in his.”

“I approached this project out of curiosity, to see what happened when I exchanged my profile with a stranger. It was a lot of fun from that point of view. There are a thousand ways to get into someone’s profile. I chose to do it in a more nocturnal way. And this has raised many eyebrows,” affirmed Rachele De Niro, who recently swapped her Instagram account with a stranger.

De Niro mainly posted pictures of raves at night, and many acquaintances of the owner of the profile she inhabited were puzzled, convinced that their friend had decided to embark on a particularly active and unusual nightlife.

“I carefully designed it this way,” she revealed with glee. “In addition to fighting profiling and the overall objective of the project, there are other dynamics that play up depending on how you do it,” she noted.

“It’s not a takeover. It’s more existential, more experiential,” commented Mr. Farronato.

The project was born during the Pandemic when Domenichetti moved near Pavia to live with Farronato. They spent months together in a house in the countryside where they hosted several artist friends who visited them regularly, they said. This group of ‘illustrators,’ as they call them, have contributed with posts, slogans, and images to shape this idea.

Gosha Macuga’s contribution to the MyceliuMinds project. Courtesy of the artist.

Gosha Macuga, SAGG Napoli, Patrizio di Massimo, Paolo Gonzato, Sissi, Camille Henrot, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Paulina Olowska, Beatrice Marchi and Anna Franceschini are just some of the artists who have contributed with videos, images, paintings, and texts to narrate and explore the initiative.

Besides promoting the practice, Farronato and Domenichetti have started to archive and narrate some episodes. “We studied some cases, not the most emblematic ones, but those closest to us,” said Mr. Farronato.

“And this is a bit of a challenge because it implicates finding a new language to narrate these web chronicles, in a clear but also evocative way. That’s the reason why we are bringing in different artists and ‘illustrators’ to capture these anarchic comings and goings from profile to profile. These unpredictable movements within such a constrained and structured space,” Mr. Domenichetti noted.

Artist Paolo Gonzato gathered some of these early experiences and stories and incorporated them on a board that served as a backdrop for the presentation.

In particular, three videos created by Domenichetti, which were shown in January at the Casa degli Artisti in Milan, present all of these concepts.

The trilogy consists of an introduction and two responses, or endings. The artist envisioned the videos like magazines: a comic book, a fashion magazine, and a science magazine. The latter is titled “Weird,” as a spoof of Conde Nast’s Wired magazine.

“They are videos that you can flip through,” explained Mr. Farronato. In one of them, the protagonist is a character with a mask inspired by the kinky and human pups worlds who manifests himself “in a lucid dream and announces the idea of swapping profiles.”

In one of the videos, the artist SAGG Napoli plays Mark Zuckenberg during a psychoanalytical session. Courtesy of the artist.

In another one, different people from the academic, scientific, and popular culture worlds pop up on the screen.

We spot author Shoshana Zuboff, influencer and rights activist Mia Khalifa, writer Legacy Russell, artist Amalia Ulman, fictional character Lil Miquela. But also Chelsea Manning, Alessandro Michele, and Paul Stamets, one of the world’s leading mushroom experts, because the mushroom metaphor recurs throughout the project.

By posting video requests on Instagram, on the @canis_in_somno page, Domenichetti and Farronato are planning to ask Ulman, Michele, Manning, and many more, to answer and provide comments on the project.

Short, lightning-fast clips that will invite the people featured in the videos. “And then we’ll see what the answers will look like. This is how the project will continue in the coming months in parallel with other initiatives,” announced Mr. Farronato.

They would like to collaborate with universities, art schools, academies, but also schools of communication and philosophy, they revealed.

The schools that will take part in the project are the IUAV in Venice, where Farronato teaches Phenomenology of Art, but also the Brera Academy in Milan, and the students of the Natural Sciences course at the University of Pavia, where both Domenichetti and Farronato enrolled, “albeit with poor results,” Farronato admitted with a cheeky smile.

This anarchist practice is a dissident game that they want to popularize and turn into a phenomenon.

They also offered another solution: an app based on different metaphors, linked to the natural world, they said.

“It is based on non-human images, in this case fungal, to tell more sprawling stories,” said Domenichetti. “In particular the metaphor of the mycelium, the underground ‘body’ of the mushroom: an ecological connective tissue that connects many organisms in the forest.”

A utopian but potentially feasible app that allows the experience of exchanging profiles and brings them into a system while providing a certain degree of protection that could allow even “more adventurous, more distant, and more acrobatic exchanges,” he pointed out.

A speed date event is one of the other ideas to promote the project. They will invite people at the Casa degli Artisti in Milan to meet and swap profiles. “It’s another way to promote this dissident practice,” said Mr. Farronato.

The swaps do not have many rules. They only ask the participants to state in the Instagram bio that the exchange is taking place and to add an image of a mushroom as a profile picture.

Permission is not required to participate and the duration can be different for each experience. They recommend seven days, but also two or three days can be enough.

“Some have been exchanging for a month. Perhaps they don’t want to go back to their profile,” he beamed.

A still from one of the videos illustrating the project. The metaphor of the mushroom is omnipresent as it is dear to both the artist and the curator, representing a rhizomatic connector between different worlds. Courtesy of the artist.

Creating some confusion among followers is expectable and can be fun. Opening up internal debates can be entertaining. Many people might write in the DMs asking if the profile has been hacked or might inquire who is behind those unexpected selfies that suddenly appear in someone else’s posts.

They revealed that there are about a hundred ongoing experiences. “They gradually increase, and those who do it once, generally, do it again. They like to repeat the experience with different people,” said Mr. Farronato. “They start with a friend and then move on to a stranger, for a greater level of surprise.”

“We aim to popularize it, to articulate it, and enrich it with collaborations,” he mentioned. The project starts in the virtual realm but then tries to engage with a series of aspects of contemporary creativity.

“It’s almost like the opposite of dating apps,” observed Domenichetti. “With dating apps, you start with virtual encounters and then meet live. In this case, you meet live to have a virtual experience.”

Gianmaria Biancuzzi is executive editor of Milano Art Guide.