Dirty Monitor: The Rolling Stones of Rockerill
Pioneers in the field of content conception and realisation for video mapping and audiovisual productions, TLmag caught up with the Belgian company’s co-founder Mauro Cataldo.
Behind the disreputable-sounding name hides a studio with seemingly unbounded boldness, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. Mauro Cataldo, founder and creative director of Dirty Monitor, spoke passionately with us about this business 2.0 that is making dreams become a reality from Mons to Dubai to China.
TLmag: Your studio is centred around rather recent techniques. In 2004, when you got started, weren’t these still in their infancy?
Mauro Cataldo (MC): I come from a graphic (design) background, and for several years I worked in the printing sector. Then, one day, someone gave Denis Van Cauteren, the co-founder of the studio, and I a video projector. Thanks to the development of a little software programme, we projected some unusual images onto the walls of Charleroi – all while hanging out in the clubs. This grassroots experience showed us how people reacted to the rhythms and the images. We learned a lot while tinkering during those years in the nightclubs. Then Franco Dragone chose us to work on one of his shows. That was the start of the Dirty Monitor adventure.
TLmag: Where did this passion for augmented reality originate?
MC:I’m interested in the alliance of multiple types of knowledge. Orphée joined the company very quickly as a partner. With his architectural skills, we could combine several talents. From our very first ‘mapping’, which consisted of giant, 3D images projected on to buildings, we were able to offer a mix of images and electronic music, creating a show that came close to being a concert.
TLmag:When you project a video on a cathedral, the audience responds enthusiastically. Do you consider yourselves as dream-makers, artists?
MC:What differentiates our collective from others, is our desire to delight the audience. It’s a bit like a rock group preparing for a concert. For my part, I have never considered myself as an artist, even though, as artistic director, I make it a point to break the codes. Our work is hybrid in the sense that the buildings upon which we project our images don’t really lend themselves to this use at all. But when 100,000 people come to see a show – as was the case in Mons – and you couldn’t do any rehearsals, you have to deliver. Our strength lies in our ability to operate, upstream, a real technical reflection on the 3D.
TLmag: You transformed South Korea into Wonderland, transmuted the façade of the Belgian embassy in New Delhi, transfigured the New Year’s countdown in Dubai… Do the fantasies of your clients vary from country to country?
MC:I’ve never noticed a difference. Recently, we created an aquarium in the middle of the Arabian desert. The children were amazed. I think that enchantment is universal. Although to a certain extent I adapt myself to the needs of the different countries in which we work, our common thread is boldness. The robot we created for Mons 2015 had an edgy, somewhat underground, side. Astonishingly, this project was our entry to the international arena, proving that we met the expectations of the public on a global cultural level.
TLmag: Exporting your know-how is more than an ambition, it’s an obligation, isn’t it?
MC: Indeed, even though being Belgian is a considerable advantage. Our foreign clients appreciate that we will keep going till the bitter end. They often tell us “Oh good, the Belgians are here. We’re saved!” Even the Swiss, including the Patek Philippe brand, appreciate our work. We have a lot of enthusiasm for the monumental projects we realise around the world, but I am also very attached to my collaborations with the théâtre de l’Encre or Charleroi Danse.
TLmag: Your 24-person team is made up of young, creative talents, focused on new technologies. What is their common characteristic?
MC:The advantage of working as a collective is that we can orchestrate a project in its entirety. We are full-service producers. Dirty Monitor is a team of 10 co-workers and an equal number of freelancers. I am the connecting link, and as artistic director, I have to drive a certain state of mind, and then let them express themselves on this canvas.
TLmag: You operate in a fast-changing field. After fifteen years, what significant changes have you been able to see?
MC: I would say…the recognition. When we were transitioning in the ‘clubbing’ world, our reputation was sometimes a burden. Today it is different. We are welcomed into embassies. The perception has changed and the true value of our work is appreciated
TLmag: When journalists call you “kings of the light Made in Charleroi”, are you flattered or annoyed?
MC: I completelyacknowledge my origins. Charleroi is an aspiring city, a city that encourages entrepreneurialism, and where no-one holds you back. I grew up with “Rockerill’”. That’s where I learned electronic music. This underground universe offered fertile soil for our creativity. Unlike the studios based in Paris, we have an enviable quality of life and liberty. Many of our young co-workers specialising in 2D and 3D come from the Haute École Albert Jacquard in Namur. Today, thanks to agencies like ours, they can see a future that doesn’t require working at Pixar. That’s great for them.
TLmag: You work on and with prestigious projects and clients. What do you still fantasise about?
MC: We are very lucky today; our clients give us complete carte blanche. So why not dream of participating in the Olympics? I am also increasingly interested in stage design. I would like to work more on my projects that mix mapping and choreography using real dancers, not simply virtual characters.