CRITICS

Title: A Dialogue on Marco Bolognesi
Author: Bruce Sterling and Jasmina Tesanovic
Year: 2012

Bruce Sterling: Jasmina, Marco Bolognesi has such an unusual approach to his artwork, I think we should write about him in some different, more provocative way than just some standard essay. Maybe as a dialogue between us?

Jasmina Tesanovic: I said that first, but I said it because of that male-female duality that I see in Marco’s work. We should pull out the secret voice from our own long electronic correspondence. It’s a dual, intimate voice created by technical means. Maybe that can express the strangeness of what he does.

Bruce: I am struck by this cyberpunk aspect of the deliberate meshing of human flesh and technology. In Marco’s case, it is generally the human flesh of rather attractive London models. It’s exhilarating to see cyberpunk aesthetics deployed in the circumstances of European haute couture.

Jasmina: I never cared too much about cyberpunk in and of itself, but after reading your book “Holy Fire”, as a feminist I must say that I love the way a cyberpunk approach can treat women, models or not. They are treated with care and understanding, their eternal desire is externalized in a noncommercial representation. I see that here, too.

Bruce: Marco’s new exhibit seems to be about cities and the flesh of women. That’s a trope that also appears in one of my novels, “Schismatrix,” in which a post-human woman literally embodies a future city. The question that novel poses is whether this non human entity, this former woman, is still a person. She’s no longer a woman, but is she somebody that the book’s protagonist can have an intimate relationship with? Is it possible to be the same person you once were, even if you are no longer human?

Jasmina: Disembodying a patriarchally-constructed woman’s body and repossessing it as a free territory is exactly what we feminist artists do all the time. Sometimes technology and tech-art helps us understand how many of those “natural” aspects of a woman’s being are arbitrary, and non-functional. There is no such thing as an eternally same personhood, in any gender or condition. We are mutants anyway, trying to be happy ones.

Bruce: I agree with you that this attitude has some deep roots. It is very common to represent nations through the embodiment of women. For instance, “Italia” is symbolized as a pretty young woman with a city-like Italian castle on her head. I never look at “Italia” without wondering exactly how this castle-structure fits on Italia’s head. Italia can’t remove her castle like a pretty hat, because Italia is a nation, not a woman. Italia is a nation of fortified cities. So how can you part the woman from the architecture? If she appears without the castle, she’s clearly no longer “Italia.”
How much of our own personality is dependent on our nationality, on the city in which we live? Aren’t we all generated by our cities, in much the same way that we are generated by our gender roles?

Jasmina: Well, we must be generated by something. I don’t mind the infrastructure, I just cannot take for granted the Godlike aspect that forces one, unique possibility on our multiracial, multi-whatever, human and beyond-human possibilities… If we knew who we really were, and where we came from, or where we were going, we would not be having so much trouble — or so much fun living and creating possibilities. I think of Calvino’s “City of Women”: that’s a nice approach to cities embodied as women. As opposed to women as national icons, crushed by castles on their heads and glued to pedestals from which they cannot step down, but can be only blown to pieces. In every big patriotic iconic painting of national warfare, you see a nude dead body of a beautiful young woman. Now, what’s that all about?

Bruce: One interesting aspect of being married to a foreigner is seeing is how much of your own personality is generated by your nation, and by your cities. The Jasmina Tesanovic of Beograd is so different from the Jasmina living in Austin and Turin that these women deserve different names. And the same goes for oneself. You discover that the foreigner who loves you also loves aspects of your society, of your city, that you yourself find corny or embarrassing. Then you realize that these things must be part of you, in some way. You can take the cowboy out of Austin but you cannot take Austin out of the cowboy.
I sense that the same goes for Marco Bolognesi and Bologna. He is working in London with British models, but he is obviously very Bolognese. He really understands cyberpunk, but he is taking it into conceptual areas where only a Bolognese artist could have put it.

Jasmina: Italians are deeply superficial. The skin is the most sensitive part of their bodies, the esthetics the most creative language of their culture. But Marco has also been involved in political esthetics of the “anni di piombo” in Italy, of Bologna, of those violent, still legally unresolved cases of state terrorism that one cannot talk about with a calm and distant perspective. That part of Italianity is also sine qua non of every Italian contemporary artist, whether he works in London or Bologna.

Bruce: I agree that the trauma of Bolognese political struggle is never far from the surface in his work. One thing I always notice about the city of Bologna is that it has the prettiest policewomen in the world. You have these stern figures of urban authority, with uniforms, batons and guns, and yet they are gorgeous, fit young woman with long hair and painted nails. There are swarms of them. That city is heavily policed. When you meet “Bologna,” the legal force of the city is personified is this cute and dainty person who will nevertheless shoot you and put you in jail.

Jasmina: I never noticed those women, how strange! For me Bologna speaks of Pasolini and Carlo Lucarelli, the second being the colaborator and pal of Marco. This aspect of Marco’s work, of being connected to a noir mystery writer, does not surprise me. Italian pulp mystery fiction has a big tradition, and an impact on all Italians: “cronaca nera” speaks about Italian life more than about Italian death. But yes, every day, Italian media features some murdered young Italian girl as breaking news. Murdered Italian girls are hugely glamorized, as if they mattered more than wars and mass disasters.

Bruce: On the subject of Pasolini, we should mention Marco’s short film “Black Hole.” This is a science fiction movie, and it is clearly about three themes: it is about the cyberpunk idea of being absorbed by an artificial intelligence, of losing yourself to a cyberspace. It’s also about the physics concept of slipping out of the universe by being devoured by a black hole, literally leaving our space/time. It’s is also about the dark appeal of bondage and domination, the fatal attraction of a transgressive orgy. The movie treats these three different things as if they are all somehow the same thing. Rather like J. G. Ballard’s insight in his book “Crash” — that car consumerism, car-crash fatalities and psychopathic sex in cars are somehow darkly united. One somehow feels that Marco’s intuition must be right, that they are somehow all black holes, at least if we, as human beings, get close enough to such things. That little film is really a tribute to his sensibility. I respect that very much.

Jasmina: Well, now that you say that, I knew Pasolini, and worked with him until the days that he was violently killed and run over by a car. Until this very day, I cannot unite the aspect of Pasolini, as a kind, modest and tender guy, with some of the dark, savage movies he made. That is, I can do that, but I cannot approve of the way people identify his cruel murder with something he himself sought and dreamed of, as if that were part of a grand plan.

Works of art that talk honestly about raw aspect of our human nature are actually a tender way of letting off the steam in a repressed society. All societies are about order and repression, not just Catholic ones. Science fiction writers, who do have many extreme ideas, seem to me the most tender and sensitive people of the bunch. You rarely see science fiction writers engaged in repressive politics or organized violence. They can be fierce, but they seem to embody a different sensibility with their own skin.
Bruce and Jasmina: It seems that this is all we have to say. We are very much interested to see what Marco Bolognesi does next!

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