CRITICS

Title: Geiko: The Silence That Shouts
Author: Nicoletta Vallorani
Year: 2008

Traditionally, the human world has been divided into men and women. Women are the cause of human suffering… Men have tried to get rid of their suffering by altering this; first by changing women; second, when this didn’t work because women are stubborn creatures, by simply lying, by saying that women live only for men’s love.
Kathy Acker, Don Quixote (1986)

They are bodies. That is what we see. Bodies gathered in succession, against a harmonious background which pursues – with numerous ellipses – a coherence which has little to do with photography per se, but that is artistic and visionary. Bodies branded, all of them, directly on skin or through the decorative objects they wear. These objects are not there to act as a cover, what they do is to convey meaning and transform the womanly figure into language. Individually the geiko bodies unveil a fatal incompleteness, a deliberate loss of totality, one that is charged with meaning: veiled faces, missing or tied up arms, just a face, as described earlier, instead of a body that represents comforting totality. Together they tell a story, a story which is about women.
A body, writes Tobin Siebers1, is the place where human culture starts and finishes. Judith Butler, in “Bodies That Matter”, describes this, in more prosaic terms: it is the object of a multitude of discussions that accumulate, contaminate and cross-fertilize with contemporary art. Art discovers a medium of unusual intensity in the representation of the female body, which more than anything else seems to be able to stand firm against any kind of normalization. Modified, re-modelled, re-sexualized and able to remain unaffected by the passing of time, yet highly sensitive to subjective time, the bodies of Bolognesi’s Geiko play on the dislocation of a recognized cultural icon, a feminine stereotype that has been widely marketed and as a consequence has been re-semanticized. In reality, there is not much that is stereotyped in Marco Bolognesi’s feminine profiles: what I would say is that they are temptresses launched into the real world, and that their “bait” is purely instrumental, the artistic vision lies elsewhere. His geiko, it would seem, do not exhibit their physical energy through the permanent foundations at the basis of feminine identity, they do through a transitory mask through which they filter social relationships and anthropological images.
A number of unnerving connections can be made based on this fundamental supposition. The bodies express themselves around two apparently opposing roles, but which in reality complement each other. These women are the executioners and victims. Be they active or passive, submissive or rebellious, they are hypostatized by a single and resolute gesture. They are bodies that become signs.
We begin with the veiled faces, places without an identity that evoke the mask of the warrior and/or terrorist. The executioner with her
hidden face holds a sword, and chooses an aggressive and lethal act in preference to the spoken word (which is, or can be, a resolution of a
conflict). The absence of features is like a silence that shouts. “The face”, writes Marco Belpoliti, “is the privileged part of the human body; it conveys the essence of a human being. But the face is also an “entity” with an individual make-up; our faces reveal our emotions and feelings, our innermost thoughts.
The face is “the mirror of the soul””2. Without a face we slide down a smooth cliffside, it conceals all signs of individuality which can turn her into a unique and original person rather than a type. The phenomenology (of the aggressive act) removes the ontology (the reasons behind the aggressive act). She has unsheathed the sword and is ready to wound, a warrior’s ritual depicted by Bolognesi in red and black, in a demonstrative and legible fashion. All exposed skin is vulnerable and reminds us of punishment.
If any trace of individuality appears to have been deliberately erased, the collective dimension is enhanced, albeit by implication, in the way
the images are represented and in their colours. The human body, states Foucault, can be understood only when it fits into a political system and when it is moulded by relationships of power. These first two geiko bodies are, literally, the strategic systems of which Donna Haraway talks. They are military icons that define highly mobile/changeable battlefields with strategic differences. They establish an invisible dynamic which takes greater hold in later images. Control over someone else’s body is an expression of social control which, through the pressure exercised by an individual, expresses coercive impulses. The aggression of the executioner is reminiscent of, as does her secret and indestructible companion, the inane passivity of the victim.
It is at this juncture that our discourse expands and becomes more complicated: the voiceless sufferer is not always silent. In 1992, Derek Jarman, dying of AIDS, and victim of a much publicized social and cultural censorship, produced Safe, an image of a cellophane wrapped body. The body is clothed in white and is set against a white background its skin tone and face catch the eye as a result of subtle chromatic variation. It is as though the gaping mouth is shouting out (a recurring theme found in the works of Munch which has been somewhat over exploited by others). Inanity and the impossible combine, very much like the sealed lips of Bolognesi’s Geiko: they are victims that refuse to remain silent, they use codes that have little to do with the spoken word. They create, in other words, intensely expressive visions, and are made up of an intensification of personal wisdom that we so often refer to as suffering. The concept is simple, linear and clear. The inflicted pain places the sufferer in a bubble where one can express basic feelings and primary reactions, a place where one finds it difficult to render oneself intelligible with language. Peter Brooks claims that the human body is a cultural construction, but that there is nothing pre-structured about pain and suffering and the eventual decline of the body leading to death: these are pre-verbal phenomena that touch living, defenceless flesh. The skin on display of the geiko, with her covered arms, is vulnerable. It can be read like a book, her face, with the hues and features of a mask where her skin disappears, erased by the white paste. She is armless, she cannot strike out. What we see is a body as an object, a visionary reformulation of a mannequin, without arms and a masked face, the icon in Dave McKean’s N[eon]. It is also a metonymic body where what is visible is not enough, because as it is incomplete and has been treated with disrespect, it is its identity that it translates.
For me personally, Bolognesi’s unfulfilled Geiko have the voice of Sara Kane in 4.48 Psychosis (1993)

Here I am
And there is my body

dancing on glass

In accident time where there are no accidents
You have no choice
the choice comes after

Cut out my tongue
tear out my hair
cut off my limbs
but leave me my love

I would rather have lost my legs
pulled out my teeth
gouged out my eyes
than lost my love.

And again, we hear a silence that shouts. And again, as in the beginning, the face is missing. The mask/makeup is constructed impassivity in a (deliberate?) display of the childish behaviour of the two geiko with arms interlinked and crossed over their chests for protection. It is the hands, in this instance, that tell a tale: the clenched fists and martial arts pose of one, the outstretched fingers and open palms of the other. Martial arts become sensually tempting. Their bodies seem to re-adapt themselves to a womanly stereotype, even though this adjustment is superficial.
The most significant and enigmatic chapter in the history of Bolognesi’s work lies in the two tattooed faces. They confute prospective, yet at the same time they close the circle. The face which was, in other work covered by a warrior’s mask, is now bare and in close up. And it can be read like a book. Hieroglyphics in white and then in black draw the contours of two parallel maps. There are no words. The code is illegible. Communication is achieved solely through emotion, not through cerebral thought. This is the most joyous kind of communication as it is purely visual. The history of these types of bodies that I have described is rich, particularly from the 90’s onwards. Many female artists have interpreted this theme (Jo Spence, with her dismembered bodies, particularly in “How do I begin to take responsibility for my body”, Jenny Saville in obese and grotesque bodies covered in words, Rosy Martin, Cindy Sherman, and many others). The common thread here is the female body with a voice, despite her expressive anomalies. The fact is that this voice speaks through uncodified channels and re-writes a patriarchal language. And it is this voice that writes on the human body. Many years ago a highly talented science fiction writer had dreamt up an alien covered in mysterious tattoos that were irresistible to men. In “And I Awoke & Found Me Here on the Cold Hill Side” (1971) James Tiptree Jr, with extraordinary foresight describes the enigma of a body belonging to “someone else”:
“She was fantastically marked and the markings were writhings. Not like body paint – alive. Smiling, that’s a good word for it. As if her whole body was smiling sexually, beckoning, winking, urging, pouting, speaking to me”.
Bolognesi draws the same mystery on the faces of the two geiko, enigmatically, and bestows us with his final denial: each face has a veiled identity, its message is a secret.

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