CRITICS

Titolo: A City to Behold from Inscape to Humanescape – An Interview by Anita Tania Giuga to Marco Bolognesi
Author: Anita Tania Giuga
Year: 2012

If I tell you that the city toward which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time,
now scattered, now more condensed, you must not believe the search for it can stop.
(I. Calvino, Invisible Cities)

Multimedia artist, whose modularity runs from drawing to painting, from cinema to photography, from graphic novel to video. Marco Bolognesi (Bologna, 1974) is a Londoner in Bologna and a Bolognese in London. Many of his projects aim at a variation on the theme of the mutant organism (simulacrum). These female bodies modified by makeup are, in some way, presented like insects under glass. From here the ambiguous cyborgs, opera personalities, who live in parallel, possible future worlds.
An aesthetic condition characterised by his debt to science fiction literature lies at the centre of this new project, Humanescape, and provokes some questions of pressing topicality.
“How do we place the citizen within his increasingly tight-fitting yet exponentially complex world? Living together, how do the impoverishment of the social condition, the (de)constructions and constraints that surround him, influence his feelings?
How does the individual relate to a regulatory system that is increasingly distanced from reality? Does he feel creator or oppressed, protagonist or marginal? Is he a participating observer or does he merely use the territory passively? What does losing the prosody that has characterised it as far as modernity mean?” From this Bolognesi, like a sociologist used to multi-disciplinary investigation, produces his “human views”.
Calvino in Invisible cities had already paved the way for a similar reflection, on the paradigm of the continuous city; on the articulated, non-linear function that links citizen and environment. Almost an appendix to the travel diary; an exploration aimed at skirting the city as a metaphor: the last bastion of individual and collective synthesis, placed within a plural architecture.
Calvino warned: “[…] there are already many books that prophecy catastrophes and apocalypses that it would be redundant to write another one [..]”; although he admitted: “[…] The image of the megalopolis, the continuous, uniform city also dominated my book.”
Basically, ethics is also a learned model that, first and foremost, aims to give order to the world, determining itself from the familiar entourage and widening its horizons almost concentrically, to the social and economic milieu.
“We are what we see? And if that is so, how do we observe this landscape that regards us? Do we exercise the souplesse that is demanded of us?”
It would seem that around this panoptican machine revolves the capital and also explicit question of Humanescape: in its ultra-structured internal collectors, in the proposal of a visual sum of an interior scenario, in the use of philosophical grammars which place the human back in a central role. However, “seeing” is the result of intimate cooperation between high conceptual organisations and horizontal sensorialities.
Bauman is particularly referred to by Bolognesi, as the champion of a precise reading of the Spirit of the time.
Contrary to Calvino, in his writings the Polish sociologist privileged an apocalyptic perspective, aiming to get to the heart of the factors of degradation concerning the society we live in. Outlining us as monads without a community; thus de-territorialised, evaporated and de-somatized.
Bauman summarised these social trends more than twenty five years ago, talking already of “liquidity”. He in fact wondered whether this constituted a new form of social order which was being created or rather a transitum in the direction of an imponderable future. The West has abandoned all utopist aspirations; the arrogant attempt to found a perfect [social] order. Although, this ambition has in the past led to fatal solutions. Even the metaphor of the garden, which is almost a trope meaning a harmonious, orderly society, hides the threat of totalitarian beaching.
Power, in a sociological perspective made of flows, no longer controls Politics and, at the same time, public Power tout-court has, precisely, vanished. Humanescape uses a certain type of descriptive language, linked to a question of a totally different nature, dear to Deleuze: “What can a body?” (1978-81). The artist responds by outlining an “illustrative phenomenology”, characterised by large format dioramas, with at the centre giant, bald female figures; painted completely in white. These fetish-women (or landscape-women) forced into poire d’angoises, make Nudity immobile, painful and, in a certain way, transcendental. We find ourselves facing the condition that Agamben reads in the works of Vanessa Beecroft (The Lost Dress of Paradise. A Theology of Nakedness: Vanessa Beecroft’s Performance in Berlin): a fall, a non-event, of the body “dressed in flesh”, which takes place by the pretext of an atmosphere of fake joy, or civil disorder, summarised in a fictitious landscape, tampered with by the entropy deriving from human activity.
“In our culture, nudity is strictly bound to a theological meaning”, says Agamben; thus the bodies portrayed by Bolognesi seem tableaux vivants. Martyrs in the garden: goddesses in the world of the post-fall, populated by helpless plastic hominids, circulating in a chaotic underwood of industrial work. The algid, masterful figures thus seem, by way of contrast, angelical and orating, dislocated in the centre of the image and out of scale, perhaps specifically to theatricalise the liberation from an effigy of oppressing, grotesque matter.

Anita Tania Giuga: The creative dimension you have matured over the years puts together aesthetics and design; yours is not a process linked to the photo, the film or the book, but rather the creation of a universe populated by characters — cybernauts — who in Humanescape abandon their glossy, Fashionist style, and move into an interior, mechanical and micronised landscape, where everything is false, coloured and alienating, in some way grotesque; what pushed you in this new direction?
Marco Bolognesi: I often find myself starting to work on a project while I am still finishing another one; it is a way of filling the void of conclusion. A way of exorcising the fear of death. But it is also a natural process, as ideas and research which generate it require a period of incubation, when the new becomes a character in my world. During the genesis of an embryo project, I feed on images, films, music and readings, as diverse as possible. Through this enormous discordance, something starts to germinate, and the vibrations lead to the formation of the matrices of this discordance which comes to the fore. Contrast and association of ideas, this is my creative dimension. Until now, most of my efforts have been concentrated on the definition of characters; the “mutant identities” which would have populated the Bomar Universe, the iconographic universe in which all my production is enveloped. With the short film Black Hole, and then with Protocollo, I had started on a narration around those characters; my “frankensteins” had started to come to life and become autonomous. Humanescape thus marks a turning point, it springs from the need to no longer concentrate the objective on the characters of the galaxy I generated alone, but rather to start making all that surrounds them visible too; placing the mutants in a precise space and place. From here the analysis of a broader path, a cross over between my biography, which has undergone great changes, and a synthesis of the research carried out over the past few years. A change of viewpoint has taken place. As in a long take, I moved the focus, I directed it onto interior landscapes, allowing an existential reflection to emerge on life and society we live in today.
Anita: Bruce Sterling cites your urban backdrop as a matrix of that political taste that animates the “worlds” that you build with a sophisticated internal maquillage. You love science fiction and its morphological characteristics, which translate into a shifted political incursion, on society and its dystopias, its dissimulated totalitarianism, its Imperialist drifts. How does the social dimension enter your post modern semiosis, in your use of photography mutated by fashion, and yet becoming a tool of investigation and representation of counter-factuality?
Marco: Being born in Bologna, where the walls themselves transpire history and tell of political struggles, certainly influenced my viewpoint. It would have been impossible not to have absorbed the essence of this city. Despite the fact that I was never involved in political parties or movements, I was born in the Seventies, and therefore protests, sexual liberation, political extremism and terrorism were topics that impregnated the world I lived in. Although I was only a child, I interiorised and assimilated them. Then I moved to London for ten years, and there I discovered a broader, more cosmopolitan world. I found a committed, socially active artistic community. At this crossroads of experiences and different worlds, an artist tackles contemporary social issues and is presented to the public not only as the one who creates an artcraft, but rather as a subject who, through art, attempts to do politics; offering new stimuli to the surrounding society with his provocative viewpoint. This has become one of the principles of my way of working. I use science fiction to build “unreal” worlds. Because, paradoxically, this allows me to anchor myself to the present. Not only in the story can I underline the germs of social conflict, global emergencies or the degeneration of the current power system, bringing all this to extreme consequences, thanks to science fiction I can create a metaphor of the present reality, abstracting it from incidental references and projecting it into a hypothetical future. In Humanescape this is what I do, placing the white figure at the centre of the image, as a simulacrum of the individual imprisoned in her absurd dreams of a plastic world, with its perfect yet grotesque features. The chosen topics are contemporary, they run from the workers protesting on the crane to the drama of waste and illegal landfills; from the protests during the G8 to the subtle and less noisy everyday hypocrisy.
Anita: Cyberpunk: London and Bologna, camouflaged meat and plastic landscapes. The body as landscape. A graft that is widely used in your photographs, instantly becomes Stimmung: investigation of man and his reference environment. Tell us about the genesis of the last cosmogony with a goddess-woman at the centre.
Marco: The original idea was certainly to overturn the concept of landscape; in which the place is the protagonist. I asked myself: “Are we individuals places? Do we, maybe by necessity, generate our world and our reality?” And so I began to think of a landscape of people; to be created starting with people. An image in which the female figure dominates, the creator of all that surrounds her. And in these terms, the figure could only be a giant one. My cinematographic reference is a science fiction classic called “Attack of the 50 foot woman”, a 1958 film by Nathan H. Juran. This B-movie is part of the cinematographic genus that in the Fifties explored the issue of gigantism. The director however, rather than giving his anti-hero the monkey-like features of King Kong, or those of a Godzilla-like dinosaur, decided to represent his monster with human characteristics. They were all colossal monsters fighting against a small, defenceless civilisation, but in this film the destructive force was placed in the hands of an attractive woman.
The female figure began to be emancipated also from minor roles, becoming the star and incarnating the qualities of attractiveness, supernaturality and high size, those features that Cyclops boasted in Homer’s time. In my reference world — cinema, comics and the many manifestations of the Pop culture —, I was attracted firstly by Giganta, a character from DC Comics, who featured in the adventures of Wonder Woman as her sworn enemy; thereafter, among the characters of the recent animation film Aliens & Monsters, the much more light hearted Ginormica.
In addition to all this, my very strong interest in toys and a particular attention for those artists who use miniatures and micro-worlds in their works. In this respect I would like to mention Microworlds, a recently published book in which Marc Valli and Margherita Dessanay gather the reasoned iconography of dozens of works, informing us of the existence of a large group of artists (including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Akiko Ikeda and Nicholas Cobb), who create miniature “worlds” to express a new sense of living, in an historical period in which everything is changing and transforming very rapidly.
Anita: Paolo Fabbri defined the new artistic conduct as “the aesthetics of remix”. A recycling, if you allow me to use the term, which builds the image of the reactivation and reuse of previous figures, intervening with a sophisticated, decisive technology for the end result. In this regard also the mash-up technique, a demolition that heralds re-adaptation, is used. Do you think you have anticipated the multi-disciplinary dimensions that offer the opportunity for the perennial mutation of the imagination itself, allowing it to perceive holes and openings?
Marco: I have always been interested in the concept of manipulation and remix: one of the characteristics that is common to all my work is precisely the use of collage, both to mix images and techniques and media. I am curious about the new that springs from transformation, beyond the technical means that incarnates it. I am extremely interested in Transgenic Art (or genetic art, Biotech or Bio art), in the manipulations that Orlan does with her own body, as well as the historicised collages of the works of Max Ernest or John Heartfield’s political photomontages. From the first collages on boards to those done on models’ bodies — when I lived in London — to my latest work Humanescape, my productions have always been manipulations; a “genetic” change of objects and subjects, their origins, and the impulse to become something else. In this sense my universe is “Post Human” (a term coined by the critic Jeffrey Deitch way back in 1991): cyborgs and beings that go beyond the concept of human are themselves merely another form of manipulation. All this is not science fiction, possible future fantasy. We already live with human beings who through medical technology have had prosthetic organs and limbs implanted; the concept of being human in its traditional understanding is changing, as is the universe we live in. The technological and economic modifications of the past decades have for me brought the need to find an appropriate language, a new expressive form that, starting from the mixing and manipulating of what we are, allows me to continue to represent a world that changes very quickly; often much quicker than is illustrated in the field of “cultural manipulation”.
Anita: Your way of producing icons feeds on reality. Reality modified piece by piece. Your Inscapes are built in the studio, and are thus artificial and false. In the name of the Body, a Body that is always female, ahistorical, not functional, a body outside of the news yet however adapted. Yours is a tech-humanist world, populated by snow-white ultra-matriarchs, whose metaphysical bodies are silhouetted in clear contrast to the Gulliverian sub-world, imperfect and precipitated in the accidental and the caricatural. Modelled by the artificial colours of plastic and Meccano. What drives you to choose this high mimetic index stripped of surprises and a reality that is rebuilt like a plastic model?
Marco: All my recent works have been done in the studio. A privileged place in which I can weave together the many strands of the cocoon which, after long reflection and careful pondering, the creation of sketches and the intricate study of details, can be transformed into a butterfly that leads the way to the actual production.
This process is so long that, as you can imagine, room for improvisation is very limited.
For this work in particular, I accentuated the characteristics of artificiality and pushed myself into a territory that I had never explored before: I refer to fiction, almost mockumentary (a false documentary inspired, in my case, by newspaper articles), which exploits the morphology and expressive features of toys. First of all I sought those elements that bound my character, which could build the structures around her. I was certainly well aware of Chris Burden’s installations A tale of two cities from 1981, made using 5000 toys, or again the more recent installation Foot truss bridge from 2003, assembled with dozens of modular pieces of steel. Concerning the first, I was charmed by the unusual use of the toy, present both in the Chapman brothers and all that current of artists who are attentive to their contextualisation in its broader sense, for reproducing reality. The second installation drove me to look for the key element that would emulate the concept of structure, which was to generate a kind of scaffolding, yet at the same time resemble a mechanical or industrial form. Meccano did this for me, but I was not satisfied with the latest plastic version of the toy. I wanted to find the one from the Fifties, with its metal rods, aesthetically closer to my idea of revisitation of an object belonging to previous generations. A toy that was launched on the market in the early 1900s, was popular between the Thirties and the Sixties, used by children to play out their dreams of becoming adults and building the world of today.
So, all the elements I used to fuel this make-believe were hunted out to remember that kind of toy, which was practically handed down through the generations, like the Seventies-style dolls’ houses or the Eighties’ green lawns made from plastic footballs or the Lego trees I used to play with as a child. And I breathed life into all this, adding a population of Lilliputians, inspired firstly by architectural models and even more by elements of model making. I photographed all this piece by piece and then assembled it digitally, as if I was following the same method used to create one of my first works, when I cut out photographs to recreate another world. Here, twenty years on, reality revisited becomes a form with excessive colours, plastic and metal, which contrasts the humanity of flesh.

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