CRITICS

Title: Marco Bolognesi, Techno Mutant
Author: Giacomo Daniele Fragapane
Year: 2019

1. As Sartre writes, “the object in the image is never anything more than the consciousness that one has of it”. (Sartre 1940-2007: 27). The concept of “reference” in photography therefore has to do with virtual relationships at least as much as with physical entities that really exist in space and time. This opens up a paradox: in its constitutive dimension, the virtual would seem to be by definition something unphotographable. This is already true at a very elementary level. When an imaginary reality is translated into the language of photography – as in Marco Bolognesi’s work – it is in fact also denied as such by the very act of recording it on the sensitive medium. On a more philosophical level, that of RV is an experience that is literally impossible to document, since it does not take place and is given only within the mind of those who perceive it. Every relationship between technique and representation is outlined within a historical dialectic. As far as photography is concerned, the end of the analogue era is in fact the product of the new social and cultural structures of the globalised world, of which virtual images, with their indeterminateness and pragmatic polyvalence, with their anaesthetic and hallucinatory potential, fully express ambiguity and complexity. The current gap between a framed vision and a constructed vision, and between the relative spectator models, drastically sanctions the sedimentation of the hermeneutic potential of the photographic visible in increasingly rigidly controlled schemes (starting from the control and telesurveillance systems investigated by Michel Foucault) and inscribed in social rituals, productive, mass aesthetic – in a speech in 2008 published on Bolognesi’s website, Alberto Abruzzese interpreted his work in the sense of “goods fetishism” and a logic of “total depravity”. The massification of visual perception corresponds to the dematerialization of the iconic sign and of the tools for the production of images, but above all to the imposition of real “standards of vision”, of predetermined scopic configurations corresponding to precise sections of the market divided by social or economic status, according to innumerable interweaves between mainstream logic and elitist dimensions of seeing.
In this sense, the problem of the post-human mutation triggered by the hybridization between the biological and technological planes, at the centre of a vast theoretical, artistic and intellectual debate that marked the last decades of the 20th Century, appears to us today as something disturbingly concrete, if we consider it in geopolitical terms. For example in the terms proposed by Arjun Appadurai in a recent reflection on “violence in the age of globalization”, which is worth reporting (also in the light of the workshop at the Macro Asilo that Bolognesi imagined in parallel to this exhibition): “In the most diverse ways, globalization intensifies the potential of this explosive mutation, so that the natural basis that all collective identities pursue and presuppose is constantly threatened by the abstract affinity that binds the categories of “majority” and “minority”. Planetary migrations across and within national borders constantly undermine the glue that holds people together with soil and land ideologies. The global flows of media and sometimes commoditized images of the self and the other increase an archive made up of hybrids that increasingly blur the clear lines that should delimit identities on a large scale” (Appadurai 2017: 170).
2. In an interview carried out by Sky Arte in 2014, on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition Sendai City: to the End of the Future, at the Kunst Meran museum, Valerio Dehò defined Marco Bolognesi – referring both to his complex installation and multimedia operations and to the underlying narrative and iconographic themes of his artistic production – as the contemporary visual artist closest to the deep conceptual core of Cyberpunk culture. That is to say, the idea, as it was theorized in 1984 by William Gibson in Neuromante, of a total, definitive, irremediable interpenetration between man and machine. It is significant then that in the same interview Bolognesi claims the deeply artisan nature of his artistic work, which originates from drawing and sketching, collage and editing, archaic practices, if compared to the futuristic scenarios that his work interrogates and unveils.
The “mode of production” in which Bolognesi works is very similar to that of a film factory. His is above all a directing operation aimed at creating a world that is clearly virtual, completely imaginary, yet offered to the viewer as a concrete, tangible metaphor of the real one – a metaphor, especially in comparison with the preparatory sketches, strangely hyper-realistic, in the large print formats, in the meticulous scanning of the biological and technological plots revealed by artificial light. After all, light is the real medium of the work: it acts as an intermediary between the mental image and the digital sensor and sculpts that strange hybrid between body and sign that is make-up, which, paradoxically, is entrusted with the task of standardizing the physical surfaces reproduced, giving credibility and realism to almost pretentious objects, such as toy weapons or microchips grafted onto bodies, the stigma of a violence and a principle of surveillance now irreparably introjected.
At the origin of each image, as a rule, a serie of drawings that in turn rework personal intuitions and visions – as well as different readings, between philosophy and narrative, and long cinematic frequentations, between mainstream and genre science fiction – within an imaginary that offers itself as a direct filiation of the one elaborated at the end of the last century by the Cyberpunk culture complex. Such a way of production short-circuits upstream any immediate idea – i.e. not problematic in relation to its underlying reasons, which involve issues of an aesthetic, ethical and philosophical nature – of a direct relationship between the photographic image and its referent in the world. First of all, because there is no phenomenally tangible “world” to refer to, if not to the author’s imaginary world, with its mnestic and psychological significance and the complex network of relationships within which the work takes shape from the various intellectual figures with whom Bolognesi has collaborated and discussed his projects over time (among them at least Bruce Sterling and Vivienne Westwood), to the troupe that actively assists him in their realization.
The Techno Mutant series unfolds an imaginary that is both playful and dystopian, where the mutant figures, techno-biological hybrids, hieratically pose rising from the darkness like Black Stars; each of them is in fact given the name of a star and to this metaphor Bolognesi connects a reflection on the possible “hope of change” in a world that has become hostile and uninhabitable. It is a “dense” imaginary (Ryle-Geertz) by definition, i.e. composed, articulated, full of latent and subterranean implications, openly mindful of Giger’s figures and Ridley Scott’s narrative universes, but which also reverberates in a more implicit form, in the fixity of the glances, in the almost sacral rigidity of the postures, in the attribution of a narrative and identity role to the objects grafted on the bodies, the “surreal” approach to the human figure and to the investigated situations of photographers distant in time and very different from each other, such as Penn, Saudek, Leibovitz, Mondino, Lindberg, Lachapelle and Olaf.
The visualization process articulates a workflow that gives body to the mental images first through the craft phase of drawing; then through a complex work of make-up, set up and lighting; finally, sifting the image at the same time in the viewfinder of the camera and on a monitor placed next to the set. Unlike Bolognesi’s previous works, once the photograph has been taken – underlines the author – with the exception of the basic post-production operations, there is no digital manipulation, so that the image preserves and displays the traces of its work, like a sort of umbilical cord that keeps it anchored to the “real” world within which it was formed and to which it still requires, despite everything, to give meaning.

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