Title: The Characters of Orlando Furioso: Robots and Mutants, Manipulated Fighters. A conversation with Marco Bolognesi
Author: Sandro Parmiggiani
Year: 2014

My personal acquaintance with Marco Bolognesi and the attendance of his work are recent: they date back to the exhibition “Humanescape”, presented in the 2012 edition of Fotografia Europea in Reggio Emilia. Those ambiguous visions – the naked women, painted white, immediately seemed to me to be prisoners of a dark force that dominates them, but at the same time they are also “machines” that animate life and transmit movement, through the strength of their minds and the physicality of their still seductive bodies, to the teeming world at their feet – they immediately fascinated me, even if I have not managed to solve their many enigmas in time, since the cities conceived by Bolognesi seem to me to be placed on the thin ridge that separates the progressive construction from the incipient decay and destruction. Many are, in those scenes, the signs of a disaster and tragedy that announce themselves, despite the evidence of precise historical references, such as the season of Occupy Wall Street, the movement of protest against the domination of finance that arose in 2011. And I am fascinated by that work, by the many traits of art history itself: not only those mentioned in the conversation that follows, but also, for example, Saul Steinberg’s “The Bird’s Eye View” of American cities, always marked, as in Bolognesi, by a vision and moral tension.
The man Marco Bolognesi, whom I would have begun to meet and then, more and more assiduously, to frequent in the last year, when I chose to involve him in the project of the exhibition on Orlando Furioso and Ludovico Ariosto at Palazzo Magnani, has continued, throughout all this time, despite the spontaneous openness to others and the human warmth that characterizes him, to maintain a certain confidentiality on his so painful existential path, which in the conversation that follows is partly revealed, and partly deliberately kept silent. Beyond the unfolding of his life, Marco outlines, with clarity, the complex artistic project that he has conceived over time and that he is now trying to achieve, with the strength of will and the generous commitment of those who give themselves totally to make their dream come true, with the tenacious desire, which is immediately captured in him, to breathe life, not to lose any moment to know himself and the world, and to, daily, build one of the bricks of the building he intends to erect. Many of his works are passages from a hitherto unknown apocalypse, and the characters he has created, from Woodland to Orlando Furioso, bear on their bodies the results of the experience of those who, having had to immerse themselves in a story that has indelibly marked him, have become part of the myth; sometimes, since the first visions of his work, I happened to think of the atmosphere of The transformer, Lou Reed’s record released in 1972, with the characters that he said, in Walk on the wild side, you could meet when walking on a certain side of the road.
What Marco reveals in this conversation makes us understand not only his peculiar human experience and his artistic project in progress, but some deeper truths. To stay inside reality we need to follow the routes of unreality – even if he warns us that the distinction is now difficult to grasp -, to see the world inside us we need, as the Surrealists suggested, to close our eyes, stopping staring at what lies before us in the light and in the air, just as, to build our own sentimental education and outline our inner landscapes, we need to moderate our recourse to the word, not waste it. Like the women in Humanescape, the characters who, in Orlando Furioso, animate the siege of Paris, are mostly marked by white, which here contrasts with the pitch darkness that surrounds them with great force and drama. From the darkness come these bodies, these beings who have taken on the appearance of robots and mutants: they are a landing place, not a starting point. And even in front of Bolognesi’s works, so radically different from the tradition of so many pictorial and photographic images, I can’t help remember Giulio Paolini’s words of profound, exemplary truth: “Our gaze is mobile, precarious; that of the painting – if we wanted to attribute one to it – is fixed, immobile, it doesn’t move and doesn’t go off. The works look at us. It is they who look at us and not vice versa. The work does not speak but sees, it sees us at the very moment in which we believe we see it (1).“ Even the characters of Marco Bolognesi look at us, scrutinize us; are we capable of seeing them? Whoever sees himself portrayed in an image, acquires a greater, sharper awareness of his own identity; therefore, the ability to represent can lead to the ability to transform.

Sandro Parmiggiani: Let’s start from a distance: when it came to your mind, I don’t say the clear and definite idea of being an artist, but when you started to be aware that you were interested in some form of artistic expression, when did you realize that your destiny could be that of an artist?
Marco Bolognesi: I come from a family where you could breathe art: my maternal grandfather was an artist and my father delighted in it – he painted a bit Pollock style. So I grew up with colours as a means of expression: I was born in 1974, and already in primary school I dreamed of being an artist, even if I had a very particular childhood. Before that there was a period when I had a sort of mutism, and I only expressed myself with drawing. Then I suffered a very serious accident, as a result of which I became blind, and drawing became the means I used to tell what I couldn’t see. I did my first elementary school as a blind man; the endless series of surgeries began, 150 hours in total, with which they fixed my eyes (even though I can see with one eye), my face, my hands, one leg: this was my life from six to twelve years, a long life in hospital. What could I do but draw? I used to draw monsters, dragons – when I was a child I used to watch Japanese cartoons: Mazinga, Goldrake… When I started, after middle school, to do the art school I had a strong relationship with drawing and a desire to tell a world that had come building inside me. Unfortunately, my life was marked: before the accident I didn’t speak; afterwards, in the post-coma, I spoke continuously – it was my way of saying I was alive – and drew. I came to adolescence with a life marked by suffering, like that of certain adults, but totally inexperienced in relationships with my peers. As a teenager, I began to spend most of my free time from school attending courses or working as a painter’s assistant. It was my way of life, I kept drawing and trying to express a world of my own. In the photo you can see me with Elvio Mainardi, from Dozza Imolese – I was fifteen years old and while my peers in the summer went to the sea, on the Riviera Romagnola, I preferred to be a “apprentice” in the workshop of a painter; I went up to my parents in Monghidoro only in August, but in June, July and September I was a painter’s assistant, and I came home “white”… I learned to work with the airbrush, I had a lot of experience: I was now planning to be an artist. I met Alberto Sughi, I was in contact with Guido Crepax. I attended the School of Art in Bologna – my painting teachers were Costa, Di Bernardo, Mazzoli; I remember having had conflicts with some teachers, because I was struggling to follow the styles of others, but I was always trying to express my world.

Sandro: Unfortunately there are teachers who feel the need to produce clones, instead of helping students to discover and express the “hidden treasure” inside them…
Marco: I had this need to tell the things I saw and the things I felt, and so I expressed myself through photography and painting, mixing the two means of expression. In real life painting I had the problem of being monocle, and I could not perform, in real life drawing, that operation of closing one eye to look at an image well and then, when you have to bring it back into the drawing, open them both. In 1989 I started making my first paintings, presented in an exhibition; in 1994 I started making my first exhibitions, with every work of my poems next to them: the exhibition was reviewed by Roberto Roversi. I was twenty years old, and in the evening I frequented the taverns (L’Orsa, Montesino) at the neighborhood of Pratello: on Mondays, they organized cultural initiatives; I did small exhibitions and presented my poems. I also published a book, La cartamatta, a novel. After the art school I enrolled at DAMS, Art, music and theater Department of Bologna University, and in the meantime I started working at Cinecittà in Rome as an assistant to Daniele Lucchetti and as an assistant to various directors of photography; I met Nanni Moretti, I worked for a film for Domenico Procacci. I directed two animated films on the Bologna massacre, broadcasted by RAI: in 1997, at the age of 23, I was invited, out of competition, to the Venice Film Festival; in 1996 I went to the Giffoni Film Festival; I won other awards promoted by the Cineteca of Rimini and the Bologna Film Library.

Sandro: So, in your adolescence and early youth, drawing, painting, photography, cinema and literature mixed in your cultural education.
Marco: That’s how it is. I started writing screenplays. I did a screenplay course for the Province of Bologna, as a teacher, for mountain children. In the meantime, I had graduated from DAMS in Cinema Aesthetics with Luciano Nanni, with a thesis on Peter Greenaway, whom I also got to know – for me he is a reference artist. At the end of the Visioni cycle, I began another project, Levels, in which I merged photography and painting. I took a Master’s degree in fashion photography in Milan and started working on making books for actors. I went to Ravenna to follow the Teatro dell’Opera, and I started to invent an experience, the “fake books”, which I needed a lot: I had an idea for a living, because as an artist I didn’t sell very much, perhaps linked to the Roman experience, when I was a casting assistant on TV: many of these were voluntary experiences, for which I wasn’t paid, but I was interested in learning. Some opera singers would tell me: “I want to do Nabucco, I want to play this particular character”, and I would look for a theatre that did Nabucco, set up a scene and take pictures on stage as if that singer had really played him in some official play. I would recreate the staging, and I had to deal with the same issue of make-up, looking for skilled make-up artists.

Sandro: What you are telling me largely explains how you came to the cycles of your works in recent years, where there is, before the photo shooting, a staging, the makeup of the models…
Marco: Sure. I used to go to the Ravenna Festival and take photographs; I collaborated with a German newspaper that dealt with Italian culture. I followed Dario Fo for his show Lu santu jullàre Francesco (Francis jester of God).
Sandro: All this before your transfer to London…
Marco: I went to London in 2001. I couldn’t find space either in Bologna or in Italy. I thought at the time that the fashion sector was the one where I could combine work and art – I had met, before moving to London, Maurizio Galimberti, collaborating with him, the critic Roberto Mutti, who advised me to go abroad, because my work was “not very Italian”, Nino Migliori, Mario Cresci, as well as the film directors known in Rome, and the workers who worked in films, such as Italo Petriccione, director of photography for Gabriele Salvatores, who at the time shot Nirvana, a film that told me I could express myself in Italy. There was actually a project to make a short film with Stefania Rocca. I met my ex-wife and we decided to go and live in London. I started making various experiences there and in 2003 I won the Artist in Residence Award, organized by Mario Fortunato, and so I did my Woodland exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute in London. But this exhibition didn’t seem to produce what I expected at first: I spent the following year in limbo, and even found myself washing dishes in the hospital. My qualification as a photographer was too creative or not as technical as they wanted me to be; in the meantime I joined the Association of London Photographers and took part in an exhibition of theirs; I was well reported, but I didn’t seem to make the leap, despite sending my resume to many galleries around the world. In the end I was proposed to do an exhibition in Bologna, in the gallery opened by Daniela Facchinato, who liked my polaroids: she decided to bring one to Arte Fiera in 2005. I met Nino Migliori, who appreciated my work, and I met Flavio Favelli. Facchinato asked me to take some photos at the Hotel Corona in Bologna, because there was no agreement with the photographer Vittorio Gui, who took pictures of roses on a black background for the Forni Gallery. La Facchinato saw my white roses on a white background and bought me thirteen of them. It was my first paid job; I quit my job as a dishwasher. At Arte Fiera I met Franco Riccardo, gallery owner in Naples, who introduced me to Martina Corgnati, who among my photographs saw the ones with the zip, with the zipper, taken in 2003, and brought those images to the Biennale Giovani at the Serrone of the Villa Reale in Monza, where they had an incredible success, so much so that the press office complained to the newspapers, having had covers on Repubblica and Il Corriere della Sera – it was not a personal exhibition, but a group one. I started working with Franco Riccardo, who exhibited my photos at the fairs in Turin, Bologna and Naples, with unexpected sales successes. In Bologna I met Paolo Nanni, who in 2006, advised by Dino Gavina, organized the Woodland exhibition in his gallery: collectors like Piero Gnudi arrived and Gavina became my great sponsor. From 2006 to 2008 I sold one hundred and thirty photographs. I also entered the Carini Gallery and the one in Santo Ficara. In the meantime, when I exhibited at Artissima in Turin, I met the American gallery owner Cynthia Corbett, who took me to America and England, and I had a solo show in a large hotel in Trafalgar Square in 2006. My ex-wife stopped working and became my agent; I had four people working with me. The photos were paid a third of the sale price, which was 8,000 euros. In 2008 the crisis began, which was soon felt also in art: some galleries closed, but I found an Anglo-Chinese gallery that took me to the fairs in Basel, Miami, Chicago. In America I was selling well – in the meantime I was preparing other projects – and my prices were rising.
Let’s take a step back. Between 2003 and 2005, during a period of great difficulty, I met Carlo Lucarelli, screenwriter of Domenico Procacci; I proposed him to do a project together, initially with polaroids, but he stayed there for years. In London, in my studio, there were people who worked on my projects, who kept in touch with me; I was inside the world of cinema in London, I was at 3 Mills Studios, I went to lunch with Tim Burton, because we were all there, I won an award in Florida at the Indie Film Festival for a science fiction short film, Black Hole. At first I wanted to do a lot of things: collage, drawing, fashion photography too, but I was realizing that in England it couldn’t be like that, it all had to be very “straight away”: I had to become the best in some segment. So I decided to create a world of my own, of science fiction, which I had always been passionate about – it’s obvious that those who stay in hospital for a long time or do the dishwasher have to think about the future, they have to be able to go outside…
To Lucarelli I said, “I have a world to offer you.” We were both passionate about comics, in particular Elektra Assassin by Bill Sienkiewicz, master of Dave McKean, whom I had met in London. With the studio I began to think that all the projects I was telling could be the chapters of a world, and he had to make a story out of them. The project started in 2003 and the book, published by Einaudi, was published in December 2009. There were important meetings in London: the brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman, of whom I am a great admirer; I knew Damien Hirst’s lawyer well (who told me how, after creating the circus careers, he dedicated himself to creating the “contemporary artist”) and Bansky’s public relations officer; the whole studio ended up acquiring the concept of the Factory – even the Chapmans had ten model-makers to do the installation with the toy soldiers. In fact, in 2003 I was inside an artists’ factory, about three hundred of them, in spaces like lofts, where the artists lived side by side in disused factories: we built wooden walls that separated the various studios, but we knew what everyone was doing. They were very creative moments, even if very disturbed. I needed this knowledge to outline the elements of a complex landscape; in the same way, working with Lucarelli, a lot of ideas were born about a sort of saga, a Cyber-Punk world where you see and don’t see, you see a reality that isn’t there – there were also autobiographical elements: being monocle I see differently from yours. I also wanted to be a political artist, who did politics with science fiction, like the Chapmans did politics with their toy soldiers, I wanted to talk about a despotic future, to take on that literary part of social science fiction. In England, unlike in our country, science fiction has a market, it’s a niche, if you like, but it’s quite large – in our country the readers of Urania were considered a bit of a carbonari, even at the time of its greatest success. I was also interested in oriental science fiction cinema, I was able to see the whole Tetsuo saga, The Iron Man, I was interested in Korean films, in particular Natural City, the cinema with mock-ups, the constructions. I had the chance to talk to people who made science fiction and ask myself: “I have this idea, how can I make it happen?”
Meanwhile, we’ve arrived at 2010. I was in Bologna, from January to March, to present the book with Carlo Lucarelli around Italy. One day I feel sick, due to an overload of stress, I go to the hospital in Bologna, and from there another phase in my life begin. I start divorcing my wife, which causes me enormous discomfort and a radical change in life. I am forced to leave London and come and live in Italy, leaving my house and my son, and closing my studio in London, even though it happens that my English gallery owner goes on maternity leave and closes the gallery for more than a year… I know, through friends, the city of Reggio Emilia, and I come to live there. In Italy the crisis is the most complete, Einaudi blocks the release of the second book that Lucarelli and I prepare in the meantime.
I have to “reinvent myself” a life. I’m in Reggio Emilia, a city that I don’t know, and I try to find a serenity. In June my English gallery owner sends me to participate in a group exhibition in Salzburg, in the Rudolf Budja Gallery: a great success; there I meet a girl, I move to Vienna and live there until January 2011, but it doesn’t work and I return to Reggio Emilia. I continue to go to London every two months, to see my son, so I continue to have relationships and friendships in London; in the meantime my assistants have found another job. My company is closed. With the help of these friends from Reggio Emilia, in 2012 I manage to do, at Fotografia Europea, the exhibition Humanescape, which was a great success: ‘Il sole 24 ore’ published an image on the cover. The exhibition then goes to Vienna, to the Eyes On exhibition, and ends at the Italy-China Biennale. In 2011 I presented Mock-up, the spaceship, at Palazzo Oberdan in Milan; I think to involve the various Italian science fiction directors in a tribute to Antonio Margheriti; in 2013 I meet Margheriti’s son, and then Davide Masi, set designer, model-maker, artist who collaborates with Luigi Ontani, who becomes my right-hand man and I start working thinking about the factory I saw at the Chapmans’. I can start thinking about doing something in cinema, because he had already worked with Antonio Margheriti, in his last film, Treasure Island. When I decide to make this film, I put together, in Reggio Emilia, the screenwriter Giuseppe Zironi and an animation studio in Milan, but then I realize that I don’t understand what I want and I change working group, so the film Blue Unnatural was born, which I just finished and which will be released at the exhibition at Kunst Merano. It’s an animated film, 30 minutes long, step 4, mixed media. Also in 2011 I met Valerio Dehò, who in 2012 organized a solo exhibition at the Galleria La Giarina in Verona, bringing to Italy installations (made, for example, with cardboard) that no one had ever seen, and that were known in America – in Italy you knew women with zippers or little else.
The exhibition Sendai City in Merano is a watershed in my career, like when the book Dark Star came out – I sent it to John Carpenter, who wrote and congratulated me. Now with Sendai City I’ve started to better outline this place, there’s a map, a city, a place, where you can touch this world that is for everyone, because it’s a sort of platform to which everyone can add pieces endlessly. The project of Orlando furious was born with you, which fascinates me. As I had done with Lucarelli, who I had brought into my world asking him to tell it, with Orlando Furioso I did the same thing. I took the poem and brought it inside Sendai City.

Sandro: In this case you worked on the Songs that narrate the siege of Paris…
Marco: At first I was thinking of creating some pictures of scenes; then I realized that it would be more interesting to work on the characters and let the audience have a vision of those Canti through my characters. I imagined that with the Canti’s characters people would imagine all the scenes: you could set that Canto dell’Orlando in all ages, because it’s never dated, it presents very contemporary themes. Angelica herself, the princess who always runs away and never gets engaged, doesn’t find the ideal man in a knight, but in a simple soldier: it’s a sign. I filmed the things that are important to me: collage, which means looking at a certain kind of science fiction – I filmed the enormous imagery of Tetsuo’s film, a certain vision of Punk, of an extreme body-art, in which the body is the canvas -, the concept that I have been carrying on since 2003, with the zip physically glued on the body – there is not the use of Photoshop in my images, which at most I use to clean some residual glue slime. The conceptual aspect is represented by the fact of gluing things on the body.

Sandro: So, in a way, you place yourself in the long, luminous history of collage, from Braque and Picasso with their collages of cards, to Enrico Baj who used a lot of things, including pieces of glass and mirror, fragments of construction toys…
Marco: At the beginning I used the collage on the canvas in my paintings: I used to glue on the painting drawings made with different techniques, then photographs, which I then painted; then I worked on the different collages which I then photographed with the polaroid; at the end, in the factory in London, where I worked in a small space, I started to take my small objects by gluing them on the body of a model. For Woodland, I also involved the set designer of the National Theatre to make some scenes. I worked with Vivien Westwood, with Alexander McQueen – I got a review of my work from the independent journalist.

Sandro: What was your message through the women of Woodland?
Marco: They asked me to prepare an exhibition with reference to fashion: the exhibition was in March, and in March there were fashion shows. I thought about doing a work on genetically modified beings and I took these fashion models, and some plants that I glued on their bodies – on the head of a bonsai – or women with zippers on which I glued petals: the concept was that of hybrids – human beings, to be something more, joined with plants: an idea not too far from reality if you think that the DNA of fish is inserted in the tomato or orange so that their fruits don’t rot. The concepts behind Woodland then exploded in all my subsequent work. To this day, if I were asked to present, in a portfolio, my path, I would have to prepare two: the one before Woodland, made of various projects, and the one that, starting from Woodland, arrives until today.

Sandro: Let’s talk about Humanescape, the exhibition you presented in the 2012 edition of Fotografia Europea in Reggio Emilia…
Marco: In the years I had been working on the portrait, I felt the need to work on the landscape as well. I began to think about how I could do it while remaining faithful to the fundamental aspects of my poetics: the woman and collage. Humanescape, for those who don’t have an in-depth vision of my work, may seem a very different work: in fact, there are many links with previous ones. It is a much more political work than those that came before – there are many social, contemporary themes. I based a lot on the toy, the Meccano in particular, as a basic element: I take my son’s toys, mine and my father’s, trying to give through this element of everyday life the idea of reality, and then I use digital collage, very detailed, thinking a lot about Flemish painting. This finally creates these Gulliver women, beings that I put inside the world of Cyber-Punk, which brings you into another world, makes you make a reflection. It was important for me, as an artist, to ask myself what’s around, otherwise you stay dancing all day on the portrait, on the figure, on the person.

Sandro: After all, they are views of the city…
Marco: I have a dream: to realize The Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and make it an exhibition. Maybe also because Calvino was among my first readings: The Path of Spider’s Nests, The Rampant Baron; thanks to Calvino I learned to read and understand certain things that are important, especially when you are abroad and you have detached yourself from the reality in which you have always lived.

Sandro: If I look at Woodland, Dark Star and your last work, Babylon Federation, cycles that unfold from 2003 to 2014, I find a sort of continuity in their formal outcomes, through the use of painting and collage on bodies: it’s as if you had happened in worlds unknown to us, had met certain characters and had portrayed them. With Humanescape you have instead gone into other territories: people are placed in a certain context, in an environment, strange, if you like, for the means you used to depict it…
Marco:This path is linked to my need, which originates in my passion for cinema, to move my characters, to show their secret stories. In the years from 1989 to 1994 I physically perceived the distance that existed between the real and the unreal. I began to paint over photographs, to create collages that used fragments of painting and photography – they were my first works of Visioni, putting together different things to tell this feeling that crept into me, even if it was not completely clear to me, like pieces of film that I was struggling to put together. When I started working in cinema, there were those who told me that I had a very personal vision and that I didn’t have to be an assistant director, but I had to consider myself an artist. I understood then that I could go back to making films with a very clear understanding of my world, the visions that were stirring inside me. I began to work in photography trying to outline first of all what would be the characters in my world, my actors. That’s when what fascinated me came into play: fashion, science fiction, cinema and comics. Once this path, in my opinion very linear, had almost ended, at a particular moment in my private life – the crisis of my marriage – I began to feel the need to tell my stories within a place, to return to the cinema. It was no coincidence that I made the film Black Hole at the time. And while I was making it, I was drawing sketches of Humanescape, and it always creates a mutual contamination. As it happened to me so many times, you make drawings, you put them in a folder that has its own title and then one day you feel the desire to reopen it, and you succeed in realizing that project, not only because certain productive-economic conditions allow it, but also because everything is now clear in your head, it has come to maturity. There are very clear references in my characters – a certain kind of cinema, a certain kind of science fiction, which I’ve just reprinted in my latest book, Babylon Federation, which in turn recovers a 2008 project.

Sandro: Many of your paintings and collages on these characters affect the organs of the senses: the eyes that make us see, the mouth that we talk to… Why?
Marco: I promised myself to move my characters, and they need to speak, to tell things. It’s not only about the intervention on the eyes and mouth, but also about the fact that what is in front of you is a genetically modified being. However, there is never pain: a zip closes their eyes, there may be things stuck in their skin, but nobody suffers, you don’t see drops of blood.
Sandro: So there is no cruelty; we are far away from the barbarities that muddy, degrade and upset the human condition every day…
Marco: There can be, if you want, a certain drama, but these women are deeply aware and proud to be something else. In this sense, my world is very much related to science fiction. Sure, I manipulate the semblances of these beings, but it’s something that I feel pervades our whole society: we are very manipulated beings, through the media, through education itself or certain aspects of religions.

Sandro: Let’s go back to Humanescape. When you talk about these identities of people who have become mutants, do you only refer to the physical aspect of bodies or even, as I think, to what we could call their sentimental education, their values?
Marco: What you call “sentimental education” is a huge problem. I realize it as a father: I suffer, in my current separation from my son, that I can’t help him every day to build certain values.
Sandro: You’re telling me that, after all, certain questions, even very important ones, we ask ourselves when life makes us walk along certain roads and reveals the deep sense of certain aspects that maybe, taken in the frenzy of our lives, we underestimate…
Marco: I think that you should always try to choose your life path, trying to follow it and finish it; this was also important to accept the tragedies. The experience of life leads you to ask questions, and you have to make sure that even the most negative things of your existence can be translated into positive things, that above all make you meditate on what you have done until that moment. Let me give you an example: I ask myself deeply the question of vision, because I was not born blind, but I had a period of blindness, and then I became monocular – for doctors, I have a residual visual capacity of fifteen percent. However, I paint, I drive a car and a motorcycle, so I go much further, because my head and my brain make up for the limits I have. This does not mean that I am not aware of it. It is no coincidence that I am involved in my women on two fundamental sensory points: sight and speech, which are very important. I too had a period in childhood when I didn’t speak, then a long period of coma; in the end, beyond the experiences of life, it is society itself that makes you wonder. An artist must, in my opinion, also pose himself in a political way in front of society, he must, while realizing his projects, have this vision in which your biography helps you to be more sensitive, you must use it to make your work raise questions.

Sandro: So, you’re not interested in aesthetics for aesthetics.
Marco: What you do must aim to make the user ask himself questions, just as you, artist, continuously ask yourself questions. Otherwise we would remain in craftsmanship: the repetition of things more or less the same for many times. I was asked why I didn’t continue to take photographs with women whose eyes are covered by zippers: I could continue to sell a lot of them and make myself a villa, but I would have felt like a craftsman. Instead, in your path, you have experiences, you say certain things, and then you continue on other paths, always within the path you have chosen to take.
Sandro: Let’s go back to Humanescape, and to your need to represent the landscape, to “set” your figures – I resort, so to say, to the traditional definition of “set figure”, so in vogue after the war, at the time of the Photographic Circles and their Awards, divided into sections. You told me that you wanted to finally show the worlds in which your figures moved, the places where they lived, to represent this alternative universe in your vision.
Marco: In this period I’m realizing the great project of Sendai City: not only landscapes, but a whole world made of cities, ways of living and believing. I built a sort of box in which to place all my figures. A landing place, but also a turning point that gives me the possibility to tell for the next fifteen or twenty years about the pieces of this almost infinite world. Humanscape is important because it breaks some patterns, it marks a fracture. Living in London, I remember the distinctions that were taught between portrait, portrait, and landscape, landscape, with their specific characteristics. In Humanescape I followed very classical canons, and the reason why, after showing them as lightboxes, as installations or frames of a film, I would like to frame those images in a more classical way, as if they were almost nineteenth-century landscapes. Since I was a teenager I have carried this great love for Flemish painting, for Bosch in particular, with this swarming, with these bright colours. When I asked myself the question “How do we deal with the question of place?”, I found myself, because of the personal events of my marriage, to have to change place in my own life, rediscussing everything about myself: I left London, came to live in Reggio Emilia, then for a period in Vienna, and then returned to Reggio. I felt somehow “off-centre” compared to previous years and this influenced all the work: there was no longer the need to talk about characters, but to understand where I had landed, and what relationship there was between those places and the worlds I had inside me and that I had begun to create. It was no coincidence that the use of toys made up for the lack of my son; in those moments I wasn’t thinking only of him, but of how I was as a child, and of my relationship with my father: a work of deep reflection, which you do inside yourself even when you become a father.

Sandro: In 2000 I organized an exhibition at Palazzo Magnani entitled Mario Schifano. I am childish, with many of his works created when he, no longer young, had lived the exciting experience of being a father. In addition to the subjects of his childhood imagination, there were also small paintings that incorporated the toys used by his son (the dinosaurs, the Godzillas), as if he rediscovered interests and curiosities, “childish” ways of seeing that, although they had accompanied him throughout his life as an artist and marked some of his works, now imposed themselves in a predominant way, revealing a new condition.
Marco: I was trying to make up for the lack of my son, and for the complex childhood I had to live – I had played very little… When I faced the landscape, I immediately associated it with this need; I called those works inscapes, in homage to the works that bear the same title as Matta, an artist I love very much: they are interior landscapes. They are therefore very autobiographical landscapes, in which I ask myself social questions, together with the feelings I experienced when I made them. It is a work to which I will return, my inscapes will continue; unlike my other projects, whose moments of beginning and end have been clear, with Humanescape I am following a path that I still don’t know where it will take me. After all my cycles are philosophical paths, if I can use this challenging word, where you put inside this sort of boxes things you feel the need to tell, without understanding at first where they will take you – it’s the inner path you take while you realize them that will help you to understand where you have arrived, you can’t predetermine it and know it beforehand.
Sandro: You talk generically about landscape, but the truth is that in Humanescape you built urban landscapes – and it is true that they are the prevailing habitat in the contemporary world…
Marco: I wanted to exploit the idea of the Meccano. In truth, my generation is not that of the Meccano, but that of Lego; but I have always associated the Meccano with the skyscraper – not by chance the skeletons of skyscrapers are great Meccanos, and then our modernity could be rendered in a conceptual way through the aspect of the game, with a very simple element, that of the Meccano, and I went collecting a whole series of toys that I grafted onto it.

Sandro: In Humanescape there are women’s bodies, and this is not new in your work, but these bodies are painted white: they exalt this disproportion of scale, this manifest return to the story of Gulliver and the Lilliputians that you do, and often women are tied and gagged, in positions of open slavery.
Marco: I thought about white bodies, about Gulliver women, whose hair I took off with the caps, because I wanted the woman to lose her identity as a woman, but to become a sort of realistic mannequin, but I couldn’t resort to real mannequins, because they taste like plastic. What I wanted to tell is that those white women are all of us – I used the image of the female body as a representation of contemporary society – and that the world we live in is deeply fake. There was also a personal, painful element: my separation was not only from a wife, but from London, where I had created a fake reality, which coincided with the financial crisis. Fake reality is useless for the evolution of the individual, for the karmic path that characterizes each of us. We do not need all this ambaradam (ten mobile phones, four computers) that surrounds us to evolve.
I tried to reconstruct these worlds by using toys – the Omarines of the model trains, the Meccano, the Lego trees – to tell scenes, always keeping some aspects of my photography: the black skies, elements that enter the skin of the characters, and the idea of collage, no longer a physical collage, but a sort of scenography. Humanescape has unhinged everything, with this need perhaps to pose the problem of the place; from there comes Sendai City, in which, however, everything is based on the character, of which we do not know the place and time in which it is located – most likely more the future than the past. If I think about the evolution of my work, I think I’ll tackle the problems of the story: after the characters and the place, I’ll start telling the story, and it’s likely to be a film.

Sandro: If we recapitulate the speech we made, we could say that there are the actors, there is the set, there are frames of events that allude to a world. I, too, read an evolution towards the film; among other things, you made a film, Blue Unnatural, which seems to be the beginning of this passage, of the long journey you are going to make.
Marco: Blue Unnatural is an animated film, but I already think that evolution will come to a film with actors, also because I remember that Dario Argento, when asked why he made his those films, he answered that he needed to get rid of certain nightmares. I don’t have nightmares, but visions of a world that I feel I have to tell, to materialize: nightmares you get rid of when you tell them, visions when you see them realized.
Sandro: Within this path and this evolution, which have their own coherence and linearity, there are some rejects, some deviations, like when, going along a road, you take one that diverges from it. Even if you have so far insisted that there is a unitary project, something that is held and illuminated with meaning, in these days you are making oil pastels, which from the images you have anticipated to me seem beautiful. There are your photographs, there are the sets that you started to build with Humanescape – and I’m thinking, by analogy, of Jeff Wall, or a great Italian photographer, a little forgotten, Mario Lasalandra, who used to build fantastic figures and scenes, with the memory of Federico Fellini’s worlds in his eyes – and now these pastels arrive. What’s going on?
Marco: I’m creating a world, that I would call “Bomar Universe”, which after all is a unique work, that I intend to carry on in all my artistic life. As it develops, everything becomes clearer and clearer to me, as if I was creating individuals who have their own ideas, their own life. Right now I’m painting big oil pastels, it’s true, but remember that I was born not as a photographer, but as a painter, and I’ve always loved comics. Now, starting to realize these works in which you have to take care of all the details is a kind of prayer: the oil pastels that I’m painting are not only the construction of the scenes of my world, but the search to make my vision even clearer. My crayons are the representation of the city-universe of my characters.

Sandro: So your oil pastels are scenography projects in which you could set your visions, the films to come…
Marco: Well, yes, I’m creating the designs of the Sendai Propaganda, of this Cyber-Punk world in which there is a multinational that has taken it over, a world ruled by these women, with mutants that will soon reveal themselves.
Sandro: The characters you created for the exhibition at Palazzo Magnani dedicated to Orlando Furioso and Ariosto are mutants…
Marco: After all, I did an operation to translate the characters of The Siege of Paris into my world: Ruggero, Angelica and the others became together the knights and the rebellious mutants of the resistance to the Sendai Corporation.
Sandro: Mutants are all these fighters, both those in power and those who oppose them…
Marco: In my vision, impregnated with social science fiction – the one in which we talked about politics, as it happened with George Orwell and Philip K. Dick – to have peace, it is necessary to cybernize everyone, to follow a protocol equal for everyone, which is not democracy at all. Democracy and peace seem to be in antithesis, but there are people who do not want to become equal, who do not want to become a number, uniform – we are making a path into uniformity, with the tools that allow us to know at any time where we are and what we do, we are constantly seen and followed. Orwell had told us this long before. Technology has not made us more democratic, it has certainly evolved us, but there are also those who wonder if all this is really necessary, if it serves the evolution of man and the spirit. When I made Woodland I wanted to tell about the manipulation, the hybridization of a plant with a human being – after all, as I have already said, the DNA of fish is in some plants, but the ancient identity of those plants is no longer there, it has been lost. If, man, I introduce two pace-makers I begin to be no longer a man, but if we followed the definition of the vocabulary I would have become a cyborg; the mechanical parts inside our body grow, but we want to continue to call ourselves human. The post-human vision, which once meant a critical or future vision, now applies to our present. The vision of the human being, of what we are, is in crisis – if we don’t have these little tables that are smart-phones we seem incapable of living.

Sandro: I continue to be surprised when, on a train or in a bar, a phone rings, and I see a person trying hard to figure out which of his two or often three phones that ring belongs to…
Marco: Metaphorically, this new condition of the human is my white women gagged among the Meccanoes. I am trying to tell, also through the great paintings I work on, this world. In the exhibition at Kunst Merano I present an installation, in which there is a city made of wood and toys; you see some things, while others you can only perceive through an application – a metaphor for the fact that we cannot see reality, that after all does not exist and that we only perceive. Above that city is Sendai City, which we don’t see simply because we don’t have the possibility to do so, but if we had the necessary application we would see it. Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle told it very clearly, showing, in an almost ironic way, what would have happened if the Nazis had won. After all, we have a story made by the winners, we don’t have one made by the losers; the story is already widely manipulated. Our life is manipulated by the media, and anyway, this room where you and I are talking, we perceive it in one way, while an animal being, like a cat or a fly, would see it in an absolutely different way. Who among us can say that the reality we perceive is the real one? We have talked about the fact that I am monocular, and I see in a certain way, while a colour blind person sees in a completely different way. In my path, the various pieces of the puzzle are slowly reassembling, through a personal, philosophical inner journey, and through the works I present in the exhibitions. You create from nothing an idea, a concept, even if the works are tangible, real, and enter by necessity into the art market system, which allows me to create new works, to carry on my reflection.
Sandro: In this world of yours there are a lot of drawings, a lot of grafts. Narrating your story, you mentioned some science fiction books, some comics (I think about Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McKay) and some movies, like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, directed in 1958 by Nathan H. Juran, that we could mention for Humanescape. What else has there been in the progressive construction of your imagination?
Marco: A lot of comics, and also videogames – having a ten years old son, it’s natural that I play with him… I’m an avid collector of science fiction and fantasy toy soldiers – one of the places I love to attend, and that relaxes me, are the markets, because there I discover objects I don’t know the use of and there are people who have the pleasure to explain it to me, and this produces an idea: a button can become a flying saucer, reinterpreting it. That’s one of the reasons why I love the so-called B movies so much: because of the lack of funds compared to the great Hollywood movies, those who made those movies had to resort to simple solutions, exploit inventiveness – Antonio Margheriti (who signed himself Anthony M. Dawson), a great director, went to buy flying saucers at Upim, and the same flying saucer he uses in The Criminals of the Galaxy is the one Stanley Kubrick uses to make 2001: A Space Odyssey; Mario Bava to make The Vampire Planet created the idea that Kubrick will develop with the character of Ariel. I loved very much Georges Méliès, cinema for me elementary, silent cinema like Cabiria by Giovanni Pastrone and like Eadweard Muybridge, scientific cinema made between 1860 and 1900, because it was not so much the realistic staging as the storytelling – Georges Méliès’ Journey to the Moon is one of the masterpieces of science fiction cinema, imbued with poetry, as is Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or Aelita’s 1924 Metropolis, directed by Jakov Aleksandrovič Protazanov. I must add that, as a monocle, my reading capacity is reduced – I use twice as much time as a person who has two eyes reading a book, so I get very tired; I visit comics and cinema much more frequently, although I have read many books by Philip K. Dick, James Ballard and Bruce Sterling. I also met Bruce Sterling in person, an exciting encounter, because much of my Cyberpunk education was through his books. The fact that he and his wife Jasmina, director and performer, wanted to collaborate with me writing a text for Humanescape, presenting it at an event at the Academy of Bologna, was a great gift.

Sandro: Previous generations had other acquaintances, such as Tex, or, immediately after, Captain Miki and The Great Blek, between the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Marco: I remember being fascinated by Mister No, always published by Sergio Bonelli, who really played a fundamental role and had a great influence. I read Alan Ford and Dylan Dog; I can’t say I “take” from Dylan Dog, but I can say I continue to read it with pleasure. And I’ve always been fascinated by Tiziano Sclavi’s books, because his writing is both simple and engaging. I was so fond of David Gemmel’s Saga of the Drains, a fantasy in which there was a lot of psychology, with live characters. I saw Harry Potter, but it didn’t capture me.
Sandro: You said that the characters of Orlando Furioso that you gave life to for the exhibition at Palazzo Magnani remember robots or look like mutants. How were those faces and bodies, protagonists of The Siege of Paris, born?
Marco: My Orlando, even if he doesn’t look like one, is conceptually the son of Humanescape. It’s no coincidence that they are always women, behind which there are always black skies (the darkness, and the light on the characters, like when you enter a dark room and with a pile you go to discover what’s there, isolating certain points). I tried to make a work that was linked to Gustave Doré’s illustrations – I read the Orlando accompanied by those images, those black and white prints, like others that I went to see in the collection of the Panizzi Library. In the past I used color, but in this case I used body painting and collage, using elements such as computer motherboards – already used for Black Hole – to tell a critical science fiction story. I’m steeped in the Cyber-Punk philosophy of the nineties, but I was very inspired by the science fiction films of the sixties: here then are the robotic claws from Fred M’s Forbidden Planet. Wilcox, the 1956 film, the robot from the 1960s that hasn’t yet become humanoid, clone – different from Tim Burton’s characters doing Edward, scissorhands. Other characters are real mutants, with outgrowths; in my opinion, mutants are born from a critical vision of the use of DNA, with the ongoing discussion about the use of animal body parts to be transplanted into human beings: we are re-discussing man, and then we should start to change our vision of what man is. This is the landing place for mutants. For my Orlando characters I went to get some toys, the dinosaurs – I thought of the photographs of Nobuyoshi Araki who put snakes on his models – carnival masks, rabbits, lobsters – giving birth to man-beasts who are no longer men, who are just fetishes, fictions. I didn’t use Photoshop, I really stuck things in my arm, building fetishes, because my vision is critical. In the end there are bad robots and good fake mutants, but I don’t have the vision that the knights are the good and the Saracens are the bad: both, in the common role of fighters, are manipulated.

(1) Giulio Paolini, from the Atlas to the Void in alphabetical order, edited by Sergio Risaliti, Electa, Milan 2010, p. 109.

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