CRITICS

Title: Woodland: Interview by Catherine Somzéan to Marco Bolognesi
Author: Catherine Somzéan
Year: 2008

Early this year, the photography magazine Eyemazing asked me to write a text to accompany Marco Bolognesi’s portfolio of his “Woodland” series. In order to quote him throughout the piece, I sent him a few questions by e-mail. This written exchange constitutes the basis of the following interview. Meet Marco Bolognesi.
Catherine Somzé: Could you tell me where you were born and whether this had an influence on your career?
Marco Bolognesi: Well, Catherine I was born in Bologna, a small town well known for “Tortellini” and the two towers. What I was looking for was somewhere where I could lose myself in its immensity and be able to work on my projects. London is my town now. It has helped my career to move on, above all in terms of research possibilities.
Catherine: Could give me some more background information about your education?

Marco: I was born in a family of artists. At home, I have always felt free to creatively express myself. So, the natural outcome was for me to go to a school of arts, which I did. Afterwards, when I went to university I chose the program called Dams. It is an acronym, which stands in Italian for disciplines of arts, music and theatre. By that time, it was the first of its kind in Italy. Anyway, since I can remember, I have been drawn to make works of art. When I was a boy and used to finish school, at the end of the day I would focus on artistic projects of mine rather than doing my homework. My first project was called Visioni. It was a mix of painting and collage alongside poems and lyrics. Also, at university, I chose to focus on such pioneers of cinema as George Melies, Louis Lumière, Eadweard Muybridge, D. W. Griffith, Man Ray and Robert Wiene and the surrealistic cinema. Then I studied the work of animation: artists such as Jan Svankmajer. My final thesis at University was on the aesthetics of cinema with a dissertation on the short film The Sea in Their Blood (1983) by Peter Greenaway
Catherine: I also understand you first tried your hand as an illustrator. Since when have you been working with the medium, and to what extent do you think this background is important in relation to your project ‘Woodland’?
Marco: To be honest, I never worked as an illustrator, although I tried to be one. Because of my on-going research and necessity of telling stories I tried to work as an illustrator and comic book artist. And even if I didn’t succeed, those two media still constitute an important influence and source of inspiration, especially the work of Guido Crepax and Dave Mckean. On the other hand, my project Woodland, just as all my projects, started from sketches, from a broad visual research in those two above mentioned media, illustration and comics.
Catherine: Do you consider yourself a photographer?
Marco: I am not a photographer. I am an artist. I can’t think about myself in a different way. I hope that in the near future I will be able to direct films, for instance. I would love to make films such as those of Peter Greenaway. But anyway, I am not very interested in all the labels people put on me: my work will always be done in the same way.
Catherine: But you have been making short films, right?
Marco: Yes, between 1994 And 1996 I worked on two videos for the National Italian Television, the RAI, using a mixed technique. Those were very important years for me: I was studying at university and I was pursuing my dreams of becoming a film director. I was then working as an assistant director in Cinecittà in Rome. Unfortunately I discovered that my fantasies didn’t match the realities of the Italian film industry. That’s when I went on a Sabbatical. I stopped working with videos and short films and started building my ideas in the still frame.
Catherine: But then what did it mean to work with photography?
Marco: Although I got to photography by chance, I have always been interested in the photographic medium. Unlike filmmaking, the photographic process, even staged, allowed much more freedom to build the fantasy world I had always dreamt of.
Catherine: But then, will you always work with photography? Do you have a preferred medium?
Marco: It’s just that I can’t stand being restricted to one medium only. To work with different media allows me to change my angle of vision. This point is of utmost importance to me. I’ve always approached and created by “digesting” apparently different things, things that do not seem to have anything in common. In this way, they really kind of become part of my metabolism, which I then bring outside again. Also, each project asks for a different, specific, medium. Anyway, I love the creative process, which goes from a simple idea, to a research phase, then to the construction of a team, to the shootings and then to the presentation to the public. Also, I would say that my way of looking at photography is very similar to directing. And somehow photography and filmmaking are my two main passions.
Catherine: Your imagery takes its roots in a broad array of visual traditions…
Marco: I always begin a project by researching and collecting images. As I told you since I was a kid I used to draw. Now I spend hours surfing the Internet and flipping through books. I think I have got the most impressive collection of images…All locked up in my mind!
Catherine: It seems that pop culture is an important source of inspiration for you.
Marco: I love that you say that, because usually nobody believes me when I say that a strong inspiration for my work comes from fantasy and science-fiction miniatures, action toys and comics. I love films that talk of a different world, like Batman, Underworld and Hellboy for instance. I am also inspired by the work of David Lynch, Peter Greenaway, David Cronenberg and Guillermo Del Toro.
Catherine: I understood ‘Woodland’ has been the project you have been working on as an artist in residence at the Instituto Di Cultura Italiano in London during the year 2002. What was the first idea for this series? I read something about the idea of genetically altered bodies. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
Marco: Everything started from the fact that I won the artist in residency prize in 2002 and I was asked to work in collaboration with fashion designers, both English and Italian. For me it has been not only an artistic experience but also a very personal one. When I started, I was naïve and didn’t understand how the fashion industry works. Now, I know better. I’m not interested in working in this industry. And for this project, I kept honest with myself and worked using references of mine, artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, Floria Sigismondi or Joel-Peter Witkin. I tried to bring them in and translate them in my world. Talking about genetically modified organisms was the next and natural step: there was a world, a wood, a never-never wood, and an imaginary one where the characters living in there had some “wrong,” unnatural, features. Although these creatures came up somehow naturally to me, they are, in fact, the result of seamless collages. With this technique, I definitely can modify the natural state of things. By the way, most of it was made during the productions themselves; the postproduction in them is minimal. In this way I developed the concept of metamorphosis, the idea of characters genetically modified by nature, of corrupted beings. And the wood is the place of the unconscious as Freud wrote. The project was then called “Woodland” and not “Wood” because I wanted to speak about a place that wasn’t culturally circumscribed already. We all more or less know what a wood is, we can picture it with its beginning and end. I wanted to create another kind of place, a boundary-less place.
Catherine: I understood ‘Woodland’ was related to the ‘Fashion Week’. What is exactly the relation to this fashion event?
Marco: The first part of my “Woodland” project was exhibited in March 2003. It then took me two years to complete it and then to see it published by Bomar Edition.
This first exhibition was one of the events related to the Fashion Week 2003 that the Italian Cultural Institute was working on. For this project, I collaborated with some of today’s greatest fashion designers, as Vivienne Westwood, Giorgio Armani, Alexander McQueen, etc. I still work with some of them today.
Catherine: Except for the famous fashion designers, with whom have you been working for “Woodland”?
Marco: The process started with the research, then the sketches and after that I tried to build a team of creatives: makeup artist, hair stylist, fashion stylist, models, etc… This is never an easy job because I have to feel an artistic connection with the persons I work with. That’s why my research usually takes months. But that’s the way I met Yin Lee, which is my makeup artist, a like-minded person. She is the only makeup artist I work with.
Catherine: What is your relationship to Ennio Morricone?
Marco: That was a great moment in my life. Ennio loved my videos and offered to present them in that beautiful setting, which is the Palazzo Esposizioni in Rome. The earlier projects were an exploration of different languages. There are a few recurring themes or motifs in my work, for instance, the female nude. I am Italian, you see. So, I am a Hedonist. My culture is all about beautiful things and beautiful women… Another recurring aspect of my work is the technique I use, collage. The collage could be both the act of cutting and putting together of different materials in the same work, as for instance the idea to put sand on a photography to give the idea of the materiality of photography, to give it an added tactile quality or levels. But this act of collage can also refer to something much less material, like in “Blind Eyes” where elements belonging to different languages (philately and pornography) are built into micro video and then shot with a Polaroid. Woodland is a development, in the sense of building a language in which all these elements coming from different languages are successfully put together.

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