A Nostalgia For What We Lose: Interview with Nunzio Paci

The hybrid anatomies created by Nunzio Paci,born in Bologna in 1977, encountered a growing success, and they granted him prestigious exhibitions in Europe, Asia and the US.
The true miracle this artist performs on his canvas is to turn what is still usually perceived as a taboo – the inside of our bodies – into something enchanting.


But his works are complex and multilayered: in his paintings the natural elements and creatures fuse together and as they do so, all boundaries lose their meaning, there is no more an inside and an outside; each body explodes and grows branches, becoming indefinable. Even if besides the figures there still are numbers, anatomical annotations and “keys”, these unthinkable flourishes of the flesh tend to checkmate our vision, sabotage all categories and even dismantle the concept of identity.

But rather than just writing about it, I thought it best to interview Nunzio and let our chat be an introduction to his art.

You began as a street artist, in a strictly urban environment; what was your relationship with nature back then? Did it evolve over the years?

I was born and raised in a small country town in the province of Bologna and I still live in a rural area. Nature has always been a faithful companion to me. I too did go through a rebellious phase: in those years, as I recall them, everything looked like a surface I could spray paint or write on. Now I feel more like a retired warrior, seeking a quiet and dimly lit corner where I can think and rest.

In the West, man wants to think himself separated from nature: if not a proper dominator, at least an external observer or investigator.
This feeling of being outside or above natural laws, however, entails a feeling of exclusion, a sort of romantic longing for this “lost” connection with the rest of the natural world.
Do you think your works express this melancholy, a need for communion with other creatures? Or are you suggesting that the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms have actually always been inertwined, and all barriers between them are a cultural construct, an illusion?

I think my work is about “longing for what we constantly lose” – voices, perfumes, memories… I often have the feeling I’m inventing those fragments of memories I had forgotten: I believe this is a form of self-defense on my part, to survive the melancholy you mention. For this reason, through my work, I try to translate what cannot be preserved through time into a visual form, so that I can retrieve these memories in my most nostalgic moments.

Yours are autoptic visions: why do you feel the need to dissect, to open the bodies you draw? As the inside of the body is still a taboo in many ways, how does the public react to the anatomical details in your works?

I need to be selfish. I never think about what the audience might feel, I don’t ask myself what others would or wouldn’t want to see. I am too busy taming my thoughts and turning my traumas into images.
I can’t recall exactly when I became interested in anatomy, but I will never forget the first time I saw somebody skin a rabbit. I was a very young child, and I was disturbed and at the same time fascinated – not by the violent scene in itself, but by what was hidden inside that animal. I immediately decided I would never harm a living being but I would try and understand their “engineering”, their inner design.
Later on, the desire to produce visionary artworks took over, and I started tracing subjects that could be expressive without offending any sensibility. But in the end what we feel when we look at something is also a product of our own background; so generally speaking I don’t think it’s possible to elicit am unambiguous sensation in the public.

You stated you’re not a big fan of colors, and in fact you often prefer earthy nuances, rusty browns, etc. Your latest woks, including those shown in the Manila exhibit entitled Mimesis, might suggest a progressive opening in that regard, as some floral arrangements are enriched by a whole palette of green, purple, blue, pink. Is this a way to add chromatic intricacy or, on the contrary, to make your images “lighter” and more pleasing?

I never looked at color as a “pleasing” or “light” element. Quite the opposite really. My use of color in the Mimesis cyle, just like in nature, is deceptive. In nature, color plays a fundamental role in survival. In my work, I make use of color to describe my subjects’ feelings when they are alone or in danger. Modifying their aspect is a necessity for them, a form of self-defense to protect themselves from the shallowness, arrogance and violence of society. A society which is only concerned with its own useless endurance.

In one of your exhibits, in 2013, you explicitly referenced the theory of “signatures”, the web of alleged correspondences among the different physical forms, the symptoms of illness, celestial mutations, etc.
These analogies, for instance those found to exist between a tree, deer antlers and the artery system, were connected to palmistry, physiognomy and medicine, and were quite popular from Paracelsus to Gerolamo Cardano to Giambattista della Porta.
In your works there’s always a reference to the origins of natural sciences, to Renaissance wunderkammern, to 15th-16th Century botanics. Even on a formal level, you have revisited some ancient techniques, such as the encaustic technique.
What’s the appeal of that period?

I believe that was the beginning of it all, and all the following periods, including the one we live in, are but an evolution of that pioneering time. Man still studies plants, observes animal behavior, tries in vain to preserve the body, studies the mechanisms of outer space… Even if he does it in a different way, I don’t think much has really changed. What is lacking today is that crazy obsession with observation, the pleasure of discovery and the want to take care of one’s own time. In learning slowly, and deeply, lies the key to fix the emotions we feel when we discover something new.

A famous quote (attributed to Banksy, and inspired by a poem by Cesar A. Cruz) says: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”.
Are your paintings meant to comfort or disturb the viewer?

My way of life, and my way of being, are reflected in my work. I never felt the urge to shock or distrub the public with my images, nor did I ever try to seek attention. Though my work I wish to reach people’s heart. I want to do it tiptoe, silently, and by asking permission if necessary. If they let me in, that’s where I will grow my roots and reside forever.

 

Werner Herzog, a filmmaker who often addressed in his movies the difficult relationship between man and nature, claims in Grizzly Man (2006) that “the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder”. Elsewhere, he describes the Amazon jungle as a never-ending “collective massacre”.
As compared to Herzog’s pessimistic views, I have a feeling that you might see nature as a continuum, where any predator-pray relationship is eventually an act of “self-cannibalism”. Species fight and assault each other, but in the end this battle is won by life itself, who as an autopoietic system is capable of finding constant nourishment within itself. Decomposition itself is not bad, as it allows new germinations.
What is death to you, and how does it relate to your work?

As far as I’m concerned, death plays a fundamental role, and I find myself constantly meditating on how all is slowly dying. A new sprout is already beginning to die, and that goes for all that’s living. One of the aspects of existence that most fascinate me is its decadence. I am drawn to it, both curious and scared, and my work is perhaps a way to exorcise all the slow dying that surrounds us.

You can follow Nunzio Paci on his official website, Facebook page and Instagram account.

Mirages

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
(E.A. Poe)

∼ Inferior Mirages ∼

Very hot air close to the ground, colder air above. Light rays refracted from distant objects get deviated by the column of scorching air moving upwards. Here is the classical mirage of Sahara Bedouins, fresh oasis among the dunes and water poodles where there is nothing but dusty desert.

A mirage which is bound to also haunt another kind of nomad, the soul who cannot help but travel because he’s a victim of the highway blues, and he knows all too well that the tarmac road might look wet under the torrid sun.

The more we get close to it, the more the illusion vanishes. We hurry towards the much coveted water to find it was mere deceit; and all our hurrying did was worsen our thirst. “If a mirage were water, why is water not seen by those nearby?Nāgārjuna asked – The way this world is seen as real by those afar is not so seen by those nearby for whom it is signless like a mirage“. Maybe we too will be soon close enough to the truth to realize it is an illusion.

∼ Superior Mirages∼

The ocean liner, in the dark night brightened only by the stars, eased out majestically on the water. Aboard, feasting passengers: on the horizon, a strange mist. Reginald Lee was on watch:

A clear, starry night overhead, but at the time of the accident there was a haze right ahead, […] in fact it was extending more or less round the horizon. There was no moon.

A dark mist, a vague tremor just above the horizon, but too far away to seem like a menacing sign. Then, from the nothingness of that fog, without warning, like a giant bursting on the scene from a funeral curtain, came the huge milky silhouette.

It was a dark mass that came through that haze and there was no white appearing until it was just close alongside the ship.

It looks like it might have gone that way: the Titanic probably sank due to a mirage. The mountain of ice remained hidden until the very last moment inside the sidereal light, which had been bended by the cold of the sea.

Ironically, this was the same kind of mirage which gave another ship, albeit fantastic, an eternal and persistant place in sailors’ fantasies. The immortal Flying Dutchman, floating over the ocean waves, perhaps owes his legend to the illusion called “superior mirage”. Superior, because its phantasmagoria appears above the horizon, and sometimes ships sailing beyond the Earth’s curve, which we shouldn’t be able to see, look like they are suspended in mid air.


Like mountaineers, who fear and respect the mountain, the people of the sea knew a secret which escaped the mainland inhabitants. They were aware of the insidious nature of water, they knew all about whirlpools always ready to gape unexpectedly, about the visions, the magical fires up on the mast, the terrible twin monsters waiting for ships to pass in the narrow strip between Sicily and Calabria.

∼ Fata Morgana ∼

It is right on the Straits of Messina that the Castle in the Sky is sometimes spotted, home to the Enchantress, cruel sister of Arthur son of Pendragon. The witch’s magical arts make the winged castle visible both from the coast of the island and from the opposite shore. Many believed they could conquer its trembling stronghold, and drowned.

Thus Morgan le Fay, “Fata Morgana”, gave her name to the rarest among superior mirages, capable of blending together three or more layers of inverted and distorted objects, in a constantly changing visual blur. The ultimate mirage, where nothing is what it seems; impossible apparitions of distant gloomy towers, enchanted cities, ghost forests. The horizon is not a promise anymore, but a mocking imposture.

∼ The Mirage of Everything ∼

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

What Zhuangzi is not considering is the possibility that both him and the butterfly might be a dream: someone else’s dream.
Quantum physicists, who are the modern poets, mystics, artists, suggest ours could potentially be a holographic cosmos. According to some scientists, the whole universe might be a simulacrum, a sophisticated simulation (atoms-pixels), us being the characters who little by little are realizing they’re part of a game. Galileo’s method is now teaming up with the opium eaters’ lucid hallucinations, and math itself seems to tell us that “life is but a dream“.

Among the supporters of the hypothesis of the universe being an elaborate fiction inside an alien algorythm, there is a controversial, visionary innovator who is trying to keep us safe from the dangers of strong AI. His inconceivable plan: to fuse our cerebral cortexes with the Net, forever freeing us from the language virus and, in time, reprogramming  our already obsolete bodies from the inside. Mutate or die!
And this mutation is going  to happen, rest assured, not in two hundred years, but in the next ten or fifteen.

Today we take a look around, and all we see is mirage.
For thousands of years philosophers have been discussing the Great Dream, but never before the veil of Maya has been so thin, so close to be torn at any moment.
What does it mean for us to accept the possible unreality of everything? Does it entail an absolute relativism, does it mean that killing is nothing serious after all, that nothing has value? Weren’t Hassan-i Sabbāh‘s last words “nothing is true, everything is permitted”?
[Old Uncle Bill smiles slyly from his parallel universe, surrounded by seductive centipede-boys.]
Are we instead to understand mirage as a liberation? Because death will finally turn out to be that “passage” every enlightened guru told us about, and this is not the true world? But does a true world really exist? Or is it just another mirage within a mirage?

Zhuangzi, the butterfly man, again:

All the while, the stupid believe they are awake, busily and brightly assuming they understand things, calling this man ruler, that one herdsman — how dense! Confucius and you are both dreaming!  It is a dream even for me to say that you are dreaming.

(Thanks, Bruno!)

Freaks: Gaze and Disability

Introduction: those damn colored glasses

The image below is probably my favorite illusion (in fact I wrote about it before).

At a first glance it looks like a family in a room, having breakfast.
Yet when the picture is shown to the people living in some rural parts of Africa, they see something different: a family having breakfast in the open, under a tree, while the mother balances a box on her head, maybe to amuse her children. This is not an optical illusion, it’s a cultural one.

The origins of this picture are not certain, but it is not relevant here whether it has actually been used in a psychological study, nor if it shows a prejudice on life in the Third World. The force of this illustration is to underline how culture is an inevitable filter of reality.

It reminds of a scene in Werner Herzog’s documentary film The Flying Doctors of East Africa (1969), in which the doctors find it hard to explain to the population that flies carry infections; showing big pictures of the insects and the descriptions of its dangers does not have much effect because people, who are not used to the conventions of our graphic representations, do not understand they are in scale, and think: “Sure, we will watch out, but around here flies are never THAT big“.

Even if we would not admit it, our vision is socially conditioned. Culture is like a pair of glasses with colored lenses, quite useful in many occasions to decipher the world but deleterious in many others, and it’s hard to get rid of these glasses by mere willpower.

‘Freak pride’ and disability

Let’s address the issue of “freaks”: originally a derogatory term, the word has now gained a peculiar cultural charm and ,as such, I always used it with the purpose of fighting pietism and giving diversity it its just value.
Any time I set out to talk about human marvels, I experienced first-hand how difficult it is to write about these people.

Reflecting on the most correct angle to address the topic means to try and take off culture’s colored glasses, an almost impossible task. I often wondered if I myself have sometimes succumbed to unintended generalizations, if I unwillingly fell into a self-righteous approach.
Sure enough, I have tried to tell these amazing characters’ stories through the filter of wonder: I believed that – equality being a given – the separation between the ordinary and the extra-ordinary could be turned in favor of disability.
I have always liked those “deviants” who decided to take back their exotic bodies, their distance from the Norm, in some sort of freak pride that would turn the concept of handicap inside out.

But is it really the most correct approach to diversity and, in some cases, disability? To what extent is this vision original, or is it just derivative from a long cultural tradition? What if the freak, despite all pride, actually just wanted an ordinary dimension, what if what he was looking for was the comfort of an average life? What is the most ethical narrative?

This doubt, I think, arose from a paragraph by Fredi Saal, born in 1935, a German author who spent the first part of his existence between hospitals and care homes because he was deemed “uneducable”:

No, it is not the disabled person who experiences him- or herself as abnormal — she or he is experienced as abnormal by others, because a whole section of human life is cut off. Thus this very existence acquires a threatening quality. One doesn’t start from the disabled persons themselves, but from one’s own experience. One asks oneself, how would I react, should a disability suddenly strike, and the answer is projected onto the disabled person. Thus one receives a completely distorted image. Because it is not the other fellow that one sees, but oneself.

(F. Saal, Behinderung = Selbstgelebte Normalität, 1992)

As much as the idea of a freak pride is dear to me, it may well be another subconscious projection: I may just like to think that I would react to disability that way… and yet one more time I am not addressing the different person, but rather my own romantic and unrealistic idea of diversity.

We cannot obviously look through the eyes of a disabled person, there is an insuperable barrier, but it is the same that ultimately separates all human beings. The “what would I do in that situation?” Saal talks about, the act of projecting ourselves onto others, that is something we endlessly do and not just with the disabled.

The figure of the freak has always been ambiguous – or, better, what is hard to understand is our own gaze on the freak.
I think it is therefore important to trace the origins of this gaze, to understand how it evolved: we could even discover that this thing we call disability is actually nothing more than another cultural product, an illusion we are “trained” to recognize in much the same way we see the family having breakfast inside a living room rather than out in the open.

In my defense, I will say this: if it is possible for me to imagine a freak pride, it is because the very concept of freak does not come out of the blue, and does not even entail disability. Many people working in freakshows were also disabled, others were not. That was not the point. The real characteristics that brought those people on stage was the sense of wonder they could evoke: some bodies were admired, others caused scandal (as they were seen as unbearably obscene), but the public bought the ticket to be shocked, amazed and shaken in their own certainties.

In ancient times, the monstrum was a divine sign (it shares its etymological root with the Italian verb mostrare, “to show”), which had to be interpreted – and very often feared, as a warning of doom. If the monstruous sign was usually seen as bearer of misfortune, some disabilities were not (for instance blindness and lunacy, which were considered forms of clairvoyance, see V. Amendolagine, Da castigo degli dei a diversamente abili: l’identità sociale del disabile nel corso del tempo, 2014).

During the Middle Ages the problem of deformity becomes much more complex: on one hand physiognomy suggested a correlation between ugliness and a corrupted soul, and literature shows many examples of enemies being libeled through the description of their physical defects; on the other, theologians and philosophers (Saint Augustine above all) considered deformity as just another example of Man’s penal condition on this earth, so much so that in the Resurrection all signs of it would be erased (J.Ziegler in Deformità fisica e identità della persona tra medioevo ed età moderna, 2015); some Christian female saints even went to the extreme of invoking deformity as a penance (see my Ecstatic Bodies: Hagiography and Eroticism).
Being deformed also precluded the access to priesthood (ordo clericalis) on the basis of a famous passage from the  Leviticus, in which offering sacrifice on the altar is forbidden to those who have imperfect bodies (P. Ostinelli, Deformità fisica…, 2015).

The monstrum becoming mirabile, worthy of admiration, is a more modern idea, but that was around well before traveling circuses, before Tod Browning’s “One of us!“, and before hippie counterculture seized it: this concept is opposed to the other great modern invention in regard to disability, which is commiseration.
The whole history of our relationship with disability fluctuates between these two poles: admiration and pity.

The right kind of eyes

In the German exhibition Der (im)perfekte Mensch (“The (im)perfect Human Being”), held in 2001 in the Deutsches Hygiene Museum in Dresden, the social gaze at people with disabilities was divided into six main categories:

– The astonished and medical gaze
– The annihilating gaze
– The pitying gaze
– The admiring gaze
– The instrumentalizing gaze
– The excluding gaze

While this list can certainly be discussed, it has the merit of tracing some possible distinctions.
Among all the kinds of gaze listed here, the most bothering might be the pitying gaze. Because it implies the observer’s superiority, and a definitive judgment on a condition which, to the eyes of the “normal” person, cannot seem but tragic: it expresses a self-righteous, intimate certainty that the other is a poor cripple who is to be pitied. The underlying thought is that there can be no luck, no happiness in being different.

The concept of poor cripple, which (although hidden behind more politically correct words) is at the core of all fund-raising marathons, is still deeply rooted in our culture, and conveys a distorted vision of charity – often more focused on our own “pious deed” than on people with disabilities.

As for the pitying gaze, the most ancient historical example we know of is this 1620 print, kept at the Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum in Innsbruck, which shows a disabled carpenter called  Wolffgang Gschaiter lying in his bed. The text explains how this man, after suffering unbearable pain to his left arm and back for three days, found himself completely paralyzed. For fifteen years, the print tells us, he was only able to move his eyes and tongue. The purpose of this paper is to collect donations and charity money, and the readers are invited to pray for him in the nearby church of the Three Saints in Dreiheiligen.

This pamphlet is interesting for several reasons: in the text, disability is explicitly described as a “mirror” of the observer’s own misery, therefore establishing the idea that one must think of himself as he is watching it; a distinction is made between body and soul to reinforce drama (the carpenter’s soul can be saved, his body cannot); the expression “poor cripple” is recorded for the first time.
But most of all this little piece of paper is one of the very first examples of mass communication in which disability is associated with the idea of donations, of fund raising. Basically what we see here is a proto-telethon, focusing on charity and church prayers to cleanse public conscience, and at the same time an instrument in line with the Counter-Reformation ideological propaganda (see V. Schönwiese, The Social Gaze at People with Disabilities, 2007).

During the previous century, another kind of gaze already developed: the clinical-anatomical gaze. This 1538 engraving by Albrecht Dürer shows a woman lying on a table, while an artist meticulously draws the contour of her body. Between the two figures stands a framework, on which some stretched-out strings divide the painter’s vision in small squares so that he can accurately transpose it on a piece of paper equipped with the same grid. Each curve, each detail is broke down and replicated thanks to this device: vision becomes the leading sense, and is organized in an aseptic, geometric, purely formal frame. This was the phase in which a real cartography of the human body was developed, and in this context deformity was studied in much the same manner. This is the “astonished and medical gaze“, which shows no sign of ethical or pitying judgment, but whose ideology is actually one of mapping, dividing, categorizing and ultimately dominating every possible variable of the cosmos.

In the wunderkammer of Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria (1529-1595), inside Ambras Castle near Innsbruck, there is a truly exceptional portrait. A portion of the painting was originally covered by a red paper curtain: those visiting the collection in the Sixteenth Century might have seen something close to this reconstruction.

Those willing and brave enough could pull the paper aside to admire the whole picture: thus the subject’s limp and deformed body appeared, portrayed in raw detail and with coarse realism.

What Fifteen-Century observers saw in this painting, we cannot know for sure. To understand how views are relative, it suffices to remind that at the time “human marvels” included for instance foreigners from exotic countries, and a sub-category of foreigners were cretins who were said to inhabit certain geographic regions.
In books like Giovan Battista de’ Cavalieri’s Opera ne la quale vi è molti Mostri de tute le parti del mondo antichi et moderni (1585), people with disabilities can be found alongside monstruous apparitions, legless persons are depicted next to mythological Chimeras, etc.

But the red paper curtain in the Ambras portrait is an important signal, because it means that such a body was on one hand considered obscene, capable of upsetting the spectator’s senibility. On the other hand, the bravest or most curious onlookers could face the whole image. This leads us to believe that monstrosity in the Sixteenth Century had at least partially been released from the idea of prodigy, and freed from the previous centuries superstitions.

This painting is therefore a perfect example of “astonished and medical” gaze; from deformity as mirabilia to proper admiration, it’s a short step.

The Middle Path?

The admiring gaze is the one I have often opted for in my articles. My writing and thinking practice coincides with John Waters’ approach, when he claims he feels some kind of admiration for the weird characters in his movies: “All the characters in my movies, I look up to them. I don’t think about them the way people think about reality TV – that we are better and you should laugh at them.

And yet, here we run the risk of falling into the opposite trap, an excessive idealization. It may well be because of my peculiar allergy to the concept of “heroes”, but I am not interested in giving hagiographic versions of the life of human marvels.

All these thoughts which I have shared with you, lead me to believe there is no easy balance. One cannot talk about freaks without running into some kind of mistake, some generalization, without falling victim to the deception of colored glasses.
Every communication between us and those with different/disabled bodies happens in a sort of limbo, where our gaze meets theirs. And in this space, there cannot ever be a really authentic confrontation, because from a physical perspective we are separated by experiences too far apart.
I will never be able to understand other people’s body, and neither will they.

But maybe this distance is exactly what draws us together.

“Everyone stands alone at the heart of the world…”

Let’s consider the only reference we have – our own body – and try to break the habit.
I will borrow the opening words from the introduction I wrote for Nueva Carne by Claudio Romo:

Our bodies are unknowable territories.
We can dismantle them, cut them up into ever smaller parts, study their obsessive geometries, meticulously map every anatomical detail, rummage in their entrails… and their secret will continue to escape us.
We stare at our hands. We explore our teeth with our tongues. We touch our hair.
Is
this what we are?

Here is the ultimate mind exercise, my personal solution to the freaks’ riddle: the only sincere and honest way I can find to relate diversity is to make it universal.

Johnny Eck woke up in this world without the lower limbs; his brother, on the contrary, emerged from the confusion of shapes with two legs.
I too am equipped with feet, including toes I can observe, down there, as they move whenever I want them to. Are those toes still me? I ignore the reach of my own identity, and if there is an exact point where its extension begins.
On closer view, my experience and Johnny’s are different yet equally mysterious.
We are all brothers in the enigma of the flesh.

I would like to ideally sit with him  — with the freak, with the “monster” — out on the porch of memories, before the sunset of our lives.
‘So, what did you think of this strange trip? Of this strange place we wound up in?’, I would ask him.
And I am sure that his smile would be like mine.

Sailing On Top of The Mountains

A vision had seized hold of me, like the demented fury of a hound that has sunk its teeth into the leg of a deer carcass and is shaking and tugging at the downed game so frantically that the hunter gives up trying to calm him. It was the vision of a large steamship scaling a hill under its own steam, working its way up a steep slope in the jungle, while above this natural landscape, which shatters the weak and the strong with equal ferocity, soars the voice of Caruso, silencing all the pain and all the voices of the primeval forest and drowning out all birdsong. To be more precise: bird cries, for in this setting, left unfinished and abandoned by God in wrath, the birds do not sing; they shriek in pain, and confused trees tangle with one another like battling Titans, from horizon to horizon, in a steaming creation still being formed.

(Werner Herzog, Conquest of the Useless, 2009)

This was the genesis of Fitzcarraldo, and chasing this dream Herzog actually lifted a steamboat to the top of a mountain, in order to take it from the  Rio Camisea to the Urubamba; a gigantic effort that entailed death and madness, during what is probably the most legendary and extreme film production in history.

The epic of contrast (here: the boat on the mountain, the sophistication of opera against the barbaric jungle) is what always seduced men into attempting the impossible.
And yet, eighty years before Fitzcarraldo, there was a man to whom this very endeavour seemed not at all visionary. A man who, in this idea of a boat climbing up a mountain slope, saw the future.

Pietro Caminada (1862-1923), was born from the marriage betweeen Gion Antoni Caminada, a Swiss who had emigrated from the Grisons canton to Italy, and Maria Turconi, from Milan. Fascinated since an early age by the figure of Leonardo Da Vinci, he studied engineering and was forced, like many others at the time, to sail towards Argentina together with his brother Angelo, looking for a job. After stopping for a brief tour of Rio de Janeiro, however, he was stunned by the city. He came back on the ship only to get hold of his luggage, and said to his brother: “I’m staying here“.

During the fifteen years he spent in Rio, Caminada worked on several projects regarding the town plan, the harbor refurbishing, and transportation: he transformed the Arcos da Lapa Aqueduct, built in 1750, into a viaduct for the transit of the Bonde, the folkloristic yellow tram which caracterized the Brazilian city until 2011. He was even chosen to design from scratch the new capital, Brasilia, sixty years before the town was actually built.
After this brilliant start, Caminada relocated back to Italy, in Rome. In addition to a wife and three daughters, he also brought with him his most ambitious project: making the Alps navigable.

Certainly this idea had a foremost practical purpose. Connecting Genoa to Konstanz via the Splügen Pass would have allowed for an otherwise unthinkable commercial development, as waterways were affordable and inexpensive.
But in Caminada’s proposal there also was an element of challenge, as if he was defying Nature itself; a fact the papers at the time never ceased to stress. An article, which appeared on the magazine Ars et Labor (1906-1912), began like this:

Man always seems to turn his creativity against the firmest and most solid laws of Nature. He is like a rebellious kid who fancies especially what is forbidden.
— Ah, you did not give me wings, he says to Nature, well I will build me some and fly anyway, in spite of your plans! You made my legs weak and slow, well I will build me an iron horse and run faster than your fastest creatures […]. As wonderful as a moving train might be, it does not upset any of the fundamental principles of Nature’s system; but to sail through the mountains, to sail upwards, to sail across steep slopes expecting this miracle to come only from the energy of channeled water, that is something that turns our most certain knowledge of navigation upside down, something contrary to water’s immutable ways of being […].

The beauty of Caminada’s method to bring boats across the Alps resided in its simplicity. It mainly consisted of a variation of the widely used ship-lock system.
If building a lock “stairway” on different levels remained unthinkable, according to the engineer everything would be easier with an inclined plane:

Imagine holding a cylindrical tube filled with water in a vertical position, the water plane will be round: if the pipe is tilted, the water plane, while always horizontal, will acquire a shape which will be the more elliptical and elongated the more the tube gets close to the horizontal position. If water is let out of the pipe, any floating body on the water plane will come down with it, along a diagonal […]. Thus, if the tube is held vertical the floating body will go up or down following a vertical line: if inclined, the floating body in addition to moving up or down will also travel horizontally. On this simple idea of tubular locks I have built my system of inclined canals, with two lanes in opposite directions.

chiuse   chiuse3

Caminada’s double tubular ship-locks ran in parallel, sharing common usptream and downstream water basins.

One lock is full, the other empty. In the full lock is placed the descending ship; in the empty one, the other boat that has to climb up. The two locks communicate at the bottom through channels or syphons. Upon opening the syphon, the water moves from the full lock to the empty one, lowering and carrying downards the boat in the full lock while lifting up the one in the empty lock, until they reach the same level […]. The operation is completed by closing the communication duct and completely emptying the lock with the descending ship, while from the upstream basin comes the necessary water to fill the lock where the upgoing boat is.

This system, patented by Caminada around the world since 1907, had a huge resonance in those years. It was discussed in articles published by international papers, in conventions and meetings, so much so that many thought the project would become real over a very short time.
Cesare Bolla, who lived in Ticino and disapproved deeply of Caminada’s ideas, even wrote a tongue-in-cheek little poem in 1908, making fun of the inevitable, epochal trasformation that was about to hit Lugano:

Outside my tavern, I’ve put on display
A sign on the window, saying: “Seaside Hotel”.
Folks round here, by a sacred fire consumed,
Only by ships and sails are amused.
[…] it won’t be long, for our own sake,
we’ll gaze at the sea instead of this lake.
Ships will pass in great abundance
All headed for the lake of Constance.

The engineer never stopped working on his dream.

«Caminada — as Till Hein notes — struggled for his vision. He went over and over the details of his project, he built miniatures of his lock system, in many variations. And eventually he built a gigantic model, for the great Architecture Exposition in Milan. With unflinching zeal he tried to convince politicians and officials». He was, like the Bündner Tagblatt once wrote, «an erupting volcano» and had «a restless head, with hair down to his shoulders» […].

(T. Gatani, Da Genova a Costanza in barca attraverso le Alpi, La Rivista, n. 12, dicembre 2012)

But the Genoa-Kostanz route imagined by Caminada was bound to collide, on one hand, with the interests of a Swiss “railroad lobby” who endorsed the building of a train line through the Splügen Pass; on the other, there was Austria, which dominated northeastern Italy and was determined to see that the Kingdom of Savoy couldn’t set a direct connection with Germany, be it by train or ship.

In 1923, at the age of sixty, Caminada died in Rome, and his waterways never became a reality.
His project, which only fifteen years before was seen as the upcoming future, ended up like its inventor in the “mass grave” of memories — except for some sporadic exhibition, and a little country road still bearing his name, situated in the vicinity of the airport entitled to his beloved Leonardo Da Vinci.

Looking back today, the most unfortunate and even sarcastic detail of the story might be a prophecy uttered by King Victor Emmanuel III: when Caminada showed him his plans during a private hearing on January 3, 1908, the King replied: “One day I will be long forgotten, but people will still be talking about you“.

Caminada’s motto, which he repeated throughout his life, is however still true. In two simple Latin words, it encompasses every yearning, every tension towards human limits, every courageous desire of exploring the boundaries: Navigare necesse. It is essential to navigate.

For human beings, setting sail towards new horizons still is, and always will be, a necessity and an imperative.

(Thanks, Emiliano!)

Verità e menzogne

Talvolta, la menzogna dice meglio della verità ciò che avviene nell’anima.
(Maksim Gorkij)

f-for-fake-DI-2

Nello straordinario film-saggio F for Fake (1974), ad un certo punto Orson Welles annuncia che tutto quello che si vedrà durante i seguenti sessanta minuti sarà assolutamente vero. Mentre il film prosegue, raccontando varie vicende di falsari di opere d’arte, lo spettatore si dimentica di questo proclama, finché un sornione Welles non ricompare ricordandoci di aver promesso di dire la verità soltanto per un’ora, e che quell’ora è scaduta da un pezzo. “Per gli ultimi 17 minuti, ho mentito spudoratamente“.

Realtà e finzione, vero e falso.
Il dualismo fra questi opposti, come tutti i dualismi, viene da lontano. Ed è soggetto al principio di non-contraddizione della logica aristotelica, che afferma che una cosa non possa essere contemporaneamente A e non-A. Vale a dire, è impossibile che qualcosa sia vera e falsa allo stesso tempo.
Riconoscere le menzogne dalla verità ci sembra una qualità fondamentale. Eppure talvolta può accadere che le acque si confondano, e la certezza dell’assioma “se non è vero, allora è falso” venga messa in discussione. Addentriamoci nei meandri di questi territori di confine, cominciando da una prima domanda: è sempre possibile tracciare una linea sicura e precisa che separi il falso dal vero?

10VANGOGHjp-articleLarge

Tramonto a Montmajour, uno dei più famosi falsi Van Gogh, è in realtà un vero Van Gogh. Il dipinto, acquistato dall’industriale norvegese Christian Mustad nel 1908, era stato esposto nella casa dell’imprenditore finché un ambasciatore francese non l’aveva “smascherato” come falso. Mustad, preso dalla vergogna d’essere stato ingannato, lo nascose in soffitta e così per quasi un secolo il dipinto passò di solaio in solaio. Sottoposto alla commissione del Van Gogh Museum negli anni ’90, il dipinto venne giudicato falso; ma dopo una seconda investigazione durata ben due anni, il 9 settembre 2013 gli esaminatori annunciarono che si trattava proprio di un autentico Van Gogh.

Questa non è certo l’unica opera di valore riconosciuta solo tardivamente; gli esempi sono innumerevoli, dai mobili del XVI secolo scambiati per falsi ottocenteschi alle imitazioni pittoriche che si scoprono essere invece originali. Nel mondo dell’arte la questione dell’attribuzione è complessa, spinosa e delicata, e ci interroga sulla difficoltà non soltanto di smascherare il falso, ma perfino di comprendere cosa sia autentico. Quanti veri capolavori sono ritenuti di scarso valore o bollati come plagi, e magari giacciono abbandonati in qualche cantina? E quanti dei dipinti nei musei d’arte di tutto il mondo – sì, proprio quelli che avete ammirato anche voi in qualsiasi mostra – sono in realtà dei falsi?
Secondo gli esperti, nel vasto mercato dell’arte almeno un’opera su due sarebbe falsa; nemmeno i musei si salvano, perché circa il 20% dei quadri delle maggiori collezioni museali nei prossimi 100 anni saranno probabilmente riattribuiti ad altri autori. In molti casi si determinerà con maggiore certezza ad esempio che il dipinto è stato eseguito da assistenti o allievi del Maestro in questione, oppure che si tratta di veri e propri quadri contraffatti a fini di truffa, ma in altri casi si scoprirà magari il contrario – come è accaduto alla National Gallery di Washington quando un quadro del valore di 200.000 sterline attribuito a Francesco Granacci è stato riconosciuto come possibile opera di Michelangelo: se fosse vero, la quotazione schizzerebbe di colpo ai 150 milioni di sterline.

Ed eccoci alla nostra seconda domanda. È evidente quanto, per le istituzioni che acquistano e gestiscono simili tesori, la distinzione fra autentico e falso sia di prioritaria importanza. Ma per il pubblico? Emozionarsi di fronte ad un finto Tiziano è un’esperienza meno valida che farlo di fronte a un’opera autentica?

Non lo pensano i curatori del Fälschermuseum di Vienna, che propone soltanto dipinti fasulli: vi si possono ammirare, fra gli altri, falsi Klimt, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Matisse, Chagall e Monet. Questo Museo dei Falsi, unico nel suo genere, ospita la sua collezione “criminale” all’interno di un approfondito percorso  dedicato alla storia del plagio, e relative curiosità – dal falsario che riuscì a vendere un falso Vermeer a Hermann Göring durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale, a quello che inserì nei suoi quadri delle “bombe a orologeria” e anacronismi, fino ai sorprendenti “finti falsi dipinti”.

museo_de_obras_falsas_de_viena_medium

In altri casi, il gioco è più scoperto ma non meno intrigante.
A Istanbul, nel quartiere di Cukurcuma, si trova una palazzina rossa. Alla fine degli anni ’70 qui si è consumata l’ossessiva storia d’amore fra il ricco trentenne Kemal e la bella ma povera Füsun. Per otto anni, dal 1976 al 1984, Kemal ha raccolto ogni genere di oggetti legati all’amata, dei memento che gli potessero ricordare il loro impossibile sentimento: fermacapelli, fazzoletti, ritagli di giornale, spille, fino a catalogare minuziosamente tutti i 4.213 mozziconi di sigaretta fumati dalla ragazza. Questa collezione costituisce oggi il Museo dell’Innocenza, ospitato nella medesima palazzina, un commovente e perenne tributo all’agonia di un amore.
Eppure Kemal e Füsun non sono mai esistiti.

Museum of Innocence 01 20130528 for91days.comPhoto credit: Istanbul For 91 Days
20121212e
20121212b
Dog-Collection-Museum-Of-InnocencePhoto credit: Istanbul For 91 Days
Füsun-Dress-Museum-Of-InnocencePhoto credit: Istanbul For 91 Days
Füsun-Sigthing-Museum-Of-InnocencePhoto credit: Istanbul For 91 Days

Essi sono i personaggi di fantasia creati da Orhan Pamuk, premio Nobel per la letteratura nel 2006, uno dei più noti scrittori turchi, per il suo romanzo Il Museo dell’Innocenza (2008). Aperto nel 2012, il Museo è la versione “materiale” del libro, un’imponente raccolta di tutti gli oggetti descritti sulla pagina: ciascuna delle 83 vetrine rimanda ad un capitolo del romanzo. Dice l’autore: “la storia è pura invenzione, così come il museo. E neppure le sigarette sono del tutto autentiche. Se lo fossero, il tabacco si deteriorerebbe in sei mesi. Con un sostanza chimica ho riempito le cartine con del tabacco turco e, una volta fumate elettronicamente, gli ho dato varie forme che potessero rendere la psicologia di una ventenne immersa nell’infelicità di una storia d’amore travolgente“. Il Museo, che in un dettagliato gioco di rimandi con il libro svela la sua natura finzionale, non è per questo meno coinvolgente e riesce – in maniera forse perfino più intuitiva e toccante di quanto potrebbe fare una mostra storica – a raccontare la vita di ogni giorno della Istanbul di quegli anni (per un approfondimento sui risvolti concettuali, consigliamo questo articolo di Mariano Tomatis).

20121212d

Raki Museum Of InnocencePhoto credit: Istanbul For 91 Days
Museum Of Innocence Collection IstanbulPhoto credit: Istanbul For 91 Days
Meltem-Soda-Museum-Of-InnocencePhoto credit: Istanbul For 91 Days
Playing-Bingo-Museum-Of-InnocencePhoto credit: Istanbul For 91 Days

Ancora più estremo è l’esempio del Museum Of Jurassic Technology di Los Angeles (di cui abbiamo già parlato in questo post): un museo scientifico in cui è impossibile distinguere la finzione dalla realtà, e in cui notizie assolutamente vere vengono presentate fianco a fianco con esposizioni fantasiose, ma comunque plausibili. Dei pannelli illustrano astruse e complicatissime teorie fisiche di cui nessuno ha mai sentito parlare; un macchinario impossibile ed esoterico è semplicemente etichettato come “Macchina della verità”, ma un secondo cartello avverte che è fuori servizio; alcune teche contengono delle microsculture eseguite su chicchi di riso: eppure quando avviciniamo gli occhi alla lente d’ingrandimento per ammirare, per esempio, il volto di Cristo scolpito nel chicco, l’immagine è stranamente confusa e non capiamo davvero cosa stiamo osservando, e così via… La vertigine è inevitabile, e il senso di spaesamento diviene poco a poco una vera e propria esperienza della meraviglia e del mistero.

museum-of-jurassic-technology-exhibits-of-microspcopes

Abbiamo aperto questa breve ricognizione del confine fra verità e menzogne con Orson Welles, e non a caso.
Il cinema infatti esiste grazie alla finzione, ed ha forse più punti in comune con l’illusionismo che con il teatro. E, anche in campo cinematografico, le cose si fanno davvero interessanti quando il pubblico non è a conoscenza del trucco.

cq5dam.web.1280.1280
Prendiamo ad esempio i film documentari di Werner Herzog: il grande regista, famoso per la temerarietà e per il talento visionario, è noto anche per i pochi scrupoli con cui inserisce delle sequenze di fiction all’interno di reportage peraltro scrupolosi. In Rintocchi dal profondo (1993), incentrato sulla spiritualità in Siberia, vediamo ad un certo punto degli uomini che strisciano sulla superficie ghiacciata di un lago, nella speranza di scorgere dei bagliori subacquei della mitica Città Perduta di Kitezh, che secondo la leggenda si è inabissata proprio in quel lago.

Ho sentito parlare di questo mito quando ero lì. Si tratta di una credenza popolare. […] Volevo riprendere i pellegrini che si trascinavano qua e là sul ghiaccio, cercando la visione della città perduta, ma siccome non c’erano pellegrini intorno, ho assunto due ubriachi della città vicino e li ho messi sul ghiaccio. Uno di loro ha la faccia dritta sulla superficie gelata e guarda come se fosse in uno stato di meditazione profonda. La pura verità è che era completamente ubriaco e si è addormentato, lo abbiamo dovuto svegliare a fine riprese“.

Bells-From-the-Deep-2

Ma, per quanto scandalosa possa sembrare questa pratica all’interno di un documentario (che, secondo le regole classiche, dovrebbe attenersi ai “fatti”, alla “verità”, al realismo), lo scopo di Herzog non è assolutamente quello di rendere più spettacolare il suo film, o di imbrogliare lo spettatore. Il suo intento è quello di raccontare l’essenza di un popolo proprio grazie ad una menzogna.

Potrebbe sembrare un inganno, ma non lo è. […] Questo popolo esprime la fede e la superstizione in modo estatico. Credo che per loro la linea di demarcazione tra fede e superstizione sia labile. La domanda è: come riuscire a cogliere lo spirito di una nazione in un film di un’ora e mezza? In un certo senso la scena dei pellegrini ubriachi è l’immagine più profonda che si può avere della Russia. L’affannosa ricerca della città perduta rappresenta l’anima di un’intera comunità. Credo che la scena colga il destino e lo spirito della Russia, e chi conosce questa nazione e i suoi abitanti sostiene che questa sia la scena più bella del film. Anche quando svelo che non si tratta di pellegrini ma di comparse, continuano ad amare quella scena perché racchiude una sorta di verità estatica“.

Una verità che, in questo caso, risplende ancora più luminosa attraverso la finzione.

Durante la proiezione di F for Fake in un cineclub di provincia, un nostro caro amico confessò a una ragazza che la sua decennale amicizia per lei non era sincera. In realtà, l’aveva sempre segretamente amata. La loro relazione sentimentale cominciò così, con una verità sussurrata nel bel mezzo di un film sulle menzogne.
È una storia vera o falsa? Che importa, se ha una sua bellezza?

(Grazie, finegarten!)

La biblioteca delle meraviglie – II

Mell Kilpatrick

CAR CRASHES & OTHER SAD STORIES

(2000, Taschen)

Kilpatrick era un fotografo che operò nell’area di Los Angeles dalla fine degli anni ’40 fino all’inizio degli anni ’60. Seguendo le pattuglie della polizia nelle loro chiamate, ebbe l’occasione di documentare suicidi, omicidi, ma soprattutto incidenti stradali mortali.

Questo splendido volume illustrato sella Taschen offre una selezione dei suoi scatti, quasi sempre notturni, che mostrano l’inizio di una piaga che arriva fino ai giorni nostri. È difficile descrivere le emozioni che si provano di fronte a queste fotografie. Da una parte c’è ovviamente l’empatia per le vittime, mentre la nostra mente cerca di immaginare cosa possano aver provato; ma dall’altra, ed è questo che rende affascinante la collezione di immagini, interviene il filtro del tempo. Questi incidenti provengono da un’epoca lontana, sono grida anonime nello scorrere del tempo, e il flash dona alle scene dell’impatto un’atmosfera mutuata dai film noir dell’epoca (sarà un caso, ma Kilpatrick, come secondo lavoro, faceva il proiezionista in un cinema). Eppure anche una certa amara ironia scorre talvolta in alcuni scatti, come quando i cadaveri sono fotografati sullo sfondo di allegre pubblicità commerciali.

Forse le fotografie hanno acquisito, nel tempo, più significato di quanto non fosse negli originari intenti dell’autore; ma viste oggi, queste auto d’epoca, con i loro grovigli di lamiere e di carne, non possono non ricordare le pagine memorabili dedicate da James G. Ballard agli incidenti automobilistici intesi come nuova mitologia moderna, ossessionante e intimamente sessuale. Immagini bellissime ma destabilizzanti, appunto perché saremmo tentati di iscriverle nel mito (del cinema, della letteratura, della fotografia) proprio quando ci mostrano il lato più reale, banale e concreto della morte.

Paul Collins

LA FOLLIA DI BANVARD

(2006, Adelphi – Fabula)

Il meraviglioso libro di Paul Collins ha come sottotitolo la frase: “Tredici storie di uomini e donne che non hanno cambiato il mondo”. Le sue tredici storie sono davvero straordinarie, perché raccontano di alcuni individui che sono arrivati a tanto così dal cambiare il corso della storia. E poi, hanno fallito.

Scritto in una prosa accattivante e piacevolissima, La follia è tutto una sorpresa dietro l’altra, e ha la qualità dei migliori romanzi. Di volta in volta malinconico ed esilarante, ha il merito di provare a ridare dignità ad alcuni “dimenticati” della scienza e della storia, ognuno a modo suo geniale, ma per qualche motivo vittima di un fatale errore, e delle sue amare conseguenze.

A partire da John Banvard, il folle del titolo: non l’avete sicuramente mai sentito nominare, ma a metà dell’Ottocento era il pittore vivente più famoso del mondo… René Blondlot, insigne professore francese di fisica, che fece importanti e apprezzate scoperte prima di prendere un clamoroso abbaglio, annunciando di aver scoperto i “raggi N”… oppure Alfread Beach, inventore della metropolitana pneumatica, che non prese mai piede non perché non funzionasse, ma perché lui si inimicò il sindaco di New York, tanto da sfidarlo costruendo di nascosto un tratto di metropolitana proprio sotto il municipio… e ancora, cialtroni e imbroglioni da premio Nobel per la lettaratura: William H. Ireland, ad esempio, ossessionato da Shakespeare, ne imparò talmente bene la calligrafia e lo stile da riuscire a produrre falsi e intere opere teatrali, giudicate all’epoca fra le migliori del Bardo; oppure George Psalmanazar, che si inventò di essere originario di Formosa (all’epoca ancora inesplorata, e in cui nemmeno lui aveva mai messo piede), arrivando a descriverne la cultura, le tradizioni, la religione, la flora e la fauna e perfino inventandosi un complesso linguaggio.

Uomini straordinari, folli, herzoghiani, che per un attimo hanno sfiorato la grandezza (magari con intuizioni scientifiche quasi corrette), prima di terminare la loro parabola nel dimenticatoio della Storia. Un divertito elogio della fallibilità umana intesa come voglia di tentare, di esplorare il limite; perché se anche si cade, la caduta testimonia talvolta l’irriducibile vitalità dell’essere umano.

F.A.Q. – Tecniche di canto

Caro Bizzarro Bazar, seguo sempre “X-Factor” e “Amici”, perché il mio grande sogno è diventare un cantante. Potresti darmi qualche dritta?

Innanzitutto, ricorda che è fondamentale acquisire le basi. Comincia con l’acquisire la tecnica di canto più semplice e comune, illustrata in questo video.

Fondamentale, nel canto, è la respirazione. Allena il tuo naso in questo modo:

Importante poi è migliorare la memoria per ricordare sempre perfettamente il testo delle canzoni che canterai:

E, infine, anche l’occhio vuole la sua parte. Non dimenticare di vestirti in modo consono, raffinato ma casual, come il grande Franzl Lang in questo video.

 

Roland Topor

 

Ogni giorno ripetersi: “Non sarò mai più così giovane come oggi”.
(Roland Topor)

Roland Topor (1938-1997) è stato un illustratore, disegnatore, pittore, scrittore, poeta, regista, paroliere, attore e cineasta francese.

Nato a Parigi da genitori polacchi, Topor si distingue come creatore narrativo per immagini dallo stile originale e trasgressivo – è curioso notare che la parola “topor” significa in polacco “ascia” – attivo nei campi più svariati dell’espressione figurativa nella quale infondeva carattere umoristico e dissacrante: dalla pittura all’illustrazione, dall’incisione alla fotografia, dalla scultura alla scenografia teatrale, dal cinema alla musica, dalla letteratura alla televisione.

topor2

Nella sua opera, frutto di una vita indipendente da committenze continuative e da conformismi di ogni tipo, sempre a contatto umano ed artistico con personaggi del mondo dell’arte e della cultura internazionale, emergono affinità e richiami ad alcuni dei movimenti artistici del novecento quali l’esperienza Dada, la derivazione Cobra, il lavoro con Fluxus, le esperienze dei pittori gestuali, la trasgressione della Body-Art, l’ironia della Pop Art e, alle radici, la conoscenza della grande illustrazione didascalica dell’Ottocento: il tutto condito da umorismo nero e da amore per la libertà.

Topor non si occupa veramente dell’inconscio, ma dell’inaccettabile. La sua fantasia dissimula con crudezza la globalità strana del mondo. Nulla gli è estraneo ma il mondo intero è al di là del percettibile, perché quello che sembra più evidente , più banale – la morte, la sofferenza – in realtà non lo sono.” (Alberto e Gianmaria Giorgi)

topor10a

Artista poliedrico e spiazzante, Roland Topor è stato troppo frettolosamente dimenticato e accantonato dall’immaginario collettivo, sia a causa di una sua difficile catalogabilità, che per una sconcertante violenza insita nelle sue opere. Dotato di un’ironia beffarda e dissacrante, Topor ha sempre fatto venire i brividi lungo la schiena ai soloni della critica ufficiale.
Nella sua eccentrica carriera artistica ha fatto di tutto: dalla pittura all’illustrazione, dal teatro alla fotografia, dall’incisione alla scultura, dal cinema d’animazione ai romanzi, dalla musica alla televisione. E tutto questo continuamente sperimentando nuovi linguaggi espressivi e rimanendo fedele alle sue convinzioni e ai suoi principi. Erede del nichilismo dadaista, è riuscito con la sua enigmatica arte a demolire qualsiasi forma di autorità precostituita, ridimensionando contemporaneamente sia il borioso sapere scolastico che la cultura ufficiale imperante. Illuminante il fatto che abbia frequentato la rinomata Accademia di Belle Arti “dal bar di fronte”, come amava ricordare, rifiutando così di diventare un’artista/pollo di batteria come tanti altri.

Un individuo, per sopravvivere, deve dissimulare la sua virulenza.
Deve svolgere un’attività utile a una comunità umana, a un gruppo sociale.
Deve dare l’impressione di essere sincero. Deve apparire UOMO NORMALE.
La sola rivolta individuale consiste nel sopravvivere.

(Roland Topor)

La sua immaginazione sadica e il suo tagliente umorismo nero hanno disvelato, senza mezzi termini, l’assurdità nascosta nel reale, regalandoci un intimo e perturbante brivido. I suoi esseri umani immondi e mostruosi, raffigurati in preda ai piaceri più sfrenati e aggressivi, fanno pensare alle fantasie devianti di un moderno Hieronymous Bosch.

Viviamo i dettagli angoscianti delle sue opere, fino quasi a sentirne l’acre odore e ad apprezzare, sconvolti, l’elasticità delle carni lacerate. Il mondo rivela la sua doppiezza, l’ipocrisia strisciante e l’artista, indignato, la mostra in tutta la sua repellente virulenza.

roland-topor-illustration-for-the-tenant

Il campo dell’indagine dell’artista è dunque l’uomo con le sue frustrazioni nella società e quindi l’irrealtà delle situazioni quotidiane, l’allucinante e l’assurdo che diventano normalità sono rappresentati con la perversione del realismo, la crudeltà della verità, l’inquietudine dell’ironia più dissacrante… Il suo lavoro è concentrato non tanto sui significati convenzionali delle cose e degli esseri, quanto su ciò che questi offrono di ulteriore alla vista, sull’abisso su cui si aprono e sul mondo che lasciano intravedere e in cui ci si può perdere. Il posto del pubblico è proprio sul baratro, dove deve provare il gusto di sfiorare il pericolo e la fine.” (Gilberto Finzi)

CRONOLOGIA MINIMA

1962 – Crea con Alejandro Jodorowsky e Fernando Arrabal il Movimento Panico.

Dal 1961 al 1965 – Contribuisce alla rivista satirica Hara Kiri, oltre che pubblicare vignette sul New York Times e sul Newyorker.

1965 – Crea, con il collega René Laloux, il cortometraggio di animazione Les Escargots, premio speciale della giuria al Cracovia Film Festival.

1971 – Crea i disegni per i titoli di testa di Viva la muerte (di F. Arrabal).

1973 – René Laloux dirige Il Pianeta Selvaggio (La Planète Sauvage), su disegni e sceneggiatura di Topor, basato su un romanzo di fantascienza di Stefan Wul. Il lungometraggio di animazione vince il premio della giuria al Festival di Cannes.

1974 – Topor ha un cameo in Sweet Movie di Dusan Makavejev.

1976 – Roman Polanski dirige L’inquilino del terzo piano (The Tenant) adattando il romanzo di Topor Le locataire chimérique.

1979 – Recita nel ruolo di Renfield nel Nosferatu di Werner Herzog.

1983 – Crea con Henri Xhonneux la popolare serie TV Téléchat, una parodia dei telegiornali con pupazzi di un gatto e di un’ostrica.

1989 – Con Henri Xhonneux co-scrive la sceneggiatura del film Marquis, ispirato alla vita e alle opere del Marchese de Sade. Il cast è costituito da attori in costume con maschere di animali.

Per guadagnare da vivere io non dispongo che dei prodotti derivati dalla mia paura…
La realtà in sé è orribile, mi dà l’asma. La realtà è insopportabile senza gioco,
il gioco consente un’immagine della realtà. Io non posso perdere
il contatto con la realtà, ma per sopportarla ho bisogno
di questo gioco astratto che mi permette di trovare
quello che può essere ancora umano.

(Roland Topor)