Astral Colonel NOF4’s telepathic voyages

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To write is to travel without the hassle of the luggage, Salgari wrote. For Mauriac, “a writer is essentially a man who does not resign himself to loneliness“. Both these concepts, the mental voyage and the struggle with solitude, are good ways to understand the life and work of NOF4, whose original name was Oreste Ferdinando Nannetti.

We don’t get to choose life. We keep telling ourselves we are in control, but sometimes the boat’s wheel is broken from the beginning. The life that was destined to Oreste Ferdinando Nannetti was a painful one: born in Rome in  1927, on New Year’s Eve, son of Concetta Nannetti and of unknown father, he soon grew to be clearly different from other kids. At the time, this meant there was only one destination for him on the horizon – the insane asylum. Oreste entered a mental hospital for the first time at age 10, after having been committed to a charity institution three years before. In 1948 he was charged with insulting a public official, but the judge acquitted him on the grounds of deminished responsibility (“total mind defect“); he then spent some 10 years at the Santa Maria della Pietà psychiatric hospital, before being definitively transferred to Volterra. Oreste arrived to the asylum in Volterra in the worst possible moment, when the hospital was still ruled by a prison regime, with barred and locked windows and the order to address the male nurses as “guards”. Things slowly began to improve after 1963, but the police atmosphere continued, although with increasingly lighter tones, until the hospital was abandoned in 1979 after the Basaglia Law. In 1973 Nannetti was dismissed, and transferred to the Bianchi Institute. He died in Volterra in 1994, and to look at his life, now, it all seems to be spent under the sign of civil negation, beginning with that ignominious initials on his birth certificate, “NN”, “Non Noto” (“unknown”), where his father’s name was supposed to be. The life of a poor son of a bitch that ought to be removed, erased, forgot. Just another failed mutation.

But Oreste Ferdinando Nannetti, in spite of everyone, absolutely left a trace of his passage on this reality, in fact he cut it, sliced it, incised it. And he wrote, to travel with his mind and fight his way through loneliness.

During his years of internment in Volterra, Nannetti engraved his feverish masterpiece: a colossal, immense “graffiti book” on the wall of the Ferri section. 180 meters long (590ft) and 2 meters high (6ft), the graffiti was accomplished by using the buckle from his waistcoat (all the patients wore one) to carve the plaster.  Later, Nannetti began “writing” in this same way on the concrete banister of a big staircase, adding another 106 meters (347ft) by 20 centimeters (8in) to his work. His production also consists of more than 1.600 writings and drawings on papers, including several postcards: these postcards, which he never sent and which were adressed to imaginary relatives, are another attempt to win his battle over an unthinkable solitude.

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If his said and miserable biography, which you just read summarized in a single paragraph, was Nannetti’s “official” life, as one could see it from the outside, through his writings and graffiti his real story comes out, his true reality.
In this dimension, Oreste was not just Oreste, but rather an “astronautical mining engineer in the mental system“, “saint of the photo-electric cell“, and called himself Nanof, Nof, or mainly NOF4. This acronym meant indiscriminately “Nannetti Oreste Fernando”, “French Oriental Nuclear”, or even “French Oriental Nations”, while 4 was the identification number he received at the beginning of his internment. How many multitudes live inside a man who defines himself as “Nations”?
NOF4’s “mining” work consisted in studying and digging through reality, and his graffiti really was his “mining key” to access the unfathomable depths of the psyche. In it we read that “glass, metal sheets, metals, wood, the bones of the human being and of animals and the eye and the spirit are all controlled through the reflective magnetic cathode beam; all images who possess a body heat are living matter, and they can even die twice“.

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NOF4 can telepathically communicate with aliens: “Nannetti’s texts are about imaginary nations taking over other imaginary nations, about spaceflights, about telepathic connections, about fantastic characters, poetically described as tall, spinach-like and with a Y-shaped nose, about hypertechnological weapons, about mysterious alchemic combinations, about magical virtues of metals, ecc.“. (Quaderni d’altri tempi, II,6)

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As a paranoid agent under cover in Burroughs‘ Interzone, Nannetti received dispatches from beyond and reported his psychic investigation’s results on the concrete wall: “I have gathered some news by telepathic means, which will seem weird to you but are true: 1. The Earth is still, and stars turn on Earth’s side; 2. The woman has got no father, your father was a woman“. Heroic, borderline scientist inside his “nuclear observatory“, NOF4 measured magnetic fluxes, saw forests made of metal pylons and antennas with his mind’s eye, and kept carving his graffiti with his buckle.
The dense lines of text of which [the graffiti] is composed, with drawings and illustrations sometimes interrupting it, give the idea of a constant flow of words, sounds, images. An encyclopedia of the world almost treated as inner dialogue, and delivered to the world itself with urgence, maybe chaotically, but surely with a strong determination“, writes sociologist Adolfo Fattori, and his words are echoed by Lara Fremder: “Maybe this is how it went, it happened that a man with no history tried to write one for himself, and in order to do that he chose a wall, a big wall, a 180 meters surface, the whole facade of the psychiatric hospital. And he began to write and draw and to collect everything inside carved pages on the wall. […] What I think, what I love to think, is that NOF4 had other interlocutors to have a conversation with, and he showed them his drawings, and handed them the keys to his own mining system. I love to imagine these interlocutors really understood that lunatic well, studying with him projects and plans for other dimensions, surely not for this one, where day after day we witness a slow agony of meaning and beauty“.

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The psychiatric hospital in Volterra, closed in 1979, is in a state of complete abandon. Of Nannetti’s graffiti, which is considered a world masterpiece of outsider art, little was saved (a piece was detached in 2013 for preservation). Only some parts of it still stand, and we have just a few photocopies of his writings and drawings. If not for Aldo Trafeli, a male nurse who was the only one to talk to Nannetti, eventually becoming his friend, we probably wouldn’t even know his story.

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Among the still existing parts of the graffiti, one in particular is the visible trace of Nannetti’s kindness. In some points, the lines of text go up and down: when asked about this strange “wave”, Oreste replied that he did it because he didn’t want to disturb the other patients, who sat against the wall warming in the sun; he could have asked them to move, but he preferred to continue his carvings around their heads.

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Nannetti, the “nuclear safecracker”, the “astral colonel”, never went past elementary school. But, even without being a person of letters, in writing he found a spaceship to explore his own illness and pain.
NOF4 was not alone anymore, NOF4 could travel: “as a free butterfly singing, the whole world is mine… and everything makes me dream…

The only existing moving images of NOF4.

Here’s the italian Wiki page about NOF4. The quotes in the post come from a marvellous monographic number of  Quaderni d’altri tempi entirely dedicated to Nannetti.
(Thanks, gery!)

The Postman’s Palace

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Ferdinand Cheval was born in 1836 in Charmes, a small village in the commune of Hauterives, a little less than one hundred kilometres from Lyon. Ferdinand’s mother, Rose, died when he was only eleven; as his family was very poor, a year later the little boy left school and started working with his father. The latter died a few years later, in 1854. Therefore Ferdinand Cheval, at the age of twenty, became assistant baker. After marrying the young Rosalie Revol, who was just 17, for a few years he went far from the country in search for a job, and accepted various occasional employment offers; he rejoined his wife in 1863 and their first child was born in 1864. One year later, the boy died.
Two years went by and their second child was born. In 1867, at the age of thirty-one, Ferdinand Cheval pledged to become a postman.
In 1873, his wife Rosalie died.

An ordinary life, afflicted by pain and job insecurity. Those were times of extreme poverty, in which hunger and diseases never ceased to claim victims. And yet the nineteenth century was also marked by the modernist turn – monarchy gave way to republic, sciences and medicine made progress in leaps and bounds, industry was just born, and so on. And the echo of these revolutions reached the French countryside. Ferdinand used to handle the first illustrated gazettes, namely the Magasin Pittoresque or La revue illustrée, but also the first postcards coming from all over the world; under the eyes of a poor delivery man from the countryside an exotic world opened up, made of super-fast railways, heroic colonization in Africa and Asia, spectacular and unbelievable discoveries presented at the first International Exhibitions… in other words, daily life was hard as usual but there was still plenty of fuel for dreams.

Ferdinand Cheval used to stack up thirty kilometres a day, always the same way. At that time a postman’s pace was very different from the current “motorized” one. In his journal he wrote:

What shall I do, perpetually walking through the same landscape, but dream? To take my mind off, I used to dream of building a fantastic palace…

But the eccentric daydreaming of this humble postman from the countryside would have stayed as such, if Nature hadn’t sent him a sign.
On the 19th April 1879 Ferdinand Cheval was 43 years old, and his life was about to change forever.

One day of April in 1879, while I was carrying out my usual tour as a countryside postman, a quarter-league before arriving at Tersanne, I was hastily walking when my foot stumbled on something that made me slide a few metres further, and wanted to know the cause. In a dream, I had built a palace, a castle or some caves, I cannot express it properly… I never told it to anyone for fear to seem ridiculous, and felt ridiculous myself. After fifteen years, when I had almost forgotten my dream, and didn’t think about it at all, my foot made me remember it. My foot had bumped into a stone that almost made me fall. I wanted to know what it was… The shape of the stone was so bizarre that I put it in my pocket in order to admire it whenever I liked. The day after, I went through the same place. I found more of them, even more beautiful, I picked up them all on the spot, was enchanted by them… It is a molasse worked by waters and hardened by the force of time. It becomes hard like rocks. It represents such a bizarre sculpture that it can’t be reproduced by any human being, you can read all kinds of animals, all kinds of parodies in it. I told myself: if nature wants to be a sculptress, I will deal with masonry and architecture.

The stone which awoke the sleeping dream.

That stone, discovered by chance, was something like a conversion on the road to Damascus for the postman. And Cheval didn’t draw back, in front of this obvious call to action: little by little, he started to set up his building site – although he had no education, nor the least idea about how a house should be built, let alone a fairy castle.
The country people started to take him for a fool. But all of a sudden life had presented him with a grandiose purpose and, although everyday he made his usual thirty kilometres on foot, there was a new sparkle in his eyes. The weight of the mail to be delivered was increased by that of stones: during the outward journey he selected and positioned them along the road and, on his return, he picked them up with his loyal barrow. Postman Cheval and his barrow became a true icon for the inhabitants of Hauterives.

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During his time off, every evening and every morning, Cheval continued to build the structure; he went ahead off the cuff, as a perfect autodidact, adding decoration after decoration without a real planning. Tireless, feverish, possessed by the grandeur of the task he was accomplishing.

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Postman Cheval started his work with a fountain, the “Source of Life”, then added the so-called “Cave of Saint Amadeus”, the Egyptian Tomb, and a series of pagodas, oriental temples, mosques, and other representations of sacred places, on show one besides the other; the Three Giants (Caesar, Vercingetorix, Archimedes) were in charge of mounting guard over the sculptural complex.

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The postman never had a rest. In 1894 Cheval saw another of his children die, the fifteen-year-old daughter he had by his second wife. Overwhelmed by this new loss, he retired after two years but continued to devote himself to his Palace. He was half the battle, he couldn’t stop.

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The Ideal Palace was not conceived as a real building, inhabitable, but as a monument dedicated to the brotherhood that unites people, regardless of their creed or origin: a mix of western and eastern forms and styles, an elaborate syncretism inspired by nature, postcards and the magazines that Cheval used to deliver. Sculpted figures, concrete palms, beasts, intertwined branches and columns decorated in arabesque surrounded the sacred representations or buildings; messages and poems by the builder should be reproduced on inscriptions and signs; finally, in the crypt, a small altar was dedicated to his inseparable barrow, that made all this possible and that Cheval used to call “my faithful mate of misery”…

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Postman Cheval achieved his Ideal Palace in 1912, after having devoted thirty-three years of his life to it. He commemorated it with a writing, visible under a stairway that runs along the Temple of Nature towards the Northern Façade:

1879-1912: 10,000 days, 93,000 hours, 33 years of obstacles and trials. The work of one single man.

Satisfied, Cheval announced that the monument would also be his tomb; but, surprisingly, authorities denied him the permission to be buried there. What should he do? Cheval didn’t lose heart.

After having achieved my dream Palace at the age of seventy-seven and after thirty-three years of hard work, I discovered I was still brave enough to build my tomb by myself at the Parish cemetery. There I worked hard for eight more years. I was lucky enough to complete this tomb called “The Tomb of Silence and endless rest” – at the age of 86. This tomb is about one kilometre from the village of Hauterives. Its manufacturing makes it very original, almost unique in the world, but its beauty comes from originality. After having seen my dream Palace, a high number of visitors go and see it, then they go back to their country in amazement, telling their friends that it is not a fairy-tale, it’s reality. See it and believe it.

In that same mausoleum Ferdinand Cheval obtained his well-deserved rest in 1924.

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“Le Tombeau du silence et du repos sans fin”.

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Shortly before his death, facteur Cheval had the satisfaction of seeing his Palace acknowledged by some artists and intellectuals as an extraordinary example of architecture, without rules or structures, a spontaneous and unclassifiable artwork. In 1920 André Breton brought him to attention as the pioneer of surrealism in architecture; then, as the concept of art brut emerged, Cheval was even more admired for his work; nowadays people prefer to use the term outsider art, or Naïve art, but the concept stays the same: as he didn’t have an artistic culture, Cheval took the liberty of making impulsive and non-academic choices that made the Palace a unique work in its own way. Picasso, Ernst, Tinguely, Niki de Saint Phalle all loved this crazy and incredible place, that – more or less explicitly – inspired several other fictitious “citadels”.
In 1969
André Malraux decided to protect the Palace as a historic monument, against the opinion of many other officials of the Ministry of Culture, with these motivations:

In a time when Naïve Art has become a remarkable reality, it would be childish not to protect – when we French are as lucky as to possess it – the only naïve architecture in the world, and wait for it to be destroyed.

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The small town of Hauterives is still there, between the hills and the fields, at the foot of the French Alps. And yet only in 2013 almost 160,000 visitors went on a pilgrimage to the Ideal Palace, today completely restored and in whose frame art exhibitions, concerts and events are organized.
And, as our gaze is lost for the umpteenth time in the tangled stone doodles, we are astonished by the idea that they have really been created by a simple postman who, with his barrow, scoured the countryside in search for bizarre stones; you can’t help thinking about the sardonic provocation that Cheval himself wrote on the front of his Palace:

If some of you is more stubborn than me, then set to work.

But this ironic remark, we like to read it also as an invitation and a challenge; an exhortation to cultivate stubbornness, madness and temerity – necessary for all those who really want to try and build their own “Ideal Palace”.

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Here is the official site of the Ideal Palace.

Speciale: Fotografare la morte – III

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Joel-Peter Witkin è ritenuto uno dei maggiori e più originali fotografi viventi, assurto negli anni a vera e propria leggenda della fotografia moderna. È nato a Brooklyn nel 1939, da padre ebreo e madre cattolica, che si separarono a causa dell’inconciliabilità delle loro posizioni religiose. Fin da giovane, quindi, Witkin conobbe la profonda influenza dei dilemmi della fede. Come ha più volte raccontato, un altro episodio fondamentale fu assistere ad un incidente stradale, mentre un giorno, da bambino, andava a messa con sua madre e suo fratello; nella confusione di lamiere e di grida, il piccolo Joel si trovò improvvisamente da solo e vide qualcosa rotolare verso di lui. Era la testa di una giovane ragazzina. Joel si chinò per carezzarle il volto, parlarle e rasserenarla, ma prima che potesse allungare una mano qualcuno lo portò via.
In questo aneddoto seminale sono già contenute alcune di quelle che diverranno vere e proprie ossessioni tematiche per Witkin: lo spirito, la compassione per la sofferenza e la ricerca della purezza attraverso il superamento di ciò che ci spaventa.

Dopo essersi laureato in discipline artistiche, ed aver iniziato la sua carriera come fotografo di guerra in Vietnam, nel 1982 Witkin ottiene il permesso di scattare alcune fotografie a dei preparati anatomici, e riceve in prestito per 24 ore una testa umana sezionata longitudinalmente. Witkin decide di posizionare le due metà gemelle nell’atto di baciarsi: l’effetto è destabilizzante e commovente, come se il momento della morte fosse un’estrema conciliazione con il sé, un riconoscere la propria parte divina e finalmente amarla senza riserve.

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The Kiss è lo scatto che rende il fotografo di colpo celebre, nel bene e nel male: se da una parte alcuni critici comprendono subito la potente carica emotiva della fotografia, dall’altra molti gridano allo scandalo e la stessa Università, appena scopre l’uso che ha fatto del preparato, decide che Witkin è persona non grata.
Egli si trasferisce quindi nel Nuovo Messico, dove può in ogni momento attraversare il confine ed aggirare così le stringenti leggi americane sull’utilizzo di cadaveri. Da quel momento il lavoro di Witkin si focalizza proprio sulla morte, e sui “diversi”.

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Lavorando con cadaveri o pezzi di corpi, con modelli transessuali, mutilati, nani o affetti da diverse deformità, Witkin crea delle barocche composizioni di chiara matrice pittorica (preparate con maniacale precisione a partire da schizzi e bozzetti), spesso reinterpretando grandi opere di maestri rinascimentali o importanti episodi religiosi.

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Witkin Archive
Scattate rigorosamene in studio, dove ogni minimo dettaglio può essere controllato a piacimento dall’artista, le fotografie vengono poi ulteriormente lavorate in fase di sviluppo, nella quale Witkin interviene graffiando la superficie delle foto, disegnandoci sopra, rovinandole con acidi, tagliando e rimaneggiando secondo una varietà di tecniche per ottenere il suo inconfondibile bianco e nero “anticato” alla maniera di un vecchio dagherrotipo.

Nonostante i soggetti scabrosi ed estremi, lo sguardo di Witkin è sempre compassionevole e “innamorato” della sacralità della vita. Anche la fiducia che i suoi soggetti gli accordano, nel venire fotografati, è proprio da imputarsi alla sincerità con cui egli ricerca i segni del divino anche nei fisici sfortunati o differenti: Witkin ha il raro dono di far emergere una sensualità e una purezza quasi sovrannaturale dai corpi più strani e contorti, catturando la luce che pare emanare proprio dalle sofferenze vissute. Cosa ancora più straordinaria, egli non ha bisogno che il corpo sia vivo per vederne, e fotografarne, l’accecante bellezza.

Ecco le nostre cinque domande a Joel-Peter Witkin.

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1. Perché hai deciso che era importante raffigurare la morte nei tuoi lavori fotografici?

La morte è parte della vita di ognuno di noi. La morte è anche il grande discrimine fra la fede umana e gli aspetti terreni, temporali – è il sonno senza tempo, per chi è religioso, è la vita eterna assieme a Dio.

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2. Quale credi che sia lo scopo, se ce n’è uno, delle tue fotografie post-mortem? Stai soltanto fotografando i corpi, o sei alla ricerca di qualcos’altro?

Fotografare la morte e i resti umani è sempre un “lavoro sacro”. Quello che fotografo, coloro che ritraggo, in realtà siamo sempre noi stessi. Io vedo la bellezza nei soggetti che fotografo.

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3. Come succede per tutto ciò che mette alla prova il nostro rifiuto della morte, il tono macabro e sconvolgente delle tue fotografie potrebbe essere visto da alcuni come osceno e irrispettoso. Ti interessa scioccare il pubblico, e come ti poni nei riguardi della carica di tabù presente nei tuoi soggetti?

I grandi dipinti e la scultura del passato hanno sempre affrontato il tema della morte. Amo dire che “la morte è come il pranzo – sta arrivando!”. Un tempo la gente nasceva e moriva nella propria casa. Oggi nasciamo e moriamo in apposite istituzioni. Portiamo tutti un numero tatuato sul nostro polso. Muoriamo soli.
Quindi, ovviamente, le persone rimangono sconvolte nel vedere, in un certo senso, il loro stesso volto. Credo che nulla dovrebbe mai essere tabù. In realtà quando sono abbastanza privilegiato da riuscire a fotografare la morte, resto solitamente molto toccato dallo spirito che è ancora presente nei corpi di quelle persone.

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4. È stato difficile approcciare i cadaveri, a livello personale? C’è qualche aneddoto particolare o interessante riguardo le circostanze di una tua foto?

Quando ho fotografato “l’uomo senza testa”, (Man Without A Head, un cadavere, seduto su una sedia all’obitorio, la cui testa era stata rimossa a scopo di ricerca) lui indossava dei calzetti neri. Quel dettaglio rese il tutto un po’ più personale. Il dottore, il suo assistente ed io alzammo quest’uomo morto dal tavolo settorio e posizionammo il suo corpo su una sedia di acciaio. Dovetti lavorare un po’ con il cadavere, per bilanciare le sue braccia in modo che non cadesse per terra. Alla fine, nella foto, il pavimento era tutto ricoperto dal sangue fluito dal suo collo, dove la testa era stata tagliata. Gli fui molto grato di aver lavorato con me.

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5. Riguardo alle foto post-mortem, ti piacerebbe che te ne venisse scattata una dopo che sei morto? Come ti immagini una simile foto?

Ho già preso provvedimenti affinché i miei organi siano rimossi dopo la mia morte per aiutare chi ancora è in vita. Qualsiasi cosa rimanga, verrà seppellita in un cimitero militare, visto che sono un veterano dell’esercito. Quindi temo che mi perderò l’occasione di cui mi chiedi!

P.S. Io non voglio “mantenere bizzarro il mondo” (un riferimento allo slogan del nostro blog, n.d.r.)… voglio renderlo più amorevole!

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Nel Regno dell’Irreale

Henry Darger era la classica persona che passa inosservata. Abiti sciatti ma puliti, un umile lavoro come custode dell’ospedale locale, la messa ogni giorno, un lavoro di volontariato a favore dei bambini che avevano subito abusi o erano stati trascurati, una fissazione per la storia della Guerra Civile Americana. Aveva avuto un’infanzia piuttosto difficile, subendo anche un internamento in manicomio (e all’inizio del ‘900, non era uno scherzo: significava lavori forzati e severe punizioni); eppure di tutte quelle sofferenze Henry sembrava non portare alcun segno, anzi spesso ricordava di aver avuto anche momenti felici. Un solitario, ma di buon cuore. Un uomo qualsiasi, nella grande città ventosa di Chicago. Anche la sua morte avvenne senza clamore, una mattina d’aprile del 1973.

Eppure Henry nascondeva un segreto.

Qualche giorno dopo la sua morte, frugando nella sua stanza per liberarla, i padroni di casa trovarono il progetto nascosto di Henry Darger, l’opera di una vita.

Il romanzo fantasy The story of the Vivian Girls, reintitolato recentemente The Realms of Unreal, scritto da Darger durante un periodo di oltre 60 anni, è un’opera straordinaria per dimensioni: più di 15.145 pagine di racconto, fittissime, e alcuni volumi rilegati contenenti diverse centinaia di illustrazioni, papiri colorati ad acquerello, ritagli di giornale e di libri da colorare. Oltre a questo, Darger scrisse anche un’autobiografia di 5.084 pagine, e un secondo lavoro di fiction, Crazy House, di più di 10.000 pagine.

Durante tutti quegli anni di vita da recluso, Darger aveva accumulato un archivio immenso di ritagli di giornale, pubblicità, pagine di libri per bambini. Su quella base, ricopiando i suoi ritagli, aveva illustrato le avventure delle Vivian Girls, le protagoniste del suo romanzo. In The Realms of Unreal, le ragazze Vivian sono sette principesse (cattoliche) di un mondo immaginario in cui i Glandeliniani (atei convinti) sfruttano i bambini e ne abusano costantemente. Dopo che viene messo in atto il più scioccante omicidio infantile mai causato dal Governo Glandeliniano, i bambini si sollevano e si scatena una guerra senza confine, il vero fulcro del romanzo, che si sviluppa fra fughe rocambolesche, epiche battaglie e crudeli scene di tortura.

Si è molto discusso su quello “scioccante omicidio infantile“. Darger, infatti, era rimasto particolarmente colpito dall’assassinio di una bambina, Elsie Paroubek, strangolata da uno sconosciuto nel 1911: aveva ritagliato la foto della piccola vittima da un giornale e l’aveva conservata come una reliquia. Quando un giorno l’immagine andò perduta, egli si convinse che la foto fosse stata rubata da qualche malintenzionato introdottosi in casa sua. Dopo aver elaborato preghiere e novene rivolte a Dio affinché gli fosse concesso di recuperare la fotografia, Darger decise che quell’affronto andava risolto in altro modo: nel suo romanzo in corso d’opera, che diventava ogni giorno di più una sorta di universo parallelo nel quale Henry risolveva i suoi conflitti interiori, fece scoppiare la guerra fra le Vivian girls e i Glandeliniani proprio a causa dell’omicidio di una piccola schiava ribelle. In virtù di questa ossessione di Darger per la piccola Elsie Paroubek, trasfigurata in eroina nel suo romanzo, il biografo MacGregor avanza l’ipotesi che l’assassino della bambina (mai identificato) fosse proprio lo stesso Darger.

Le prove che Henry Darger potesse realmente essere un pedofilo o un assassino non sono mai affiorate. Certo è che gran parte delle illustrazioni di Realms of Unreal mostrano ragazzine nude, spesso torturate e uccise dai Glandeliniani con un’attenzione e una cura dei particolari che ricordano i disegni realizzati dai più famosi serial killer. A intorbidire ancora più le acque, nella maggioranza dei dipinti le piccole bambine nude sfoggiano genitali maschili. È molto probabile che, come notano i maggiori esegeti dell’opera di Darger, il vecchio recluso non avesse un’idea chiara dell’anatomia femminile, essendo rimasto molto probabilmente illibato fino alla fine dei suoi giorni.

È innegabile che i suoi dipinti abbiano una forza strana e inquietante: sia che le sorelle Vivian siano in pericolo, sia che giochino innocentemente su un prato, una sottile vena di voyeurismo naif e infantile pervade ogni dettaglio, e nonostante i colori sgargianti e appariscenti il mondo di Darger è sempre impregnato di una tensione erotico-sadica piuttosto morbosa.

In una catarsi psicanalitica durata sessant’anni, Darger disegnò centinaia e centinaia di fogli, anche di grandi dimensioni, illustrando le varie fasi dell’avventura bellica delle sue eroine. Il romanzo ha addirittura due finali, uno in cui le sorelle Vivian escono vittoriose dalla guerra, e uno in cui soccombono alle forze degli atei adulti Glandeliniani.

Queste sue fantasie private, che nelle intenzioni originali non avevano forse alcuna pretesa d’arte, ma semplicemente di riscatto ed evasione da una vita troppo solitaria, sono oggi riconosciute come uno dei maggiori esempi di outsider art (arte degli emarginati). Le sue illustrazioni vengono esposte nelle maggiori gallerie, e vendute all’asta a prezzi elevatissimi. Documentari e saggi vengono prodotti sulla sua arte. L’American Folk Art Museum sta cercando di trasformare in museo il piccolo, povero appartamento nel quale Henry Darger, chino sui suoi fogli, privo di amici e lontano da tutti, fuggiva nello sconfinato e sublime mondo partorito dalla sua fantasia.

il più scioccante omicidio infantile mai causato dal governo Glandelinian