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.

Wunderkammer Reborn – Part II

(Second and last part – you can find the first one here.)

In the Nineteenth Century, wunderkammern disappeared.
The collections ended up disassembled, sold to private citizens or integrated in the newly born modern museums. Scientists, whose discipline was already defined, lost interest for the ancient kind of baroque wonder, perhaps deemed child-like in respect to the more serious postitivism.
This type of collecting continued in sporadic and marginal ways during the first decades of the Twetieth Century. Some rare antique dealer, especially in Belgium, the Netherlands or Paris, still sold some occasional mirabilia, but the golden age of the trade was long gone.
Of the few collectors of this first half of the century the most famous is André Breton, whose cabinet of curiosities is now on permanent exhibit at the Centre Pompidou.

The interest of wunderkammern began to reawaken during the Eighties from two distinct fronts: academics and artists.
On one hand, museology scholars began to recognize the role of wunderkammern as precursors of today’s museal collections; on the other, some artists fell in love with the concept of the chamber of wonders and started using it in their work as a metaphor of Man’s relationship with objects.
But the real upswing came with the internet. The neo-wunderkammer “movement” developed via the web, which opened new possibilities not only for sharing the knowledge but also to revitalize the commerce of curiosities.

Let’s take a look, as we did for the classical collections, to some conceptual elements of neo-wunderkammern.

A Democratic Wunderkammer

The first macroscopic difference with the past is that collecting curiosities is no more an exclusive of wealthy billionaires. Sure, a very-high-profile market exists, one that the majority of enthusiasts will never access; but the good news is that today, anybody who can afford an internet conection already has the means to begin a little collection. Thanks to the web, even a teenager can create his/her own shelf of wonders. All that’s needed is good will and a little patience to comb through the many natural history collectibles websites or online auctions for some real bargain.

There are now children’s books, school activities and specific courses encouraging kids to start this form of exploration of natural wonders.

The result of all this is a more democratic wunderkammer, within the reach of almost any wallet.

Reinventing Exotica

We talked about the classic category of exotica, those objects that arrived from distant colonies and from mysterious cultures.
But today, what is really exotic – etymologically, “coming from the outside, from far away”? After all we live in a world where distances don’t matter any more, and we can travel without even moving: in a bunch of seconds and a few clicks, we can virtually explore any place, from a mule track on the Andes to the jungles of Borneo.

This is a fundamental issue for the collectors, because globalization runs the risk of annihilating an important part of the very concept of wonder. Their strategies, conscious or not, are numerous.
Some collectors have turned their eyes towards the only real “external space” that is left — the cosmos; they started looking for memorabilia from the heroic times of the Space Race. Spacesuits, gear and instruments from various space missions, and even fragments of the Moon.

Others push in the opposite direction, towards the most distant past; consequently the demand for dinosaur fossils is in constant growth.

But there are other kinds of new exotica that are closer to us – indeed, they pertain directly to our own society.
Internal exoticism: not really an oxymoron, if we consider that anthropologists have long turned the instruments of ethnology towards the modern Western worold (take for instance Marc Augé). To seek what is exotic within our own cultre is to investigate liminal zones, fringe realities of our time or of the recent past.

Thus we find a recent fascination for some “taboo” areas, related for example to crime (murder weapons, investigative items, serial killer memorabilia) or death (funerary objecs and Victorian mourning apparel); the medicalia sub-category of quack remedies, as for example electric shock terapies or radioactive pharamecutical products.

Jessika M. collection – photo Brian Powell, from Morbid Curiosities (courtesy P. Gambino)

Funerary collectibles.

Violet wand kit; its low-voltage electric shock was marketed as the cure for everything.

Even curiosa, vintage or ancient erotic objects, are an example of exotica coming from a recent past which is now transfigured.

A Dialogue Between The Objects

Building a wunderkammer today is an eminently artistic endeavour. The scientific or anthropological interest, no matter how relevant, cannot help but be strictly connected to aesthetics.
There is a greater general attention to the interplay between the objects than in the past. A painting can interact with an object placed in front of it; a tribal mask can be made to “dialogue” with an other similar item from a completely different tradition. There is undoubtedly a certain dose of postmodern irreverence in this approach; for when pop culture collectibles are allowed entrance to the wunderkammer, ending up exhibited along with precious and refined antiques, the self-righteous art critic is bound to shudder (see for instance Victor Wynd‘s peculiar iconoclasm).

An example I find paradigmatic of this search for a deeper interaction are the “adventurous” juxtapositions experimented by friend Luca Cableri (the man who brought to Moon to Italy); you can read the interview he gave me if you wish to know more about him.

Wearing A Wunderkammer

Fashion is always aware of new trends, and it intercepted some aspects of the world of wunerkammern. Thanks mainly to the goth and dark subcultures, one can find jewelry and necklaces made from naturalistic specimens: on Etsy, eBay or Craigslist, countless shops specialize in hand-crafted brooches, hair clips or other fashion accessories sporting skulls, small wearable taxidermies and so on.

Conceptual Art and Rogue Taxidermists

As we said, the renewed interest also came from the art world, which found in wunderkammern an effective theoretical frame to reflect about modernity.
The first name that comes to mind is of course Damien Hirst, who took advantage of the concept both in his iconic fluid-preserved animals and in his kaleidoscopic compositions of lepidoptera and butterflies; but even his For The Love of God, the well-known skull covered in diamonds, is an excessively precious curiosity that would not have been out of place in a Sixteenth Century treasure chamber.

Hirst is not the only artist taking inspiration from the wunderkammer aesthetics. Mark Dion, for instance, creates proper cabinets of wonders for the modern era: in his work, it’s not natural specimens that are put under formaldeyde, but rather their plastic replicas or even everyday objects, from push brooms to rubber dildos. Dion builds a sort of museum of consumerism in which – yet again – Nature and Culture collide and even at times fuse together, giving us no hope of telling them apart.

In 2013 Rosamund Purcell’s installation recreated a 3D version of the Seventeenth Century Ole Worm Museum: reinvention/replica, postmodern doppelgänger and hyperreal simulachrum which allows the public to step into one of the most famous etchings in the history of wunderkammern.

Besides the “high” art world – auction houses and prestigious galleries – we are also witnessing a rejuvenation of more artisanal sectors.
This is the case with the art of taxidermy, which is enjoying a new youth: today taxidermy courses and workshops are multiplying.

Remember that in the first post I talked about taxidermy as a domestication of the scariest aspects of Nature? Well, according to the participants, these workshops offer a way to exorcise their fear of death on a comfortably small scale, through direct contact and a creative activity. (We shall return on this tactile element.)
A further push towards innovation has come from yet another digital movement, called Rogue Taxidermy.

Artistic, non-traditional taxidermy has always existed, from fake mirabilia and gaffs such as mummified sirens and Jenny Hanivers to Walter Potter‘s antropomorphic dioramas. But rogue taxidermists bring all this to a whole new level.

Initially born as a consortium of three artists – Sarina Brewer, Scott Bibus e Robert Marbury – who were interested in taxidermy in the broadest sense (Marbury does not even use real animals for his creations, but plush toys), rogue taxidermy quickly became an international movement thanks to the web.

The fantastic chimeras produced by these artists are actually meta-taxidermies: by exhibiting their medium in such a manifest way, they seem to question our own relationship with animals. A relationship that has undergone profound changes and is now moving towards a greater respect and care for the environment. One of the tenets of rogue taxidermy is in fact the use of ethically sourced materials, and the animals used in preparations all died of natural causes. (Here’s a great book tracing the evolution and work of major rogue taxidermy artists.)

Wunderkammer Reborn

So we are left with the fundamental question: why are wunderkammern enjoying such a huge success right now, after five centuries? Is it just a retro, nostalgic trend, a vintage frivolous fashion like we find in many subcultures (yes I’m looking at you, my dear hipster friends) or does its attractiveness lie in deeper urgencies?

It is perhaps too soon to put forward a hypothesis, but I shall go out on a limb anyway: it is my belief that the rebirth of wunderkammern is to be sought in a dual necessity. On one hand the need to rethink death, and on the other the need to rethink art and narratives.

Rethinking Death
(And While We’re At It, Why Not Domesticate It)

Swiss anthropologist Bernard Crettaz was among the first to voice the ever more widespread need to break the “tyrannical secrecy” regarding death, typical of the Twentieth Century: in 2004 he organized in Neuchâtel the first Café mortel, a free event in which participants could talk about grief, and discuss their fears but also their curiosities on the subject. Inspired by Crettaz’s works and ideas, Jon Underwood launched the first British Death Café in 2011. His model received an enthusiastic response, and today almost 5000 events have been held in 50 countries across the world.

Meanwhile, in the US, a real Death-Positive Movement was born.
Originated from the will to drastically change the American funeral industry, criticized by founder Caitlin Doughty, the movement aims at lifting the taboo regarding the subject of death, and promotes an open reflection on related topics and end-of-life issues. (You probably know my personal engagement in the project, to which I contributed now and then: you can read my interview to Caitlin and my report from the Death Salon in Philadelphia).

What has the taboo of death got to do with collecting wonders?
Over the years, I have had the opportunity of talking to many a collector. Almost all of them recall, “as if it were yesterday“, the emotion they felt while holding in their hands the first piece of their collection, that one piece that gave way to their obsession. And for the large majority of them it was a naturalistic specimen – an animal skeleton, a taxidermy, etc.: as a friend collector says, “you never forget your first skull“.

The tactile element is as essential today as it was in classical wunderkammern, where the public was invited to study, examine, touch the specimens firsthand.

Owning an animal skull (or even a human one) is a safe and harmless way to become familiar with the concreteness of death. This might be the reason why the macabre element of wunderkammern, which was marginal centuries ago, often becomes a prevalent aspect today.

Ryan Matthew Cohn collection – photo Dan Howell & Steve Prue, from Morbid Curiosities (courtesy P. Gambino)

Rethinking Art: The Aesthetics Of Wonder

After the decline of figurative arts, after the industrial reproducibility of pop art, after the advent of ready-made art, conceptual art reached its outer limit, giving a coup the grace to meaning.  Many contemporary artists have de facto released art not just from manual skill, from artistry, but also from the old-fashioned idea that art should always deliver a message.
Pure form, pure signifier, the new conceptual artworks are problematic because they aspire to put a full stop to art history as we know it. They look impossible to understand, precisely because they are designed to escape any discourse.
It is therefore hard to imagine in what way artistic research will overcome this emptiness made of cold appearance, polished brilliance but mere surface nonetheless; hard to tell what new horizon might open up, beyond multi-million auctions, artistars and financial hikes planned beforehand by mega-dealers and mega-collectors.

To me, it seems that the passion for wunderkammern might be a way to go back to narratives, to meaning. An antidote to the overwhelming surface. Because an object is worth its place inside a chamber of marvels only by virtue of the story it tells, the awe it arises, the vertigo it entails.
I believe I recognize in this genre of collecting a profound desire to give back reality to its lost enchantment.
Lost? No, reality never ceased to be wonderous, it is our gaze that needs to be reeducated.

From Cabinets de Curiosités (2011) – photo C. Fleurant

Eventually, a  wunderkammer is just a collection of objects, and we already live submerged in an ocean of objects.
But it is also an instrument (as it once was, as it has always been) – a magnifying glass to inspect the world and ourselves. In these bizarre and strange items, the collector seeks a magical-narrative dimension against the homologation and seriality of mass production. Whether he knows it or not, by being sensitive to the stories concealed within the objects, the emotions they convey, their unicity, the wunderkammer collector is carrying out an act of resistence: because placing value in the exception, in the exotic, is a way to seek new perspectives in spite of the Unanimous Vision.

Da Cabinets de Curiosités (2011) – foto C. Fleurant

Tiny Tim, Outcast Troubadour

Remember, it’s better to be a has-been than a never-was.
(Tiny Tim)

That an outsider like Tiny Tim could reach success, albeit briefly, can be ascribed to the typical appetite for oddities of the Sixties, the decade of the freak-out ethic/aesthetic, when everybody was constantly looking for out-of-line pop music of liberating and subversive madness.
And yet, in regard to many other weird acts of the time, this bizarre character embodied an innocence and purity the Love Generation was eager to embrace.

Born Herbert Khaury in New York, 1932, Tiny Tim was a big and tall man, sporting long shabby hair. Even if in reality he was obsessed with cleansing and never skipped his daily shower during his entire life, he always gave the impression of a certain gresiness. He would come up onstage looking almost embarassed, his face sometimes covered with white makeup, and pull his trusty ukulele out of a paper bag; his eyes kept rolling in ambiguous winks, conveying a melodramatic and out-of-place emphasis. And when he started singing, there came the ultimate shock. From that vaguely creepy face came an incredible, trembling falsetto voice like that of a little girl. It was as if Shirley Temple was held prisoner inside the body of a giant.

If anything, the choice of songs played by Tiny Tim on his ukulele tended to increase the whole surreal effect by adding some ancient flavor: the setlist mainly consisted of obscure melodies from the 20s or the 30s, re-interpreted in his typical ironic, overblown style.

It was hard not to suspect that such a striking persona might have been carefully planned and engineered, with the purpose of unsettling the audience while making them laugh at the same time. And laughter certainly didn’t seem to bother Tiny Tim. But the real secret of this eccentric artist is that he wasn’t wearing any mask.
Tiny Tim had always remained a child.

Justin Martell, author of the artist’s most complete biography (Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim, with A. Wray Mcdonald), had the chance to decypher some of Tiny’s diaries, sometimes compiled boustrophedonically: and it turned out he actually came within an inch of being committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Whether his personality’s peculiar traits had to do with some autistic spectrum disorder or not, his childish behaviour was surely not a pose. Capable of remembering the name of every person he met, he showed an old-fashioned respect for any interlocutor – to the extent of always referring to his three wives as “Misses”: Miss Vicki, Miss Jan, Miss Sue. His first two marriages failed also because of his declared disgust for sex, a temptation he strenuously fought being a fervent Christian. In fact another sensational element for the time was the candor and openness with which he publicly spoke of his sexual life, or lack thereof. “I thank God for giving me the ability of looking at naked ladies and think pure thoughts“, he would say.
If we are to believe his words, it was Jesus himself who revealed upon him the possibilities of a high-pitched falsetto, as opposed to his natural baritone timbre (which he often used as an “alternate voice” to his higher range). “I was trying to find an original style that didn’t sound like Tony Bennett or anyone else. So I prayed about it, woke up with this high voice, and by 1954, I was going to amateur nights and winning.

Being on a stage meant everything for him, and it did not really matter whether the public just found him funny or actually appreciated his singing qualities: Tiny Tim was only interested in bringing joy to the audience. This was his naive idea of show business – it all came down to being loved, and giving some cheerfulness in return.

Tiny avidly scoured library archives for American music from the beginning of the century, of which he had an encyclopedic knwoledge. He idolized classic crooners like Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby and Russ Columbo: and in a sense he was mocking his own heroes when he sang standards like Livin’ In The Sunlight, Lovin’ In The Moonlight or My Way. But his cartoonesque humor never ceased to be respectful and reverential.

Tiny Tim reached a big unexpected success in 1968 with his single Tiptoe Through The Tulips, which charted #17 that year; it was featured in his debut album, God Bless Tiny Tim, which enjoyed similar critic and public acclaim.
Projected all of a sudden towards an improbable stardom, he accepted the following year to marry his fiancée Victoria Budinger on live TV at Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, before 40 million viewers.

In 1970 he performed at the Isle of Wight rock festival, after Joan Baez and before Miles Davis; according to the press, with his version of There’ll Always Be An England he managed to steal the scene “without a single electric instrument”.

But this triumph was short-lived: after a couple of years, Tiny Tim returned to a relative obscurity which would last for the rest of his career. He lived through alternate fortunes during the 80s and 90s, between broken marriages and financial difficulties, sporadically appearing on TV and radio shows, and recording albums where his beloved songs from the past mixed with modern pop hits cover versions (from AC/DC to Bee Gees, from Joan Jett to The Doors).

According to one rumor, any time he made a phone call he would ask: “do you have the tape recorder going?
And indeed, in every interview Tiny always seemed focused on building a personal mythology, on developing his romantic ideal of an artist who was a “master of confusion“, baffling and elusive, escaping all categorization. Some believe he remained a “lonely outcast intoxicated by fame“; even when fame had long departed. The man who once befriended the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who was a guest at every star’s birthday party, little by little was forgotten and ended up singing in small venues, even performing with the circus. “As long as my voice is here, and there is a Holiday Inn waiting for me, then everything’s just swell.

But he never stopped performing, in relentelss and exhausting tours throughout the States, which eventually took their toll: in spite of a heart condition, and against his physician’s advice, Tiny Tim decided to go on singing before his ever decreasing number of fans. The second, fatal heart stroke came on November 30, 1996, while he was onstage at a charity evening singing his most famous hit, Tiptoe Through The Tulips.

And just like that, on tiptoes, this eternally romantic and idealistic human being of rare kindness quietly left this world, and the stage.
The audience had already left, and the hall was half-empty.

Wat Rong Khun

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Da lontano il Phra Ubosot, ovvero la struttura principale all’interno dell’area sacra, risplende nel sole abbagliando il visitatore. Il bianco delle complesse e barocche decorazioni è reso ancora più accecante da migliaia di frammenti di specchi incastonati sull’intera superficie, per riflettere maggiormente la luce; nell’insieme la struttura sembra un manufatto alieno, o soprannaturale. Ma le sorprese sono appena iniziate.

Siamo in Thailandia. Veri e propri luoghi della meraviglia, i 33.000 templi buddisti che si trovano sparsi per tutto il paese offrono senza dubbio infinite declinazioni di bellezza e fascino; fra questi, il bizzarro tempio di Wat Rong Khun offre più di una curiosità. Si tratta di una recente costruzione realizzata sulla base di un edificio precedente: negli anni ’90 il tempio versava in pessime condizioni, e sarebbe sicuramente andato in rovina se il pittore Chalermchai Kositpipat, classe 1955, non si fosse fatto avanti.

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Kositpipat, uno dei pittori di maggior successo in Thailandia, è sempre stato un artista controverso. All’inizio della sua carriera, era accusato di confondere in modo sacrilego la tradizione e la modernità; una volta affermatosi, fu tacciato invece di essersi venduto all’establishment e di aver perso la sua vena dissacrante.
La notorietà per Kositpipat arrivò nel 1988 quando, dopo alcuni anni passati a dipingere locandine per film, gli venne affidata la decorazione del primo tempio buddista inglese, il Buddhapadipa di Londra, e i suoi murales causarono un putiferio. Nell’illustrare le diverse vite e reincarnazioni del Buddha, infatti, Kositpipat aveva inserito vicino alle raffigurazioni classiche alcune icone della cultura pop o della storia recente. In un affresco compaiono ad esempio Superman e Saddam Hussein; in un altro, tra i fedeli radunati in preghiera, fanno capolino Charlie Chaplin e un ragazzo che sfoggia una colorata cresta di capelli in stile punk. “Si lamentarono tutti – ricorda l’artista – il governo di Bangkok, i monaci e gli altri artisti, tutti dicevano che ciò che facevo non era vera arte Thai“.

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Decidendo, quasi dieci anni dopo, di restaurare il tempio di Rong Khun, l’artista dimostrò di non aver perso nulla della propria ispirazione, né peraltro della propria integrità. Kositpipat si sobbarcò infatti tutte le spese per la ricostruzione, che ad oggi ammontano a più di un milione di euro. L’entrata al tempio, fin dalla sua apertura a fine anni ’90, è rimasta gratuita, e le donazioni volontarie non possono superare i 10.000 baht (270 euro circa), in modo da salvaguardare il progetto dall’eventuale influenza di grandi mecenati.

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Questa follia architettonica e artistica accoglie il visitatore con una scena impressionante. Centinaia di mani, umane e mostruose, emergono e si allungano da un pozzo abissale, come per cercare di afferrare il passante. Potrebbero sembrare anime dannate, ma la simbologia che sottende questa installazione è invece un’altra: si tratta dei desideri (tṛṣṇā) che senza freno attanagliano gli uomini. Il ponte, attraverso il quale si supera questo pericolo, sta a significare l’abbandono delle brame sensuali e terrene, e varcandolo ci si prepara a lasciare alle spalle ogni avidità e tentazione.

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Fra statue che rappresentano creature mitologiche e altre immagini del Buddha, si arriva ai Cancelli del Cielo. I due guardiani, la Morte e Rahu, decidono il destino di chi varca il cancello. L’esterno dell’Ubosot riprende alcuni criteri dell’architettura classica tailandese, come ad esempio il tetto a tre sbalzi e l’utilizzo decorativo di naga (divinità serpente), animali e dragoni attorcigliati sugli angoli e sulle pareti.

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L’interno, come accade per molti altri templi thailandesi, è affrescato con dei murales che descrivono la vita del Buddha. Ma, come ci si può aspettare, i dipinti di Kositpipat sono tutto fuorché tradizionali. Ecco quindi che in questa esplosione di colori si trovano gli spregiudicati accostamenti che hanno reso famoso l’artista: i monaci e le figure sacre si trovano fianco a fianco con le icone pop più celebri, da Batman a Spiderman, da Elvis a Michael Jackson, da Freddy Krueger a Terminator, in un vortice kitsch di cui è difficile in un primo momento intuire veramente il senso.

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Eppure con questa infantile giustapposizione di astronavi, pompe di benzina, cataclismi vari, Harry Potter, Hello Kitty, l’attacco terroristico alle Torri Gemelle, Neo di Matrix, e chi più ne ha più ne metta, la spiazzante messe di simboli arriva a creare un teatrale affresco della contemporaneità con le sue contraddizioni, le sue violenze di massa, il suo degrado e i suoi miti moderni: in tutto questo “rumore”, sembra voler dire Kositpipat, è ancora più essenziale ritrovare la via interiore verso la pace e la serenità.

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Il 5 maggio 2014 il tempio venne danneggiato da un terremoto, e per qualche giorno sembrò che la struttura fosse destinata alla distruzione. Ma, dopo che un’équipe di ingegneri dichiarò che i danni non erano strutturali, Kositpipat annunciò che avrebbe dedicato la sua vita a riportare Wat Rong Khun al suo splendore originario. Oggi è possibile visitare soltanto l’esterno dell’Ubosot, ma già dall’anno prossimo anche gli interni saranno ripristinati ed accessibili.

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Il progetto prevede inoltre la costruzione di altri edifici, per un totale di nove strutture fra cui una cappella delle reliquie, una grande sala per la meditazione, una galleria d’arte e un monastero.
La fine dei lavori non avverrà prima del 2070. Impossibile dunque, per Chalermchai Kositpipat, vedere ultimata la sua opera, ma questo dettaglio non lo scoraggia. Per lui, il tempio di Wat Rong Khun è il capolavoro che gli garantirà l’immortalità: “soltanto la morte potrà interrompere il mio sogno, ma non fermerà il mio progetto“.

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Bizzarro Bazar su ILLUSTRATI

Qualche giorno fa vi avevamo avvertiti che era in arrivo una bella novità.

Ebbene, finalmente possiamo svelarvela: Bizzarro Bazar approda da oggi sulla carta stampata, con una rubrica fissa all’interno della rivista più straordinaria e meravigliosa che ci sia: ILLUSTRATI!

Se non la conoscete, dovreste. È di grande formato, piacevole al tatto, è colorata, folle, visionaria, è un’importante vetrina per talenti artistici vecchi e nuovi, e se tutto questo non bastasse, è gratis. Entrare a far parte di un simile progetto non può che riempirci di entusiasmo.

Il tema di questo numero, in linea con il rientro scolastico settembrino, è “Cara maestra”. Illustratori, disegnatori, grafici, artisti si passano il testimone di pagina in pagina affrontando liberamente il soggetto.

La rivista bimestrale, pubblicata da Logos Edizioni, sarà disponibile nelle vostre librerie preferite a partire da questo week-end. Nel frattempo, è già consultabile gratuitamente online, scaricabile in formato PDF oppure ordinabile – il tutto sulla pagina ufficiale di ILLUSTRATI.

E, se la rivista vi dovesse piacere, non mancate di visitarne la pagina Facebook. Buona lettura a tutti!

Alex Prager

Nata a Los Angeles nel 1979, la fotografa Alex Prager si sta affermando come una delle voci più originali della scena artistica californiana. Le sue fotografie, estremamente ricercate, fanno di sicuro la felicità di semiotici e critici, ma riescono a provocare forti emozioni anche nel pubblico meno “dotto”. E questo perché contengono riferimenti a un certo tipo di cultura popolare, o meglio “pop”, che tutti conosciamo bene.

Nonostante la splendida fattura e la maniacale ossessione per i dettagli, l’arte di Alex Prager è infatti interessante proprio in virtù di ciò che non mostra, per i rimandi esterni che chiama in causa. I suoi scatti sembrano provenire direttamente dagli anni ’60, dalle patinate riviste di moda, piene di belle modelle vestite di colori sgargianti, con stravaganti acconciature e che spesso esibiscono la gioiosa e liberatoria indipendenza delle donne di quegli anni. La cura nel ricostruire il look e i piccoli particolari d’epoca è notevole, ma il tutto non si esaurisce in un vuoto esercizio di stile.

Talvolta la drammaticità di alcune fotografie le fa sembrare dei veri e propri fotogrammi tratti da film che non vedremo mai… e che, allo stesso tempo, abbiamo la sensazione di aver visto centinaia di volte. Così un volto dal trucco rétro, gli occhi arrossati colmi di lacrime, è talmente potente da risvegliare in noi una fantasia narrativa. Lo spettatore si ritrova, inconsciamente, a ricostruire un prima e un dopo, a inventare un personale e immaginario film, è cioè chiamato a usare tutti i referenti “cotestuali” che ha per completare il senso dell’immagine.

Le migliori opere della Prager sono quindi rivolte a un pubblico cinefilo, e non a caso l’artista californiana ha anche diretto un paio di cortometraggi utilizzando alcune amiche modelle come attrici. I toni mélo e la drammaticità dell’illuminazione riportano direttamente a un immaginario cinematografico, che scopriamo essere molto più che un bagaglio culturale: in questo caso si tratta di un vero e proprio filtro inconscio, attraverso il quale guardiamo e interpretiamo gli stimoli visivi che ci arrivano dalle fotografie. Le riconosciamo istantaneamente come probabili fotogrammi di film anche se, a rifletterci, faremmo fatica a spiegare il perché di questa immediata “interpretazione”.

E, infine, parliamo dell’aspetto più “politico” dell’opera di Alex Prager. Forse stiamo leggendo un po’ troppo fra le righe, ma donne, sempre donne sono le protagoniste di queste foto. Donne disperate, liberate, spregiudicate o misteriose. Talvolta, donne che sembrano in gabbia. Come se il vero senso di ribellione di quell’epoca d’oro, gli anni Sessanta, fosse racchiuso in un universo esclusivamente femminile – e, allo stesso tempo, al di là dell’emancipazione, la donna continuasse ad essere un personaggio, stereotipato nelle sue pose melodrammatiche e fissato per sempre in un mondo dai colori accesi e dalle mille passioni incontrollabili. Ma, al di là delle interpretazioni, quello che rimane inconfutabile è la stupefacente potenza di alcune di queste foto, che giocano in maniera postmoderna con l’immaginario di una controcultura ormai metabolizzata e addomesticata. E ci spingono a interagire, a integrare attivamente ciò che vediamo con ciò che abbiamo vissuto come spettatori.

Ecco il sito ufficiale di Alex Prager.

AGGIORNAMENTO: Ecco un interessante documentario su Alex Prager firmato da un lettore di Bizzarro Bazar, il giovane ma talentuoso scrittore e attore Francesco Massaccesi.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/24849216]

Liz McGrath

Pittrice, animatrice, stilista, punk rocker e scultrice: Liz McGrath è la bad girl della nuova scena artistica pop-surrealista californiana.

Essendo precocemente ribelle, i suoi genitori ultra-cattolici decisero di usare il pugno di ferro con la piccola Elizabeth; è proprio a quegli anni, fatti di imposizioni, minacce di inferno e altri terrori, che la McGrath attribuisce la sua fascinazione con il lato oscuro della propria fantasia. Eppure c’è sempre una delicatezza, un’eleganza rétro nelle sue creazioni. Liz McGrath non è mai cresciuta, e ci invita  a conoscere i suoi amici immaginari.

Si tratta di sculture anomale, piccoli personaggi di un mondo infantile distorto. Animali freak antropomorfizzati, spesso inseriti in bacheche che ricordano le insegne dei sideshow degli anni ’40. Un bestiario contemporaneamente macabro e raffinato, che unisce bellezza e malattia, ironia ed elementi gotici.

Certo, c’è sempre quella ingenua e forse “facile” estetica un po’ dark che contraddistingue molti surrealisti pop, quello stile vagamente alla Tim Burton, per intenderci; eppure le sculture di Liz ci sembrano più gioiose, più scanzonate e irriverenti. Forse, come la loro autrice, sotto la patina leziosa e ricercata sono davvero delle sculture punk.

E poi ammettiamolo: quanti di noi, da bambini, non sarebbero impazziti per dei pupazzetti simili?

Ecco il sito ufficiale di Elizabeth McGrath.

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.

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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)

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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.

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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)


Hyungkoo Lee

Hyungkoo Lee è uno scultore Sudcoreano che ha creato un collezione davvero particolare. L’artista ha immaginato quali potrebbero essere le strutture scheletriche dei più popolari eroi dei cartoni animati. Modellando in resina, con fili d’acciaio, barrette di alluminio e altri materiali, e dipingendo ad olio la scultura, Lee cerca di rendere piuttosto realistici i suoi soggetti, quasi fossero degli antichi ritrovamenti di qualche paleontologo. Un paleontologo pop, potremmo dire.

Dopo l’iniziale risata che suscitano le sue sculture, è interessante come le opere facciano anche riflettere. Wile E. Coyote che insegue Road Runner è istantaneamente riconoscibile, così come Paperino, Tom & Jerry o Bugs Bunny. Anche se ridotti all’osso, questi personaggi irreali sono entrati talmente a fondo nella nostra mitologia moderna, da esserci più familiari di animali realmente esistenti. Li abbiamo antropomorfizzati e, in definitiva, li sentiamo vicini a noi. Li conosciamo bene, sono gente di famiglia. Ed ecco qui i loro scheletri, esposti in un museo.

Cosa significa? Forse che anche nel mondo moderno le mitologie sono destinate ad estinguersi? O che ad estinguersi è stata la nostra infanzia, e la nostra ingenuità così bene rappresentata da questi personaggi?

Secondo l’autore, si tratta semplicemente di analizzare e scomporre. Se i cartoni animati ci rappresentano così bene, decostruendo il loro aspetto si arriva a capire qualcosa anche di noi stessi. Abbiamo, cioè, creato i personaggi animati perché dessero corpo alle nostre gioie e ai nostri dolori, alle tribolazioni e alle vittorie: sono anche simbolo di un mondo ideale, in cui la realtà si può piegare a piacimento, in cui dolore e sofferenza sono momenti comici, e finire sotto una schiacciasassi ha per unico effetto quello di ridurci a sottilette ambulanti. “Spogliare” questi personaggi della loro illusoria carne per arrivare all’ossatura vera e propria è il senso di queste sculture. Gli scheletri, così essenziali, sarebbero un’espressione dei nostri desideri, delle nostre paure. L’essenza, cioè, della nostra caricatura.

Il sito ufficiale di Hyungkoo Lee.

Scoperto via Michael Sporn Animation.