HEART, FILM AND EXHAUSTION: Caterina Riva talks to Diego Marcon
12 November 2015
Milan, EXT. DAY.
A loud noise comes from inside the exhibition space. Once through the darkened threshold, a giant garden dwarf welcomes the visitor to Diego Marcon’s suggestive new body of works. The artist, on returning to Milan after over a year in Paris and after several months of tight work, faces up to what has been happening around him and analyses his own artistic drives, choosing to approach his beloved medium of film in an artisanal way. The conversation delves into Marcon’s older projects and how they are feeding this exhibition as well as driving the development of new characters for the future. Spoilers ahead: the interview contains mentions of Heads, Winnie-The-Pooh and what Franti stands for.
Caterina Riva: Can you tell me about the organization of the project that became FRANTI, FUORI! at Careof? I am interested in understanding your period in residence in Milan and where the search for material brought you in terms of both places and meetings.
Diego Marcon: Martina Angelotti invited me to spend a period in residence at Careof to develop a project whose starting point was the video archive of the space and, more generally, the idea of the archive itself. As I went through the 7, 000 videos collected by Careof in thirty years during my first month in residency, the idea of doing an opaque exhibition began to take shape. An exhibition that would be capable of giving form to the secret, mysterious and uncanny dimension that the archive, as a system and, because of its very nature, shuns and distances. During this period of vision and research I began to experience a kind of fatigue, in which the image appeared to me as something that was hackneyed, exhausted. This feeling was increased by events that were taking place in the months of my residence, from the attack on Charlie Hebdo newspaper, to the circulation of the photograph of Alan Kurdi on the internet – the Syrian boy who died trying to reach Europe. Everything seemed to echo this looming sense of fatigue, tear and weariness: street demonstrations following the massacre in Paris; the indignation of the people of Milan following the devastation of the city center by the Black Bloc; the celebrations for the recognition of gay marriage as a constitutional right and rainbow profiles on social networks; protests against the refugee detention centers and the absurd measures adopted by some states against the migrations from the Middle East to Europe. FRANTI, FUORI! detaches itself from these thoughts and feelings, in order to emerge on the surface – that of the five films in the exhibition and the wood of a garden statue previously displayed on the lawn of a decorations store for exteriors in the province of Varese.
CR: Can you tell me about the process that you developed in the studio working with film?
DM: Untitled (Head falling 01, 02, 03, 04, 05) are short animations, each painted on 16mm film with ink for fabrics and permanent ink, then rubbed with the tips of an engraving pen. Each film is a variation on the subject – head falling asleep, then suddenly waking up. For each film videos were filmed that I then used as a track, videos as small choreographies, each of which defined the five movements that make up the series.
Untitled (All pigs must die) is, on the other hand, an edited and rhythmic film. It is a work in which a length of Winnie-the-Pooh is mounted together with a series of pieces of red film with different gradations, on whose optical sound band I designed spots with black acrylic, so as to compose a rhythm, a cadence of different sound tones. For all the films I worked in the studio, treating cinema as a plastic discipline. I built a workbench for the stages of design, modifying a desktop scanner for immediate control of the animations and their movements and worked on projectors for the development of the loop and to work on the sound. The exhibition was made on a shoestring budget, although not enough to afford the rent and maintenance of five 16mm projectors. For this reason I worked with an elderly gentleman who, for decades, has operated a cinema rental service for clubs, schools, parishes and oratories. Thus I had the opportunity to engage directly with a purely technical and mechanical aspect of cinema, which then became central to the exhibition from an aesthetic and conceptual as well as a political point of view. All processes were new to me. There was no improvisation, no previous studies helped me, but I was working with insights and attempts rather than the concrete and direct.
CR: How did the idea of taking up the book Cuore, referred to in the title of the exhibition, come to mind?
DM: It is one of my favorite books. Franti is the only character from Cuore for whom nobody has a word of forgiveness or understanding. Luckily. Franti is “evil,” he is the bad guy with no respect for anything or anyone, laughing and turning everything into game. Franti is kicked out of school like a dog. He is the character that does not abide with the system, he embodies what the system rejects. For me, Franti was the name of the negative dimension that the exhibition has in relation to the archive Careof. Franti is also the character of the work behind the exhibition itself, that frees itself from the security of given approaches and processes in favor of the wonder and amazement of experimentation, to proceed through intuition and trials. Franti is arrogant, stubborn and energetic. He is that and more, the exclamation point in the title – as a laugh of Franti – destroys what has been said or you can say about the title itself. Maybe then FRANTI, FUORI! is simply irony, something that I think is missing in contemporary art that has a tendency to take itself rather seriously.
CR: If I look back at your artistic production, I cannot help but link this exhibition to the project SPOOL, which you have been working on since 2007, collecting analog video from private archives and restructuring these in chapters and giving them the names of the shooting protagonist or the people who made these family movies. Your reflection on the image in movement oscillates between the materiality and visibility given by the study of a specific situation, a driving force that leans towards abstraction and in which the starting coordinates do not matter, for example in the work Pour vos beaux yeux, where one follows the mutant body and elusive clouds with a Super8.
Meanwhile you have grappled with Dick the Stick, another project that has heretofore materialized in the form of animation, a book, a patch and a sticker. How does FRANTI, FUORI! intersect with these projects?
DM: Pour vos beaux yeux was the culmination of a period in which I worked with video taking a documentary approach and with a production mode setup with my first works and then repeated in subsequent years. At the same time it opened my work to processes that were more manual and plastic, like film, the artisanal development of film, as well as traditional or direct animation. It also marked a different approach to the display, in which the sculptural quality of the device and the work around space are essential to the films themselves. Further, it was the beginning of a different investigation around the concepts of reality and realism, which developed for the first time through fiction. In the near future, I am going to continue working on an idea of cinema as a studio based practice.
The characters that have come to life in these most recent works remain close to me, especially Dick the Stick. Dick was somehow a presence that dragged me out of myself. Soon he will become decoration for a window shop and for a private home, a pattern on fabric for accessories for girls, a neonsign – I would then like him to become bathroom tiles, upholstery for a bedroom and maybe a container for shower gel. The heads will stay in their sloth and instead will continue to fall in their unceasing motion of gravity. Gravity is the first force felt by the human, the heads follow the weight of things and of life. The heads bang on the tables of the canteen, at school, on office desks, the chairs of the courts, on the altars of the churches. For each table there is a head banging, dying to sleep.
CR: You were working on a cartoon program as a counterpart to the exhibition. What is it about?
DM: Everything falls faster than an anvil is a selection of animated films that I curated for ODD, a non-profit space founded in Bucharest. In Milan, the event will be rearranged and repeated on the closing day of the exhibition. Careof will be filled with mattresses, pillows, throws, sleeping bags, drinks and sweets, and in 8 hours – from midnight onwards – cartoons from the golden era of the Studios will be screened one after another, together with Experimental animations, animae, a few episodes from recent animated series, artists videos and amateur material found on YouTube.
CR: What would you like happen now? A residence? An exhibition in a gallery? Leave Italy? Stay in Italy? Teach?
DM: I would like to continue working and doing everything that you refer to in the question.
CR: The press release for FRANTI, FUORI! ends with the sentence: “This exhibition is specifically devoted to elementary school children, who are between nine and thirteen years old, and could be entitled: One year exhibition, made by a third grader at a municipal school in Italy. Now look at this show, kids: I hope that it will make you happy and do you some good.” I like to come up with a moral, in reality maybe only one is reductive as it is nice to be open to different interpretations, or should behave like Franti: slam door and leave?
DM: Tell me. What is, or what are the morals?
CR: Your head that falls is my head that falls, but it is also the driving force that, once released from the darkened space of Careof and from the core of the exhibition, makes you raise your chin and makes you feel a surge of hope.