Atlas Soccer. A conversation with Marco Mazzoni

28 April 2017

A conversation with artist and performer Marco Mazzoni on his football bilderatlas published by bruno edition.

Marco Mazzoni, Atlas Soccer, bruno edition


Piersandra Di Matteo: Atlas Soccer is the product of a collection of over a thousand photographs, clipped out of newspapers over roughly twenty years (from 1990 to 2010). The images portray football players. Why did you decide to draw on the world of football?

Marco Mazzoni: When I started cutting the images out of newspapers I didn’t ask myself too many questions about what I was looking for. It was more of a fatal attraction. The material was very disparate. It included a huge amount of other things: corpses, wounded people, rescues, torture, war, soldiers, explosions, accidents, burning flags, faces, Kate Moss, naked or suspended bodies, sports players, politicians, dictators, mosquitoes, stolen objects found by the police, arrests, weapons, and much more. I was attracted to dynamic images, charged with tension, in which the body was the subject seen in the foreground, but not the only element present. I was interested in its media representation. These collections were an intuitive attempt at accumulating materials to be used later on, in the most diverse ways, a sort of database to draw on for other projects. They might have turned into the inspiration for a performance, materials for a collage, drawings, suggestions for choreographic forms. Visual notes of all the things that most strongly came into relation with my life.

When I started not being able to find what I was looking for, I decided to organise them all, subdividing them by subject. That’s when I realised that this material was not only an archive, but also a map of my obsessions. Somehow or other, it was already a project. But it took me years to understand what form I wanted to give it. At the time I lived in a loft, so for months my home was invaded by heaps of clippings, and once I had selected them I would cut them up again and glue them onto A4-sized sheets of paper, then save them in transparent envelopes inside photo albums. In any case, football was the most massive collection.


Marco Mazzoni. Selection phase for archive Atlas Soccer

P.M.: How do you feel about collecting, gathering, cataloguing?

M.M.: Generally, I tend to accumulate things. I do it with more or less everything that interest me. But I don’t really feel in synch with the word collection: to collect often implies having a certain criterion, a certain order, and also a certain attachment. I’m not all that methodical, I dive headfirst into the things that I find interesting and I gather and conserve them, but I don’t feel any need to be complete about it. So, I have “collected” a lot of things that not even I know what they are. If anything, I’d say that I’m someone who accumulates and my home is the container, where it seems like everything is in order. There actually is a kind of general sense to it all, and I really can find what I’m looking for, but it doesn’t always work at first try.


P.M.: What motivates this compulsive behaviour?

M.M.: I started keeping diaries, taking photos, cutting pieces out of newspapers, holding on to exhibition catalogues and authors that I love to compensate for my memory, which often betrays me. Accumulating things reassures me. I keep all kinds of things. In some cases, a few odd heaps of things have become real works. Some years ago I found inspiration for a Kinkaleri performance called Ascesa & Caduta [Rise & Fall] from a collection I have of puppets and plastic animals, and they were the protagonists, on stage with me. Obviously, these objects didn’t have to do with myself but with the performance and with another kind of reflection altogether; however, if I hadn’t had that material perhaps that work would never have taken that shape.


P.M.: Soccer is a giant hoard of images, composed and assembled according to the energetic currents that animate the athletic gestures. The sequences that give life to the book set out emotionally exciting expressive formulas (aggressiveness, defence, triumph, etc.), “showing forms imbued with eroticism and involuntary art history”. How did you work on it, compositionally?

M.M.: I believe that here you’re referring to me as a performer and choreographer. That is, to a relation with a dynamic and compositional form that defines many of my practices. When I began thinking about atlas soccer I was still influenced by the compositional model I had adopted in my other atlases, put together with clippings catalogued according to their subject and, in the last few years, part of an independent editorial project that I’ve called mazoopub, which is still open to future modifications. These atlases developed through a cardiogram mapping that connects one photo to the next, in a play of voids and full spaces. Here, images of the same subject are associated to each other, with a rapid visual rhythm that goes beyond the iconographic value of the single clippings.

With atlas soccer this kind of layout didn’t work. Every image risked being pulverised by the composition as a whole. There are a lot of subcategories within the subject “football”, many more than you would imagine. It truly is a condensed version of the entire world. In the ninety minutes of playing time, an infinite series of gestural variations unfolds that could never be eradicated or crushed by a single overall vision. I needed to find a form that made their iconographic potentiality clear. So I invented a kind of dynamic evolution for the action, using different subjects but with similar gestural characteristics.


Marco Mazzoni. Selection phase for archive Atlas Soccer


P.M.: How did you work on defining the rhythmic sequence of the images?

M.M.: Once I’d defined my new compositional tactics, I studied the clippings. After pleasure, logic now took over. I had to make some very cruel choices, leaving out some marvellous images simply because they couldn’t be connected to anything else. The formal content of every image suggested the following one to me, constructing the evolution of the gestures in a coherent dynamic progression. But even this highly fluid chain of images wasn’t enough, I was still losing the iconographic value of the single clippings. And so, after a first attempt at assembling them, Giacomo Covacich from bruno – the book’s graphic designer and editor, who suggested the idea for the book – and I reached the idea of the white page beside each composition.

It’s the same principle as Warhol’s early works, with the empty canvas to one side that acts as a mirror for the image, in which absence reinforces presence. The void at the side is a sort of “white cube”, that doesn’t detract from the linkage. Isolating the images, they become more crystalline, offering the reader/spectator the chance to delve inside them, to unveil their tensions and forms, and to sift through their details. Of course, I had to rethink the composition a thousand times, as well as the singular force of the isolated images.


Marco Mazzoni, Atlas Soccer, bruno edition


Marco Mazzoni, Atlas Soccer, bruno edition


P.M.: The clippings compose a truly dynamic assemblage …

M.M.: The sequences are based on a way of linking the gestures together. The gestures open up very specific worlds, they make statements but can also unveil hidden thoughts of which not even I am aware. For this publication it was clear to me right away where I was going to start from, the first image had to be a body suspended in the air. Opening with a weightless body seemed like the perfect metaphor for the whole operation. A playful act, one that’s not very representative of the world of football, to insinuate a suspicion of virtuosity, from a visual but also conceptual point of view. Something dramatic, perhaps, an allusion to the falling man, something that went beyond the classic set of images of football players on the field, a way to introduce the inventive side of the spectacle. From the air to the ground, from there on it was all a question of extremely articulated connections. Each image is hooked up to the previous one, but also to its history, its references, its allusions. Knowing art history helps. Aby Warburg docet.


Marco Mazzoni, Atlas Soccer, bruno edition


P.M.: Due to their expressive vitality and their sequence, the images selected are not only the place in which the memory of a (sports) event coagulates and condenses, a virtuoso exploit (a somersault or a leap into the air for a header) or the iconographic seal put on a clamorous event (Zidane’s head-butt), but a way for spontaneity to escape from the territory of representation. What place does the reader/spectator occupy?

M.M.: The book’s reader/spectator, as you put it, is fundamental. Every image, in addition to its formal value, which is what mainly interests me, has already become part of history and thus carries with itself its own context, so it’s clear that everyone will have and will make their own version of history in relation to the image that is being shown under their eyes. But for me it’s not a matter of evoking anything, even though I’m aware that even these references can be part of the discourse, all the levels are layered on top of each other. We’ve gone beyond meaning, an infinite number of formal, conceptual and historical-cultural implications are stratified in these images, so much so that they lose their original features. Each of these images, in being conceived, has already gone through many passages that have contaminated its sense. The clippings go beyond representation because, according to the context in which they are placed, they redefine their possible meanings.

Here, we might dwell a bit on what they actually narrate, and on what we really see, and above all on what lies behind each phase of their creation. Does each image document a fact that has happened, the football player that made it possible, the editor that chose and published it, or me that found it and later re-contextualised it? And what about everything that it tacitly bears with itself, all of its references? Is the player really aware of what he produces formally, on-field? Or, perhaps, is he aware that certain daring gestures will have more of a media impact that others? Does the editor who chooses the image really know the elements of art history to which it refers? The heroic and erotic side of the body? Are we in a vicious circle of representation? What is truly spontaneous? These are the questions I ask of myself, and of the reader/spectator.

P.M. What kind of relation does atlas soccer have with your drawings and choreographic work with Kinkaleri?

M.M.: I would say that the common element is the body. It’s something that I can’t avoid. It concerns me as an artist, even when no trace can seemingly be found of it: it’s as though everything I produce incorporated a physical action that envelops the object of a certain dynamic gestural quality. In the atlases, this could be the action of tearing out, cutting up and recomposing the images. In the drawings, even when they take on more abstract forms, the body is often the initial subject. Even the act of recopying, repeated like in a loop so as to define a line that seems spontaneous, has a lot to do with a physical action.

With Kinkaleri, the practice of performance is in front of everyone’s eyes. One example of contamination is the codiceK, a system of gestural signs elaborated for the project on language All!. This code, which translates the letters of the alphabet into gestures, is for me very closely related to the visual and compositional work done on the football clippings. Naturally, their formal outcome is quite different, the atlas takes shape and is developed through two-dimensional images, while the codiceK works with the dynamic form of the gesture. But at the root of both kinds of research there’s a reflection on gestures-as-language, and this deeply connects them. It’s also interesting that the codiceK, after its choreographic development, went back into a two-dimensional form with the typographic font elaborated by Giacomo Covacich (bruno) along with Kinkaleri. The formal resemblance between the K-font and the figures of the atlas is surprising.


Kinkaleri, K-font, design by Giacomo Covacich, Atlas Soccer, bruno edition


P.M.: Atlas Soccer includes the reproduction of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s text, Football “is” a language with its writers of poetry and prose, published in “Il giorno” on 3 January 1971. Why did you include this reference?

M.M.: I don’t really like to add texts to my atlases. I don’t want to suggest points of view or interpretations. All I do is describe, in a few lines, how and when I put the material together. But atlas soccer goes beyond a collection in the simple sense of the word: it’s almost a performance on paper. So I felt the need to add something else. Using that text by Pier Paolo Pasolini seemed completely natural to me. Football “is” a language… it was very important for my personal research and I wanted to share it. It’s a very dense text. The title of Pasolini’s article, “Football is a language with its writers of poetry and prose” somehow or other perfectly sums up, in a crystal clear and concise way, the sense of atlas soccer.

What writer could have found better words? I deeply love all of Pasolini’s films, and his other works as well. His point of view on the world gave him a critical and never static vision of facts and events, from the most glaring ones to the most subterranean. If, as Pasolini says, football players are poets and/or prose authors, their actions can never be considered simply as gestures intended for the media or as sculptural poses, but can be read, seen and perceived like elements of a musical score, or of a performance that is open, at the spectator’s choosing. What’s more, I liked the fact that this text as well, like the images, was created to be published in a newspaper. So, I wanted to come full circle with these objects that could almost be considered “ready-mades.”


Marco Mazzoni, Atlas Soccer, bruno edition


Atlas Soccer
Marco Mazzoni
with a text by Pier Paolo Pasolini
208 pages in black and white risograph prints
bruno edition

Marco Mazzoni, choreographer, performer and visual artist, is a founding member of Kinkaleri, a collective of artists involved in the performing arts since 1996. In addition to the work done with the group, he has developed his own research in the visual arts and in 2013 he founded mazoopub, an independent editorial project that publishes a number of periodical fanzines. He has also worked with artists such as Lovet/Codagnone, Davide Savorani, Giulia Cenci and in collaboration with Kinkaleri with John Giorno, Invernomuto, Nico Vascellari, Margherita Morgantin, Canedicoda, Riccardo Benassi and Jacopo Bennasi.

This interview is part of the new series VOICETOPIA.
Conceived for NERO and curated by Piersandra Di Matteo, it is a space dedicated to the performing arts, contemporary theatre, performative formats as procedural phenomena, the topology of speech and tactics of interaction between practices and theoretical hypotheses, a platform for dialogue with artists, curators, performers.