Marco Mazzi (1980) is an Italian artist and photographer living and working in Tokyo, Firenze, and Tirana.
Sussuntivi, curated by Erica Romano, Galleria Cartavetra, Firenze.
Aritmia, curated by Erica Romano, Q096, Firenze.
Ricognizione Aprile, curated by Carlo Sala, Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato.
Il giardino naturale, curated by Hideyuki Doi, Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Osaka, Osaka.
Per una semiosi del paesaggio-sistema curated by Alessandra Scappini, Sincresis Arte, Empoli (FI).
Seeing and Knowing, the Naturalization of Vision, curated by Lorenzo Carlucci, Museo laboratorio arte contemporanea (MLAC), Roma.
Voyager, curated by Koichi Watari, The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.
Alessandro Piangiamore, Marco Mazzi, curated by Gaia Pasi, Daniele Ugolini Contemporary, Firenze.
Totem&Taboo, curated by Hideyuki Doi, Komaba Art Museum, Tokyo.
Portraits and Intimacy curated by Sergio Risaliti, Limonaia di Villa Rondinelli, Fiesole, Firenze.
group exhibitions (selection):
Teatri i Gjelbërimit, curated by Vincent WJ van Gerven Oei and Stefano Romano. Galleria FAB, Tirana. Invited artists: Ag, Aleanca LGBT, Matei Bejenaru, Fabrizio Bellomo, Nikolin Bujari, Enisa Cenaliaj, Çeta, Emma Ciceri, DZT Collective, Helmut Dick, Effi and Amir, Olafur Eliasson, Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, Genti Gjikola, Alban Hajdinaj, HAVEIT, Sofia Hultin, Denis Hyka, Eugert Hykaj, Dritan Hyska, IRWIN, Ardian Isufi, Silvia Jánošková, Ledia Kostandini, Verica Kovačevska, Martin Krenn, Fatos Lubonja, Armando Lulaj, Enri Mato, Marco Mazzi, Alban Muja, Violana Murataj, Alessandro Nassiri, Network Nomadic Architecture, Branislav Nikolić, Heldi Pema, Cesare Pietroiusti, Pietro Porcinai, Nada Prlja, Leonard Qylafi, Artan Raça, Ila Selo, Syabhit Shkreli, Gentian Shkurti, Bert Theis, John Tilbury, Pleurad Xhafa, Sislej Xhafa, Ergin Zaloshnja.
Architettura non ispirata,curated by Alessandra Scappini. Sincresis Arte, Empoli (FI). Invited artists: Ag, Diego Cossentino, Vincent WJ Van Gerven Oei, Adam Staley Groves, Pim van der Heiden, Armando Lulaj, Iva Lulashi, Marco Mazzi.
Il medium disperso,curated by Eleonora Farina and Michela Gulia, Museo Laboratorio Arte Contemporanea (MLAC), Roma. Invited artists: Keren Cytter, Gianluca e Massimiliano De Serio, Marco Mazzi, Marinella Senatore, Clemens von Wedemeyer.
Lessico europeo, appunti, curated by Pietro Gaglianò and Gaia Pasi, stazione Leopolda, Firenze. Invited artists: Kuba Bakowski, Matteo Fato, Patrick Jolley / Reynolds Reynolds, Chiara Guarducci, Marco Mazzi.
Goodmorningbabilonia, curated by Sergio Risaliti, Galleria Marella, 798 Art District, Beijing. Invited artists: Marco Bagnoli, Carlo Benvenuto, Paolo Chiasera, Enzo Cucchi, Flavio Favelli, Marcello Maloberti, Marco Mazzi, Paolo Parisi, Robert Pettena, Luca Stoppini, Sabrina Torelli, Sisley Xhafa, Yi Zhou.
Notes on Marco Mazzi
Any effort at categorizing Marco Mazzi’s paintings as concrete or abstract would be doomed to fail. Yet concreteness is what I sense and consider the first biggest merit in Mazzi’s work. Pardon me for not being able to choose a less misleading word.
I use concreteness, referred to Mazzi’s work, in two senses. Firstly, it refers to a feeling of tangibility and strong physical presence of the works, connected, as we shall see, to the technique and the method behind them. Secondly, Mazzi is not trying to depict emotions, or some sort of state of mind of his. So the object and content of his work is not abstract. Instead, though not in an obvious or representational sense, it refers to a reality we can perceive.
The passage from reality as perceived by an artist to an actual work of art requires – or coincides with – an aesthetical process, which includes a structure of certain techniques. In Mazzi’s case this aesthetic process is a photographic one. For the series here displayed, Mazzi turned himself into a special machine, a human scanner, a scanner that scans some object and then prints it as its output. In this case though, the input is unknown; the subject is mysterious, and yet, as we shall see, solid and undeniable. After all, scan is a transitive verb. There has to be something there to be scanned.
Scanning might be among the last things one thinks as improvised. In fact, scanning usually is completely, strictly preprogramed. In this series, the process seems mechanical due to the apparent visual effect, yet at a more careful look, the work is the product of a scanning/printing machine with some sort of intention. We don’t know in this scanning/printing process if the stuck paper and spread ink were intended; we do know that the machine didn’t mind showing these side-effects in the output. In a recent conversation, Mazzi did admit that in painting this series he was looking for those effects or moments when a machine goes wrong: paper gets stuck; ink leaks and spreads all over; images got printed on a paper that was already printed on once; two freshly printed images got slapped on each other face to face …
I have had the chance and luck to witness the birth and development of this series. Without engaging in a discussion on the role of chance and randomness in the arts (as we can see, Mazzi’s operation is strictly precise), the fact that these works are improvised must be underscored. In making them Mazzi set a timer for 5 minutes. This would be the time he would have to work on each piece, starting from a blank canvas. He would stop when time was up and leave the work exactly as what it was. It is a process of pure improvisation yet full of intentions and marked by precision, just like what we witness in Mazzi’s photography.
When Mazzi was painting these works, he was, in a sense, taking photos. Both painting and photography share a common outcome: a representation of the reality the artist chooses to show. One of the (apparent) differences between photography and painting is that physically painting is a process that starts from zero and photography clearly has a starting point: external reality – and the materialization of it’s reflections (the negative). Photography gains its validity or its strong connection with reality through this mechanism. Viewers instinctively believe that the images are representation of reality. However, the processes of painting and photography are much more similar than one tends to think. In a digital age in which the outcome of photography is considered immediate or direct, people forget what a pictorial process it is to create a photo, in the dark room especially – and Mazzi reminds us about this. With this series Mazzi exploits the liberty of the dark room. Images are ‘painted’ bit by bit. The printing paper can get burnt. Unexpected possibilities can take place. Outcomes can be altered physically. By bringing a photographic (scanning) approach to painting, Mazzi achieved bizarre concreteness. Our human brains tend to associate physical validity with mechanical procedures. So when we place ourselves in front of this series, we cannot avoid noticing, despite the apparent abstract form, how assertive the paint gets through the ‘scanning’ mechanism.
Yet as we can see, this reality, i.e. whatever Mazzi is striving at, becomes even more real and solid in his painting than what we sense in a photo. Mazzi confirms his sense of reality without ever showing it in the ways we are used to knowing it through experience. By bringing painting into photography, Mazzi reaches something photography alone can never achieve. Photography is a system that is based on and plays with our learnt cognitive schemes developed through past visual experience. By using this link and breaking it at the same time, Mazzi achieved something new. Something exciting. Something outside our experience’s realm. Something transcendental. Here, like Focillon would say, forms gained its life.
From my point of view, in the works here presented, the object is blurred, veiled perhaps, but nonetheless there. The work is what is in front of the viewers, but not its content. Or rather, its content is about to appear. It is still unrecognizable, and yet, or perhaps hence stronger. It does not matter if Mazzi had a person or a picture or any kind of other scene in mind when he painted. The object itself is unimportant. The presence of Mazzi’s artistic intention allows the viewer to grasp the existence of an object that is about to emerge from the surface. And the quality of Mazzi’s touch enhances the solidity of the paint, which transcends its seemingly abstract form and achieves absolute concreteness in sensation.
Reality is a concept we human invented, just like time or emotion, in order to categorize the world we perceive and in order to make it easier to explain and predict. We see a lot of contemporary artwork that question reality, but seldom do we see one that confirms it. For example, it is rather obvious that reality is what many if not all works of Gerhard Richter deal with. Reality is the starting point of Richter’s work, but in this case reality is pushed back from the surface of the canvas, hence suppressed and questioned. By contrast Mazzi’s attitude towards reality is absolutely ‘neutral’. His works carry no connotations or instructions. I would call him in this sense a situational being. His approach and maybe he himself is like a picture without a frame. In his photos and video works, viewers are given all the time in the world to explore and discover. Mazzi never imposes a view. He provides one. The presence of the viewpoint is so mild that the viewers discover a liberty to look at whatever they want to. This is what I refer to as the ‘neutrality’ that dominates all of Mazzi’s works. Mazzi’s approach, from this point of view, is very particular. Opposite to Richter, who recreated and smothered reality, Mazzi confirms it. Not only is the starting point of Mazzi’s work almost null: he is not depicting or simulating reality. Instead, he reveals it, like carefully brushing a pencil on a piece of patpr to reveal the previously engraved words. But he stops before reality gets too clear. Mazzi managed to freeze the exact moment just before reality shows its silhouette.
Mazzi’s work conveys the sensation of an impression – of the emerging of an impression. It is concrete and tangible. Did you ever have the experience of trying to recall a name according to a face or a face according to a name? You were thinking so hard, and you knew you had it but it was just not coming. And you remember the moment just before the name or the face finally occurred? This is the moment Mazzi managed to capture. By not indicating the object directly, reality achieves higher realness. Reality seldom gets more vivid than this.
Vincent w.j. Van Gerven Oei
Marco Mazzi, Uninspired Architecture
No photographer, not even the totality of all photographers,
can entirely get to the bottom of what a correctly programmed camera is up to.
It is a black box.
Instead of starting out with Marco Mazzi’s photographic work, I would like to start from Mazzi’s postscript accompanying the present book of images. Not so much because the text, headed by a repetition of the book’s title, “Uninspired Architecture,” would give us any clue about how to read the images contained in it, but rather because it describes their cause. This text, written in a form that is reminiscent of a diary – a timeless diary however, without dates – does not enlighten us about any underlying motifs, nor does it not carve out a place in an oeuvre, or sketch out a working plan of methodology. It reads like a description of a landscape that only partially seems to overlap with the sub- or perhaps post-urban Albanian landscapes rendered visible in the images, and fails to be a comprehensive account of any supposed “experience” of the photographer while producing his work. Rather, Marco Mazzi’s postscript “Uninspired Architecture” demands photographs, evidence. It is a text to which the photographs that precede it are only the beginning of an answer, or perhaps better phrased, only the beginning of an imagination. It is a text opening with halting and failure:
We stopped in front of a construction site hidden by a fence made our large corrugated-iron panels and lots of grey wooden posts. Inside, only a large dark hole and a half-finished series concrete pillars were visible. I would have liked to go in and take some photos.
Already in the first sentence, a certain “we” is prevented from entering “a large dark hole,” at a “construction site,” with “panels,” “poles,” and “pillars.” Apparently the photographer was already before embarking on his mission unable to proceed alone; an assistant was needed, someone to mediate between the site and the finger that opens the shutter. This, however, seems not to have not been enough precaution. “I would have liked to go in and take some photos.” In other words, he did not take any. In the remainder of the text we find a proliferation of such scenes of non-action and non-comprehension, nearly as if it were a negative image of all the material that did end up being captured in collected into the book, with the ellipses between square brackets signifying the actual, successful capture of an image or series of images, a modern hieroglyph of photography: […].
The ellipsis of description for which the photograph seems to become a stand-in appears in one striking passage that highlights both Mazzi’s attempts to stage himself as an object of photography, thus possibly arriving at a better understanding of his position in relation to the image, while at the same suggesting that this might be already to much. The scene is set up as follows: “I took a photo of the dog, and then asked Xheni if we could go and buy a bottle of water.” (Note this is only one of the few instances of “successful” photographic recorded in the text.) And then:
They were objects without a name. I couldn’t find at my disposal the appropriate words to define these pieces of cement. And yet this material interrogated me. It bored into me. This larval material, these extreme images did nothing but bore into me. They did not leave me in peace. Xheni accompanied me patiently. We almost never spoke. At times Xheni took photos of me. I felt that I was in another dimension. The undecipherable pieces of concrete were planted in the ground. I walked. I walked around them. I took other photos. Nothing. Always this thought. Nothing. A membrane of the material. An organ. The concrete had a superhuman strength. The concrete scrutinised me. It was observing me. It was a dreadful experience, it was a hallucination. I couldn’t manage to tear myself away from what I was seeing. I couldn’t think. The wheel of a lorry. A red lorry. Beyond the lorry, a perfect, white wall. A black gate. A dried-up plant. A green gazebo. On the gazebo was a parabolic antenna. Another house. A grey wall that seemed to be made of mud. I sat down on a block of concrete and looked at Xheni who was contemplating at the ground. She took a photo of me. Behind me there was an open window with six purple mats drying in the sun. I wanted to urinate.
This scene of absurd, hallucinatory non-comprehension is reminiscent of similar moments in Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos, where the protagonist is swallowed into a whirlpool of associations, clues, and haphazard motivations after discovering a series of seemingly senseless coincidences. Mazzi’s response however is not impose causality or meaning; there is an attempt to stage himself as object photography, hoping perhaps to arrive transitively at a minimum of “objective” insight – that is, through the objective – and preliminary decipherment, but also the immediate impulse to relieve himself of this “dreadful experience” – to urinate. Whereas Gombrowicz’s Witold sees “nothing,”
Mazzi thinks nothing. This proves to be an essential distinction for their respective ordeals. Elsewhere Mazzi writes: “It was not possible to conceptualize my thoughts and express them in a conceptual manner. In reality it was as if I did not think. When I use a camera, I do not think.” Witold’s response to conceptual aphasia remains discursive, an attempt at decipherment, theoretical prodding, an investigative effort on a grand scale. Mazzi’s respond is imaginative: he takes a picture. Both often fail to do so.
Yet we have in front of us entire book of “successful” photographs, or “technical images,” as Vilém Fluser called them: images produced by a (photographic) apparatus. How are we to read them? The book cover only shows us only a text, a citation from Mazzi’s previous publication Relational Syntax: “Photography is the antithesis of the possibility of experience. It transforms the unfeasibility of an experience into the unassailability of a document,” it starts. Mazzi’s definition of photography here dovetails with Flusser’s definition of the photographical apparatus: “Their intention is not to change the world but to change the meaning of the world,”
or, in the context of Mazzi’s work, to possibly give meaning to what is clearly experienced by the photographer as utterly meaningless. The presentational form of the book only enforces this “antithesis.” No longer exhibiting his works vertically in gallery spaces but increasingly focusing on the horizontal surface of the book, Mazzi’s photography no longer engages a context of images, but rather an environment of texts and concepts – in order to emphasize that they are truly technical images, that is, a response to the “crisis of texts,”
of conceptuality as such, of which Gombrowicz’s Cosmos is only but one allegory.
The form of the book strengthens Marco’s attempts at producing meaning from meaninglessness, because of the immediate relation between the images on the recto and verso pages, which allows us to read them together as some type of short-circuit in which certain symbols, only because of their repeated presence, become significant. Even in case of spreads that show images of geographically and temporally divergent scenes, there remains a lingering doubt that these images are somehow related, a doubt emphasized by the many spreads which show images that only minimally differ in terms of photographic angle or displacement.
Nevertheless, we should not hope that the meaning that emerges from these juxtapositions will in any way provide for the symbolic compensation for the absence of thought, or perhaps even absentmindedness, of the photographer. The uninspiredness signaled by Mazzi in the title not only refers to the dilapidated landscapes he photographs, but also to the absence of any spirit that moves him to takes the photograph. Mazzi is here, again if we would follow Flusser, the “functionarian” par excellence, controlling a game over which he has no competence, to which no transcendental, “spiritual” meaning can be assigned.
To return to opening sentence of Mazzi’s postscript, the halting in front of a construction site hidden from view by panels and posts, masking a large dark hole is nothing but a description of the gesture of the photographer himself. It is the photographic apparatus itself that becomes here an uninspired architecture: a black box that “simulate[s] thinking in the sense of combinatory game using number-like symbols[.]”
The photographer, numb, thoughtless, in a landscape devoid of meaning filled with senseless objects, and with the categories of the photographic apparatus set into an utterly neutral default of black and white and average distance, thus frame the photographic apparatus itself, holding it tightly in place to condition a series of technical images that attempt to (but must fail to be) an image of the camera’s inside. In the best tradition of experimental photography Mazzi is playing against the camera. This approach cannot be further away from the programmatic act of turning photography into mere documentationunless it were an attempt to document the program, the architecture of the camera itself.
notes on transcendental realism in the work of marco mazzi
Contemporary artists have to face a fundamental challenge: trying to compress and to codify in their work the totality of tradition – where ‘tradition’ is understood as a set of artistic expressions of past as present to the mind of the artist and acknowledged by the artist as ‘culture’ – and being able to do so with tied hands and feet, with their mouths locked in iron.
That is, without being allowed to correlate signs, as its reference, to any given forms that may be selected as such from tradition or from the world. Unless one is willing to put an extenuating and ultimately exclusive effort in this act of correlation. Lucio Fontana wrote in 1946: “We, people of this century, […] have become indifferent to the representation of known forms and to the exposition of constantly repeated experiences”. In a sense, Fontana was just positioning himself on an eternal checkerboard of dialects of the arts. However, more interestingly, as witnessed by the consonance of his thought with that of many other artists of the XX century, Fontana was indicating that some sort of unprecedented peak of cultural and linguistic “saturation’’ had been attained; at least in the perception of the artists. As if the semiotic triangle of sign, sense and reference were no longer “practicable’’, but had become an atom itself. As if the relations between its components had turned to “quantistic’’. Such a “saturation’’ of linguistic consciousness may be seen as a by-product of the liaisons between science, art and philosophy which have characterized the XX century. A corollary is the impossibility of a symbolic use of the sign. With some abuse of semiotics’ terminology one could say that Mazzi’s images represent, instead, an attempt of using the sign as a mark, as an impression.
Abstract Art has abandoned the symbolic use of sign, exploring an artistic use of the formal sign. A formal sign whose meaning is defined by the relations that are established by the work of art and in the work of art with other signs of the same type (analogously to the meaning of terms in an axiomatic formal system). Thus, Abstract Art first and, later, Conceptual Art have pursued forms of liberation from the symbolic use of sign, for example in the separation of interpretative act from creative and projectual acts.
This thread of ideas can be followed from Mondrian and Kandinsky to Kosuth (“A work of art is a tautology […], which means, a definition of art’’, Art After Philosophy) and beyond, passing through the work of Fontana, of the Movimento Arte Concreta, of Manzoni (“It goes without saying that a `line’ is neither an horizon nor a symbol’’, Free Dimension).
With this tradition as its active background, Mazzi’s work seems to move towards a possibly new and certainly fertile direction: the use of sign as a mark. There are some notable predecessors, e.g., the “gesture’’ of informal artists, Klein’s Anthropometries, Manzoni’s fingerprints stamped on eggs, etc. Nevertheless, here we recognize a different intention: Mazzi’s image is not meant to be the mark of a determinate ‘object’ singled-out in a space of given possibilities and then offered to a set of organs of perception which are disposed to receive it. Here, the use of the mark is not a regression to a more elementary or more primitive level of semeiosis. Instead, Mazzi’s mark is a mark of the transcendental, shown as such. By this we mean that the mark is the mark of the world as a totality, impressed on the consciousness of the individual qua self-conscious individual. Mazzi knows that art can comprehend the world – beyond fiction and falsity – only as a totality, even when the artist chooses to operate with very circumscribed and ontologically fragile elements (as, for example, in the Rimozioni).
We could use the expression ‘transcendental realism’ to describe this work. We use the term ‘trascendental’ because the work of art seems to be aimed at our sensibility and at our intellect in their totality of virtues, in their full nature of cognitive faculties, rather than calling into play particular perceptual or intellectual contents and forms. This can be seen as a `limit-attempt’ to modify dispositions and structures of our cognitive faculties (“Successful art changes our understanding of the conventions by altering our perceptions’’ Sol LeWitt, Sentences on Conceptual Art).
The perception of the world as a totality seems to be the origin of Mazzi’s images. Inducing, or even forcing, such a perception on the observer seems to be their goal. The perception of the world as a totality is a sort of ‘limit-awareness’: such an awareness implies a – possibly instantaneous – act of self-annihilation.
The giving up of our own definite description of ‘persona’, but not of the communicable essence of our condition of ‘individual’ beings. The very same character of ‘generic individuality’ has to be found in the images, if the images are to be the tools by which the same awareness is produced in the observer. Therefore Mazzi’s image is an ‘image as any other image’ but is not ‘any image’. Such an image bears the wealth and the dreadfulness of the idea of the world as a totality.
The work of Shizuka Yokomizo comes to my mind in this respect. I saw Yokomizo’s work at the Pecci Museum of Prato in 2001 (Senritsumirai (Futuro Anteriore) – Arte attuale dal Giappone, curated by Bruno Corà). Her portraits are an alchemy of anonimity and intimacy. Her subjects are ‘subjects like any other subject’ (because they are chosen at random, for example from the telephone book), but they are not ‘any subject whatsoever’ (because an agreement takes place between the subject and the artist).
We use the term ‘realism’ because of the evident effort of always presenting the concept as embedded in one of its possible natural realizations. Mazzi owes a lot to a certain development of art during the last thirty years. We could describe this as a “repopulating’’ of spaces that the avant-gardes and the neo avant-gardes had intentionally and deliberately emptied (“Paintings are over. […] Why don’t we empty these containers? Why don’t we set this surface free?“, wrote Manzoni in Free Dimension). Photo, video and, lately, artist’s short movies have played a central role in this process. This process may be called naturalizing Conceptual Art. The more formalistic assumptions of the great art of the last century have been relaxed (e.g., the “veto” on psychologism) in favour of a renewed freedom (and liberality).
The use of the movie camera plays a double role in Mazzi’s research. On the one hand it is an answer to the need for a radical transparency of the artist’s tools. On the other hand photography, video, and film are the most natural tools for a research on the concepts of ‘totality’ through mark and impression: the objective is that “mad eye thrown on the world’’ (Giordano Bruno), to which the world offers itself naturally as a totality.
A comparison with Manzoni is again fruitful in this respect: the concept of totality is fundamental in Manzoni’s work. One might think of his “infinite line’’ contained in a box, or of his “pedestals of the world’’. The same examples show that Manzoni’s use of the sign is very structured, a sort of conceptual synecdoche that is closer to an index than to a mark.
Where is tradition, with its encyclopedia of referents, with its lattice of meanings? It is still to be found, in these transcendental marks by Mazzi, in the structure of the artist’s perspective. Not in the ‘way’ of the artist’s perspective, but rather in its very structure (which is transcendental and thus not the object of a choice). And such structure – as the outcome of a tradition that has reached the saturation of its own dialectical evolution – can no longer be used to dispose of the world (disposing some elements of the world to illuminate some others). Why not? Because the awareness that is expressed by such a structure has already recognized itself as tradition, i.e., as the act of enlightening and preserving parts of itself.
In its full expression – which is at the same time its own limit and, ultimately, its self-annihilation – this structure coincides with the structure that the eye sees, the structure that is the eye. This identity, this ‘natural isomorphism’ is what Mazzi’s images give us back. This restitution takes place sometimes with a violent, unavoidable rebound, sometimes instead by opening, at a blow, the curtain of nature and of thought, giving us for a moment the impression of the impossible act of contemplating ourselves, as contemplating subjects and contemplated objects.