book and website project for Vulcano
Your foot, my eye, my stomach, your chest
The body is the spatial extension of the tissues that make up mankind and animals, in other words of those complex anatomical structures that have their own life, structure, and functions. The human body in particular is the union of three sections, each one of which has specific tasks: a) the head; b) the trunk; c) the limbs. The head contains the brain, the trunk the vital organs, while the limbs act as a locomotive apparatus for procuring food and for other primary needs. Strangely enough, in reptiles the limbs are joined laterally to the trunk, a characteristic that makes them fairly useless and odd when moving fast, as we see with a frightened lizard that runs to find refuge in a cavity, or with a tortoise that runs towards something that makes its mouth water. In mammals, instead, the legs are attached under the trunk, an aspect that has allowed the development of particular attitudes to the exploration of the environment or to the undertaking of complex actions, as we can see in our own species.
The body is everything that circumscribes us, but it is also the mechanism that physically relates/conditions/orients us with regard to everything that lies outside us, what we conventionally call reality. Even though many of the most shrewd people would swear that it is pure illusion, here I accept as a given that reality exists, at least as a collective construction, according to the famous theory of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann from halfway through the 1960s in The Social Construction of Reality. The body is the container that defines us and that hosts our unique individuality, since it allows us to define the totality that we call the self, which is immersed within a larger and more populous totality that we call, indeed, reality. Basically we, including you the reader, are a subset that shares equally with others the fact of belonging to a larger totality. In this complex construction, the body is not simply a spatial extension but has the function of a membrane, a sorting place and one of passage: it is the walls, roof, basement and, above all, doors and windows from which we continuously look out because, due to our human nature, we really cannot bear to be alone and isolated.
It is difficult to imagine this today, which is characterised by a massive engagement with the social network in which the body has not only become a content in itself, and is used as such (so quite apart from the pleasure it might receive or give), but it seems to have lost its function as a tool for relationships and has become a weapon for physical offence or defence, both for the media and for the purposes of identity. The body, of which feminists proudly claim its freedom from the bonds imposed by the patriarchal family and social impositions, has today returned to be a tool which we do not have full control of and is without all the prerogatives that rationally we would like it to have. My body (or yours) is no longer exclusively mine (or yours), nor even abstractly of society or of any kind of lobby. It has become everyone’s, but in the most impersonal and aggressive form: that is, not so much a community sharing but an infinite manipulating activity that the social networks and the obsession for what is visible stimulate to the highest degree. In other words, we have entrusted the immaterial administration of our body to all the others, who are not people with a face, a body, a name, or an identity. In fact, even though being its owner, our body is discretionally managed by a multitude, the constituents of which we do not know: it is collapsed into an image, a two-dimensional content that crushes its depth into a generic formula – a chilly algorithm? – with regard to which individual resistance has little value.
The more the body becomes an image, the distant projection of the concrete physicality of muscles and skin, the more concrete is the risk that its function and the sense we give to it slip from our grasp, and this is certainly not only a phenomenon that we find with the use of Instagram or YouTube. It was for this reason that in 1565 Daniele da Volterra, who was a good artist with an intimately tortured nature, was called on to dress the paintings of a particularly famous colleague who had just died: his predecessor had imposed no limits on himself in his representations of anatomy and in his creative fervour. But just a few years after the completion of the work, there occurred what, nowadays, we would describe as “unintended consequences”, something that Daniele was called on to put an end to: those frescoed bodies, painted as a celebration of God and the complex theology that ruled the workings of the world, were now considered to be too human, too carnal, and too sensual, to the point of being obscene; furthermore, they no longer corresponded to the expectations of the institution that had commissioned them. The Catholic Church, in fact, had just established new rules and had developed a new cultural plan for reacting to the reforming and moralising currents coming from northern Europe.
With a change in external conditions, those images lent themselves to being understood differently or even misunderstood, just as happens today in a time characterized by the supremacy of visible element – but yet animated by a form of moralising iconoclastic trend, that is often anti-libertarian. In fact, now as in the past whoever produces a content is not its complete master when he entrusts it to others, because it is subject to the infinite manipulations, the taste, the culture, the intelligence, or the mediocrity of whoever looks at it. And then, a detail that really cannot be overlooked, those who now post/spread images of their own body or that of others, rarely possesses the artistic abilities of Michelangelo.
Since antiquity, the image of the body – in the articulated complexity of its functions – has been used as a device by philosophers, politicians, and intellectuals for describing society, the members that make it up, its dynamics, and the functional, hierarchical, and strong relationships between its parts. By its very nature, the body is a metaphor for the union between single elements, apparently destined for different aims, that finds a higher meaning in the articulation and development of a relationship: starting from these relationships, it is a symbol of how individuals structure themselves into groups, into complex organisms and networks. In this vision, the different functions entrusted to each single part of the body are often relevant, but the most significant result, however, is the organic unity of the whole body. Briefly, we could say that the overall value of the whole body is superior to the algebraic sum of its individual functions, because there is a value – difficult to measure – that derives from its complex structure, from the possibilities of undertaking tasks a degree higher, only possible thanks to the superimposition of many processes. So the body in itself is far superior to being a totality of functions that are undertaken in a mechanical way, because it is a society, in other words an organism that answers to the most complex requests of man who is by his very nature, as Aristotle observed, a “political animal”.
For Corpo Sociale (i.e. “Social Body”), the Fratelli Calgaro have made photographic portraits of the partners, customers, and employees of the Alpenite group at a party, in two shooting sessions. The project began with the idea of summarising in the anatomical form of the male and female body the idea of the complexity of such an organisation as a firm which, according to the definition given by the Enciclopedia Treccani, is “a system of economic forces that develop in the environment and with which there interact processes of production and/or of consumption, in favour of the economic subjects that cooperate in it”.
The individuals were invited to be portrayed by the camera against a white paper background, while undressing themselves or showing a part of their body. The reactions were very different, according to the degree of confidence in their own body or to the exhibitionism of each participant: some took part by revealing their trunk, legs, or dressed only in their underwear; others instead felt free to show themselves completely naked, only veiled by a plant of ficus elastica variegata held by the hands in front of the pubis, in such as way as to reinterpret in a postmodern manner, and with subtle irony, the classical iconography of Adam and Eve.
Corpo Sociale was produced by superimposing in a collage the details of many shots made of different people, and in which are present recognisable details that could in an unambiguous way indicate a particular individual (such as, for example, tattoos, scars, or piercing). The head, arms, chest, legs, feet or abdomen are in this way the result of a combination of horizontal and vertical images in which the structural details are not perfectly congruent as regards the dimensions, the colour of the skin or hair, or the musculature. So the human body becomes a social body and loses the realism and continuity of its anatomy because the final image is a mosaic consisting of clippings, of fragments that do not match.
The missing correspondences conceptually highlight the dialogue/conflict relationship between the parts, where the individual finds complete sense only in the complexity of a higher vision; and, conversely, the unitary structure is possible only as a result of the presence of many different elements. Each participant chooses to show just a part of the body, but the whole aesthetics is based on the relational process with the other portrayed individuals we get page after page. The outcome is a single image – concise and disjointed – from which we can intuit a high degree of multiple relationships. Each portion of flesh has, in fact, an identity, a name, a donor, while the image of the social body shows people united in the same aim or who share, even in a subconscious form, a similar point of view: E pluribus unum, “one from many”, as this is masterfully summed up by the Latin phrase (which, not by chance, was the motto chosen for the emblem of the United States in the years after its foundation).
A social body such as that put together by the Fratelli Calgaro – formed from the union of many individuals, the morphology of which is in part superimposable, adversarial, or replaceable – also inevitably alludes to the intricacy of managing the relationships between its members, because it neither avoids nor cancels the differences, anomalies, and eventual incompatibilities of its constituent parts. It is not, in other words, a sweetened representation that hides the presence of a disruptive centrifugal force nor the wish for change present in every group but, on the contrary, it is a testimony to a transitory state that is common to every social organism, one in which the transformational and relational dynamism between its members are in a constant process of negotiation. That foot, that eye, that stomach, or that chest could also have belonged to you or me because, as a last resort, they highlight the possibility that each person has of being a foot, an eye, a stomach, or a chest. The recognisability and the resolves of an individual take a second place with regard to the possibilities of change and resolve offered to each one in that context, or with respect to the opportunity to germinate elsewhere and tomorrow other, further social bodies.