Certain watershed moments in our lives happen by accident, at least on the surface.
While attending university in Siena, it happened at one point that some of the lectures in the course of study were held not on the premises of my faculty, but located in the classrooms of theAccademia dei Fisiocritici, one of the oldest scientific institutions in Italy.
So one day I was in class in there, and to dilute the inhuman torment (no one should be subjected, without prior informed consent, to a general linguistics class) I got up to look for a bathroom. I asked the janitor how to get there, and he pointed to a door specifying that I had to go through the whole room because the restrooms were at the back.
When I entered, the shutters at the windows were ajar, and it took me a moment to adjust my eyes to the dimness. I finally distinguished, half a meter away from me, a strange silhouette… I focused with difficulty, and what I saw was this:
My memory is usually ragged and lazy, but that shock I remember as if it were a thing of today: the rush of adrenaline left me shaky. I found myself surrounded by other teratological specimens, although I didn’t even know the term at the time: in addition to the Siamese calf taxidermy, there were skeletons of thoracopagus lambs, malformed fetuses and human preparations.
I could have looked for an escape route, pulled straight for the restrooms cursing the janitor who had not warned me what I would be facing; instead, something clicked. I stood paralyzed for I don’t know how long, then the dismay faded, giving way to the most all-encompassing wonder I had ever felt. Precipitated in a paradoxical state, at once hypnotic and euphoric, I forgot about the bathroom, about class.
I did not leave that room until, an hour later, a fellow student came looking for me. Leaving the Academy, intoxicated and inebriated, I knew that moment would define at least in part all the rest of my life.
Why was that experience such an epiphany?
There was a hallucinatory quality to those deformed bodies that made me feel like a lost child, or at least get back in touch with a childlike trait that tends to be blunted by time: the inability to distinguish sharply between dream and reality.
(I wrote “inability to distinguish,” instead it would be better to say: the ability not to distinguish. But we’ll get to that.)
Now that I have been involved for many years precisely with anatomical or natural history museums, and their relationship to the uncanny, I understand well why that moment was so foundational for me. Without that surprise, that unexpected and cruel thrill, that cutaneous horripilation, that primal trauma, I would not have arrived at the approach that I believe informs much of my work: that of valuing the “Fantastic in science,” a concept around which I have long orbited, though without defining it explicitly until now.
Scientific and fantasy fiction are contradictory only in appearance, just as specious is the opposition between the Fantastic and Realism. Whether we are talking about film, literature or art, a double misunderstanding has plagued these disciplines for quite a while: on the one hand, Realism is merely a mode of exposition, laden with conscious choices and omissions — thus a clever pretense of verisimilitude. On the other, under the allegorical veneer, any fantastic narrative is a meditation (more or less conscious) on the reality of its own time.
In other words: realism is always a fable in disguise, while a fantastic narrative is always about concrete and current concerns.
The great difference between the two expressions is similar to what in music is called timbre; different are the instruments that play it, different are the filters, effects, distortions, and vibrations that are produced, but the note may well be the same.
In the artistic-literary sphere, therefore, such a dialectic never goes beyond the epidermis of the story, but I am convinced that on serious examination it does not hold between scientific language and the fantastic dimension either. While we are accustomed to recognizing the scientific themes that sometimes populate art or fantastic literature (think of Frankenstein), at first glance the presence of fantastic elements that run through scientific narratives — which are nothing more than a realist register taken to extremes — is less obvious.
It is the study of anatomy, human and animal, that in my eyes encapsulates more than other disciplines a propensity for the Marvelous.
On the one hand it is infused with all the epic of the heroes of science, the pioneering cartography of the body as a virgin continent to be explored, the esoteric toponymy and nomenclature; but the medical rhetoric of case reports — despite having developed a predilection for aseptic language honed over the centuries — is still descended from the accounts of prodigies and monstrous births of the Sixteenth Century. It is not uncommon to encounter medical papers that resemble veritable short stories.
Pietro da Cortona, Tabulae anatomicae, 1741
On the other hand, I have always been fascinated by anatomical plates (with their unintentional surrealism) and especially by the spectacular aspect of some museum preparations — such as those that treacherously stood before me at the Accademia dei Fisiocritici.
Precisely in the monstrous preparations, but also in certain dissections that unfold the body in unexpected visual distortions, there is an element of transfiguration of matter that I think is necessary for one to be able to speak properly of the Fantastic.
Honoré Fragonard, Écorché of Horse and Rider (1771), Fragonard Museum, Paris.
12-part human skull section, preparation by Ryan Matthew Cohn.
In short: If I were asked to name a place that perfectly represents my idea of the Fantastic, I would not think of any enchanted glade inhabited by fairies and goblins, nor of a crumbling mansion haunted by some evanescent ghost. Nor would I address distant hypothetical planets populated by inconceivable life forms.
I would direct the interlocutor to an anatomy museum.
Prepared in liquid twins, MUSA, Naples.
Tracing the fantastic in science, then, has broader and deeper repercussions. It means reconsidering the distance between mathematical-scientific and artistic-humanistic disciplines.
There is a widespread idea that the artist is predominantly irrational and emotional, but anyone who has ventured to produce any form of art knows very well that it is a work of ingenuity considered as an inseparable whole: it is necessary to guarantee space for the unknown to intervene in order to harmonize and elaborate it thanks to the control that technique guarantees.
On the other hand, the researcher or scientist proceeds in a kindred way — in spite of the different timbre, semiotic register, and tools — that is, in perennial balance between the describable and the indescribable, putting their faculties to good use indiscriminately, tuning the scruple of reasoning with those vast unfathomable areas from which intuition and unexpected illuminations spring.
“Eureka!” Archimedes in the bath, 16th-century woodcut.
No human quest, in other words, is wholly rational or irrational: for we only move in an attempt to untangle the thicket of symbols we have inherited or created ourselves, and to overcome them. The poet and the scientist who intend to reach some truth must strain in a constant effort against the traps of language, of categories, of preconceptions.
In this, as I said, the child’s ability not to make big distinctions between dream and reality would be a discipline to cultivate since, when needed, it allows us to place ourselves beyond traditional separations.
It is useful to access that privileged vantage point from time to time, because from there the heterogeneous stimuli that animate our thinking are no longer judged a priori: and the multiple currents, coming from all directions, that churn and eddy under our keel, are still the same ocean.
(This post is dedicated to that janitor who at the time did not warn me of what I was getting into. I don’t know his name, but he was infinitely more important to my education than the linguistics professor.)
Today Bizzarro Bazar enters its 10th year of activity!
Last year, my somewhat reckless idea of celebrating the blog’s birthday with a contest ended up having overwhelming results: you guys submerged me with wonderful creations — short stories, photographs, drawings, sculptures, paintings, music and every kind of weird stuff. During the following months, I often went back and skimmed through your works whenever I was in need of a little shot of confidence.
So, if by any chance you’re tired of doing crosswords on the beach, what about going at it once more?
The rules are the same as last time:
Create an original work explicitly referring to Bizzarro Bazar;
Remember that the idea is to allow free rein to your weirdest creativity, to celebrate and above all to have fun among friends!
Point 1 created a bit of confusion last time, so let me specify the concept: “explicitly referring” to the blog means that Bizzarro Bazar (the website, logo, one of my books, even my beard if it comes to that) must be depicted/mentioned/included in the entry. Keep in mind that, while promoting your creations, I also want to promote this blog. Win-win.
My advise is to skim through the beautiful contributions which got published at the end of the first edition.
Today is Bizzarro Bazar’s birthday, the blog is 8 years old!
(My cats’ health book informs me that 8 feline years roughly correspond to 48 human years; I wonder if there’s a similar calculation for blogs, whose life expectancy is far less than a cat’s.)
To celebrate together, I thought I’d involve you all in a little game: let’s launch our first Bizzarro Bazar Contest!
Free your most “strange, macabre & wonderful” fantasies, and create something that has to do with Bizzarro Bazar.
I am not going to tell you what that something should be: drawings, comics, paintings, fanart, caricatures, photographs, selfies, but also videos, poems, songs… well, any odd stuff your creativity might suggest.
To enter the contest you must:
Create an original work explicitly referring to Bizzarro Bazar: what I mean is that Bizzarro Bazar (the website, the logo, a publication, even my own beard if nothing else!) should be pictured/mentioned within the work;
Remember that I’m calling it contest, but it’s not about competition — the idea is to allow free rein to your morbid creativity, celebrate these first 8 years of weirdness, and have fun among friends.
3 prizes will be awarded:
1st prize: Signed book from Bizzarro Bazar Collection (of your choice) + BB shopping bag + surprise gift pack 2nd prize: Signed book from Bizzarro Bazar Collection (of your choice) + BB shopping bag 3rd prize: Signed book from Bizzarro Bazar Collection (of your choice)
Best unclassified entries will be published on Bizzarro Bazar with links to the authors websites/profiles.
Alright, let your imagination run wild and remember the deadline is September 10. Keep The World Weird!
That’s how it turned out to be — your mother was bleeding.
The doctors opened the woman’s body, and saved her. You should know that, despite all their cruelty and barbarity, human beings do this as well: they keep each other alive.
Your mother was out of the woods but the doctors wanted to understand why there was so much blood (another human thing, to try and understand). The flesh became a casket and revealed the secret that had been hidden till then, a secret of which the woman herself was not aware: they saw you.
You had struggled to surface, and you had failed.
They called you extrauterine, but you are actually extraterrestrial. From the dark of your mother’s womb you moved to the shining transparency of the liquid that would prevent you from dissolving. Your floating feet have never touched this planet. You have not touched the ground, you have not landed. Our bitter dimension could not damage you.
Out of time — at least out of the time of the human beings — you are floating motionless.
I found an ancient vase, hand-blown more than a century ago by an artisan who lived in a faraway continent, to honour your alien beauty. I gently immersed the minuscule, snow white limbs in the liquid, as if they were holy relics and I was their humble keeper.
Now you are watching from the shelf, suffused with gleam.
I talk to you as if I addressed my own wonder. Only a fool would expect answers from a mystery.
What do you know about the Universe?
Maybe life is precious and rare. Maybe it is more similar to a mould, a moss clinging to every minimal surface, to any rock it can find in the cold of the cosmos.
What dreams have you dreamed?
Maybe for a while you have felt the warmth, the ancient and familiar sensation, because we all know how to be born and how to die. But maybe your incomplete shape did not let you perceive the beginning nor the end.
What do you see when you look out at me from inside there?
Maybe my pain means something to you. Maybe it is only the consequence of my persevering in living.
You who are out of the game, out of the world. You who have known the basics — to take shape and vanish — without your perceptions being clouded by words, thoughts, emotions. You who, of the heart, only knew the ephemeral vertigo.
Tell me. How can we go on, blinded and wounded as we are, fallen into the morass, belonging to the race that burnt the wings in the attempt to reach the sun?
“Do not fight. Slow down the collapses. Relax the muscles. Let yourself be conquered.”
This is what the Moon Baby seems to whisper to me.
“You cannot fall. There is nothing you have to do.”
Stone appears to be still, unchangeable, untouched by the tribulations of living beings.
Being outside of time, it always pointed back to the concept fo Creation.
Nestled, inaccessible, closed inside the natural chest of rock, those anomalies we called treasures lie waiting to be discovered: minerals of the strangest shape, unexpected colors, otherworldly transparency.
Upon breaking a stone, some designs may be uncovered which seem to be a work of intellect. One could recognize panoramas, human figures, cities, plants, cliffs, ocean waves.
Who is the artist that hides these fantasies inside the rock? Are they created by God’s hand? Or were these visions and landscapes dreamed by the stone itself, and engraved in its heart?
If during the Middle Ages these stone motifs were probably seen as an evidence of the anima mundi, at the beginning of the modern period they had already been relegated to the status of simple curiosities.
XVI and XVII Century naturalists, in their wunderkammern and in books devoted to the wonders of the world, classified the pictures discovered in stone as “jokes of Nature” (lusus naturæ). In fact, Roger Caillois writes (La scrittura delle pietre, Marietti, 1986):
The erudite scholars, Aldrovandi and Kircher among others, divided these wonders into genres and species according to the image they saw in them: Moors, bishops, shrimps or water streams, faces, plants, dogs or even fish, tortoises, dragons, skulls, crucifixes, anything a fervid imagination could recognize and identify. In reality there is no being, monster, monument, event or spectacle of nature, of history, of fairy tales or dreams, nothing that an enchanted gaze couldn’t see inside the spots, designs and profiles of these stones.
It is curious to note, incidentally, that these “caprices” were brought up many times during the long debate regarding the mystery of fossils. Leonardo Da Vinci had already guessed that sea creatures found petrified on mountain tops could be remnants of living organisms, but in the following centuries fossils came to be thought of as mere whims of Nature: if stone was able to reproduce a city skyline, it could well create imitations of seashells or living things. Only by the half of XVIII Century fossils were no longer considered lusus naturæ.
Among all kinds of pierre à images (“image stones”), there was one in which the miracle most often recurred. A specific kind of marble, found near Florence, was called pietra paesina (“landscape stone”, or “ruin marble”) because its veinings looked like landscapes and silhouettes of ruined cities. Maybe the fact that quarries of this particular marble were located in Tuscany was the reason why the first school of stone painting was established at the court of Medici Family; other workshops specializing in this minor genre arose in Rome, in France and the Netherlands.
Aside from the pietra paesina, which was perfect for conjuring marine landscapes or rugged desolation, other kinds of stone were used, such as alabaster (for celestial and angelic suggestions) and basanite, used to depict night views or to represent a burning city.
Perhaps it all started with Sebastiano del Piombo‘s experiments with oil on stone, which had the intent of creating paintings that would last as long as sculptures; but actually the colors did not pass the test of time on polished slates, and this technique proved to be far from eternal. Sebastiano del Piombo, who was interested in a refined and formally strict research, abandoned the practice, but the method had an unexpected success within the field of painted oddities — thanks to a “taste for rarities, for bizarre artifices, for the ambiguous, playful interchange of art and nature that was highly appreciated both during XVI Century Mannerism and the baroque period” (A. Pinelli on Repubblica, January 22, 2001).
Following the inspiration offered by the marble scenery, they added human figures, ships, trees and other details to the picture. Sometimes little was needed: it was enough to paint a small balcony, the outline of a door or a window, and the shape of a city immediately gained an outstanding realism.
Johann König, Matieu Dubus, Antonio Carracci and others used in this way the ribbon-like ornaments and profound brightness of the agate, the coils and curves of alabaster. In pious subjects, the painter drew the mystery of a milky supernatural flare from the deep, translucent hues; or, if he wanted to depict a Red Sea scene, he just had to crowd the vortex of waves, already suggested by the veinings of the stone, with frightened victims.
Especially well-versed in this eccentric genre, which between the XVI and XVIII Century was the object of extended trade, was Filippo Napoletano.
In 1619 the painter offered to Cosimo II de’ Medici seven stories of Saints painted on “polished stoned called alberese“, and some of his works still retain a powerful quality, on the account of their innovative composition and a vivid expressive intensity.
His extraordinary depiction of the Temptations of Saint Anthony, for instance, is a “little masterpiece [where] the artist’s intervention is minimal, and the Saint’s entire spiritual drama finds its echo in the melancholy of a landscape of Dantesque tone” (P. Gaglianò on ExibArt, December 11, 2000).
The charm of a stone that “mimicks” reality, giving the illusion of a secret theater, is unaltered still today, as Cailliois elegantly explains:
Such simulacra, hidden on the inside for a long time, appear when the stones are broken and polished. To an eager imagination, they evoke immortal miniature models of beings and things. Surely, chance alone is at the origin of the prodigy. All similarities are after all vague, uncertain, sometimes far from truth, decidedly gratuitous. But as soon as they are perceived, they become tyrannical and they offer more than they promised. Anyone who knows how to observe them, relentlessly discovers new details completing the alleged analogy. These kinds of images can miniaturize for the benefit of the person involved every object in the world, they always provide him with a copy which he can hold in his hand, position as he wishes, or stash inside a cabinet. […] He who possesses such a wonder, produced, extracted and fallen into his hands by an extraordinary series of coincidences, happily imagines that it could not have come to him without a special intervention of Fate.
Still, unchangeable, untouched by the tribulations of living beings: it is perhaps appropriate that when stones dream, they give birth to these abstract, metaphysical landscapes, endowed with a beauty as alien as the beauty of rock itself.
Several artworks from the Medici collections are visible in a wonderful and little-known museum in Florence, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.
The best photographic book on the subject is the catalogue Bizzarrie di pietre dipinte(2000), curate by M. Chiarini and C. Acidini Luchinat.
We advocate freedom, against any kind of censorship.
And yet today, sex being everywhere, legitimized, we feel we are missing something. There is in fact a strange paradox about eroticism: the need to have a prohibition, in order to transgress it.
“Is sex dirty? Only when it’s being done right“, Woody Allen joked, summarizing how much the orthodox or religious restrictions have actually fostered and given a richer flavor to sexual congresses.
An enlightening example might come from the terrible best-selling books of the past few years: we might wonder why nowadays erotic literature seems to be produced by people who can’t write, for people who can’t read.
The great masterpieces of erotica appeared when it was forbidden to write about sex. Both the author (often a well-known and otherwise respectable writer) and the editor were forced to act in anonimity and, if exposed, could be subjected to a harsh sentence. Dangerous, outlaw literature: it wasn’t written with the purpose of seeling hundreds of thousands of copies, but rather to be sold under the counter to the few who could understand it.
Thus, paradoxically, such a strict censorship granted that the publishing of an erotic work corresponded to a poetic, authorial urgency. Risqué literature, in many cases, represented a necessary and unsuppressible artistic expression. The crossing of a boundary, of a barrier.
Given the current flat landscape, we inevitably look with curiosity (if not a bit of nostalgia) at those times when eroticism had to be carefully concealed from prying eyes.
An original variation of this “sunken” collective imagination are those erotic objects which in France (where they were paricularly popular) are called à système, “with a device”.
They consisted in obscene representations hidden behind a harmless appearance, and could only be seen by those who knew the mechanism, the secret move, the trick to uncover them.
Some twenty years ago in Chinese restaurants in Italy, liquor at the end of the meal was served in peculiar little cups that had a convex glass base: when the cup was full, the optic distorsion was corrected by the liquid and it was possible to admire, on the bottom, the picture of a half-undressed lady, who became invisible once again as the cup was emptied.
The concept behind the ancient objets à système was the same: simple objects, sometimes common home furnishings, disguising the owners’ unmentionable fantasies from potential guests coming to the house.
The most basic kind of objects à système had false bottoms and secret compartments. Indecent images could be hidden in all sorts of accessories, from snuffboxes to walking canes, from fake cheese cartons to double paintings.
Ivory box, the lid shows a double scene. XIX Century.
Inlaid domino game, in the manner of sailors decorations, with erotic plates.
Walking stick knob handle.
Paintings with hidden pictures.
A young woman reads a book: if the painting is opened, her improper fantasies are visualized.
Other, slightly more elaborate objects presented a double face: a change of perspective was needed in order to discover their indecent side. A classic example from the beginning of the XX Century are ceramic sculptures or ashtrays which, when turned upside down, held some surprises.
The monk, a classic erotic figure, is hiding a secret inside the wicker basket on his shoulders.
Double-faced pendant: the woman’s legs can be closed, and on the back a romantic flowered heart takes shape.
Then there were objects featuring a hinge, a device that had to be activated, or removable parts. Some statuettes, such as the beautiful bronzes created by Bergman‘s famous Austrian forgery, were perfect art nouveau decorations, but still concealed a spicy little secret.
The top half of this polichrome ceramic figurine is actually a lid which, once removed, shows the Marquise crouching in the position called de la pisseuse, popularized by an infamous Rembrandt etching.
Snuffbox, sailor’s sculpture. Here the mechanism causes the soldier’s hat to “fall down”, revealing the true nature of the gallant scene.
Meerschaum pipe. Upon inserting a pipe cleaner into the chamber, a small lever is activated.
In time, the artisans came up with ever more creative ideas.
For instance there were decorations composed of two separate figurines, showing a beautiful and chaste young girl in the company of a gallant faun. But it was enough to alter the charachters’ position in order to see the continuation of their affair, and to verify how successful the satyr’s seduction had been.
Even more elaborate ruses were devised to disguise these images. The following picture shows a fake book (end of XVIII Century) hiding a secret chest. The spring keys on the bottom allow for the unrolling of a strip which contained seven small risqué scenes, appearing through the oval frame.
The following figures were a real classic, and with many variations ended up printed on pillboxes, dishes, matchstick boxes, and several other utensiles. At first glance, they don’t look obscene at all; their secret becomes only clear when they are turned uspide down, and the bottom part of the drawing is covered with one hand (you can try it yourself below).
The medals in the picture below were particularly ingenious. Once again, the images on both sides showed nothing suspicious if examied by the non-initiated. But flipping the medal on its axis caused them to “combine” like the frames of a movie, and to appear together. The results can be easily imagined.
In closing, here are some surprising Chinese fans.
In his book La magia dei libri (presented in NYC in 2015), Mariano Tomatis reports several historical examples of “hacked books”, which were specifically modified to achieve a conjuring effect. These magic fans work in similar fashion: they sport innocent pictures on both sides, provided that the fan is opened as usual from left to right. But if the fan is opened from right to left, the show gets kinky.
A feature of these artisan creations, as opposed to classic erotic art, was a constant element of irony. The very concept of these objects appears to be mocking and sardonic.
Think about it: anyone could keep some pornographic works locked up in a safe. But to exhibit them in the living room, before unsuspecting relatives and acquaintances? To put them in plain view, under the nose of your mother-in-law or the visiting reverend?
That was evidently the ultimate pleasure, a real triumph of dissimulation.
Playing card with nude watermark, made visible by placing it in front of a candle.
Such objects have suffered the same loss of meaning afflicting libertine literature; as there is no real reason to produce them anymore, they have become little more than a collector’s curiosity.
And nonetheless they can still help us to better understand the paradox we talked about in the beginning: the objets à système manage to give us a thrill only in the presence of a taboo, only as long as they are supposed to remain under cover, just like the sexual ghosts which according to Freud lie behind the innocuous images we see in our dreams.
Should we interpret these objects as symbols of bourgeois duplicity, of the urge to maintain at all cost an honorable facade? Were they instead an attempt to rebel against the established rules?
And furthermore, are we sure that sexual transgression is so revolutionary as it appears, or does it actually play a conservative social role in regard to the Norm?
Eventually, making sex acceptable and bringing it to light – depriving it of its part of darkness – will not cause our desire to vanish, as desire can always find its way. It probably won’t even impoverish art or literature, which will (hopefully) build new symbolic imagery suitable for a “public domain” eroticism.
The only aspect which is on the brink of extinction is precisely that good old idea of transgression, which also animated these naughty knick-knacks. Taking a look at contemporary conventions on alternative sexuality, it would seem that the fall of taboos has already occurred. In the absence of prohibitions, with no more rules to break, sex is losing its venomous and dangerous character; and yet it is conquering unprecedented serenity and new possibilities of exploration.
So what about us?
We would like to have our cake and eat it too: we advocate freedom, against any kind of censorship, but secretely keep longing for that exquisite frisson of danger and sin.
I don’t want to go into much detail about his work, because he himself will talk about it in the next paragraphs. I would only like to add one small personal note. In my life I’ve been lucky enough to know, to various degrees of intimacy, several writers, filmmakers, actors, illustrators: some of them were my personal heroes. And while it’s true that the creator is always a bit poorer than his creation (no one is flawless), I noticed the most visionary and original artists often show unexpected kindness, reserve, gentleness. Claudio is the kind of person who is almost embarassed when he’s the center of attention, and his immense imagination can only be guessed behind his electric, enthusiast, childlike glance. He is the kind of person who, after the presentation of his book, asks the audience permission to take a selfie with them, because “none of my friends or students back home will ever believe all this has really happened“.
I think men like him are more precious than yet another maudit.
What follows is the transcription of our chat.
We’re here today with Claudio Romo (I can never remember his impossibly long full name), to talk about his latest work A Journey in the Phantasmagorical Garden of Apparitio Albinus, a book I particularly love because it offers a kind of mixture of very different worlds: ingredients like time travel, giant jellyfish, flashes of alchemy, flying telepathic cities and countless creatures and monsters with all-too-human characteristics. And rather like Calvino’s Invisible Cities, this garden is a kind of place within the mind, within the soul… and just like the soul, the mind is a mysterious and complicated place, not infrequently with perverse overtones. A place where literary and artistic references intermix and intertwine.
From an artistic viewpoint, this work certainly brings to mind Roland Topor’s film Fantastic Planet, although filtered by a Latin American sensibility steeped in pre-Columbian iconography. On the other hand, certain illustrations vividly evoke Hieronymus Bosch, with their swarming jumble of tiny physically and anatomically deformed mutant creatures. Then there are the literary references: impossible not to think of Borges and his Book Of Imaginary Beings, but also the end of his Library of Babel; and certain encounters and copulations between mutant bodies evoke the Burroughs of Naked Lunch, whereas this work’s finale evokes ‘real’ alchemical procedures, with the Emerald Tablet of Hermes and its famous phrase “That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing”. At the end of the book it is revealed that the garden is as infinite as the cosmos, but also that it is connected to an infinite number of other infinities, not only his personal garden but also mine and yours. In a sense, the universe which emerges is an interpenetration of marvels in which it is highly difficult to grasp where reality finishes and imagination begins, because fantasy too can be extremely concrete. It’s as though Claudio was acting as a kind of map-maker of his mental ecosystem, doing so with the zest of a biologist, an ethnologist and an entomologist, studying and describing all the details and behaviour of the fauna inhabiting it. From this point of view, the first question I’d like to ask concerns precisely reality and imagination. How do they interact, for you? For many artists this dichotomy is important, and the way they deal with it helps us to understand more about their art.
First of all, I’d like to thank Ivan, because he has presented a good reading of my book.
I have always thought that no author is autonomous, we all depend on someone, come from someone, we have an inheritance transmitted not through a bloodline but through a spiritual or conceptual bond, an inheritance received from birth through culture. Borges is my point of departure, the alchemical inscription, the science fiction, fantastical literature, popular literature… all these elements contribute to my work. When I construct these stories I am assembling a collage, a structure, in order to create parallel realities.
So, to answer Ivan’s question, I think that reality is something constructed by language, and so the dichotomy between reality and imagination doesn’t exist, because human beings inhabit language and language is a permanent and delirious construction.
I detest it when people talk about the reality of nature, or static nature. For me, reality is a permanent construction and language is the instrument which generates this construction.
This is why I take as models people like Borges, Bioy Casares, Athanasius Kircher (a Jesuit alchemist named as maestro of a hundred arts who created the first anatomical theatre and built a wunderkammer)… people who from very different backgrounds have constructed different realities.
In this sense, the interesting thing is that the drawings and stories of Apparitio Albinus remind us of – or have a layer, we might say, that makes them resemble – the travel journals of explorers of long ago. Albinus could almost be a Marco Polo visiting a faraway land, where the image he paints is similar to a mediaeval bestiary, in which animals were not described in a realistic way, but according to their symbolic function… for example the lion was represented as an honest animal who never slept, because he was supposed to echo the figure of Christ… actually, Claudio’s animals frequently assume poses exactly like those seen in mediaeval bestiaries. There is also a gaze, a way of observing, that has something childish about it, a gaze always eager to marvel, to look for magic in the interconnection between different things, and I’d like to ask you if this child exists inside you, and how much freedom you allow him in your creative process.
When I first began creating books, I concentrated solely on the engravings, and technically engraving was extremely powerful for me. I was orthodox in my practice, but the great thing about the graphic novel is that its public is adult but also infantile, and the thing that interests me above all is showing and helping children understand that reality is soft. The first book I made on this subject is called The Album Of Imprudent Flora, a kind of bestiary conceived and created to attract children and lead them towards science, botany, the marvel of nature… not as something static, but as something mobile. For example I described trees which held Portuguese populations that had got lost searching for the Antarctic: then they had become tiny through having eaten Lilliputian strawberries, and when they died they returned to a special place called Portugal… and then there were also plants which fed on fear and which induced the spirits on Saturn to commit suicide and the spirits on Mars to kill… and then die. I created a series of characters and plants whose purpose was to fascinate children. There was a flower that had a piece of ectoplasm inside its pistil, and if you put a mouse in front of that flower the pistil turned into a piece of cheese, and when the mouse ate the cheese the plant ate the mouse… after which, if a cat came by, the pistil turned into a mouse, and so on. The idea was to create a kaleidoscope of plants and flowers. There was another plant which I named after an aunt of mine, extremely ugly, and in honour of her I gave this plant the ability to transform itself constantly: by day it was transfigured, and in certain moments it had a colloidal materiality, while in others it had a geometric structure… an absolutely mutant flower. This is all rather monstrous, but also fascinating, which is why I called the book “the imprudent flora”, because it went beyond the bounds of nature. Basically I think that when I draw I do it for children, in order to build up a way of interpreting reality in a broad and rich kind of way.
This corporal fluidity is also visible in this latest book, but there’s another aspect that I also find interesting, and this is the inversions that Claudio likes to create. For example, Lazarus is not resurrected, he ends up transformed into ghost by the phantasmagorical machine; we get warrior automatons which reject violence and turn into pacifists and deserters, and then again, in one of my favourite chapters, there is a time machine, built to transport us into the future, which actually does the opposite, because it transports the future into our present – a future we’d never have wanted to see, because what appears in the present is the corpses we will become. It seems that irony is clearly important in your universe, and I’d like to you tell us about that.
That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked me, there are two wonderful themes involved.
One is the theme of the ghost, because for the phantasmagorical machine I based the idea on an Argentinian author called Bioy Casares and hisThe Invention of Morel. In that story, Morel is a scientist who falls in love with Faustina, and since she doesn’t love him, he invents a machine which will absorb her spirit, record it, and later, in a phantasmagorical island, reproduce it eternally… but the machine turns out to kill the people it has filmed, and so Morel commits suicide by filming himself together with Faustine, thus ending up on this island where every day the same scene is repeated, featuring these two ghosts. But the story really begins when another man arrives on the island, falls in love with the ghost of Faustine, learns to work the machine and then films himself while Faustine is gazing at the sea. So he too commits suicide in order to remain in the paradise of Faustine’s consciousness.
This is a hallucinatory theme, and I was fascinated by the desire of a man who kills himself in order to inhabit the consciousness of the woman he loves, even though the woman in question is actually a ghost!
And the other question… on irony. Most of the machines I construct in the book are fatuous failures and mistakes: those who want to change time end up meeting themselves as corpses, those who want to invent a machine for becoming immortal drop dead instantly and end up in an eternal limbo… I like talking about ghosts but also about failed adventures, as metaphors for life, because in real life every adventure is a failure… except for this journey to Italy, which has turned out to absolutely wonderful!
A few days ago, on Facebook, I saw a fragment of a conversation in which you, Claudio, argued that the drawing and the word are not really so different, that the apparent distance between logos and image is fictional, which is why you use both things to express your meaning. You use them like two parallel rail tracks, in the same way, and this is also evident through the way that in your books the texts too have a painterly visual shape, and if it weren’t for the pristine paper of this edition, we might think we were looking at a fantastical encyclopedia from two or three centuries ago.
So, I wanted to ask a last question on this subject, perhaps the most banal question, which resembles the one always asked of songwriter-singers (which comes first, the words or the music?)… but do your visions emerge firstly from the drawing paper and only later do you form a kind of explicative text? Or do they emerge as stories from the beginning?
If I had to define myself, I’d say I was a drawing animal. All the books I have created were planned and drawn firstly, and the conceptual idea was generated by the image. Because I’m not really a writer, I never have been. I didn’t want to write this book either, only to draw it, but Lina [the editor] forced me to write it! I said to her, Lina, I have a friend who is fantastic with words, and she replied in a dictatorial tone: I’m not interested. I want you to write it. And today I’m grateful to her for that.
I always start from the drawing, always, always…
There have been lands that were dreamed, described, searched for, registered on maps, and which then disappeared from maps and now everybody knows they never existed. And yet these lands had for the development of civilization the same utopic function of the reign of Prester John, to find which Europeans explored both Asia and Africa, of course finding other things.
And then there are imaginary lands which crossed the threshold of fantasy and stepped right into our world, as improbable as it seems, bursting into shared reality – even if for a brief time.
In 1968, Rose Island stood some 7 miles from the coast of Rimini, bordering international waters.
It wasn’t a proper island, but rather a man-made platform, which had taken ten years of work and sacrifices to build. Why did it took so long to erect it? Because Rose Island had something different from other marine platforms: it was constructed bypassing or ignoring laws and permits, in a constant fight against bureaucracy. It wasn’t just an extreme case of unauthorized development, it was a true libertarian project. Rose Island declared itself to be an independent Republic.
This micronation‘s President was Giorgio Rosa, born in 1925, who had been an engineer since 1950. In 1958 he began to shape his dream, his life’s accomplishment. Among economic and technical difficulties, in the following ten years he succeded to plant nine pylons out in the sea, on which he then had the platform’s structure built: 4,300 squared feet of reinforced concrete, suspended at 26 feet above the water level. Rosa and his accomplices even found a freshwater aquifer under the sea bed, which proved useful for the island’s supplies and to create a protected space for docking (which they called “Green Harbor”).
The idea Giorgio Rosa had was somewhat anarchic and pacific at the same time: “my initial project was to build something that could be free from any constraint, and wouldn’t require a lot of money. On dry land, bureaucracy had become suffocating. […] We wanted to open a bar and a restaurant. Just eat, drink and watch the ships from Trieste passing close by, sometimes even too close. My fondest memory is that of the first night, on the island under construction. Along came a storm, and it looked like it would tear everything apart. But in the morning the sun was shining, everything seemed beautiful and possible. Then trouble began“, he recalls.
Yes, because bureaucracy started fighting back, in a war to chase the rebels who attempted to live over the waves, without paying the government its due.
As the second floor of the platform was finished, Rose Island gained notoriey, while ships and motorboats called there, driven by curiosity. Worried by the growing traffic, port authorities, Italian finance police and government were already on guard.
That’s how, in the (desperate) attempt to free himself from Italy and its prohibitions once and for all, Rosa unilaterally declared his Island independent on May 1, 1968. Even if he was quite distant from hippies and countercultures, his move was in tune with the fighting spirit of the times: a couple of days later, to the cries of “Banning is banned“, the rebellious civil unrest of May 1968 would begin to take place in Paris.
The newly-born “nation” adopted esperanto as the official language. It began printing its own stamps, and was about to coin its own currency.
But suddenly things took a bad turn. Points of order were put forward in Parliament both by right and left wing, for once united against the transgressors; Secret Services were sure that the platform actually concealed a base for soviet submarines; others thought the whole thing was an obscure Albanian maneuver.
Once the media event broke out, authorities responded ruthlessly.
On February 11, 1969, all the concrete parts were demolished, the steel poles and joints were cut, and 165 lb of explosive were detonated on each pylon. On the impact, Rose Island tilted, bended over… but refused to collapse.
Then, two days later, artificers applied 264 lb of charge to each pillar – a total of more than a ton of explosive. Yet once again, the Island resisted, tilting forward a bit more. Like a dream stubbornly refusing to surrender to the blows of a tangible reality.
It was not to the military that Rose Island eventually decided to give up, but to a violent storm, sinking into the Adriatic Sea on February 26, 1969.
Today, after 40 years of oblivion, the Insulo de la Rozoj – the esperanto name of this micronation – is the object of renewed attention, through documentaries, novels, theatre plays, shows and museum exhibits, Facebook pages and blogs devoted to it. There are those who doubt the idealistic nature of the project, suspecting that the entire operation was nothing more than an attempt to build a tax haven (Rosa never denied the commercial and turistic purpose of the Island); those who, like the curators of the Museum of Vancouver, find connections with Thomas More‘s writings; and even those who think that Rosa’s feat prefigured the collapse of faith in representative democracy through a mix of political activism, architecture and technology.
Giorgio Rosa is now 90-years-old, and seems amused by his adventure’s revival. After losing his war (“the only one Italy was ever able to win“, he sarcastically stresses out) and having paid for the cost of demolition, he went on with his engineering career. “Don’t even bother to ask me, I’ll tell you: no more islands!“
But if the interest for his experiment is well alive and kicking, it means that we still find that dream of freedom, escape and independence seducing. We could ascribe its modern appeal to our impatience towards the ever more suffocating bureaucracy, to the alluring idea of escaping the economic crisis, to our disillusionment towards institutions, to fear of authorities interfering with our privacy; but maybe the truth is that Rose Island was the realization of one of humanity’s most ancient dreams, Utopia. Which is both a “perfect place” (eu-topia), away from the misery and malfunctions of society, and “non-place” (ou-topia), unreal.
And it’s always pleasant to cherish an impossible, unattainable idea – even though, or provided that, it remains a fantasy.
Giorgio Rosa’s quotes are taken from here and here. (Thanks Daniele!)
Una sentenza della Cassazione del 2003 le ha equiparate alle prostitute, anche se il contatto fisico con il cliente non avviene. Come accade per la prostituzione, fanno parte di un’economia sommersa che le attuali normative nemmeno provano ad inquadrare correttamente dal punto di vista fiscale e lavorativo. Se anche volessero pagare le tasse e aprire un posizione contributiva, non possono. L’imbarazzo legislativo nel loro caso è aumentato dal fatto che ci sono di mezzo le nuove tecnologie, “questo internet di cui si fa un gran parlare” (per citare un ironico tormentone di Rocco Tanica).
Sono le camgirl: ragazze, studentesse, ma anche madri di famiglia o casalinghe, che decidono di arrotondare le entrate offrendo servizi erotici online. Incontrano i clienti su siti appositi, che fanno da intermediari – anche se lo sfruttamento non sussiste, perché i siti ufficialmente acquistano dalle camgirl dei “servizi completi”, per i quali esse sono interamente responsabili. I clienti caricano il loro credito, chattano un po’ prima di scegliere la ragazza preferita, poi la conversazione si sposta in privato e lì i soldi cominciano a scalare. Un fisso al minuto, per poter assistere alla performance della camgirl, che esaudisce qualsiasi recondito desiderio.
Se di prostituzione si tratta, dunque, essa avviene comunque “a distanza”, tramite il filtro di una webcam, e questo evidentemente comporta vantaggi e svantaggi. Ma quali, esattamente?
Ci ha contattato Greta, una camgirl desiderosa di raccontare la sua vita e la sua professione. È un’occasione per conoscere non soltanto le motivazioni dietro questo particolare lavoro, ma anche uno spaccato sui desideri erotici maschili più strani. Che Greta, potete immaginarvelo, ha cominciato a conoscere alla perfezione. Perché, in assenza di contatto fisico, le richieste dei clienti si fanno per forza di cose più fantasiose, più bizzarre, più mentali.
Come hai cominciato a valutare un simile lavoro?
Sono una persona solitaria e non amo uscire spesso di casa. Questo comporta il mio quasi totale disinteresse nel trovarmi un lavoro classico, come barista, commessa o quant’altro. Ho sognato fin da bambina una professione che potesse essere svolta da casa, così passata la maggior età ho cominciato a pensarci seriamente. Ho sempre saputo dell’esistenza di questo mondo, una grandissima parte di internet è legata al sesso, io stessa possiedo una quantità di porno capace di far rizzare i capelli a molti uomini. In più sono un’esibizionista, nel puro senso del termine, adoro essere guardata e apprezzata; per il mio aspetto, per le mie capacità, per il semplice fatto di essere me stessa.
Prima di buttarmi ho però avuto un problema di coscienza: il sesso e la masturbazione sono cose per me naturalissime, avevo dunque qualche remora all’idea di farmi pagare. Ne ho parlato con la mia famiglia e con il mio ragazzo, e mi sono convinta che in realtà una camgirl offre un servizio e ne ottiene un guadagno, come accade in qualsiasi altro lavoro.
Quindi la tua famiglia è al corrente.
Ovviamente la mia famiglia mi ha tartassata di domande sulla sicurezza. Avevano paura che qualche maniaco mi riconoscesse e venisse a cercarmi, a bussare alla mia porta. Con calma e tranquillità ho spiegato loro che mantengo l’anonimato, indossando anche una mascherina durante i miei show. La mia vita è un po’ come quella di Batman …”La maschera non è per te, è per proteggere le persone che ami“.
Non mi hanno fatto problemi sul fatto che il mio lavoro ruoti attorno al sesso, siamo molti sinceri tra noi, però chiaramente non riescono a capirlo. Mi chiedono spesso come possa non darmi fastidio essere “al servizio” di qualcuno che, dall’altra parte, si sta masturbando. Io rispondo sempre che se tutti fossero sessualmente appagati, il mondo sarebbe migliore, che quindi io rendo un servizio pubblico, migliorando il mondo… lo vedi? Sono davvero una specie di supereroe!
Al di là del tuo ragazzo, come vedono la tua occupazione gli amici? Hai dovuto in qualche modo vincere dei pregiudizi?
Essendo una persona molto solitaria, ho pochi amici, e nessuno tra loro sa del mio lavoro. La privacy è fondamentale. Il bigottismo non mi consente di parlare del mio lavoro con altre persone, non posso permettermi che inizino a girare voci, renderebbero la vita difficile a me e ai miei cari.
Sarebbe bello poterne parlare liberamente, anche solo per divertimento, poter chiedere consigli, sentirmi libera di vivere il mio lavoro come una cosa normale, per il semplice fatto che lo è. Invece ho sempre paura che mi scappi qualche parola di troppo; spesso prima di dormire penso alle conversazioni avute in giornata, in cui stavo per “tradirmi”…
Quanto guadagni al mese con l’attività di camgirl?
Ci sono essenzialmente due modi di fare questo lavoro: in live chat, ovvero ti mostri su un sito con la webcam sempre aperta, in modo che tutti possono vederti e chattare con te, e in questo caso il guadagno è del 50% del prezzo degli show; oppure posso lavorare su Skype o altri software che permettono le videochiamate, e quindi fare quel che più mi va tra uno show e l’altro e arrivare all’80% di compenso.
Personalmente guadagno dagli 800 ai 1500 euro al mese, ma è un ricavo estremamente scostante. Pur lavorando quotidianamente dalle 4 alle 12 ore, a seconda degli orari e dei giorni in cui mi collego il guadagno oscilla in maniera imprevedibile. Un giorno posso fare 200 euro, quello dopo magari non trovare clienti.
Il tuo ragazzo come ha reagito? Si presta occasionalmente a intervenire in qualche situazione?
Prima di intraprendere questa carriera ne ho parlato a lungo con lui, stiamo assieme da anni. È stato estremamente disponibile, per il semplice fatto che, a detta sua, finché nessuno mi tocca fisicamente, possono anche guardarmi tutti quanti.
Mi dà spesso una mano, aiutandomi ad organizzare la contabilità, esaminando i contratti con i diversi siti, inventando nuove cose che potrebbero piacere alla clientela, ma non interviene mai negli show, né io lavoro mai mentre lui è in casa (non viviamo assieme attualmente).
È cambiata in qualche modo la tua relazione di coppia?
Dal punto di vista sessuale, per fortuna, nulla è cambiato. Per il resto, è come qualsiasi altro lavoro: spesso scherziamo sulle proposte più divertenti che mi hanno fatto durante la giornata, oppure mi sfogo raccontandogli di quanto mi abbia fatto arrabbiare quel tal cliente che non mi ha portato rispetto, ecc.
Quali sono le prestazioni più assurde che qualcuno ha richiesto?
Un giorno, per email, mi arriva un copione di diverse pagine per girare un video. Dovevo fingere di trovarmi in un giardino che conteneva delle statue con le fattezze femminili; io dovevo accarezzare e palpare queste statue, eccitandomi sempre di più per le loro forme. Guardandole, dovevo iniziare a masturbarmi, fino al raggiungimento dell’orgasmo; a questo punto dovevo fingere di rimanere io stessa pietrificata. Capire che mi stavo trasformando in pietra, secondo il dettagliatissimo copione, mi spaventava e mi eccitava al tempo stesso. Dopo l’orgasmo sarei dovuta rimanere immobile. Fine del video.
Un’altra volta ho dovuto fingermi un robot, disegnandomi sul corpo le articolazioni meccaniche, muovendomi e parlando come un robot. Secondo me il risultato era esilarante, ma il cliente si è complimentato moltissimo per la mia interpretazione!
Ti sorprenderesti nel vedere quanti show non abbiano a che fare direttamente con la masturbazione o con il nudo, ma con pratiche che a prima vista non sembrano nemmeno sessuali. Per queste persone però si tratta della loro più grande fantasia. Mi è stato chiesto, ad esempio, di indossare delle scarpe da ginnastica, e intingerle con calma nell’acqua tiepida, facendo vedere bene come si inzuppavano e come l’acqua fuoriusciva dalla scarpa.
Riassumo in poche parole qualche altra proposta più o meno bizzarra:
– fingi che io sia minuscolo e che tu, enorme, mi ingoi.
– ti mando le foto della mia ragazza, dimmi se secondo te potrebbe tradirmi.
– puoi stampare la foto del mio pene e strofinarla su di te per masturbarti?
– straccia dei fogli di carta.
– inviami per posta un tuo campione fecale.
– fingi di essere un cane che beve dalla ciotola.
– rimani 20 minuti nella stessa, scomoda, posizione.
– fingi un orgasmo ogni volta che dico una determinata parola.
– raccontami la tua giornata, così mi distraggo!
Ti è mai capitato di lavorare con qualche disabile?
Una volta mi sono trovata davanti ad un ragazzo molto giovane, in sedia a rotelle. Indossava un pannolino e durante la sessione ha avuto un piccolo “incidente”, io non ho detto nulla, lui con tranquillità mi ha spiegato che gli capita molto spesso. Sinceramente ero un po’ imbarazzata nel farmi pagare, ma lui ha insistito nel darmi persino la mancia.
Quella sera mi sono sentita a disagio, inadeguata. Ne ho parlato con una collega che ha avuto esperienze simili, e mi ha spiegato che trattare queste persone in modo diverso dagli altri clienti non significa certo far loro un favore.
Hai dovuto procurarti oggetti e attrezzature particolari per soddisfare le richieste dei clienti?
Fortunatamente ero già molto attrezzata di mio, possedevo diversi vibratori e giochetti, ma non bastano mai!
Ora ho un’egregia collezione di completini intimi, rinnovati ogni mese, scarpe altissime, speculum, attrezzi da clistere, kit BDSM, dildo eiaculante (nel caso te lo stessi chiedendo, ci si mette dentro il latte), palline anali, anal plug, mollette, lubrificanti, un intero armadio di costumi vari e chi più ne ha più ne metta. E pensa che non sono nemmeno una delle più attrezzate, c’è sempre qualcuno che mi chiede di usare oggetti che non possiedo… è un mestiere che ha le sue spese di aggiornamento!
Pensa per un attimo all’umanità nel suo insieme, a questo mammifero chiamato homo sapiens, che ha fatto del sesso un’attività eminentemente simbolica. Qual è la tua opinione riguardo alle persone che ti contattano? Le giudichi? Come è cambiata la tua idea riguardo al sesso umano, ora che conosci molte fantasie, maschili e non? A cosa serve il sesso, secondo te?
La mia semplice opinione è che il mondo è bello perché è vario, a parte certe rare richieste estreme per cui bisognerebbe parlare con un bravo psicologo (purtroppo mi è capitato che mi chiedessero show con animali o bambini).
Non giudico nessun cliente in malo modo, a volte un po’ li compatisco però: molti sono uomini sposati da anni, che non hanno il coraggio di confessare alla propria moglie le loro fantasie. Per altri invece è una semplice compensazione; un imprenditore molto ricco può letteralmente adorare di essere trattato alla stregua di un verme, insultato, abusato: il suo sentirsi piccolo e inutile per eccitarsi, secondo me, è il rovescio del potere che esercita sui suoi sottoposti.
Devo dire che se prima mi sentivo trasgressiva, ad esempio perché mi piace il sesso anale, dopo aver intrapreso questo lavoro mi sento un angioletto con l’aureola… non si finisce mai di imparare!
Il sesso in fondo serve a vivere meglio. Personalmente lo uso come antistress, per riscaldare le coperte d’inverno, per rendere ancora migliore una bella giornata, per dormire più rilassata, per combattere i dolori articolari di cui soffro. C’è poco che il sesso non possa sistemare, tutti dovremmo prendere la cosa il più serenamente possibile.
Ti senti tuo malgrado una donna-oggetto, oppure reputi che scegliere autonomamente questo tipo di attività ti abbia emancipata come femmina?
Nessuno dei due, una donna che lavora non è emancipata, è una semplice donna che lavora.
Le donne-oggetto si fanno usare senza rendersene conto: nel mio lavoro, se vuoi insultarmi, prima mi paghi e anche profumatamente. Offro un servizio per cui vengo pagata, una modella non fa la stessa cosa? Un panettiere? Uno spazzacamino?
Il problema è che ancora oggi in Italia esiste uno stigma nei riguardi dei sex workers; non solo i bacchettoni o i moralisti, ma perfino una certa parte di femminismo non apprezza particolarmente il fatto che la libertà di scelta femminile possa concretizzarsi in un lavoro a carattere sessuale. Tu che ne pensi?
Purtroppo nell’immaginario comune, quando c’entra il sesso o la nudità tutto diventa subito una cosa strana, anormale, da nascondere. Eppure il sesso fa parte della vita di tutti i giorni.
Io posso scegliermi i clienti, posso mandare a quel paese chi non mi rispetta, posso persino minacciare chi tenta di fare il duro. La maggior parte dei lavoratori non ha questo privilegio.
Secondo me scegliere un lavoro che coinvolga anche il sesso non ha nulla a che fare con l’emancipazione, dovrebbe essere una cosa normale. Se una femminista si sente a disagio al solo pensiero che un’altra donna possa aver voglia di intraprendere questa carriera, dovrebbe farsi un bell’esame di coscienza.
Pensi di continuare con questo lavoro?
Se dipendesse da me, non lo cambierei per nulla al mondo. Purtroppo non è un lavoro sicuro. Se mi ammalo nessuno mi paga la malattia, se vado in ferie, non sono ferie pagate; non riceverò nessuna pensione. Tempo fa sono finita in ospedale e ho perso tre mesi interi di lavoro. Chi paga l’affitto senza uno stipendio fisso?
Ogni giorno libero che mi prendo, so che sto perdendo dei possibili show, dei possibili clienti, dei possibili guadagni. Inoltre non è un lavoro che posso pensare di continuare a fare fino a sessant’anni: qualche cliente ce l’avrei ancora, ma troppo pochi per pagare ad esempio un mutuo.
Al di là dei rischi economici, simili in fondo a quelli di qualsiasi attività in proprio, ci sono altri aspetti negativi nel lavoro di camgirl?
Bisogna apparire al meglio, mai svogliata, sempre gentile, avere cura del proprio corpo, depilarsi, truccarsi, restare stretta in corsetti di pizzo per ore di fila… perfino la mia schiena non è più la stessa.
Ma il vero problema è la concentrazione costante che il lavoro richiede. Devo prestare la massima attenzione ogni volta che scrivo qualcosa, per essere sicura di non inviarla alla persona sbagliata. Mai accettare file da nessuno, controllare costantemente quattro o più siti in simultanea. Chattare per ore con diverse persone contemporaneamente, saperle distinguere, ricordarsi sempre le loro richieste. Essere perennemente disponibile.
Dopo un po’, il computer diventa il tuo nemico. Inizi a guardarlo come una minaccia, una serpe in seno pronta a morderti alla prima distrazione. Ho la costante paura di essermi dimenticata la webcam accesa, e che quindi qualcuno mi spii nella pausa tra uno show e l’altro, o mentre faccio una telefonata privata.
E infine c’è l’ansia constante di essere riconosciuta. Se in un locale un uomo mi lancia uno sguardo un po’ più lungo del normale, comincia la danza della paranoia. Bisogna essere forti, avere una mentalità aperta, ma soprattutto bisogna essere pronte a rischiare, anche molto.
Vi sono talvolta delle estreme frange dell’erotismo che prestano il fianco ad una facile ironia. Eppure, appena smettiamo di guardare gli altri dall’alto in basso o attraverso il filtro dell’umorismo, e cerchiamo di comprendere le emozioni che motivano certe scelte, spesso ci sorprendiamo a riuscirci perfettamente. Possiamo non condividere il modo che alcune persone hanno elaborato di esprimere un disagio o un desiderio, ma quei disagi e desideri li conosciamo tutti.
Parliamo oggi di una di queste culture underground, un movimento di limitate dimensioni ma in costante espansione: il female masking, o rubberdolling.
Le immagini qui sopra mostrano alcuni uomini che indossano una pelle in silicone con fattezze femminili, completa di tutti i principali dettagli anatomici. Se il vostro cervello vi suggerisce mille sagaci battute e doppi sensi, che spaziano da Non aprite quella porta alle bambole gonfiabili, ridete ora e non pensateci più. Fatto? Ok, procediamo.
I female masker sono maschi che coltivano il sogno di camuffarsi da splendide fanciulle. Potrebbe sembrare una sorta di evoluzione del travestitismo, ma come vedremo è in realtà qualcosa di più. Il fenomeno non interessa particolarmente omosessuali e transgender, o perlomeno non solo, perché buona parte dei masker sono eterosessuali, a volte perfino impegnati in serie relazioni familiari o di coppia.
E nei costumi da donna non fanno nemmeno sesso.
Ma andiamo per ordine. Innanzitutto, il travestimento.
L’evoluzione delle tecniche di moulding e modellaggio del silicone hanno reso possibile la creazione di maschere iperrealistiche anche senza essere dei maghi degli effetti speciali: la ditta Femskin ad esempio, leader nel settore delle “pelli femminili” progettate e realizzate su misura, è in realtà una società a conduzione familiare. In generale il prezzo delle maschere e delle tute è alto, ma non inarrivabile: contando tutti gli accessori (corpo in silicone, mani, piedi, maschera per la testa, parrucca, riempitivi per i fianchi, vestiti), si può arrivare a spendere qualche migliaio di euro.
Per accontentare tutti i gusti, alcune maschere sono più realistiche, altre tendono ad essere più fumettose o minimaliste, quasi astratte.
Alla domanda “perché lo fanno?”, quindi, la prima risposta è evidentemente “perché si può”.
Quante volte su internet, in televisione, o sfogliando una rivista scopriamo qualcosa che, fino a pochi minuti prima, nemmeno sapevamo di desiderare così tanto?
Senza dubbio la rete ha un peso determinante nel far circolare visioni diverse, creare comunità di condivisione, confondere i confini, e questo, nel campo della sessualità, significa che la fantasia di pochi singoli individui può incontrare il favore di molti – che prima di “capitare” su un particolare tipo di feticismo erano appunto ignari di averlo inconsciamente cercato per tutta la vita.
Trasformarsi in donna per un periodo di tempo limitato è un sogno maschile antico come il mondo; eppure entrare nella pelle di un corpo femminile, con tutti gli inarrivabili piaceri che si dice esso sia in grado di provare, è rimasto una chimera fin dai tempi di Tiresia (l’unico che ne fece esperienza e, manco a dirlo, rimase entusiasta).
Indossare un costume, per quanto elaborato, non significa certo diventare donna, ma porta con sé tutto il valore simbolico e liberatorio della maschera. “L’uomo non è mai veramente se stesso quando parla in prima persona – scriveva Oscar Wilde ne Il Critico come Artista –, ma dategli una maschera e vi dirà la verità“. D’altronde lo stesso concetto di persona, dunque di identità, è strettamente collegato all’idea della maschera teatrale (da cui esce la voce, fatta per-sonare): questo oggetto, questo secondo volto fittizio, ci permette di dimenticare per un attimo i limiti del nostro io quotidiano. Se un travestito rimane sempre se stesso, nonostante gli abiti femminili, un female masker diviene invece un’altra persona – o meglio, per utilizzare il gergo del movimento, una rubberdoll.
Nel documentario di Channel 4 Secret Of The Living Dolls, questo sdoppiamento di personalità risulta estremamente evidente per uno dei protagonisti, un pensionato settantenne rimasto vedovo che, avendo ormai rinunciato alla ricerca di un’anima gemella, ha trovato nel suo alter ego femminile una sorta di compensazione platonica. Lo vediamo versare abbondante talco sulla pelle in silicone, indossarla faticosamente, applicare maschera e parrucca, e infine rimirarsi allo specchio, rapito da un’estasi totale: “Non riesco a credere che dietro questa donna bellissima vi sia un vecchio di settant’anni, ed è per questo che lo faccio“, esclama, perso nell’idillio. Se nello specchio vedesse sempre e soltanto il suo corpo in deperimento, la vita per lui sarebbe molto più triste.
Un altro intervistato ammette che il suo timore era quello che nessuna ragazza sexy sarebbe mai stata attratta da lui, “così me ne sono costruito una“.
Alcuni female masker sono davvero innamorati del loro personaggio femminile, tanto da darle un nome, comprarle vestiti e regali, e così via. Ce ne sono di sposati e con figli: i più fortunati hanno fatto “coming out”, trovando una famiglia pronta a sostenerli (per i bambini, in fondo, è come se fosse carnevale tutto l’anno), altri invece non ne hanno mai parlato e si travestono soltanto quando sono sicuri di essere da soli.
“Provo un senso di gioia, un senso di evasione“, rivela un’altra, più giocosa rubberdoll nel documentario di Channel 4. “Lo faccio per puro divertimento. È come l’estensione di un’altra persona dentro di me che vuole soltanto uscire e divertirsi. La cosa divertente è che la gente mi chiede: cosa fai quando ti travesti? E la risposta è: niente di speciale. Alle volte mi scatto semplicemente delle foto da condividere sui siti di masking, altre volte mi succede soltanto di essere chi voglio essere per quel giorno“.
Al di fuori delle comunità online e delle rare convention organizzate in America e in Europa, il feticismo delle rubberdoll è talmente bizzarro da non mancare di suscitare ilarità nemmeno all’interno dei comuni spazi dedicati alle sessualità alternative. Un feticismo che non è del tutto o non soltanto sessuale, ma che sta in equilibrio fra inversione di ruoli di genere, travestitismo e trasformazione identitaria. E una spruzzatina di follia.
Eppure, come dicevamo all’inizio, se la modalità adottata dai female masker per esprimere una loro intima necessità può lasciare perplessi, questa stessa necessità è qualcosa che conosciamo tutti. È il desiderio di bellezza, di essere degni d’ammirazione – della propria ammirazione innanzitutto -, la sensazione di non bastarsi e la tensione ad essere più di se stessi. La voglia di vivere più vite in una, di essere più persone allo stesso tempo, di scrollarsi di dosso il monotono personaggio che siamo tenuti a interpretare, pirandellianamente, ogni giorno. È una fame di vita, se vogliamo. E in fondo, come ricorda una rubberdoll in un (prevedibilmente sensazionalistico) servizio di Lucignolo, “noi siamo considerati dei pervertiti. […] Ci sono moltissime altre persone che fanno di peggio, e non hanno bisogno di mettersi la maschera“.