Enrico Boccioletti “Quando non c’è più niente da bruciare devi darti fuoco tu” at TILE Project Space, Milan
It’s hard to let myself go into personal storytelling – I usually open up only when others happen to put me at ease, especially if it’s about drawing conclusions about my life – but I do write about myself a lot.
I’ve been keeping diaries for years, which I set on fire – yes for real – in my grandma’s fireplace, I’ve been particularly careful to burn all the ones I’ve written between 13 and 16. I very much regret it now. I don’t even recall why I was so angry. I couldn’t cope with several things like the pretty strict upbringing of my family and I hoped that perhaps in burning those diaries everything would be undone.
To set oneself on fire.
The Ilva steelworks in the old part of town in Taranto kept puffing and burning towards the horizon, meanwhile we kept talking and watching footage about protesters around the world rioting for their rights. One could hear the faraway sound of some karaoke playing Queen midi backing tracks, the marching band was playing on the promenade and there were fireworks for the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Capitalism here steps up to a new level of violence – the violence of dreams and illusions.
The violence of the sickness it brings along, one which is both physical and psychic. And then also the sterile appetite of desire. Either labour or death.
I read about this French boy Anas K., 22, who set himself on fire in Lyon the other day. Yes in 2019, as Jan Palach did in January in 1969; as Buddhist monks do, as the boys of the Arab spring used to do a few years ago. And I was reading this other article about suicide as protest, that it might supposedly be able to reconcile in contradiction the ethos of peaceful dissent with the visceral nature of violent action.
December 13, Saint Lucy’s day (in Italian there’s a saying: “Santa Lucia, il giorno più corto che ci sia” – the shortest day of the year). We are in the right week aren’t we?
Welcome back wild beast, o deep night, o languid flame that burns everything it finds on its way leaving no living trace behind, as nothing ever existed.
“The sky stayed blue, the music continued to play. I remember doves. Everything went back to normal.”
It’s not easy to speak of the devil without taking a chance to become one but if after the night the day always comes, and if winter is coming eventually “spring” will come at last.
And should winter last too long, then yes: where there is nothing left to burn we’ll have to set ourselves on fire. Someone, conscious or unconscious, will reap the benefits in spring.
There is a certain way of understanding time that I rediscovered coming back here.
It’s about slowness. It’s about weariness. And about bounds.
I have chosen to have more consciousness about my personal history and my present: to ask myself more difficult questions, not to simplify, rather to complicate and get a better understanding of distances and what comes out of that; to follow one’s desire, to push myself harder, to let go of comfort, to choose the most uncomfortable position, to choose the fringe, out of focus.
There is a song by Enzo del Re about time and labour, Lavorare con lentezza (Working at a slow pace), which says: “adoro il lavoro, ma detesto la fatica” (I love work, but I hate toil).
To burn out or to fade away? I’d be for fading away, always a bit more on pain’s side.
I was 11 or 12 the first time I thought about killing myself. For a few months it’s been a persistent idea, come out of the blue as an immense wave of intense heat.
I don’t remember why exactly, or perhaps there was no accurate reason. There were many perhaps (being bullied, the first true crushing disappointments, a deeper sense of inadequacy towards things that all of a sudden had become “too much”… the most banal things), but in the end there were more reasons, apparently, not to proceed in that. I reckon the background motive be the discovery of weariness, I was beginning for the first time to feel a sense of weariness, a widespread feeling of effort; and I didn’t feel like making efforts. I thought: wouldn’t it be just easier to end it here?
Then when the burden of everything seemed to become intolerable, when the lump in the throat seemed so tightening to choke me, “wham” – one fine day everything was gone, vanished, I don’t even recall how, with that unusual almost mythical lightheartedness, which I can barely remember now. Perhaps it’s all been about hormones.
In my family too, at that time already, things weren’t all peaches and cream: I remember dad had lost his job for the first time when the company where he was working declared bankruptcy; the very first rumblings of the crisis that hit the furniture industry halfway through the Nineties, which together with tourism had made of Pesaro an affluent town since the Sixties.
Oh the joys and sorrows of globalization! In short, I well remember the burdens of those years: my parents just bought a house and opened a loan, as well as they knew they wanted me to go through higher education (it goes without saying that every generation can’t be but better than the previous one!) and so began blaming each other for larger-than-life stuff.
My life proceeded peacefully in indolence. I was kind of a loser, going through high school without any real desire to study, just getting by in between passing and failing grades, a few truthful friends and a complex of not being “normal”: I had begun a growth hormone treatment since I wasn’t really growing enough, such a hideous secret that I wouldn’t dare talking about with anybody, a horrible secret I would have taken to the grave. LOL!
The kind of growth hormone administered in those years was a recombinant synthesis of human hormone (originally extracted by cadavers); I can recall hearing my endocrinologist talking to my parents about possible side effects on the long term: the risks were a tendency to obesity or chronic cases of depression.
I remember the burden of living, the burden of effort (perhaps somehow the two will always be related to me), coming back again facing the possibility of failing the last year of high school… I would have rather killed myself than having to be one more year in what it then seemed to me like a circle of purgatory!
Luckily enough I didn’t fail and everything was fine, just on time as the crew from a candid-camera (or better as the ending of an episode of Ultimo Minuto [an Italian docudrama tv show from the 90s, equivalent to Rescue 911 or similar], do you remember it?) I am much a lucky guy I can’t deny that, I must have good star after all: one of the quite a few privileges that I happen to have!
Jump-cut and here we are now: everybody is screaming that capitalism has failed, and everybody keeps failing themselves. But there are ones who fail more than others, or some others perhaps who do not fail at all… but it’s a matter of views of course. I keep failing too, I’ve been obsessed by the shadow of failure, haunted by the dread of being doomed a failure already in my twenties, but it ceased to matter over time: I figured out that failure is a class issue.
Jump-cut and here we are now: and almost by chance I am one of those annoying artists who don’t praise the art clique and its small talks, whom bite the hand that feeds them and want to mind their fucking business or something pretentious enough to call it art without being an artist or being an artist presumptuous enough not to make any art.
Yes there is a deep feeling of hopelessness in all this, I must admit. But it’s also pretty funny (it is for me, I swear!), funny enough not to feel pathetic; I hope it feels the same for you.
I thought about many things for this occasion (I won’t call it “show”), too many things, in bulk and systemically, so it’s coming in ten days and I haven’t done anything yet. Nevertheless I feel like I’m doing enough – for what matters.
How can one be enough to oneself? This question haunts me, who is doing enough? I wonder who are “the sane” at this insane time. What the balance might be. I’ve been querying for months this sentence in the childish hope to find some real empathy; as if Google could bring to Delphi. The Pythia speaks English nowadays: “If everything becomes too much how will we ever be enough?” I’ve only found bullshit of course. Self-help shit or suicide prevention hotlines, sad songs lyrics and excerpts from the bible, too-much-new-age-to-be-in-2019 rebirth articles. Every 40 seconds there is someone in the world who chooses to it’s too much to carry on.
The refusal of work and Bartleby the clerk in particular made me think about my father: he is a man that hasn’t worked for the last 10 years or better he convinced himself of not being capable to work anymore and so repeats to himself, like a mantra: “I prefer not to.” He is all I think about when I think about failure as he embeds that kind of inactivity that I unconsciously relate to immobility, to non-growing.
For some time now, since I began spending my days in front of a computer screen for 7,5 hours, I’ve been increasingly thinking to my father’s stance, thinking about the courage he had to deny what society requires him to be: to be a father, to be a worker, to “invoice” and secure his family’s future.
As in a Bifo/Fisher narrative, my father is and has been depressed – perhaps more severely in the first half of his story. It is in fact as if at some point immovability, inaction and becoming conscious of not necessarily having to feel bad about it would have brought him into a renewed peace of mind. He spends his days reading crime novels, skimming the newspaper and walking the dogs at the park. This peace only falters when he gets back to society: when he calls his sons and daughter or at Christmas time when society calls one to account for one’s performance and points out for inadequacy.
At the end, for a few months I’ve begun to think of him as a man on strike, I like to frame it as such. Is it possible to cease all doing and not feeling guilty? Is it possible, at last, to escape the depression that this act of rebellion brings from within? That peace says that it is possible. So let’s rebuild from here.
I’m looking for as others do, an alternative to making it, an alternative to just doing it, an alternative to showing. An alternative to proving, perhaps. White flag? No, rather black flag. If introversion can be an alternative to “spectacle”, I wouldn’t want spectacle to become one of becoming introverted anyway. There is a danger for it to become a loop, in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni [medieval Latin palindrome meaning we turn in the night and are consumed by fire].
Thus it sounds all too “heroic” and heroes disgust me, there is something sacred and sacrosanct (as well as not too subtly virile that makes me sick) that I’m not into. Era meglio morire da piccoli con i peli del culo a batuffolo, che morire da grandi soldati con i peli del culo bruciati [It was better to die as children with your ass hairs fresh rather than to die as great soldiers with your ass hairs burnt].
But is it better to burn out or to fade away?
Those who have been burnt throughout the centuries, in all fairness, have been heretics, witches and lepers. In short, the ones who swim against the tide: the ones who smell, the ones who talk, the ones who break the rules; chi non lavora non fa l’amore [he who does not work shall not make love]. So he who does work and burns out (oneself, others, the planet, everything) shall be fine. It should be kept of course within the boundaries of the law.
For about a year now I’ve been feeling sick and heavy every time I start doing research or each time I approach an article from e-flux. We have been talking at your place about the problem with the “subject:” the trouble with having to conceptualize anything, the issue of having theoretical stereotypes (I have felt the burden of these stereotypes even when I was telling the story about my father).
“Contemporary tragedy as a quest for comprehension beyond making sense.” As I was listening to one of the James Bridle videos you sent over, it struck me the way in which he tells about the excess of ‘data’ and our inability to reprocess it that brings us to look for simple answers, thus ending up to simplistic representations of reality and back to nationalisms and extremisms.
The nausea I get before the billions of new words, before the number of books published by Not over the last year, is the same nausea that gets into you after 5 minutes of brainless instagram feed scrolling.
How do we go out of this way of creating content? Is it possible to have simplification that is not just negative? Where should we be looking for sources? Can we stop conceptualizing that way?
I love talking through the words of the others, I found them to be way more effective than my own could ever be; I will confine myself to be just their vocal cords.
So the word became flesh, a “nightmare” for Christmas, as we said.
On this occasion I would like to be mean, I don’t want to go for pleasantries, I don’t feel like making concessions: Black Friday would have already past, another year is around the corner, meanwhile everything seems to be going up in flames (or is it me?) this time for good and a “new” Dark Age starts creeping in, whilst the fall of a dying monster, who doesn’t fall, whose hobbling pulls the whole thing off.
Enrico Boccioletti, Roberta Mansueto, Caterina Molteni
At TILE Project Space, Milan
9 ~ 12 ~ 14 dicembre 2019