Special Issue #4: Identity by Francesco Paolo CatalanoWritten by Claudia Puddu
The body, according to Pierre Bordieu (French sociologist and philosopher) is the mediator between us and the world; however, it is not that only the flesh has a a predominant role in the making of our identity, but also other people’s judgements, behaviours and values contribute to the internalisation of the image of ourselves. Building our identity is always an ongoing process that changes constantly thanks to cultural influences, which model the perception of our identity through categorisations such as clothes, body painting, diets, genital surgery and so on. The concept of identity is at the heart of Francesco Paolo Catalano’s work which finds a natural place in his psychological and anthropological background. His work focuses on the thousand of aspects owned by every human being and he tries to go beyond the severe dichotomy of the cisgender world. In fact our social habits confine us into very restrictive boundaries (for example the stereotypical view boy/girl that influence us since our childhood). The concept of Identity is often bound to the concept of social role, gender or sexual orientation and is the main theme of four projects: “Aged”, “Copy”, “Identity Is A Cube” and Twins. Each project crosses with the other one and they all aim to explore the concept of Identity linked to the body, to the differences between reality and its artificial copy and to a vision of the identity as a social mirror and not just as a biological representation. Francesco Paolo Catalano chooses an aesthetical approach which is inspired by cinema, theatre and in some way he recalls a photographical realism; he also chooses a formal approach inspired by the conceptual art of the 60’s and the Queer Culture. His stylistic research is summarized by its Queer component; with this word we are not just implying a resemblance between Catalano’s work and LGBT’s most important topics, but we are using it to underline all the efforts that we daily do in order to overcome social labels. Looking at the work that Catalano has given to us, we can see how Identity is defined through physical, psychological, social, aesthetic and ethnic changes, through a comparison with each others in order to define not just ourselves but also the others, and also through a constant mental work that helps an individual identifying the connections between forms and shapes, asking himself about his perception of reality and consequently of the identity. Identity is like the Rubik’s cube, constantly dismantled and deconstructed. Catalano doesn’t aim to give answers to us, but he wants to put us in front of the multiplicity of the individual, stimulating the dynamical interaction of the immagination and a sort of right thinking in order to rip apart all the stricts dichotomies.
What was your first approach to photography ad how would you define your artistic path?When I was a student, I used to take a lot of breaks from studying in order to remember things, and in those breaks I started making self- portraits. Over the years, this space-time full of energy increased and my face became a mask and and a key to understanding. Acne was over and there were mirrors again in my bathroom. One day when I was at the University I ran away from there and I sat inside a wardrobe. I saw my double with the back of my neck without hair. They say that mirrors are doors. My photography started inside a wardrobe to remember me the pleasure of drawing and playing without the need of looking for an explanation. Lonely and invented games, like using a yarn of cotton with a needle for sewing, pretending it is a head of hair waiting to be dressed up for the scene. When I’m not drawing eyes and eyebrows on paper or on faces and when I have no one to observe, I use the camera to broadcast a fake icon. I consider my artistic path as the scene from "The Wizard of Oz" where it’s revealed his identity: let’s uncover everything and let’s do that during Christmas dinner, we don’t need to wait for Carnival to have confettis. An orange basket for toys it’s my childhood cell and my psychological setting as an adult. I still have the folder with all my pre-school drawings. Recently I started to edit them. It was all there from the beginning: women, trees, a widespread light like a windmill.
How much has your identity as a sicilian influenced aesthetically your photography?
I don’t know Sicily very well. I feel nearer to my experience the state of the rite of passage and the one of a foreign who doesn’t like the idea of the sun as a way of socializing and aesthetic wealth. I can’t do a lot of “sicilian” things like cooking well, swimming and be “physical”: I often bring these variable in photography. I contextualize and de-contextualize, locate and globalize to isolate the relations of environments and transpose them on a more psychological than geographic dimension. My sicilian education is very tied to my first wig, which I found at home, and a picture of my mother as a young girl. In the 70’s women used to wear wigs to go to parties. In the 90’s I changed the hairdo to that wig and I put make up on its polystyrene face.
Your photos are suggestions and reflections about the concepts of identity: do they aim to challenge the viewer or yourself?
Before I could describe identity through images I have waited to know myself and to have my teenager insecurity overcomed, but while I waited to “speak” I took notes of everything just like a child before he says his first word. “Is it you in that picture?”; “What do your parents say about these picture?”;”You shoot unusual photographs”; “I thought you were more feminine in person”, etcetera. These questions, often spoken in casual situations, are the reason why I use the codes of identity representation of transvestism and the virtual channels to communicate. My priority is to interrupt the closed cycle of certainties based on the dichotomic duos like male/female; real/virtual; finite/infinite. I’m not interested in shocking anyone, rather than that I put the focus on the cultural relativism and the social stereotypes of western society. Warhol’s “yes” and “no” are now just “likes”.
Your series “Aged”, “Identity is a cube" and "Twins" deal with identity as a change or a physical connotation; consequently, they highlight how identity is defined by an external point of view. Do you think that, compared to a project like "Copy”, the role of the viewer is just to establish the differences and then more passive?
Identity is a comparison and it’s transverse to every attribution of a meaning. These three series are three “paradigm” crossed like the trails of the labyrinth from “Orland: A Biography" (V. Woolf). A labyrinth as a never objective experience, but emotional instead, where a single physical path reveals expectations and motivations that no directors can control. The labyrinth is my Rubik’s Cube: you can find pleasure in shifting the colors of the squares without necessarily finding a solution even if you don’t know the mathematical rules of the mechanism. "Copy" is a project without a deadline of time and I will wait for someone to show me some of his items or views in order to create new reflection of identity.
Unlike the other projects about identity, “Copy" is a more conceptual work that needs the viewer to make connections between one form and the other. How much influence had the concept art of the 60’s ("One and Three Chairs" of Joseph Kosuth, for example)?
The everyday objects of Joseph Kosuth follow the same “conceptual direction” of “Copy”: to find synonyms and multiple meaning of perception. The idea of modeling clay, carbon paper, camouflage and the search of similarities and obsessions. I shift the platonic model to a psychological model of transference and countertransference. Cindy Sherman’s body experienced as an object to redress of perceptive symbolism and cultural standardization, completed of the communicative paradox unveiled by Paul Watzlawick, has the meaning of proceeding with the steps of a schizophrenic.
What is that makes your photography “Queer”?
The Queer Culture at first was a concept from a sociological point of view, but now it has become a visual art situated, in some way, in a recent past. “Queer" was the subject of my graduation thesis and later the translation in images of words researches. "Queer" is that familiar term that I put later on a photo such as .JPG o .TIFF, intended as the overcoming of the idea of categories and the awareness of the social difficulties using the queer philosophy. I might say that "Queer" is friend of mine, a muse named Patty Owens, which I have created on film, or the passage revealed by the mistakes of many portraits. Queer is the reason why I have started taking pictures: tell the world that there are children who use sweaters on their heads in order to imagine themselves with log hairs in summers’ afternoon.
[If you want to see more, find him on francescopaolocatalano.tumblr.com][ Find here the Italian version]