Martin Bollati: The Brutal Form of Obsolete Icons

By Brad Feuerhelm on October 10, 2016

“The stone, which once was hit to produce an image was now being hit again to produce another one. History cannot be destroyed, but it can be misread”

Martin Bollati’s “La Forma Bruta” is an opus of consideration for the relics of culturally celebrated and historical nuance. Working in museums and interpreting the objects within on a perfectly solipsistic bout of metaphors, the work begs questions about the values of language, cultural hierarchy and meaning that we ascribe to the image within the museum. By pushing the boundaries of perception of these images, Bollati enters into a discourse of his own with the objects, toying not only with their sanctimony, but also the potential for spiritual enlightenment through these objects. He mentions Aby Warburg in this article and it is incredibly fitting.

Warburg was a pioneer of understanding how we relate to images on an individual and nearly mystic level. Their meaning, somehow ingrained within our self, hints at what is historically and perhaps even genetically stored within our bodies and how we perceive the value of the historicized image withinthis paradigm. I caught up with Bollati to discuss La Forma Bruta. Bollati is part of a wave of photographers looking into what I am sensing as a “New Museology” practice within photography where the questions of representation of cultural objects are challenged with the lens of the camera through the very subjective discourse with the artist controlling the new image and its representative qualities. Tereza Zelenkova, Sophia Borges, Alexander Binder and a few others are part of this movement.


Brad Feuerhelm: There is an anti-classification “system” that appears to me in La Forma Bruta…somewhere between the layering, the saturation push and the abstracting of the images, there becomes a set of unannounced personal rules that seems intent on obliterating the content you have photographed. As you are photographing in museums, was it your intent to make this catalogue an anti-catalogue or anti-classification system to the perceived visual orders and taxonomies of museology?

Martin Bolatti: In a way, the primal movement that pushed the project was to release possible stories kept latent in pieces exhibited in museums. It’s a personal faith and belief in the necessity of expanding our symbolical comprehension of cultural objects. The mass of time, concepts, definition, structure, political and religious metaphorical connotations go through every piece we see or read. In this way Borges becomes one of the main influences for this project. His big literary legacy, in my opinion, is to put the reader as an equal in hierarchy of creation than the author in his/her own space and time. Borges says, “I read Shakeaspeare, therefore I become Shakeaspeare”. I read, I create, I become a creator. When I read (and from this part, change the I read to an I see regarding La Forma Bruta) I read through my body and mind (and context of course), which belong to a particular system of thoughts, to an era of understanding power and human relation, to a cultural legacy that makes me read that which is in front of me in a different way. The experience that Borges proposes in his story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote is for me the ultimate experience as a cultural creator. I read the Quixote, I write the Quixote, and my version is the same as the original but also different. Borges pushes with his admirable intellectual humor and dares to say: “I like Pierre Menard’s version of Quixote better”.

Aby Warburg talks about this in a different way when he talks about a similar concept, which he announces: leit fossil. For him fossils are to be discovered in the terrain of history, of our culture. He talks about a deep life asleep in forms and the subconscious of culture. I love this idea of culture as a live and moving magma that has a subconscious capacity. He puts himself in the epic task of unleashing and provoking an infinite system of relations. He then tries to classify them. His figure is also very important for this project. His figure as an investigator and his figure as a romantic and as a story producer-reader are integral.

The anti-classification “system” that you point aims to, in a way, release the limits towards our understanding of history (or images, or the history of images, or etc.). The idea is to use the same structure that limits, to expand. It’s judo, you know, using the opponents energy to build a stronger attack.

It’s decolonization as well. As a Latin American living abroad (I have lived in Madrid for the past three years) it felt so unfair to me to see all this cultural legacy inside glass boxes with titles telling another culture’s history. My experiences with anthropological and archaeological museums almost always lead to the same conclusion: mystery is lost. Cause we have all of these amazing and different ways of understanding the world through ages and different parts of the culture, all these complex ways of understanding life, culture, the environment echoing inside of the museum galleries, and instead of letting it loose of control and build infinite senses or chaos, we put a glass around it with a hanging sign that tells us a truth and if you can pay for it, an audio guide can help bore you. La Forma Bruta tries humbly to add mystery and imagination to the way we understand our past.

“My experience of facing pieces at museums was that I was standing there, in front of them, and they were laying silent, while I with the museums description, built a meaning to them. They related to me with a feeling of negative volume, because I cut across them with my own meaning of their production and they had no chance of reply. I wanted to invert this feeling”


BF: There is the idea in post-Fordist artworks that surviving an era of rampant capitalism and global industrial dissolve under the weight of technocracy produces and affect of de-individualization and isolation. Your images feel alien to me. It is as if beyond the latticework of saturation and thermal color characteristics, it feels like my eyes have been bleached when I look at the images within. The post-Fordist tradition looks at images or art made under the aegis of heavy capitalism from a viewpoint that is almost other worldly-to create a expedition to earth to look at what the life here on the planet has been creating…your book seems to signify this aesthetic and this observational viewpoint. Are you looking at the material within the museums with a “distanced eye”?

MB: I’m very interested in both, the myth of origin and the myth of end, the past and the future. I really like this idea of History beginning and eventually History collapsing, falling, but inevitably in its paradox, raising again as new History: the one of the destructive act itself. When ISIS attacked the Mosul museum in Iraq last year, I watched the video a million times. There is this thing with statues falling that caught my attention. The stone, which once was hit to produce an image was now being hit again to produce another one. History cannot be destroyed, but it can be misread. In a way this is the distance I seek with images, the distance that allows them to speak new meanings or to echo. Again I prefer to be at a reading distance.
BF: Can you elaborate on your choice of color and saturation? Brighter than a 1000 suns, apocalyptic color, mad max laid to waste in a desert turning so white hot yellow that the only hue to progress towards is black….can you tell us a bit about the choice of saturation.

MB: My experience of facing pieces at museums was that I was standing there, in front of them, and they were laying silent, while I with the museums description, built a meaning to them. They related to me with a feeling of negative volume, because I cut across them with my own meaning of their production and they had no chance of reply. I wanted to invert this feeling. I wanted to give these objects the opportunity to attack, like in sound production, when you want a sound to have more attack you make it more edgy. So I started to think on strategies to make the image attack the reader. The color saturation and choice was my solution. Yellow and red, both colors are colors that with this value of saturation generate volume. So all the rays, explosions, beams, magical lights, fires, etc. which appear in the images I have produced now lend an attack capacity. I wanted to put the reader at risk.

Also, the latency value in this combination of colors was there from the beginning. Fire, blood… the organic latency and the conceptual one, of course.

BF: As I wrote that last question a sense of infernal jestering entered my mind…you are sort of a psychedelic apocalyptic impresario on the surface as if to hold court on these matters in the halls of Hades. There is something…nefarious…dark…or impossible in these images. I feel like they are MONDO MUSEOLOGY…Taking colonial attitudes of otherness and creating a context of fear for their presence in the modern world…cannibal Holocaust in the wax works museum…can you explain the aesthetics of horror in their Brutal Form?

MB: I like this impossible in the images you recall. For me it’s sort of like a shamanic attitude (recommended lecture on this topic Shamanism by Manuel Almendro) of arousing images that live inside and vomit them out to the outside world. To imagine again using this colonial attitude of building the other as an exotic object and divert it into not an exotic object , but a mystic subject. I’m very interested in magic, mystery, the fright, the original fright, you know, the one that made us fear and respect nature. The totem, the mountain as a god, those kind of relations with the image are my world. I come from Latin America, Argentina to be precise, and in here we have a very natural relation to violence, it’s part of our culture, of our society, and in a very explicit way.

The title La Forma Bruta, quotes this fear as well. Bruta appeals to this dense ancient guttural sound towards the grotesque. These images are like monoliths of stone, covering almost all the frame, and are heavy on your eyes. We fear the deformed because it reminds us that there is no harmony in the world. To be honest, I’m a bit tired of the super sharp flash type of photography that is so popular these days. I really miss the grain, the confusion of b&w film movement, the bad images. This was always going around my head while building the images for the project. I didn’t want to offer a solution, I wanted to bring more mystery to the photographic scene.

Of course 2001: A Space Odyssey is here all along the way as well. The past and the future colliding in a confusing state of science and magic drunkeness where fire and laser mix into the same concept: our relation with nature, our animalistic tendencies, our humanity, our conditions as readers of the worlds.

BF: On the topic of Mondo…I look at these images and see a VHS quality to the images. I can really only pinpoint “Altered States” as a point of reference and perhaps LSD…I know it’s a largely grotesque question, but can you give us some reference to your inspiration, your formal interests that have shaped this aesthetic…

MB: I think my other answer complies to this question. If I had to make a brief, quick and capricious list of influences right now, I would say:

Ayahuasca (I think it fits more the mood than LSD for this images)
Chavin de Huantar ruins in Peru (specially the Lanzon statue)
The Supplicants (found in the North of Argentina)
2001: A Space Oddysey
ISIS destruction of the Mosul museum
Aby Warburg Mnemosyne (seen in Black & White)

Martin Bollati

La Forma Bruta

Cuadernos De La Kursala

(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Martin Bollati.)

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