Visual Alchemy

Maria Chiara Fagioli
Essays

The democratic hearthquake

Immagine 1

 

Bodies, magnitude, collapse. Some details to get the same information. Words like tomato sauce and lasagna to geographically contextualize the accident. The Italian drama shifts on culinary recipes. It’s the cartoon of Charlie Hebdo, by definition a satirical weekly magazine.

Two figures standing with a big and markedly hawk nose, typical of the Middle Eastern ethnicity but also salient trait of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. An ordinary man, covered in medical bandages and blood-spattered, next to a woman with her eyes closed, sagging breasts and belly skin. They all belong to the same team, wearing identical summer clothes. On the night of the 24th of August, Amatrice was completely gone. Next to the couple, slabs of stones stacked one above the other, punctuated by legs and feet, blood, and above all rocks.

300 in 2660 inhabitants died. Medieval towns, still conserving the ancient structure, rose up on the historical fault lines of the Apennines. Then successive quakes and destruction. Italy is between the tectonic plates of Eurasia and Africa, a geologically complex condition explained in the northeast movement at a rate of approximately 24 mm/year. Images of ruination, the proscenium is consumed by the arduous recovery of bodies. Meanwhile the seismic swarm incessantly amplifies damage. Fatigue, pain. The posthumous anger of the mayor Sergio Pirozzi of Amatrice for the sense of abandonment, or the immediate grotesque illustration, evoke and provoke, using an institutional or parodistic “J’Accuse”. Ultimately the eclipse of human beings’ finiteness.

A society can be defined as a structured set of characteristics that found mutual roles in democracy. Media, state, and society are involved in an osmotic and symbiotic relationship that moulds public opinion. The order is wrapped up by the social contract, diversifying conventions and traditions gone liberal and inclusive, through new models of subjugation and semantic connected schemes. While the materialistic global society provides power to the individual, human aggregation becomes a fading reflection underneath the superficial self. The fence establishes the collective welfare imposing its “opera omnia”.

Offence against decency, obscene speech, defamation, and injury turn into an ethical issue or a distress cause. The instigation is punishable, because it may harm or lead to excited reactions. In the middle, the lowest common denominator is hyper-control.

The naked truth is splashed across the front page: destruction, debris, rescues. There is no space and time for sensationalism, the story is self-evident and the way of reporting is objective, detached. Even the sense of aesthetics is limited to earth tones and busy people. Everything is unexpected, the man impotent. The human condition has now the two speeds of salvage and immobility still for a long time.

On the other side the secondary source compares deaths and injuries to culinary dishes, metaphor of the service offered by the Mafia. The grotesque admonishment describes the associative prejudice about Italy and crime. It led to an international dispute, plus some political exchanges between Italy and France, sometimes undiplomatic. The dangerous joke disgusted the Italian political class, and even the Interior Minister Angelino Alfano responded with a colorful vocabulary. The French Embassy distanced itself from the sentiment, not representing the general audience. In the meantime a priest invokes the Doomsday caused by civil unions. Blame or stones, whilst the cartoonist Michael Heath at the Spectator defended the right to satire, the dusty pastiche was causing anger and the media circus undermined the ability to rationalize. Delirium.

The regulation of speech easily falls on the history of human relations. In Skokie, Illinois, a Nazi-march was banned according to the American Constitution and its First Amendment, considered as an offense to the Jewish community. Just move to Italy and the fascist Celtic cross is tolerated, despite the symbolism is the crime of apology of fascism, the so-called Scelba Law. The “bouche de la lois” operates different standards, defining the limits of the legitimate constituted state. Liberalism may argue censorship, the judiciary system may reply the Offence Principle. The flags of hate violate equality and human rights and can not be accepted.

As in the Pirrandellian “One, No One and One Hundred Thousand”, the society mirrors a complex system of individual/social projections and blurred borders established by the same emotional factors that can affect the civil regulation, first of all. On Jan. 2015, 12 people were killed and 11 injured in the Paris attack against Charlie Hebdo. It was claimed by the radical Islamism, like the Rushdie affair was. The magazine was ironic about Muhammad on the cover of November: “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!”. The terrorist massacre opens the debate of the secular culture as opposed to the religious component. Among the largest of utopias is the human community, a systemic multiculturalism connected where everything is possible, and the social conduct is over the concept of blasphemy and dogmas for one or the other faith. In democratic terms, the multi ethnic society stands on the basic principles that do not have to offend anyone. Restrictions preserve democracy, the power from people, but face with contradictions. In fact, it’s remarkable that we can enumerate a lot of borderline visual parodies of other global leaders avoiding arming ourselves. During the French sexual scandal in 2014, the president François Hollande has been caricatured by the same magazine with a decadent small penis. Weeping. It was an intimate derisive personal attack, the Hobbesian invective gnome. No punishment or life-threatening consequences occurred. About one year before the Paris attack, the Metropolitan Museum of Art removed all the images of the mentioned Muslim leader. This zealous political correctness depicts the Islam taboo or phobia in the West, in times of conflict instead of confrontation. The visual semiotics and verbal communication expected not to be abusive or insulting, state a strong religious anxiety also from a legal viewpoint. This antidote to the uncanny contains an ontological trafficking of warnings between episteme, doxa/public opinion, dogma. So the corollary shows the characteristics of power and its subordinate branches, the object-subject-victim roles. In this context, Charlie Hebdo can be seen as a powerless minority in a vulnerable position.

The sociocultural differences between Islam and the West puts their deepest roots in an innuendo of historical circumstances and in vested roots of hierarchical freedoms. The dominant argumentation comes from religious and cultural background, the resultant force of fatwa or commandments. Absolutists such as Khomeini point at the western imperialism and insolence, while other fanatics persecute those who are not considered good Muslims. Who judges the Western hegemony, also professes the hegemony in the opposite direction. When dictatorship, the basic foundation of democracy falls down and the freedom of speech can be prosecuted also in the West “de facto”. Not least the terrorist cells radicalize teachings and precepts.

The gap between dominant cultures shows the limits of different nearly disingenuous systems. WikiLeaks, a public online library, in this sense raises crucial questions on privacy and secrecy. Julian Assange denounced illegal practices of multinationals and strong powers. His permanent confinement inside the Ecuadorian embassy in UK shows us the measure of the control exercised by those who are considered liberal states and the sense of justice. Recently the founder became harmless and the internet connection cut off. Accused of spying in US, also punishable by death penalty, similarly but conversely he has been proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize several times due to his contribution to transparency and information. In accordance with the hacker philosophy from which he comes from, he shares the positivist sense of solidarity-based economics and knowledge, but ethical duty and rule of law can collide. If the democratic responsibility is to preserve the life of the people, beyond a reasonable doubt, and to disseminate the principles of democracy, once again behind the veil the machine is defective and domestication may result unpredictable.

From the state of nature the evolved mammal transcends his basic needs and instincts, entering complex adaptive emotions and relations but also their opposites. Civilization depicts the highest thought and aspiration, but also the lowest behavior and ambition. In this boundary line between progress and degeneration, the human being is definitely the tightrope walker of evolution or deprecated progress, served by accidents and attempts that will occur. Aggregation is none other than a system of belonging accents. While the human being is able to reason and abstract standing erect, contrarily would no longer be a creature of reflection, but mimesis of blurred traits, ambiguous brutality and Frankenstein’s abomination.

Returning to the cartoon, the satire may deconstruct a social dynamic, a taboo. In this case the listener and the author share an unresolved matter. Charlie Hebdo’s intention is to ridicule the Mafia, not the earthquake victims. The attitude of the speaker is in good faith towards the object of humor, although naively exceeds the boundary of mourning. Clearly it’s not glamorizing violence and blood, like the avantpop Oliver Stone’s censored Natural Born Killers did. 

The ethical issue opens on existential height considerations such solidarity and the respect for human dignity and suffering. They are inversely proportional to the economic objectives of the profit-driven mass market, not objectifying the politics of scoop but also the provocative, filthy language for commercial purposes. The illustration symbolizes the complex problem of the layered freedoms within the fields of press, speech, information.  If there is any conscience of conduct it can’t be imposed, so the practice drives a synoptic embarrassing contradiction in which a voluntary attitude instead of independence, puts the harnesses on wild horses. The market censorship is the most ruthless of the demons. The spiral of neoliberalism crushes vices and virtues in the same way, serving carrot and stick to global illusionists. Journalistic satire or journalism are both healthy and increase power and choral influence. It’s hard nut to crack the unaffiliated voice. Variance and covariance conform to groups and groups of groups, so even the minority is subordinate to a trend or expression, barely questioning on the Gothic Line.

With the advent of social networks humor and communication become less reasoned. We are experiencing an unmanageable global wave, almost uncontrollable. Analyzing Facebook, the founder Mark Zuckerberg applies censorship to nudes by Helmut Newton considered pornographic instead part of our heritage, but also an uncontrolled self-regulation policy over comments among users. We can remember sexist insults to Laura Boldrini, the Italian President of the Chamber, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. So much content to deal with, algorithms of approximation that do not argue the logic.

In February 2015  the famous hashtags “Is threatens” and “We_Are_Coming_O_Rome” satirized excessively on Twitter the imminent invasion of the Caliphate in Italy too. Demystifying provocations. Compared to the French case, only a general belittlement and amusement of the weak points of a thesis. Rome is chaotic, a challenge even for the Romans, who ask for respecting the line of conquest. When the mask is removed, the foreseeable decades.

Minstrels and court jesters continue to be in vogue professions. They no longer wear medieval clothing, but translate their colorful inner world into real language and figurative contribution.

May win Nobel prizes, like the cases of Italian Dario Fo or the American Bob Dylan, singing stories or doing the world foolish. The author observes and shakes up the psyche to assert positive values or less, in a territory where forms and conventions embrace genuine expressions and anti conformism.

During the performance, the other or the classes are treated as the locution to be ironically deconstructed, metaphor of cold myths and satyrs. So the tragicomedy “satura lanx” is presented through allusions and deductions, arguing to prove by contradictions and paradoxes more or less legitimate by the audience. Often far from objectivity and detachment, the expressive vehicle is to bind the opposites of figures and emotions in a resulting disjointed, fictitious archetype of laws, ethics and morality. The distorted communication may lead to a picturesque form of insult or a burlesque reality of vices and scapegoats, victims and accomplices. The figuration may be extreme, carries embarrassment and describes the best funambulatory condition of the human being. Satire is the real medicine for the comfort zone of the politically correctness, where the exquisite reflection of the counterpoised transcends disparaging or fatuous landscapes. These rolled defects shape and transform new social variations and relations, distancing from the miserable laughter due to the throwing cake on face. Dario Fo symbolizes the pagan medievalist invoking deities and fictional paramnesia disguised in the most courtly of languages. He portrays the pure cultural relativism of the ruling class, careful cautious fixed. Italy is definitely  the Middle Ages of the sociopolitical dynamics. Now he can take the liberty to wear a headdress of days gone by, staring like a Dali while he speaks and prophesies. The contemplative eloquence scratches the foolishness of the immutability, in the artistic sphere where the saints are gods, and people can deceive themselves on honest inclined planes. Finally, the rational preconstituted order bursts, allegories and fantasies fill old beliefs.

What is hell, what is Eden, the imitation is an upside world. The hero becomes the narrator who subverts the current moral, roles, and muster rolls. (S)he turns into the orchestra leader of the audience, highlighting related frustrations and hidden fantasies.

The Mafia is a criminal organization which turns its profits usually through violent acts. From a business viewpoint is an enlarged cooperative company. Its tentacles also infect the real estate development, suffering from poor quality building materials. At the time the illustration was created, the connection event-causality was fictitious and there’s no concrete evidence of the speculation conducted over the years by Mafia and ‘Ndragheta. The case law is handling contracts, omissions and contributory negligence yet, both of historical and recent houses. While trying to understand all the nuances to laugh at natural disasters or deride the citizenry marked by centuries of historical subjugation, the effort of connecting the dots points out a country, or a neighbor, nothing more than Pizza Mafia and Mandolin.

A bitter pill to swallow. Après La Grande Bouffe.

Reference list:

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The “Grande Lisboa”: dreamlike microcosm to discover.

“Here the sea ends and the land begins.”

Rectangular-shaped and almost one-third of the Italian area, Portugal is the westernmost country of the Continental Europe, facing completely the Atlantic Ocean and bordering only with Spain.
It consists of a favoured maritime position, with its 830 km of coastline. During the Age of Exploration, a considerable experience was acquired in navigation, enabling the creation of a large colonial supremacy over the centuries: Africa, Asia, South America.
The rule ended in 1975 in conjunction with the independence of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Islands of Cape Verde, São Tomé and Principe, so in 1999 Macao returned to China.
The territory, influenced by the Azores anticyclone especially in the North, is subdivided into southern Subtropical – Mediterranean and north temperate maritime climate.

In general the landscape belongs to the Quercetum domain: oak, cork, Holm. The deciduous trees are mostly present in the humid northern regions (Quercus pyrenaica, chestnut, beech); in the warmer and dry south prevail persistent species. The centre is characterized by mixed vegetation formations (Quercus lusitanica).
In altitude zones are relevant typical arboreal associations of cold environment (Scots pine, Celtiberian birch, heather meadows, and juniper); on sandy coastal soils are lush and maritime pines, Erica arborea scrub towards the south – centre, moreover the dwarf palm, carob, mastic, wild olive.

The population has an average density of 112/km2 and a third lives in the two districts the Grande Lisboa and Grande Oporto.
The country has maintained a traditional economic structure linked to primary activities (agriculture, fishing, farming, mining), still influenced by rural traditions and lifestyle, but with a constant development of industrial and service sectors, after joining the European Community and a worldwide cultural – sport agenda.

Portugal is a presidential Republic based on the Constitution of August 10 1989, whose head of state, “President da República”, is elected every five years under adult Universal suffrage. Legislative power is in the hands of the National Assembly, “Assembleia da República”, whose deputies are voted by the people every four years. The country is administratively divided into eighteen districts, “distritos”, including constituencies municipal, “concelhos”, headed by a mayor, “President da Câmara Municipal”.
The archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira are autonomous regions, but unlike the Italian Valle d’Aosta don’t enjoy economic prosperity, but above all attracting landscapes.

The Portuguese capital, Lisbon, was founded by the Phoenicians under the name of Alis Ubbo. The Romans renamed Olisippo, who became later Olisippona, then Lissapona and finally Lisboa.
In the seventh century the city was conquered by the Arabs of North Africa until it was freed by the first king of Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques, in the twelfth century.
Lisboa is composed of seven hills like Rome and is situated at the mouth of the Tejo river, whose banks are connected by two major bridges: the red “25 do Abril” of 1976 and the white “Vasco de Gama” of 1999, in honour of the fifth centenary of the discovery of the sea route to India.
From the other side of the first bridge is visible the massive statue of Cristo Rei, representing Jesus with open arms that reminds the Rio masterpiece.
“Children with proud gaze, the lynx eyes of Braganza, looking at the North.
Dreaming the overseas, as garland intertwined in a dance.”
The first time I landed in Lisbon, I got the impression of a vibrant European city and at the same time a placid, mild place between America and Europe.
People hurry but are also available to engage a conversation in one of the innumerable coffee bars. They are kind, willing to guide you for a stretch of road if needed. Priceless.
It is worth to forget the wrist watch and climb alleys, following the curvy medieval streets of the seven hills.

Here begins the discovery of the ancient glories of the Portuguese navigators.
Starting from Praça do Commercio, a square plaza enclosed by three arcades where in the middle stands the equestrian bronze statue of Don José, in front of Rio Tejo. In the nearby river station you have the possibility of
boat tours, enjoying a romantic and seductive prospect of Lisbon.
From the monumental Arco Triunfal, adorned at the top by the Gloria symbology crowning the Genius and the Value, runs the “Rua Augusta”, which culminates in the central district of Baixa – Chiado, renovated by Marques de Pombal after the earthquake that razed the city to the ground in 1755.
The absorbed bronze statue of writer Fernando Pessoa merges into the dichromatic tiling of the street, out of the garnished Baixa – Chiado underground. Then the immersive atmosphere of emblematic cafes, delicious and tempting patisserie, “pastelarias”. Chiado is the most sophisticated setting, point of meeting for young people, artists and intellectuals, schools of arts, theatre, living history. In harmony with the cerulean facades decorated with ceramic tiles, “azulejos”, ranging almost overlap with the tones of the sky.
To enjoy a panoramic view of the city you can take the Elevador de Santa Justa, the famous neo-Gothic lift.
Finally, the Carmelite church of Igreja do Carmo, uncovered by the earthquake of 1755, whose interiors are still well-preserved.

Continuing on, you can reach the Rossio district and its Praça Pedro IV, with its bronze statue and pompous fountains.
At the Northwest corner, the station Estação do Rossio in Neomanuelin style and its majestic stained-glass windows from the horseshoe shape, luxuriously decorated with marble and iron elements.
The Sporting stadium offers curious details, a succession of tiny tiles from the vibrant polychromatic yellow – green effect. Local tastes sublimate colours, so the “vinho verde”, young and bubbly wine, and “Ginjinha”, cherry liqueur accompanied by a good Fado music.
At Restauradores, close to Rossio, there’s the commemorative obelisk of the regained Portuguese independence of 1640, after the Spanish submission.
Thus arriving at the tree-lined avenue Avenida da Liberdade, even more impressive than the Ramblas of Barcelona, lies the centre of Lisbon’s advanced economic activities. At the end of the road is also located the marble monument of the Marques de Pombal.
The capital shines of enchantment and refined simplicity.
By night, get lost in Barrio Alto, a district of orthogonal colourful streets near Baixa-Chiado, the real essence of Lisbon: a mixture of ancient traditions and cosmopolitanism, but also a meeting place for many young people and enogastronomic choices. The “Barrios” are obligatory destinations for culture, history, architecture and social identity. They are attractive paradigms for the living city. Typical and popular, with clothes shops, and conceptual Portuguese artists, in an eclectic and culturally multifaceted environment. Family-run restaurants alternate with intimate libraries, houses of chá (tea), breathing a metaphysical common atmosphere.

Between the Barrio and the Chiado is the monument of the native Luis Camões, one of major Portuguese poets, in the leafy Praça also spectator of the peaceful Red Poppies Revolution in 1974, after forty-eight years of
Salazarian dictatorship.

It is now the turn of Alfama by the yellow cable car, “O Electric 28”.
This area appears as a concentrate of countless alleys, a dense network of buildings covered with azulejos, culminating into the majestic Castelo de Sao Jorge, whose periscope offers a complete view of the city and of estuary; and even tiny gardens where to breathe ornamental flowers, imperceptible stairways towards the horizon river which slowly flows into the cold and crystal Ocean waters.

Amazing effects continue in the most contemporary and futuristic part of Lisbon: the Park of Nations, an area of astounding fountains, and the Portugal Papillon, a contemporary architecture with a huge sail-shaped roof suspended above the atrium, so the largest aquarium in Europe, the Oceanarium.
Faraway the majestic Ponte Vasco de Gama, created during the Expo ’98.

Before approaching towards the neighbouring maritime centres, you can admire the masterpiece of Manuelin art, the “Torre de Belém”, branching off as an iceberg from Tejo with its turrets, battlements shaped crest, balconies, sculpted ropes.
It’s really close the Monument to the Discoveries, dedicated to Henry the Navigator and symbol of a memorable past. The most important Portuguese discoverers are plastically detailed till Vasco de Gama, the first towards the boundless Ocean. 52 meters high, it recalls the profile of a caravel, whose marble stands out from the blue sky.
Finally, the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a stately monastery welcoming with its rich portal and a stunning interior supporting octagonal cupolas; arches and balustrades harmonize a spectacular cloister.
By tasting one of the best wines in the world, the Port, in a peculiar terrace called “Alcantara Docas”, you are seduced by the magic of the place. Saudade: a thin drizzle that is turning grey fading the horizon, the
sweet melancholy of the past or the sad hope of a distant place, the Romantic fighter of his tragic fate, inspiration and nourishment of the artist. Melodies accompanied by the Portuguese guitar, half-way between a mandolin and classical guitar, that tells a story of sea without return, bringing together all the people.

Echoes through the waves and the melodious songs of haunting lost sirens, perhaps beyond of the unmatchable horizon. Ahead of the city of light, water up to New York.

“Oh, continual escapes, departures, euphoria of the Different!
Eternal soul of sailors and sailing!”
“Here, where the sea ends and land awaits.”

Reference List:

● 1: José Saramago, L’anno della morte di Ricardo Reis, Einaudi Tascabili, 1996.

● 2 : Franco Battiato, Album: L’imboscata, Traccia: Segunda Feira, Polygram, 1996.

● 3 : Álvaro de Campos (eteronimo di Fernando Pessoa), Ode Marittima, La biblioteca di Repubblica, 2004.

● Touring Club Italiano, Portogallo, Touring Editore, 2002.