Paradoxes and other adventures of contemporaneity

Critique by Gigliola Foschi

Marco Guenzi is explicitly tackling the contradictions, the dramas and the absurdities of our contemporary world. We are afflicted from all directions by news, events, behaviors, advertising and whatnot. But how can we react to this deluge of disturbing information? How can we behave without turning our head away in order not to see, or without surrendering to anguish or depressive helplessness?

Marco Guenzi, artist, economist, lecturer and web designer, chooses to react through bitter, paradoxical and disorienting laughter. His images zoom in deeply and simultaneously expand outwards starting from some of the most pressing problems of our complex and interconnected time where new political, economic, social, technological and cultural issues overlap continuously. He is putting forth work that analyses our times, purposefully exposing contradictions. He creates images that feed on a pop and hyper-colored aesthetic and are based on demystifying humor. Marco Guenzi contrasts the affirmative, one-way and super-obvious photographs that are omnipresent on the web with images capable of disturbing and raising doubts without conceptualizing beyond comprehension.

Imagination underlying his oeuvres commits us to an extremely serious game, where laughter becomes an unbearable paradox for the authoritative and self-assured reason. “The comic is a contradiction” – wrote Kierkegaard. “Laughter is a leap from possible to impossible and from impossible to possible” – closely continues Bataille. The tragicomic humor, inasmuch serious negation of seriousness, indeed opens the world to a double and paradoxical thought that shakes our confidence and drags us into making new ethical considerations.

Joachim Schmid, well-known artist, declared in 1989 (the 150th anniversary of the invention of photography): “No new photographs until all the old ones have been used.” Well – in tune with that statement - Marco Guenzi too is not shooting any new image. Nevertheless, unlike Schmid or Erik Kessel, he is not gathering old abandoned pictures or is he reutilizing pictures from family albums photos. He is not interested in vernacular photography, or in cataloguing. His attention is directed to the present and not in “reactivating” a more or less distant past. Aren’t we constantly overwhelmed by constant wave of images? So Marco, in tune with our age, enters this flood of images, collecting and carefully re-assembling them (thanks to complex interventions using modern digital instruments). He does this to create a peculiar composition, in which photographs, titles, and hidden sentences (to be closely and thoroughly read) succeed in putting in relation contrasting and strident realities. The Dadaist artists of photomontage, John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch are his masters. They too put together the images they took from illustrated newspapers and recent events articles, in a subversive and disorienting way. In a more modern manner, Marco begins from the web and builds works full of multi-meaning and temporal details to be looked into, in which images and texts play together so as to create a paradoxical device spreading in multiple directions. He is no longer interested in upsetting the small minded middle class (which is disappearing). He is instead offering works that have the explicit objective of making you think. His images bear the heavy burden of our apprehensions, and reverse them by means of a uncanny laugh, opening us up to more creative meaning, to an act of thinking beyond what is already known.

Interview with the artist

What made you want to be an artist?

Even if I was fancyful, as a child I did not think I would become an artist. In fact, I did something else. Later in life, I discovered art in a moment of deep personal crisis. Then, I realized that creativity could be a form of relief, and, above all, something able to surprise me.

What does art mean or represent to you?

I have been talking about joy, but it is reductive to trace art back to only enjoyment. Being an artist is not so different from being a parent: you need to follow your instinct, but you also need some skill. The most effective and valuable art has to be genuine: a result of passion, of deep feeling. It then becomes a form of loving by the artist. Art comes from the depths of the soul; it requires attention, application, awareness and a sense of responsibility.

From what do you get inspiration?

You can’t make art without the need to say something. In my latest work I felt a great communicative impulse. I have the urge to narrate the world in which we are immersed. A world that is in continuous development, but also consumed by thousands of contradictions and dramas, that can make us feel helpless and disoriented. I needed to discover a more comprehensive way to watch to all the upsetting events and news that wash over us daily. I decided to describe reality using a new unusual perspective, one that is less traumatic and therefore more digestible. The result was a photographic project, started in 2015 and still in progress, which is called “Paradoxically”.

What are the foundations of your work?

I think that the tool that best illustrates the complexities of contemporary society is the paradox. Of course the paradox is not new, as it was used by the Greeks - we all remember Zeno’s story of the hare and the tortoise and who is going to win the race. Paradox deconstructs reality in a grotesque way, showing contrasting aspects in relation to one another, making them surreal. It opposes to the simplified and, unfortunately, common way of presenting reality in a binary way (vax-no vax, war-peace, democracy-dictatorship, left-right). You cannot just stand for one of the two parts, but you need to express a more articulated conception of the world. This project is a rejection of self-evidence and a stimulus to think beyond appearance.

What do you intend to communicate?

Very often we ask the artist to show a way, almost as if he or she should be a prophet or a master. That is not who I am, my work doesn’t want to give solutions or certainties. I think that complexity cannot be simplified and summarized using concepts. Too many convictions do not allow you to understand reality nor do they represent a solution. Actually they turn out to be a prison for the mind. My aim is instead to provide the audience with some tools so that they can draw their own conclusions and get a wider perspective. Paradox does not explain reality. Paradox instead gives us a richer imagination which comes through the exaggeration of the ironic and surreal aspects of reality, through parody.

What is meaningful about what you do?

It’s not up to me to express if and why my work is relevant. I can however highlight some of its characteristics. The aspect that perhaps I prefer is its narrative dimension. But my story-telling code differs from that of reportage photography. I find that nowadays, especially after the introduction of social media, the public consumes images in the same frenzied way fast food changed our appreciation of real food. I purposefully compose a story in each photo, expressively inserting small details. My hope is that these details will act like natural flavors do in food, making the consumer enjoy their meal more.

Another unusual element of my work is that I do not personally shoot the photos, but I put together digital images taken from the web. I decided to reuse and recycle photos because of the overabundance of iconographic material posted on the Internet. I could almost be proud to be “ecological” under this point of view, as Smidt and Kessel did. The style is deliberately imperfect, following contemporary communication trends: collages of images and texts for commenting, in line with fake news and memes. I however pick the pictures in HD, so that I can produce large formats, in which you can appreciate the details.

What do you think about contemporary art?

For more than a century now, art has been trying to expand its boundaries, in order to be original. Today the problem is that everything is art, but also that nothing is art. In my opinion, now art should slowly come back to its original form. As its very name says, it should return to being visual, that is, related to the symbolic image, rather than to the abstract concept. In this way, it becomes direct, democratic, enjoyable by everyone, without the need of captions or of some expert to explain it to us. In this respect, I like “guerriglia photography”, capable to follow the example of graffiti on city walls. It is the image that speaks for itself, that expresses its strength. A weak image is a poor work.

Was it demanding to carry out this project?

Somehow, yes. I had to learn new digital composition techniques, but mostly, I had to educate myself across multiple disciplines. The subjects I am touching are wide-ranging. They span multiple areas including politics, economics, culture, psychology and tech. I had to do extensive iconographic research. My approach was, in some sense, journalistic. My background in economics and computer science and a healthy amount of curiosity certainly helped me in this.

A further difficulty was due to the limits imposed by the photographic medium (which is much less ductile than painting). I had to find the key to solve the image, like making a puzzle.

Do you hope to be appreciated for what you do?

Yes, of course. But certainly not by everyone and with no urgency. I think it is a specific project with its own originality that is not easy to grasp. But the warm and sincere support I have received reinforces my belief that what I do makes sense... even if it is based on nonsense!