Franko B

I Still Love

• Francesca Alfano Miglietti (FAM) (2010)

Walter Benjamin writes in Central Park, from Angelus Novus, that from the 19th century onwards the privileged forms of the transmission of urban knowledge, with the media and advertising as the main elements, happened through shock. Referring to Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle Walter Benjamin defines shock as a phenomenon provoked by “massive energies that operate from the exterior” of the organism and burst into the interior of the organism itself. This impact is defined as shock and is a form of the transmission of knowledge that has taken over from figures in society that have transmitted knowledge through narration. These figures were the settled agricultural worker and the travelling merchant that used “experience which passes from mouth to mouth as the font that all narrators have drawn from (Benjamin, Angelus Novus). From the 1800s onwards experience was no longer transmitted as before but information was circulated through the techniques of shock. A vast public was given a varied range of different ways of thinking and living that were transmitted with speed and with the shock effect produced on an industrial scale. Shock captures the attention and, unlike narration, is the golden rule of the transmission of knowledge in the modern metropolis.

“Shocking” has always been the definition that is used to describe the performances, the work and the physical being of Franko B. However, perhaps it isn’t the best definition to use when talking about this complex and romantic artist.

The essential aspect of the work of Franko B is his capacity to penetrate into everyday experience and define the horizon of life. His works introduce in a “seen world”, in a particular way, everything that makes the objects real through the work itself and thus, one could almost say, forces the spectator to look at it in a way which is fundamental for the experience. It is an attempt to develop a language and an expressive modality that expresses an “idea”, that arrives at the concept and forces one to think of the act of seeing and looking more than the image itself: “in the image I can see more the reflection of the eye of who is looking than the object that is being looked at. I cancel the aspects of resemblance and I see the pretence that consists in not making one see the invisible but in making one see how invisible is the invisibility of the visible” writes Foucault. One can thus define a space that goes beyond narrative, the space in which the meaning comes from the aesthetic aspect of the subject matter.

In a passage from Camera Lucida Roland Barthes suggests that the essence of the photographic image lies not so much in looking for the level of presumed dichotomy between illusion and reality, as much as that of the documentary force. In other words the capacity of the photographic image to fix the temporal dimension of the past. The image is more akin to “magic” than a sort of representation of the real. It is made up of a sort of “expression” of that which has been, a visible documentation and a re- emergence of time. Franko B stimulates and influences the spectator in what appears to be a “revisiting” of the time before. This is what Barthes describes in his essay as the “punctum”: “a tiny hole, a prick, a tiny mark – and also an unintended act. The punctum of a photograph is that fatality that wounds the viewer”. It is this that seems to happen with the pictures, photographs and other works of Franko B: a kind of interruption of the experience of memory, an alienation and transference of the experience of the work thus revealing a problem and a direct inheritance of the myth. It is as if the emotion aroused could be described as a radical passivity of feeling. The closest perception of the works of Franko B is probably that of the punctum, so brilliantly defined by Barthes: “that which touches me, the touch, the presence,the body of the work”, avoiding the domination of pretence and non involvement in the image. The work of Franko B becomes the certifying of a certain destiny: a sort of bottomless pit, the embrace of the visible and the invisible, a “particular”, a “layer” taken away from the whole and as such a partiality instead of a presumed evident and clear vision. It is a display of the limits of representation and meaning and it seems as if Franko B wants to put into action a hidden diversion as a paradoxical vanishing point: towards the presence of a being, a spirit and a body fused together: signs and moments of desire taken from the daily flow of life in the apparent continuity of the usual perceptual conscience.

Beginning with the English punk scene there are numerous points of reference and tensions that come alive in the works of Franko B. The term punk is not exactly new as it had already been used in the fifteenth century to describe prostitutes and later on, at the time of prohibition, to describe low level gangsters. In the mid seventies Great Britain was going through a period of social depression and the conceptual, aesthetic and musical provocations displayed by punk bands disturbed the general public. Large numbers of young people were involved in the punk movement where they found a motive to come together coupled with the fear of tomorrow (exorcised by the nihilist slogan of “no future”). There was a iconoclast impetus and the need for live performances that weren’t sweetened by the gloss of media representations. It is not by chance that the first fans of the Sex Pistols in turn became musicians and formed important bands, such as the Damned, the Clash and the Buzzcocks, on the English punk scene. The punk movement defined a new culture of the body with safety pins, padlocks, chains, tattoos, piercing, coloured and sculptured hair, completely shaved heads and blood.

To challenge the confines in society is a biological inheritance and a cultural point of arrival. Art, for Franko B, is a double sensation of precariousness and rebellion inherent in the momentary conciliation of contrasting forces. He displays, in an ironic, slightly provocative and reflective way, the habits, disagreements and neuroses linked to the inadequacy within society. He is always looking for new poetical horizons that explore the everyday rituals of our bodies. The work on the body takes on a new importance for Franko B and is closely linked to the theme of wounding of the body. According to the definition of Husserl the body is perceived as “lieb, a living organism that is the centre of symbolic radiation”, and becomes the instrument through which the artist tries to create a new man who is not conditioned by social conventions; through which one begins to look for a new identity of the body that has been lost and nullified by the repressive and frustrating nature of society and culture. Jacques Lacan sustains that “the unconscious is the body”, and thus the body becomes a symbol, even an object of symbolisation that makes possible the sublimation. The process through which instinctive energies are unburdened in forms of non instinctive behaviour. In this way behaviour, instinct and language come together and the body is no longer just a means of artistic expression but an object of aesthetic creation. The relationship between the body and the chosen image is, in particular, a language closely tied to existence. At the centre of the work itself is the story of oneself and identity.

  1. “Pure shame is not a feeling of being this or that guilty object; that is, of recognising myself in this degraded and fixed and dependent being which I am for the other. Shame is the feeling of an original fall, not because of the fact that I may have committed this or that particular fall but simply that I have “fallen” into the world in the midst of things and that I need the mediation of the Other in order to be what I am. Modesty and in particular the fear of being surprised in a state of nakedness are only a symbolic specification of original shame: the body symbolises here our defenceless state as objects. To put on clothes is to hide one’s object state; it is to claim the right of seeing without being seen; that is to be pure subject. This why the Biblical symbol of the fall after the original sin is the fact that Adam and Eve know why they are naked.” 

  2. - J.P. Sartre, Being and Nothingness

Franko B uses blood, his own blood, as the element for his performances and turns upside down the internal/external relationship of the body. He chooses to display the most intimate, the most personal, the most hidden aspect of his being and his own interior with the leaking of his own body fluids onto the “external façade” of the existing and external aspect of things. Foucault states that in the act of using physical pain and exposing a tortured, amputated, branded body, alive or dead in a public spectacle is to reinforce and demonstrate the triumph of justice. However at the same time it leads one to consider the perverse relationship between crime and power. The public dimension was chosen for many acts of torture to remind the people that offences against the law would be definitively punished. The people were called to witness the punishment so they would “learn” not to break the law. However once the condemned person was fully aware of their end and realised there was no hope of being saved they would cry out against power and its violent, inquisitory and coercive methods. The position of the condemned person was turned into a clear condemnation against absolute power; in an extreme attempt to make the suffering and tortured body into a focal point of discussion of power and its methods. Eventually public executions would be banned. Franko B began his first performances in an attempt to recreate images of the discovery of his own body. He used his body as a pretext to stimulate questions on precise themes such as belonging, the individual and identity. In 1990 he realised a series of cuts in the skin, in 1995 with Mama I can’t Sing! he was slapped and in I’m Not Your Babe (1996) he displayed his cut, bloody and exhausted body. Other famous performances of Franko B are I Miss You, Long Live Romance and Don’t Leave Me This Way. Over and above the aesthetic impact, these performances invite a romantic meditation and the curiosity to contemplate various aspects such as separation, solitude and the fear of being abandoned. I’m Thinking of You is a piece that, in a final analysis, could be described as a vast and unconditioned act of love. An alienating and thick layer of white wax covers the tattooed body of the artist and this white body has now become an icon. The tattoo of the red cross on his chest is not visible.

  1. “This was my first tattoo. I had it done to signal my condition as a refugee in the sense that, on this earth we are all refugees. We don’t really belong anywhere on this planet... the red cross is the most beautiful of symbols, the most beautiful sculpture I have ever seen. [...] It is a sign of desperation that leaves no one indifferent and to which I am very close”.

I Still Love, 2010... in these works there is a constant duality between the interior and exterior, between the thinking body and the exhibited one, between pleasure and pain. Some pieces seem to indicate the power of the mind and the emotions over the body: the represented worlds belong to places in the memory and the body becomes an extension of the memory. A childlike, uncertain and mystical body which is always a body that has familiarity with pain. The crucial point is to be found in identifying the various types of pain: physical, emotional, psychological, mental and intellectual. In these pieces the body is not just a synonym of memory but also audacity, irony, desperation, investigation and the language used is anything but veiled. Franko B follows a path in which affection is the strongest element, with his performances becoming a moment of meeting, confrontation, conversation and appearance. A creative process in which the spectator is the real protagonist, interacting with the pieces inside the changed and picturesque setting of the PAC. In front of the intense works of Franko B the spectator takes on himself, in complete freedom, the task of feeling, absorbing, deciphering and being emotionally involved with what they are seeing.

I Still Love is a poetic, mature, linear and emotional exhibition which has been put together according to a rigid criteria. The pieces are presented to the public in a synthetic and not anthological way and based around some of the “major” works of Franko B. The exhibition throws a new light on various moments in the evolution of the language and art of Franko B: an emotional and crystal clear journey that exalts his unique and extraordinary work. Franko B has entered into the collective consciousness as the “ damned “ artist, who expresses in his art with equal intensity and creative inventiveness the torment of existence. The body of the artist is still used as a means of expression, as the incarnation of a social body and as the identification between life and art. His life experience (that he calls “the effects of history”) is inseparable from his art even if declarations by the artist himself suggest his art is independent from his own personal background.

Today the body of work by Franko B is the red thread of a sewn narration, the black screen of a vision, the filming of a transformation, an unwieldy absence. The spatial tensions of the work remain the same diaphragm, symbol and meaning of his reality. A lengthy, introspective journey suspended between destruction and creativity that opens up into a wide ranging eclecticism through a number of different forms. A great black hole filled with energy where everything is absorbed by the absoluteness of the monochrome: from the use of red in the sewings to the gold of the church pews, Gold Benches, to the black of the Black Paintings and the animals that appear in the installation, Love in Times of Pain. An intimate catalogue on which is placed a thick coat of black paint that covers the objects, animals and things.

It seems as if Franko B wants to trace the coordinates of a poetry of diversity as an emblem of uncorrupted and pure “alterity”. The imaginary world of Franko B is pleasantly chaotic and in a relaxed way draws on any situation where there are images to “see again”; television, cinema, painting, sculpture, objects and everyday life. The protagonists of Franko B’s work are restless spirits looking to escape from their isolation, emotional personalities that live in a condition that prevents them from living a shared reality: strong images, graphically daring and at times absurd, that express a psychological state. “People always like to label everything and everybody” writes Franko B and he presents a disjointed body which eliminates the rigidity and the stereotypes that cultural coding tries to impose and also a body as a visible sign of diversity. The works of Franko B talk of love: a love that clearly translates into the exasperation of expressive codes and has a romantic vision of the world. It is a sort of passage between the concept of performance and that of narration and the outsiders of Franko B want to affirm their own existence and to love and be loved. It is also love for animals that are “the balance of life” according to Franko B. These new pieces with the animals seem to have the complex analysis of existence in “La Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka as their foundation. The metamorphosis is like the connection of two identities outside of their own familiar territory; that of man forcing the animal to escape or subduing it and on the other side that which the animal suggests to man, showing him ways and means of escape that man would not have thought of alone. Becoming an animal has nothing to do with the metaphorical. No symbolism and no allegory. It is not even the result of a mistake, a curse or the effect of guilt. Gilles Deleuze calls it “ a map of intensity”, a combination of states and a way of escape.

For Kafka the core of being an animal is the means of escape even without leaving the room or remaining in a cage. A way of escaping, not freedom. A living form of escape and not an attack. Becoming an animal means movement, crossing a threshold to find a world of intensity where all forms dissolve. The animals of Kafka do not refer to mythology or archetypes but only correspond to areas of liberated intensity in which the contents are freed of the meaning that formalised them.

The language of Kafka is “objective”, simple; the natural presence of the absurd introduced by the authorities that creates a falsely objective language. In Metamorphosis authority is not so much society, the family or the world of work as much as the logic of the everyday world on general. Gregorio Samsa and his transformation into an insect: an afflicted cripple with his head down and the cripple is always guilty.

Franko B operates in a field which is highlighted by one of the most intense relationships between the body and power. A power that penetrates the surfaces of bodies, and subjects them to being marked and branded according to pre established categories. The works of Franko B are obsessive and provoke varied reactions such as fear, annoyance, attraction and the need to escape. A silent and dismayed public takes part in performances and actions that point to an intrusion into places of reclusion, the shutting off of the body, the paralysis of social relations and the threats of pain. He is a restless artist, idealist and realist at the same time, with a correct dose of formalism, formal anarchism concreteness and the abstract; belonging to the tradition of visionary artists who are capable of creating art in the presence of diverse tensions, capable of being troubled and destroying any criteria of reality and capable of acting in an attempt to make beautiful the most extreme actions. Everything is questioned from relationships, equilibriums, perspectives, colours and visions that conceal force fields which are activated each time by almost casual elements, games of strength, brusque movements, unusual expressions and irregular movements. These act like an alarm call that places us in front of a horizon that delimits life, with all the emotions this can provoke from laughter, dismay, panic and happiness.

Franko B creates “ the unconscious” underground of a vision that does not want to be conciliatory and looks for a path of personal freedom in a dialogue with the irreducible; towards a courage that comes from fear, from pain, from discomfort and from shame. He creates an intimate relationship of the unexpressed with the spectator in a visual dimension that is never an excuse for transgression. It is a game of visual communication that express tension, attention, surprise, indifference, desperation, obsessions and a series of controversial and contrasting feelings. It is a condition that comes from deep down, as each wish is destined to sink into the failure of visual communication. That of Franko B is the unpredictable look of the dreamer that, once the barriers of distance have been broken down, outlines the traces of a powerful and direct symbolism: the heart, the red cross, the house, the animals, love –

  1. “many of my obsessions have created marvelous images that are marvelous for me otherwise they would be insupportable and even dangerous. I’m making the insupportable supportable... I make an icon of those things that are quickly “labelled” as insupportable. I see my neuroses, my fears, my “journeys”, my negative experiences as having creative worth and I try not to contaminate them.I try to express them in a pure way as they are in my head. It’s a process of freedom, mine is a search for individual liberty [...].”

A filter of decadence and a cross between melancholy and a malaise; the decision to exhibit a pain without been taken in by the celebration of healing but looks for the “depth of the world”, the “bottomless pit” of Nietzsche and the “need to survive” in which the poetic and sentimental vision of Franko B creates a passionate complicity that unfolds through the work; art that does not reject either distance or proximity.


Published in I Still Love

[24 Ore Cultura, Milan] (2010)

© 2018 Franko B and the contributors