Interview with Luca Monti
Chi è Bellocq? Un fotografo. Faceva ritratti. Erano come finestre... finestre (...) Eravamo una stanza ammobiliate e Bellocq era una finestra da cui guardare fuori.
Michael Ondaatje, Coming Through Slaughter, 1976
Luca Monti (Italy, 1972) is a flâneur exploring the darkest sides of life, with philosophy and sex binges bleeding over the edges of depravity. Destroying the line between living and making art, his images are autobiographical, animalistic, and as horrifying as they are beautiful.
Luca was in town to launch a new exhibition and editor Frank Cordel had the opportunity to talk with him about existence, agony, and philosophy.
« L’uomo, quando non lo si trattiene, è un animale erotico, c’è in lui un tremore ispirato, una specie di pulsazione produttrice di bestie senza numero che sono la forza attribuita dagli antichi popoli terrestri universalmente a dio. Ciò faceva quel che si chiama uno spirito »
Antonin Artaud - Pour en finir avec le jugement de die, 1947.
The photographs that you’ve been working on recently, some of which are on display here, are quite intensely intimate regarding your own life. It’s impossible to ask about your work without really asking about you. Does that ever strike you as uncomfortable or reach a point of conflict ?
No, because my intimacy is linked so much to my work, and my work depends so much on my intimate experiences of the world. It’s all intermingled.
When I think about this period of time, let’s say the last five years, it’s been a very intense time for me, in terms of experiences, especially political and social experiences.
Living in such narcotic society like the English one - truly blessed by 'menzogna", so deep involved into hypocrisy, like London is, made me unrestful. Photography has followed, and I guess this is the way it goes. You have to live and photography just follows.
« Una sensazione di bruciatura acida nelle membra, i muscoli torti e come a nudo, il senso d’essere di vetro e sbriciolabile, una paura, un ritrarsi di fronte al movimento, e il rumore. Un disordine inconsci dell’ambulazione, dei gesti, dei movimenti. Una volontà perennemente tesa per i gesti più semplici, la rinuncia al gesto semplice, una fatica sconvolgente e centrale, una sorta di fatica aspirante »
Antonin Artaud - L’Ombilic des limbes
Do you think that there’s a boundary between your life and your work, where you will not trespass or will not blur the two together ?
No, because the only times when I cannot photograph is for pragmatic reasons. It’s not because I don’t want to, or because I want to hide some parts. It’s because I cannot physically or mentally reach out, or because I’m too involved in my own crazy life that I lose control, I lose connection to some reality and… sometimes I’m just lost, I don’t know anymore how to keep track of what’s happening.
This happened a lot especially with the last book. For some period of time, months and months, I wouldn’t photograph. With the types of experience I was doing, it makes you not care about anything but the experiences itself. So, many times, I just didn’t care anymore about photography. I have start to create things, make things happen between people, in my studio. I was so concentrated on make these things happen that when it comes to take photography I, simply, just don't care. I have left to other people - assistants, random people, friends - the task to take pictures.
I don't define any longer what I'm doing photography and for sure since the latest series of works I don't define me a photographer, but let's still talk about photography....
“il corpo è una grande ragione, una pluralità con un solo senso, una guerra ed una pace, un gregge ed un pastore”
Friedrich Nietzsche - Also spracht Zarathustra
Where are you now in the balance -- Is it important to you at this time to continue shooting?
It’s becoming important again… I stopped shooting for a while, the last pictures were 6 months ago, when I was struck in some sort of mental loop and keep taking the same picture again and again,.
Maybe it was just a way to prove to myself that my art is not just an excuse for my life. You’re always wondering if you’re living, experiencing the world, just as an excuse to photograph and viceversa. It can be confusing sometimes.
But now it’s been a few months, and I’m working on a new project and a book. I gave myself until the end of the year, not to put too much pressure on myself. I’m kind of serene in a way. It’s not a bad pressure, it’s just a way of taking a breath before jumping back into it again.
« Nessuno ha mai scritto, dipinto, scolpito, modellato, costruito o inventato se non, di fatto, per uscire dall'inferno. »
Antonin Artaud - Van Gogh. Il suicidato della società
Your actual work has some distance from photojournalism that was your approach at the very beginning, also in the sense that you have become one of your own subjects. Do you think this is an exploration of self, or an exploration of photography ?
Of course over the years I’ve learned about myself and I’ve been able to take more control over my own life, but it comes from a photographic need to push the boundaries of what we call documentary photography. So, the reason why my life became one of my own characters was not just because I’m interested in myself or out of narcissism, but it’s because I thought that this was the only way to make photographs which will be more sincere, more just, more right.
It is a weird mixture of concepts. I see my work as a conceptual diary. For me, it’s very interesting how fiction mixes with reality and with intimate situations and, at the end, I still think of it as a very documentary piece of work. It’s really about understanding the world and being part of it, too.
For a few years, I thought photography was slowing me down and that a camera wasn’t the way. I didn’t know what to do with the camera or with the way that it catches things not strongly enough or not intensely enough, but then very quickly I realized that the opposite was happening. Photography was helping me to push things much further and to experience situations in more extreme ways than I could have done without it. The camera is a good excuse because, with its presence, people will let go, will go with you into the craziest situations.
« Pentirsi ! Ma perché? Il pentimento è nelle mani di Dio. Sta a lui avvertire rimorso per le mie azioni. Perché mi ha reso il padre di un essere che desidero così ardentemente? Prima che qualcuno condanni il mio crimine, lasciate che accusi il fato. Siamo liberi? Chi può crederlo quando i cieli sono pronti a caderci addosso? Ho aperto le porte del diluvio per non esserne coinvolto. C'è un demone dentro me destinato a vendicare i peccati del mondo. Non c'è fato ora che possa impedirmi di realizzare i miei sogni. »
Antonin Artaud - da Les Cenci
You’ve said before that, “Pleasure is a dark territory to me.” Do you find that you are seeking pleasure and finding darkness, or ultimately seeking darkness and finding pleasure ?
They’re very intermingled. I’m not just looking for pleasure. I’m interested in darker and deeper issues than pleasure, but I think pleasure is a good medium. Through pleasure, I get to much more complex and deeper and darker mental or physical places.
Pleasure can be still linked to pain, to madness. So, I look at pleasure as a way down to something else. It’s never pleasure for pleasure’s itself. Well, it can be, of course… especially with sex and drugs. But actually I'm more interested in the drugs of mind then something external, chemical. They are more powerful, more un-balanced, also you can still feel what is your real life and what is the drugs, it is just only you don't give a shit. When it come to pilot mind in new territories these boundaries don't exist any longer, that is what interest me most... this potential.
But, for me, it is important to use it as an opening and then go beyond it. You can see sometimes in the pictures where this pleasure, let’s say the body, takes over much more subtle and complex and painful feelings. The pleasure takes you to the agony, agony bring you over a mental state of fluctuation where You can potentially let it got the reality or at least the perception of it...
At the very end I'm just interested to reach the point where the mind, any mind, start to question itself, where souls bleeding and getting lost.
« Queste opere azzardate che spesso sembrano il prodotto di uno spirito non ancora in possesso di sé e che forse non si possiederà mai, chi sa quale cervello nascondono, quale potenza di vita, quale febbre pensante che le sole circostanze hanno ridotto. »
Antonin Artaud - dalla Lettera a Jacques Rivière
Does pleasure need to be complex, or are there still simple pleasures for you – can you just have a glass of wine on the beach and enjoy it ?
I haven’t had access to simple pleasures for a long time. For many reasons, but mostly because of the addiction to fantasies. Everything brings me back to my fantasies. When you let your fantasies exist into there real of everyday life you get to a new levels of intensity, you cannot drop back down, you always need to keep escalating. No pleasure for me is never simple but at the same time I'm not in the cage of complexity, I don't have ritual to follow, is always different...
If I think of what I really enjoy sometimes, outside from this very physical experience of the world, the first thing which comes to my mind is just proximity with people. I feel very privileged to spend my life and time and energy with people who are not so easy to access, people who are marginal to an extreme point. It’s a privilege to be able to get close to them because they have more pain and more frustrations and more tragedies, so everything is more intense, everything is more true, everything is more honest, everything is more painful, everything is more.
I get bored in the day world, where everything is more confined and has very strict limits.
It’s wonderful and tragic because you meet people, and you struggle to build confidence and trust. These people give me a lot, and I take what they give me and I make what I can out of it, but then I run away again.
« Le idee che ho le invento soffrendole io stesso, passo passo, io scrivo soltanto ciò che ho sofferto punto per punto in tutto il mio corpo, quello che ho scritto l'ho sempre trovato attraverso tormenti dell'anima e del corpo. »
Antonin Artaud - dalla lettera a Jean Paulhan
Still, the experiences that you describe are almost entirely corporeal. At least in the photographs, the explorations you’re doing with sex, drugs and materials are of a physical nature. Do you also hope to push things in other ways, just for example philosophically or intellectually?
I don’t want to give up on anything. I don’t want to give up on my political view of the world, or my physical experimentation of the world, or my feelings but I have one life only : Il corpo per me e' solo un pretesto (in italian during the interview). When I said before that I’m starting to be serene it’s because, at this stage of my life, and in my artistic practice, whatever happens, I have the feeling that I am real, trying to be as much a human being as possible. Photography will have helped me to do this. I will have used photography to give an account of what I’m doing, because I want a different way to experience the world, and at the same time I’ve been experiencing the world as much as I could. I'm truly disgusted by the most of images that is see, not because I don't like them but because they are not genuine...
sono mio figlio, mio padre, sono mia madre e sono io;
sono colui che ha abolito il periplo idiota
nel quale si ficca l'atto del generare,
il periplo papà-mamma e il bambino,
crosta nel culo della nonna,
piú che in quello del padre-madre,
molto di piú.
What was pulling you back, or what were you choosing in favor of ?
The first time, I felt like my photography was too much of a mess. If I was to die that month, nobody else would be able to make sense of it. It was a last chance to put together what I was doing, to put some order in it so that, at least, I don’t just leave a mess behind. So, the stuff that I’m doing now is being taken care of.
The second time, I think I just got too scared. But, again, I got scared only after I did it. So it’s not the kind of being scared which stops you from doing something, but the kind where you do something and then after, when the effect of the pleasure and drugs have come down, you realize you went too far. I’m still dealing with this.
In French, we say, “reculer pour mieux sauter,” which means something like, to step back in order to make jumping easier. When I speak about fear or withdrawing, it’s not about keeping away from something; it’s just to prepare myself to push it even further, to go even beyond. And this process has been going on for years, so I know myself now... I know I’m only able to go for what scares me the most, or for what challenges me most, so I know that every time I step back, it’s just another step to take things further.
« Abbiamo nella schiena vertebre piene, trapassate dal chiodo del dolore […] non voglio che si entri nella mia coscienza per partecipare al suo dolore e rassicurarla, »
At your exhibition there were some pictures, frames like the other, that was just only black piece of paper, what is for you the meaning of this artistic gesture ?
This is the tragedy of wanting to make art out of your own life, or wanting to make your own life out of your art -- there is no way out. Again, I do think I’m very privileged because I got close to real suffering before dying. I’ve seen people’s last shouts before they die. I was allowed to be there, to be part of the most violent, the most crazy, the most intense phenomenon of humanity. But, at the same time, because I want to keep track of this, because in some weird way I want to give an account of this... you keep some distance which cuts you off forever from pure innocence.
Becoming a photographer, you lose this innocence, because in a very modest way you want to construct something out of this careless destruction. You want to build a little bit of sense or a little bit of dignity. I see this as a compromise but it’s not too much of one, and it is just what it takes to stay alive a bit longer and to tell the story.
As I became a photographer, I already accepted that it was not my aim just to die as quickly as possible, but to do something out of this position, in life and in the world. It’s far from the cynicism which I see in so many others... it’s not cynicism, it’s not strategy, it's not calculating, it’s just having made the choice to stay alive.
« […] la morte non può aver luogo, in quanto essa si è già verificata nel momento stesso della nascita […] »
Before you started this interview you insisted to have some quotes from philosophers and poets seeded all around it - you insisted on this point a lot - do you care to explain about ?
Trying to die or trying to live ?
Both. No, it’s not trying to die, it’s trying to live without fear of death. It’s experiencing the world in the most tragic and intense ways without falling down to the point where you need to protect yourself, without being on the good side or the wrong side. I don’t want to be on the privileged side, but I want to be on the side where there is a choice, where it’s my choice to do things. I spend my life with people who do things because they have no choice. I’m the only one who had a choice to be there, most of them would love to -- would kill to -- belong to the other side. Everyone wants to live in comfort and safety, but many don’t have a choice.