Some ten years ago, Nicolò Massazza (Italy, 1973) was graduating as a psychologist and Jacopo Bedogni (Italy, 1970) as a mathematician. One was passionate about music and writing, the other about photographing. A common friend introduced them to each other knowing that their worlds were meant to combine. Since 1999 they live and work in Milan under the artist name MASBEDO. Theirs is an interdisciplinary collaboration and, as such, the MASBEDO project could not but entail an artistic practice informed by the drive to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, a “total artwork.” Yet, beyond their common creative aspiration to highlight and profit from the complementarities of different media, they share yet another yearning –to unveil the real conditions of contemporary life. Beneath the refined aesthetics of their works lays the merciless depiction of the tensions that structure today’s society.
The multi-media and social-utopian dimensions of their artistic project soon appealed to professionals working in other fields and who shared their humanistic view. In 2002, an exhibition inspired by Michel Houellebecq’s poetry book Le sens du combat sealed a long-lasting collaboration wtih the famous French writer. Based on his literary work, MASBEDO created the video-audio installations 11.22.03 and Il mondo non è un panorama that features as guest appearance, Juliette Binoche, Michel Haneke’s fetish actress. Their latest work, 10 insects to feed, displays the technical and visual characteristics that have become their artistic hallmark throughout recent years. It seamlessly fuses photography, video, theatre and music into an attractive whole that addresses the sense of the viewer in multiple and intense ways.
10 insects to feed is a multi-media installation of six different cinema screen, each of which presents the same scene taken at a different moment and from a different perspective. A group of men and women of different ages aimlessly run through what seems to be an empty space, partially filled with water. Soaked and frightened, they wrestle and cry, desperate and lonely in their collective delirium. They tragicallt fly about with emphatic gestures of pain and sorrow that the intermittence of the stroboscopic light isolates in a succession of petrified movements. This is a detailed anatomy of fear in the midst of an infernal supper club –a video clip of terror turned into entertainment. The actors mesmerise us with their angelic beauty; their wet clothes stick to their body, as would masochistic corsets to martyred corpses. It also reminds one of the most finely chiselled sculptures in the Western history of art –for instance, the Venus of Milo and Gianlorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. As MASBEDO comments, “the attractive and glossy cover is but a gesture of sympathy towards the spectator; it is the perfect alibi to speak about bothering and painful ideas. The outer surface is our deceit.” Profoundly moralistic, MASBEDO’s multi-media humanism is both a luring call and an urging plea for breaking with “the use of the mechanisms of desire for the economy of consumption to better profit from unhappy individuals manipulated into always spending more and into never complaining.”
The ten insects to feed are the flies and other arthropods animals that are meant to live from the flesh of our bodies fatefully rotting as a result of our corrupt way of living. On the other hand, the ten insects also constitute a metaphor for whom we have become in a post 9/11 society that capitalizes on fear and monitors the privates lives of its own citizens in the name of a safe future. Ultimately 10 insects to feed is a reflection on the current political and social state of Western society as a result of its anti-terrorist policies. They map a traumatized community that needs to be saved from state –and corporate– terrorism. “10 insects to feed is like all our other videos, existential and cynically romantic, but also merciless and violent.”
It also constitutes a reflection on the place and importance of media in contemporary society. With its apocalyptic atmosphere, this film installation speaks about the omnipresence and global impact of images of wars, natural catastrophes and other blockbuster news spread by press agencies and television broadcast companies as home-entertainment. According to MASBEDO, “The media creates a virtual reality that is imposed on us and our daily life. The media seems to allow total communication when in fact it engenders total incomprehensibility. It functions as a distorting screen between people and their own reality.” When commenting on this issue MASBEDO’s words turn dramatic, “it is our will to break with this current schizophrenic state of things; we want to succeed in recounting the intangible in a flash of madness that might only occur in our mind but that will hopefylly function as an alarm resonating through each of us.”
The use and abuse of images in present-day society doesn’t entail a technological nihilism on the part of MASBEDO –the contrary. “Video constitutes a privileged medium to depict something that is neither completely real nor exclusively imaginary. The video is the most natural approach to the complexity created by two people who interact with each other.” Video allows Nico and Jaco to share in equal ways every step and aspect of the creative work. “The choice of using the video as an expressive medium places us in a situation of total parity in the process of decision-making. We are both active at every stage of the development of the work.”
Overwhelming in scale and quantity of aural and visual information, 10 insects to feed, as much as their earlier work in collaboration with Houellebecq, strives to move us in unprecedented ways. Both shocking and pleasurable, their video-audio installations trigger both our desires and fears. It doesn’t fail to unsettle and will most surely mark our imagination, for good.