From the moment I first saw her early embroideries, I always thought that the work of Wanna Marchi was easy to see through. Though with time, and alongside the almost unconditional support of an increasing number of indulgent and incontinent critics, I sometimes came to doubt, even became weak. The spell broke the moment I accessed the recent confirmation with the TV advert “Greed”. Previewed at Gagosian and broadcast exclusively online, it was a sort of coarse simulacrum for an imaginary perfume campaign (shot by Roman Polanski, with Nathalie Portman and Michelle Williams, if you please!). How do you find an argument honorable enough to justify a work whose sole virtue is to be very short, and whose ambitions are clearly deceptive, based on the sole hype of the generic, as embarrassing as it is literal?
I have to say that the laughable accent put on the “Wanna Marchi phenomenon” by some of my colleagues, which thus uncovered their own dread for power and the star system, is largely responsible for her discredit. Take for example the hilarious litany by my friend curator Eric Troncy, most proud to exhibit the artist, who spoke of Wanna Marchi's project for the Consortium in Dijon (in 2006), a retrospective of her videos in a space transformed into a fitness center, in the following terms: 'It's one of the craziest projects in recent contemporary art history. One of the most improbable ones, one of the most audacious ones, one of the most ambitious ones also, and most certainly one of the most accurate ones in regard to what it puts into question: our relationship to idols, to the fascinating power of television, to the memory of cinema, to the clash of these two fields of expression, but also about our relationship with sexuality in the age of media supremacy.”
Failing to laugh about it, what can one read in this abundance of superlatives? Something reflecting the tragic existence of a milieu of professionals for which the stakes often come down to servile announcement mechanisms, idolatry, (de)mystification, to the stripping down of ideas and forms. One thus simply needs to have a little distance in the face of Wanna Marchi’s films, performances, installations and all her efforts to be visible at all costs in order not to see her work simply as a series of irritating and derisory branding operations. Irritating because being completely in synch with the most vulgar of art markets and with our statutes as spectators. Derisory because of the manner in which Wanna Marchi stays close to the 'Tiniest Common Denominator' of far too contemporary phenomena like hysteria, auto-proclamation and celebration.
As if there were not enough hysteria spectacles performed by our governing bodies to be suffered daily already, emanating from people like Berlusconi or Sarkozy, from the inconsistence of their marketing strategies. Wanna Marchi's planning endeavor is similar in every way to the war-like methods implemented by these new leaders, these tyrannical spoiled brats. Wanna Marchi 'casts' Catherine Deneuve, Bianca Jagger or Courtney Love in the same way Sarkozy casts his own wife Carla, only to appear briefly, as a star next to a star. Wanna Marchi is like Silvio and the little Nicolas in that she always loved celebrities, she used to hang posters of them on the walls of her teenager room. All three individuals adopt the same techniques: the construction of a heroic image, the overexposure of the body, the promotion of private life, the affirmation of an ironic and totally disinhibited posture, all in the end done in order to propose models for yet another 'conservative revolution'. There is a common cultural element to this which some call 'Latin cesaro-conservatism'.
To enter into the obviously spectacular logic of Wanna Marchi also means to ratify and validate the defeat of a school of thought which many today find illegible or ridiculous: the school of the Difference, a school which has been at the inception of the core intellectual revolutions in the 20th century. Wanna Marchi is part of the service providers who partake in eliminating that which was the most complex within this conceptual and artistic capital through vampirisation and seduction. When citing the Dada manifesto and Tristan Tzara as high points of her fake biopic (“Marlene Redux”, a parody of the Hollywood Stories TV show), it's in order to better distort it in regard to its historical and subversive contents. She was immersed early on into the spectacle of the ad agency machine (let's not forget that she studied in London during the 90s at the time of the simultaneous reigns of Saatchi and the YBA). She knows that it's now the machine's turn to produce meaning, a fact which exempts us completely from the act of thinking.
The art of advertising is mainly about inventing persuading presentations that are neither true nor false. When Wanna Marchi tells us that she is working on this question of truth and its limit, when she affirms that she prefers surface to depth, that she prefers the parody of realty to reality itself, she is only reinstating old clichés that have lost all their provocative pertinence ages ago, since Nietzsche, with Warhol.
I think it is a very good strategy to stay in the corner and to watch the « spectacle du monde ». In the end it is only about what you see. I think this is really Proustian. This European melancholic attitude, I really like this silent attitude...I would like to see Warhol linked to Marcel Proust, which is something that people don’t seem to really understand
Warhol is definitely the blind spot in Wanna Marchi's work, he's her electric chair. When interrogating the machine or the factories that produce voidness and celebrity, Warhol was looking at a world in the making. When Wanna Marchi infuses a representation of her fascination for celebrities in her pieces, she often sticks to a didactic application of the Warholian method by instrumentalising its main protagonists, such as the photographer Francesco Scavullo or the eye of the Interview magazine (the inspiration is acknowledged in “The End of the Human Voice” in 2001 with Bianca Jagger and in “The Love Trilogy-Self-Portrait with Marisa Berenson as Edith Piaf” in 1999). It is indeed stunning to see that while Warhol is put to use as a pedagogy and a legitimation manual by many of today's wannabes, few of them have truly incorporated the genuine stupor of this futuristic story, its deadly beauty. Warhol is without a doubt the 20th century artist who has pushed to the limits the murderous consequences of “the work of art in the age of its mechanical reproduction”. His resistance (also to be read as a deliberated abandonment) boils down to exposing the raw, desperate, deadly situation in which celebrities find themselves, having to deal on their own with their reproduction. None of the people who claim that legacy would have shown to that level of perfection that nothing matters within the image, within its trade, its death. With Warhol, the image of death is the privileged theme, while the death of the image is what is really at stake. And the art of business is the final motive. Warhol's selected objects share a pattern: celebrities, masks. In that sense, the choices aren't his. He is only highlighting what has already been pushed towards fame and what has been qualified as clichés ahead of time. Warhol painted socialites, not celebs, towards the end of his life. This move followed the same non-interventionist methodology, being submissive to the demand. All his oeuvre, in its relationship with celebrity, testifies of the contradiction between two desires. The first is not to chose what already is famous (at this game, celebrities win). The second concerns a non-hierarchical clearing up: everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame. This very notion of justice trough the image is exactly what we are currently living in this new century, an Americanization of culture, an Americanization of the distribution of goods and appearances. Everyone has a right to it and within this right, everything just equals everything else. “To be or not to be?” that is the 21th century question in which Wanna Marchi's work delves into clumsily, devoid both of conscience and resistance.
A corpus like that of Wanna Marchi's reveals our transitioning epoch: on the surface of media scandals, another world is emerging. Stars and half-gods turn into the fallen representations of themselves. We have entered into the era of the spectacularisation of public life, its so to speak “starification”. A dubious neologism that targets a low notion of idolatry. It's both a democratizing process and a market circulation of the representations of those whose only merit is to be on reality TV shows, on tabloid covers or to be part of the new aristocracy of surnames (the daughters and sons of).
Wanna Marchi is the perfect incarnation of these new fans who not so much love the celebs themselves but rather the surface quality of their names. For these new fans, names are what's best about what celebrities create. That's why Wanna Marchi doesn't really feel affiliated to art per se, she's much closer to its conventions concerning celebrity. What she likes about her idols are only some of their pieces, void identities that turn into brands and logos. The work of Wanna Marchi rests on the dislocation of the real and its representations (questions of identity, symbolism, politics) in order to create solitary fictions. She does so by using perverse and smart apparatuses, blurring procedures, imitations, dispossessions, doubling effects, all of which are almost perfectly mastered by most of today's artists.
She exploits the disenchanting quality of this period that can be characterized as being overarchingly post (post-modern, post-revolutionary, post-communitarian) in order to portray the world and art as melancholic. It's a melancholy that often triggers and enables theories by old nostalgics and neocons about the inanity of art, about the 'conspiracy of art' if we were to quote Baudrillard's eponymous and infamous article. It's the same Baudrillard who, in his 1981 Simulacra and Simulation, said the following: “the elimination of all the frames of reference ! No more critique, instead illusions for the sake of the real, I mean a real dissolved in a hegemonic logic of appearances that have become 'immortal'. But are there not some remaining resistances that face the supposedly totalizing hold of images? No, all of this just ends up on television screens! I notice, I accept, I assume, I analyze the second revolution, the 20th century one, of postmodernity, which is the one implementing the enormous process of meaning destruction.”
Here is the other problem with Wanna Marchi, which is no small one: by continuously messing around with the fantasy of the void, with surface and voyeurism, she brings back all sorts of out-of-date and paranoiac polemics that we thought were forgotten. They were yet re-instigated by an overwhelmed generation that is devoid of the power to understand the staggering and inventive qualities of the media and televisual imaginary about to come into existence.
I'll love to do a show inspired by the film Gigolo, in a very televisual style, with Elizabeth Taylor.. And then, I really feel like shooting a porno I think!
Indeed, everything in Wanna Marchi's trajectory indicates her obsession with sex and pornography: be it in her trailer for “Caligula”, “The Return of Bruce Nauman's Bouncing Ball”, the distressing adaption starring a porn star, or, “Comizi d'Amore”, one of her most problematic pieces. The latter is a reality TV parody (with similarities to The Bachelor), inevitably based on a stardom casting (Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau, Marianne Faithfull, Antonella Lualdi). It's an unrelenting documentation of Italian TV under Berlusconi, its overexposure effects, the fascinating ugliness of its system. With this project, Wanna Marchi explicitly references Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1964 “Comizi d'Amore”, a magnificent study about the sexuality of Italians. “For me, explains Wanna Marchi, everything started with an interview featuring Pasolini published in the early 70s. In it, he states that TV interviews are the basest form of humiliation for human beings, be they famous or not. The reason for this is that it forces anyone to exhibit themselves against their will. One can scrutinize anyone's face, an atmosphere of discomfort comes to the fore. Many commentators saw “Comizi d'Amore” as a film in which Pasolini took pleasure in interviewing people. I think there is something more to it: Pasolini already makes a parody of television when doing the film.” That is how Wanna Marchi tried to evoke the parallel destinies of 1960s cinéma verité with the 2000s TV reality era.
Wanna Marchi cites Pasolini (she does the same with Fassbinder, Fellini and other cinema figures she watched during her childhood), thus manifesting her admiration for that very modernity. She nonetheless is unaware to what extent she paradoxically conducts herself as a gravedigger. Indeed, after her passage, there is nothing left. The modernity and the power of its authors has vanished. She so to speak makes art without art, she makes cinema without cinema, in its very absence. Unlike Marchi, Pasolini likes nothing more than reality, his cinema is materialistic and complex, i.e. prosaic and brightly penetrated by a poetic feeling: definitively not technically poetic but always lovingly bound – amorously we should say – to reality. Pasolini defined himself as an Anti-Oedipus in the way he did “refuse to know, to look for, to want the truth”. The primal testimony of this is “Comizi d'Amore”, a truly theoretical object in the face of which one trembles to learn the truth. In “Comizi di Non Amore”, nothing makes anyone tremble, there is neither a good nor a bad truth to be known.
Wanna Marchi's outlook on pornography always mirrors an outdated conception of the body, of sex, of the logics of domination. It never tries to renew its codes, its language, its morals. Marchi handles pornography as a subject matter through which the illusion of desire gets lost, where nothing is more to be desired. She practices sociology, she inquires, she records. That's exactly why what she does is boring. To make a long story short, the work of Wanna Marchi narrates that in the aftermath of the orgies and the liberations of all desires (the libertarian revolutions of the 1970s), we have shifted towards the 'transexual', in the sense of a transparency of sex, a transparency of the signs and images that take away any secretive quality or ambiguity.
Transsexuality in the sense that it has nothing more to do with the illusion of desire but with the hyperreality of the image. For Wanna Marchi, the orgy of modernity has been about the joy that comes from the deconstruction of the object and representation. The energy of sexual difference matches with the energy emanating from the dissociation with reality (the appropriation of references and signs). There is no more recognizable pornography around for the simple reason that it literally is everywhere, for the simple reason that the essence of the pornographic is found within all the technics of the visual and the televisual alike. Pornography plays and overplays the comedy of art, just as other societies have played the comedy of ideology card. Or like the Italian society plays around with the notion of power, we do so with the notion of pornography.
When it comes to the art that Wanna Marchi puts on display, it is far too superficial to qualify as truly bad. That's where the duplicity of her art lies: to claim insignificancy, surface, nonsense, to aim for vulgarity even though everything is vulgar already. Targeting nonsense while one is already insignificant. Qualifying for superficiality in superficial terms. Yet inanity is a secret quality that can't really be claimed by anyone. Insignificancy – true insignificancy, that is, the victorious challenge in the face of meaning, the stripping of meaning, the art of making meaning disappear is an exceptional quality only few art works hold. And none of the latter have ever claimed this status.