Nicola Aloisi, Chiara Mangiarotti
Marco precociously revealed his extraordinary gift for drawing, which he perfected in his five years at Art College. He has a firm stroke and executes his works with an incredible speed. He precociously developed an attraction for Warner Bros. comic strips and animated films, and inspired by them has drawn for a long period by means of a very particular procedure: he chooses his models in the street, preferably adult and bald men. He photographs them with his tablet or smartphone; re-elaborates the images by first drawing a bald head; and later adds to this abundant hair with strong, brilliant colours. Last year, for the panel collecting the drawings with which he participated in the exhibition ‘The World in Singular’ – presented in Venice by the Foundation Martin Egge Onlus, in collaboration with TEAdir-Aragón – we proposed to him the title ‘The Opportunity Painted Bald’. The ancient Greeks represented the opportunity that must be taken advantage of as a winged boy with precisely a bald head, and a long tuft of hair behind the nape of the neck that had to be ‘grabbed’ quickly before it flew away. For Marco, would this be a way of giving form to a new border (or ‘neo-rim’), displacing in this way the barrier that separates him from the world?
I met this boy during the preparation of the Venice exhibition; a friend who had been his teacher at college introduced me to his mother, who I started to talk to, and the conversations have also continued after the end of the exhibition.
Marco, autistic since he was two-years-old, is today a handsome young man of 24, 1.90 metres tall. He was going through a very difficult period: he didn’t want to continue attending the centre, of cognitive-behavioural orientation, in which he had been registered up to this moment; he became aggressive and violent, showing his fists as soon as something went well. Furthermore, it seemed as if his artistic activity no longer constituted a resource, because the characters he drew were transformed into disturbing monsters that agitated him. On the one hand, he cannot stop drawing them; on the other, they induce in him such anxiety that he is forced to rip into pieces the sheets of paper that portray them.
During our conversations, I explained to his mother a basic principle of the pratique à plusieurs (plural practice), which I summarised as not directly addressing the young person, but instead always a third party in praesentia or absentia. In critical moments, when Marco breaks something or shows his fists, we try to get angry with the fist or dialogue with it at a certain distance; not to be directive or propose anything, but to follow the young man’s inclination and always start to carry out an activity rather than suggesting it.
Our suggestions were received, applied and began to bear fruit. Marco was gradually pacified. He mainly passes his days waiting to carry out an activity: a daily walk to the ‘Brendola forest’ with his father, a fixed appointment that nothing can cause him to give up, and later the watching of a travel programme on television, Marco Polo. The relative calm achieved also has effects in the field of the oral drive: Marco has always essentially eaten bread, pizza and sweets; he now starts to try different foods that he previously wanted to know nothing about. This is why, in January of this year, his mother decided to try to accompany him to a painting workshop in Venice directed by Nicola Aloisi in collaboration with a painter, Gino Blanc, who provided a workspace close to the Foundation Martin Egge Onlus, in whose framework this work has been carried out.
Nicola Aloisi recounts the work in this workshop:
Marco arrives accompanied by his parents. I ask his mother whether I can say hello to him and, when she invites him to greet me, he gives me his hand, calling me by my name. Marco moves constantly, gesticulates and mutters continually, completely immersed in a flow of words that are not his own. What to do in order for there to be the opportunity of an encounter, in such a way that Marco can feel accepted in his particularity? In order to convince him to come to an appointment with us, his mother proposes that he goes to paint the ‘Brendola forest’, without telling him that he will come to Venice, a place that evokes for him a negative memory thanks to a school trip that went badly.
Marco brings to the first meeting a photo of his favourite place and in a few minutes succeeds in drawing the forest, with continuous strokes and without hesitation. He is totally absorbed in his work and finishes it quickly. During the following session, while Marco gets ready to paint, muttering and gesticulating continually, I put a song by Ultravox, an ’80s pop group, on the stereo. His mother had told me that he liked this group. The effect is surprising: Marco stops muttering and gesticulating, concentrating totally on his pictorial activity. It would seem as if continually ‘being spoken’ was a filter in order not to be disturbed by the background noise that is always present for him, and which the music allows him to cover over. He can finally rest and remain in silence.
Marco continues to enthusiastically come to our meetings. It would seem as if the painting workshop worked for him as a frame in which to find a regulated environment, with fixed points of reference – the day, the place, the time, the materials and drawing sheets already prepared, his favourite music – that allow him to pacify himself and best express his skill and passion. Within this framework, Gino’s task and mine is to present ourselves as a regulated Other: we speak quietly, without directing to him either our gaze or speech. We put ourselves to work by his side without imposing anything on him, looking instead – by means of a triangulation obtained by speaking or making proposals between ourselves concerning, for example, the use of a colour, a material or a certain pictorial technique – to delicately include ourselves through new elements, which he appears to accept without feeling obliged to do so. Marco, refractory to any rule or educative model, sensitive to the voice and gaze of the Other, has felt accepted in his particularity – and this is the only norm that guides us – valued in his objects and creations, respected in relation to his places and times, put in the conditions that permit him to better express his potential.
We don’t know what solutions Marco can invent in the future; what he will make with the different versions of the ‘Brendola forest’, a kind of Mont Sainte Victoire for this new Cézanne. His change of style is of course surprising. We don’t know what destiny his previous characters inspired in comic strips will have. A brief conversation over our mid-morning snack testifies to the fact that he has not forgotten them. His mother was recounting, in the presence of her husband and other son, the experience of Owen Suskind, the boy who learned to speak by means of the animated films of Walt Disney, and Marco replied: ‘Not Walt Disney… Warner Bros.’
We would like to make clear that the trajectory that this young man has come to realise in a few months would not have been possible without the trust that his mother placed in us and, it must be said, without her courage to change orientation and humbly listen to her son. This constitutes a testimony to the fact that there can be no subjective invention without this being able to be recognised and sustained by the parents. Each subject finds its solution outside norms, but not without the Other.
Translation: Howard Rouse