Butterflies is a long term project on mental health.
In Ancient Greece, drifting souls were often represented by butterflies symbols. This was a direct link to Psyche, the soul goddess, who was similarly depicted with delicate Lepidoptera wings. When looking for a title for my work on the mental condition, I wanted a word that elevated the individuals I had met above the stale socially created traumas and stigmatizations, which had ruined their lives. The word “Butterflies” soon imposed itself as an image of a delicate but radiant state of being. A description of freedom constantly terrorized by the outside world and an unstable condition made splittable by a misplaced caress. This soul vulnerability constantly immersed in fear became my main obsession while photographing the men and women frozen in institutions or healing centers.
In their cages, enslaved by chains, past the other’s indifferent abuse, apparent animals are holding onto a dying humanity. Others are dreaming of freedom through the ingestion of a primal state. Everyone deeply estranged but so closely linked by a raw matter.
Certainties are shaken. A giant’s shadow is looming over the empty room. A witch is repeatedly murmuring abstruse incantations. A fairy is looking for the exit gate. The trickster is plotting in a world within a world. The children are dancing in the alley but the music is covered by a mist It isn’t raw pain but it’s a silent menace. At a weeping willow, the nymph closes the show:
“Does the illness make you unloved or does the lack of love make you ill?”
Before the Kosovo war (1998-1999) the Štimlje
psychiatric institute was financed by the Serbian government and mostly inhabited by patients from Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia. After the power change, the new Albanian dominated government financially abandoned the place leaving the infrastructures in decay and the patients from minority ethnic groups without care. The patients, who are for the most part severe psychotics, are left roaming in the institution’s walls and garden with limited hygienic or medical care. The building’s inside walls and sanitary conditions are dilapidated. The staff is next to invisible, underpaid and undertrained, not willing or ready to cope with the very challenging job of caring for people in such extreme states.The place’s only psychiatrist shows up for a few hours each week in order to solve administrative problems, seldom meeting patients. The only fix constantly distributed are meals and cigarettes which patients regularly fight each other for. It can be argued that the institution, the caretakers, the politics behind the place’s management are generating or increasing the patients’ symptoms. In such a domain, where time and space have uncertain values, all attempts to link are made without compromises. The mind’s interior (its anxiety, apparitions and ruminations) is telling its ordeal in the open space. The camera was inserted in between the ever vague and fluctuating border separating sanity from insanity.
The prophet is heard through the loud speakers. He is speaking in tongues. He is performing a miracle session. His loud voice is distorted by the cheap amplifier. He screams to make the devil rush out of people’s stomachs. There are five rooms filled with people who are chained by the ankle. An alienated inmate attempts to pick a fight with the pastor. He cannot move past the short extension of his chain. The pastor is humiliating him, gesticulating around him, acting as if in a boxing ring. It’s my first time seeing people treated this way but I cannot make sense out of my own emotions. I move around the rooms in a state of dissociation. It’s the beginning.
WHAT’S KILLING ALISTAIR
"What is to give light must endure burning" Viktor Frankl
Alistair: Brilliant businessman, eccentric millionaire, radiant personality, who had risen too close to the sun and fell in a roar.
Never since nor after, had I seen the life and death drive so confused and abandoned to one another.
He embodied the colonial history's brutality. The white man in Africa who had lost his mind, his money and body. who’d sold his soul to the desperate quest of an unknown matter.
In an impulsive act and for buried reasons, I wanted to preserve a man’s breath. I ran into a cruel society and to this self destructive and ungovernable force which evolved inside of him. Our time together left me with a series of pictures, documents and a documentary film.
Alistair or the precise description of bipolarity in manic phase: Megalomania, euphoria, laughter, unlimited money, power, emotional intensity, the totalitarian demands toward other and the unrestrained love of life and men.
The pain that follows: Insomnia, fatigue, attention deficiency, aggressiveness, hopelessness, paranoia, psychosis, endangerment, the unrelenting rhythm causing the body’s fall, illness and death.
Beyond the dysfunction, an illness’s naming must never deny a man’s complexity. Bipolarity doesn’t give Alistair a name. Alistair gives a name to bipolarity.
WAXED IN BLACK
The theatricality of loss. A woman leads me to a back alley. We walk though a line of black veils. The background sounds are women exaggerating their cries. In the room lays an embalmed man’s corpse. Lights are flickering around him. On his skin lays a shinny varnish layer. He is waxed in black.
A drunk police officer at a whore bar
“Funerals aren’t a right, these mongrels do not deserve any type of ceremony, they are parasites”
He gives me a number.
A man takes me through a series of administrative offices. In the morgue’s antechamber, there are two corpses piled up on a wheelbarrow. You have 10 minutes. Here is a torchlight. He opens the door to a small room filled with bodies, bones, decomposed flesh at different stages. The people are chaotically stacked to fill the room’s 3 dimensions to its near totality. There a thin tunnel where the living can circulate. He locks the door behind me. I shoot without seeing.
In a modern veterinary hospital, the pathology unit dissects animals to establish the cause of deaths. What seems like a morbid procedure is also a systematic analysis of life’s mechanical flows. Why is the dead animal’s face sometimes indistinguishable from the one still breathing? Why does the domestic animal's death feel more tangible than a production beast's ending? Is the life that we project on our animals real or an imaginary creation?
IN THE BACK OF BEYOND
"I’m on my way to Gabon to follow these men looking for oil. Though I’ve been told I should read about where I’m going, document myself, I’ve chosen the idiot’s point of view. In theory, I prefer emptiness to preconceptions. Anyhow, nothing stops the raw details from unfolding. Innocence should increase my feeling of being there. Intuitively, I sense it is the appropriate stance"
From "In the Back of Beyond" draft book project.
There is a blue dust below the polluted sky. The locals call the place Gomorrah. It is a large 4 acre dumpster filled with electronic products. Workers eat, sleep, live there. The plastic components are burned to extract the different raw metals. The life expectancy is significantly compromised by the stagnant toxic particles. Most inhabitants suffer from nervous and reproductive diseases, frequent head and stomach aches, respiratory problems. Toxins are also present in the food sold at the market on the dump’s edge. Crime is rampant. The environment in uninhabitable.
IN THE FACE OF NOTHING
I’ve been aimlessly roaming in the streets of Bangalore for days. All my contacts have lead to dead ends. What can you do without a drive or a subject? It’s a project about failure, about nothing.
This is the diary I kept for 7 years. I decided to interrupt this project at the dawn of social networks, Instagram and the widespread fad of daily visual recording. Originally called a diary, I now see this series more as side notes pointing towards important biographical elements that the a disconnected audience could not decrypt. It is because of the project's opaque egocentricity that I decided to stop.
“Why are you crying?
-Because There is nothing to say.
If there was something to say, I wouldn’t be crying “
Is life as a movie?
When close to you
There is joy, sadness and beauty,
A world felt in unpredictable movements
An ending to free us from this agony.
As life cannot be a movie.
My oldest project. It started as a projection of my relationship with Mugi, the child we'd never have. Since then I have seen Luna's life unfold and her evolution from a child to a woman