Franko B interviewed by Betti Marenko (1996)

Straordinario incontro con il più estremo performer londinese, su Virus in anteprima, in una conversazione sulle sue azioni e sui suoi video che molto stanno facendo discutere per la loro radicalità.

Franko B., invitato al ciclo di performance-conferenze Totally wired che si sono tenute nella primavera scorsa all'ICA di Londra,ed unico performer del Torture Garden, sempre di Londra,è uno dei protagonisti della bodily art, di un'arte 'carnale' che attraversa e supera molti dei limiti fisici del corpo. Paura, violenza perversione e alienazione sono alcuni degli elementi delle azioni di FranKo B., del suo corpo, del suo sangue, ...

Do you want to tell us how your personal background affects your work?

I think that everybody's background or what I call the history affects what they do. It doesn't matter where you come from. When I make work I don't make work for a certain audience, when I make work I make work for me. What happens is that everybody comes with their own dictionary, their own experience and their maturity I suppose, so in a way my background has obviously a lot to do with my work, but it is the same for everybody else, really.

Every time I saw one of your performances I had the feeling of witnessing your very deep and personal obsessions taking place on stage. Is this what you want to convey with your work?

Yes. Mainly my obsession is to create beautiful images, which are beautiful to me, otherwise it would be unbearable or it would be ugly. What I am doing is making the unbearable bearable. I make an icon out of things that obviously, because of their history, are read differently, like this is heavy, this is kinky. My main concern is not about that, is about my drives, my neurosis. I see them as a creative value, for me to act them and to use them as they are, I try not to pollute them, I try to express them in a way which is pure in my head.

Do you see this like a cathartic process in any way?

Oh yes, for me it is a purifying process which means to be totally free, to be seeking freedom. When I am on stage performing I feel free. It is a very emotional process because at the end I feel I totally let myself go, I have given myself totally to my act.

What about the role of the audience? How much is important for you to have a public who witness your actions?

Five or ten years ago I was doing this kind of thing probably by myself or with the people I was involved with at the time. Now, as an artist I believe it is very important that the audience is there. What's the point in making work for yourself? It is very important that what you do is public as much as possible. I believe this. While years ago I would have thought of it as purely me, obviously as a kind of therapy, then I grew out of that, and now I want to be public.

I want to be visible. I want my work to be visible. Yes the audience is very important! In the last year or so I came to think that if I didn't have an audience I probably wouldn't be doing it, now I am at a stage where I need to do it.

I am about to go on a web site with my work, therefore globally public. I think this is good, I am very ambitious about the work and it is not purely about having a big ego. I believe in what I do, why should I be shy about it? I don't want to be ashamed, I am not ashamed. I like terrorising people. I did once an enema with my own blood and then I emptied and I run around with it and people were running! And that's was funny!

In the ICA booklet Totally Wired your performances are defined as sadomasochistic. Is this a definition you agree with?

It's funny you say that, because the person who wrote that article, (who happened to be Orlan's agent at the time) sent me a questionnaire, and I was quite annoyed with some of the questions she asked me, for instance about my HIV status...and spinach in my diet!

shows the questionnaire...

I am open, the point I want to make is that I am not different from anybody else, from, say, a baker, or somebody who makes furniture. Like them, I make a product and I put it out there. Everybody can buy it. Of course the use of pride and sexuality decides who is going to buy it. Like, if I made bread, French bread, brown bread, people would come and buy it, no matter who they are. It is the same with my performances. I see them as a product.

Would you say your work is about producing communication?

I make art, I am an artist and I am very professional about what I am doing. I have my standard of what is a good work and I try to be honest in my work as in my relationships, but I am also very critical of what I am producing.

Although the imagery you create is very strong and disturbing I have found in it a component of black humour. Is it intentional or does it just come up?

AH! AH! AH! I think is both. One of my intentions is to discover irony in everything and this comes out obviously in my work. Without irony we would be quite fucked up! You got to have it, otherwise it would be sad!

Your body is your war zone, your torture chamber, your performance space: what is the relation between your everyday experience of your body and the use you make of it during your performances?

My body is my house, so I don't usually think apart of it.

It is everything I have. I take it for granted in my every day life, I am not focused on it. I think there is no distinction. I don't believe there is such a thing as a schizophrenic existence within my life.

The images you create refer to the constriction of total institutions: the asylum, the hospital, and the body restrictions: the wheelchair, the cage, the catheter bag. Is the social body inscribed in the physical body?

Well, this is not something I want to say, because it would be too obvious, but some of this imagery has something to do with the fact that I come from an institution, but just tell me what is not an institution. Everything is an institution OK? On the other hand I use these images purely as a metaphor for the constrictions that are within yourself. It is difficult to decide what comes from the inside and what from the outside, like when you think did this happen to me? really? This has something to do with mechanisms of survival. Think about the wheelchair: the wheelchair for me is about the idea of being disable, disempowered within. We sense ourselves and this is what happens when I perform. My emotional experience on stage is that I feel liberated, it is like those situations when I felt ashamed and I said to myself never again! NEVER! It is me that lets this situation taking over, it is me and my insecurity Again, the very idea of institutions is very much about shame, your own shame.

The social institutions impress their mark directly onto the body because their control must pass through the body...

It is a language. All the institutions like the family keep on bombarding you with their language whether you understand it or not. I was talking to Rachel (Armstrong n.d.a) about this problems related to the language and she thought I referred to problems with my English...But I was talking about communication! I am talking about pollution. You are constantly bombarded, and you are not in control of it. Nobody is in control, anyway.

Being disempowered and being in control are two different things. Although I don't want to be in control and I will never be, I don't want to feel I am disempowered either. When I perform I feel I am not disempowered. The point is not about being in control, but about to say: this is my body, this is my life, this is my language. There is a book called The Language of Cranes, is a beautiful book about a kid in New York and the noises he hears, the cranes. Because nobody talks to him, he talks with the cranes. It is a very beautiful metaphor to me. It is difficult if you don't know my background, but I don't' want that to become the core, because the work has to live on its own. The past is a different language. Then you come out from institutions at fifteen and you think what the fuck. Only because I left Italy I managed to put myself together, I don't think I could have done that in Italy. I would be in the streets, like before I came here.

The audience should get their conclusions from what they can read. They can't ask. It is not so important what your intentions are.

Do you feel that your work and your pain are indissoluble? Is there pain in your performances?

No, there isn't. My work is not about pain. Also, the very notion of pain is very abstract, what is pain at the end? If somebody comes up to you and punchs you thinking you must like pain, because you are into SM... but wait a moment! You are hurting me! During the performances is different. Someone comes up and slaps me, I don't feel it, because it is very much about performing. I am somebody else. I become an object, an object to carry. The body becomes a carriage, and I could not fake.

When somebody hits me, again is about being disempowered and being in control. In my life I have being slapped continuously for two or three hours until I admitted I had done something wrong. You become numb. You don't feel the pain. It is not about being butch or macho, rather about not wanting to surrender. Nevertheless, you end up doing it, going down on your knees, whether you are right or not...

You use substantial amount of your blood in your work: what do you see in blood? A symbol? The inside life force that spills outside? A way of provoking disgust?

It may sound naive, but to me blood is everything. My blood is my body. People die for it, go to war. Cancer is blood. When I feel it, it gives me a sense of freedom, especially given the fact that it is my own blood, as I don't work with animal blood or anybody else blood because I could not have a relationship with that. Also, people are ashamed of their own body fluids. They are scared of their own discharges, as they have been brought up to believe these are very private things, that what is in the body should stay in the body.

Do you see your performances as your personal rituals? Do you feel the need for rituals which can act as a purifying process?

AHHHHH! No, I don't, not at all! If anything they become cabaret, rather than rituals. I want to be clear about this. If in a performance somebody cuts me live, I don't want to be mistreated where people would think that the piece was about me being cut. The piece is not about that. It is rather about my lack of shame. This is my body: I open it and I want to let it out. The cutting becomes my metaphor. When I carve sentences on my back, I don't do it on stage, not because I would not be able to do it, but because it would feel different. Think about the expectations, like uh, he is not screaming, and all that. My concern is more about what the cuttimg means rather than the process of doing it on stage. I am responsible of what I do, and I want to be clear as much as I can. There's no room for misunderstanding. It would be like any other show of someone cutting himself.

What do you think of the growing number of artists who decide to use their own body to express their drives, obsessions and desires? Are there other artists/performers do you feel affinity with?

There is a lot of tribal stuff going on, like what is going on at the Torture Garden (London fetish club n.d.a.), people cutting themselves in heavily ritualised settings, but, as I said, I am not into that. Ron Athey is different, he stands out of that scene. I have a lot of respect for him, although our backgrounds are very different as the metaphors we use are different. When I perform I paint myself white because I don't want people to see me as another Modern Primitive, so I cover my tattoos in order to address the right meaning. The body is a canvas and I want people to be able to read it, not coming to see

Franko B. for his tattoos.

You write on your own body, carving words in your flesh and blood. This is using the body as a text, as an experience of here and now which is at the same time unavoidable and more powerful of any words. But how do you relate to words written about you, like this interview?

I am a performer artist and I am very consistent about what I do. On stage and off stage. They are just different styles, like when you write you have a choice of different fonts. I am Me and Me is about Me. One should be confident about himself, otherwise you are fucked...


Published in Virus Mutations N. 9

(October 1996)

© 2015 Franko B and the contributors