The performance art syntheses of Masbedo

Masbedo, Performance Art
Iacopo Bedogni and Nicolò Massazza, image courtesy Masbedo

"In essence our work is like a mirror and allows us an intense relationship that varies from a meeting to a collision"

As part of ENTER art fair’s art program, “an endless ‘present’ “, curated by Irene Campolmi, Masbedo will present their multi-media performance art piece ‘Anger’ at Copenhagen Contemporary, Thursday August 29th at 5pm.

Consisting of Nicolò Massazza (1973, Milan) and Iacopo Bedogni (1970, Sarzana), MASBEDO is a collaborative artistic duo that has worked together since 1999. Based in Milan, their work focuses principally on video and multi-media installations, often with a performance art component that synthesises the various elements. Their artistic research addresses themes of incommunicability, in efforts to highlight the paradox inherent in our supposed communication society and the nature of relations between image production and its deployment in visual communication. This has led them to produce very intimate pieces alongside work with an anthropological, social, and political feel. They engage their audience by using the moving image as a component in immersive installation productions—video-performance environments that aim to include the spectator in the space of the video and of the creative gesture. Their work combines the various languages of video, photography, audio, theatre and cinema under the aegises of a single performance art happening conducted, choreographed and mediated by the artists themselves.

Masbedo, interview, Performance Art
Kite, video-audio performance, Manifesta 12. Image courtesy Masbedo

How and why did you start working together as an artist duo?

We met for the first time in 1999 thanks to an Italian curator who knew us both and arranged for us to meet. We came from two different places. Iacopo was a photographer whereas I had been working with music and performance art. We decided straight away to work with video seeing as it’s a language that integrates various artistic disciplines: music, image, sound, literature, and theatre. Still today our work continues with a creativity that is complex—so complexity and the amalgamating of multiple artistic disciplines are the heart of our work. Our ideas are born after long discussions that we like to call “philosophical table tennis”. In essence our work is like a mirror and allows us an intense relationship that varies from a meeting to a collision and vice versa.

Within the past twenty years, your research and practice has spanned various themes that would look at hidden aspects of history and society, including an inability to communicate that affects contemporary society, even in a cultural landscape where any digital tool is, or has the potential to become, a communication tool. Why is ‘incommunicability’ such a core concept in your work?

All our works are born from political and poetic sources. In these years where everything seems based around social media and communication one of the major defects that we find is that with this type of communication words become empty. This type of contemporary communication is made for that form of “!” that substitutes strength of content through the quality of words with theatrical emphasis and pictographic representations of emotions. People have a need to comment on everything but don’t have a need to talk about themselves in a real world communication consisting of more sophisticated thoughts. In the end the only form of beauty that is accepted is a polished beauty that does not want to disturb. We started to work on this theme in 2002 with the French writer Michel Houellebecq. Inspired by an artistic movement called ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, we created a video work where large faces confront each other and confess very intimate details. Despite the intensity of this dialogue these faces are not listening to each other and remain closed in the existential solitude of their own revelations. The spectator finds himself stunned by the intensity and violence of the words. This demonstrates how, in this historical moment, it is difficult to support an intimate language that lays bare a confession charged with emotions.

Masbedo, interview, Performance Art
Protocol no. 90/6, 2018, site-specific video installation with sound. Image courtesy Masbedo

The work you presented at Manifesta 12 in 2018 was described by The Guardian art critic Adrian Searle as one of the “best works seen in 2018”. The title ”Order and chaos … a marionette surveys the State Archives in Protocollo no. 90/6” consisted of a marionette on an LED screen floating on a heaving sea of paper, peering around to the sound of his wooden limbs clunking together. At one point he collapses, slumping as if overwhelmed. In the hall, a light on a small lectern illuminates a single page from an archive—a denunciation, made in 1956, plucked from a folder concerning various artists, film-makers, writers and journalists. The document is a condemnation of film director Vittorio De Seta, who, on account of his work with workers, farmers, fishermen and miners, was suspected of fomenting communist sympathies. I imagine the difficulty of accessing a State archive and using it as an exhibition space to denounce censorship against artistic freedom. How did you conceive the work?

We decided to work on the image of a puppet because it is a sculptural object capable of absorbing images of controlled moods within itself, thus amplifying its own living and disturbing significance and conveying a sense of mystery and emotionality. The puppet moves here on a video stage, placed high up rather like an icon behind a suspended curtain of cables and LED lights. The puppet is the metaphor of an artist. The artist is a man who frees things even when he is himself tied up and controlled. The artist’s voice is not heard, but it’s there; it is like a live noise, just like that generated by the movements of the puppet. Specifically, the installation set up in the Archivio di Stato di Palermo (State Archives of Palermo) is inspired by the vicissitudes of the film director Vittorio De Seta. Several times, during his professional career, De Seta was subjected to the control of the authorities. His art, so close to the world of the humblest workers, fishermen, farmers and miners, was suspected of concealing a hidden agenda in favour of “communist” subversive societies. During the period of work undertaken in the State Archives of Palermo, and thanks to the unique experience of the staff who work there, we discovered the existence of a very unusual folder. Dated 1956, it contains numerous dossiers and reports concerning artists, directors, writers and journalists. The document, which immediately attracted our attention, was compiled by the Carabinieri of Petralia Sottana, a small town in the Parco delle Madonie. For us, this dossier became the symbol of what our video installation sought to communicate and we decided to display it at the entrance to the Sala delle Capriate, a place of absolute mystery and silence dedicated to the preservation of a non-organisable memory, an archive arranged in accordance with the non-rules of time and chance. It consists of thousands and thousands of un-catalogued documents that time has transformed into a stratified matter of paper fossils, dust and faded ink.

Your productions are quite complex and at the same I imagine very costly financially. You work with a large production team for your film. Given the fact that the Italian Art Council was founded very recently who supported your projects in the past?

We believe that there are big differences between artists who work with video and the logistics of performance art and those who work with painting or sculpture. Once the idea has been conceived we spend most of our time looking for ways to realise the work. For almost 15 years we have decided to invert a fundamental law that has always existed in contemporary art and that is to render the simple collector a producer. In this sense we are closer to a cinematic production. Our collectors therefore are producers who invest in a project that still needs to be realised. The collector/producer therefore finds himself simultaneously faced with both a benefit and a risk. The first is that of living the acts of creation and production from the beginning and to be fully involved during these processes. The second benefit is to invest in something that they do not see. When we ask for support for a project we make it understood from the start that is something complex that entails the production of the artistic work, the relationship with the institutions, the communication plan, and the strategy.

"By working so intensely together on a work a special, almost family-like bond is created. One made of magic, responsibility and courage. No one wants to disappoint the other person".

You have been supported by Beatrice Bulgari‘s foundation “ In Between Art & Film” since the early stages of your career. In Between Art Film was established in 2012 to produce films and documentaries based on an interdisciplinary approach and exchange between the different artistic languages of our time. At the core of their mission is exploring the increasingly osmotic borders between video, installation, photographic, and performative art. How did you meet Beatrice and why was she interested in supporting your work?

We met her for the first time in Rome in 2010. From the very start she understood our urgency to create projects that were half way between art and cinema. We immediately understood that we were on the same wavelength and had the same concept of how to conceive a work. For many years Beatrice worked in cinema and therefore knows very well the production dynamics and knows how to perceive the complexity and the feasibility of a project.

How would you define your relation as artist/patron?

A very strong relationship where every single aspect is discussed. In the case of Beatrice we could define her as as an integral part of the creation of a work.

What is most inspiring and the most challenging aspect of this relation?

By working so intensely together on a work a special, almost family-like bond is created. One made of magic, responsibility and courage. No one wants to disappoint the other person. Every relationship with a patron is unique. For instance our relationship with Federica Bianchi is special because she is the one who allowed us to create and develop our work between video and performance. The most challenging thing is not to confuse friendship with a professional relationship where the roles are clearly defined. To give balance to these two aspects is fundamental and it is important to remember that art is a terrain of dreams and contrasts and therefore it is not easy to maintain an objective viewpoint.

Masbedo, interview, Performance Art
Masbedo, 'Anger', 2019, performance rendering. Courtesy Masbedo

The performance art piece you will be presenting at ENTER, ‘Anger’ represents the first act of a long-term future project that you began this year and that would be unfolded in three different museums with three individual projects. Could you elaborate on this research a little?

The project to date will be presented at the OGR in Turin and at the new Pushkin museum in Moscow, and following this at another place still to be defined. This time we will work on the production of a series of videos and video installations that investigate the theme of anger and aggressiveness. The idea is to create rooms of anger where it is possible to destroy everything. In reality these venting rooms exist everywhere in the world. They are places where you pay to release stress by destroying objects. We want to create a series of videos that aestheticise violence, that use images which are dangerously captivating and that try to show how in this historical moment there is an unconscious shared aesthetic in TV series, in art, in contemporary theatre. An aesthetic that at times recalls the one that Omar Calabrese defined ‘neobaroque’, an aesthetic capable of attracting the eye and to irrationally generate disturbing and anxious moments. The performance in Copenhagen will be the first exercise of violence that we will enact with objects, screens, images and sound.


MASBEDO, Anger, is a performance art element of the Enter art fair Art Program “An Endless Present” curated by Irene Campolmi, Head of Art Program, and Independent Curator. In collaboration with Copenhagen Contemporary, Thursday August 29th, 5pm.