Interview on KEE Magazine, n. 45, May 2010, Publisher: The Antithesis, Hong Kong, pp. 12-16
From Madonna to the Queen , Swiss/Italian artist Saul Zanolari digitally twists the subjects of his portraits into artificial life forms making them “Post Human”. His work highlights the disconnection between inner identity and the exterior body especially in celebrity culture. He fears the worst for “Celebrity-kind” and that society’s shallow preoccupations with image are spiralling out of control.
Even though Saul Zanolari features numerous celebrities in his work, he is far from obsessed, just very curious about their seemingly odd behaviour. “Celebrities are just a particular type of people who live by their image. That’s interesting because it creates an echo, they become models for other people, the “archetype” of human beings”, says Zanolari who is a little horrified by the thought. His portraits have vacuous stares and a plastic, ironed-out veneer devoid of personality or life. It’s as if the blood has clotted in their brains but miraculously traits appear more pronounced.
“I think everyone is special and has to underline and appreciate his or her own special features. I guess in the contemporary world people try to become similar to the advertising or fashion models and this could be dangerous,” states Zanolari, raising issues about the future of our celebrity-centric society. He’s commenting about people having unrealistic expectations about the way they look and that they are physically trying to Photoshop themselves in real life. A recent example of this that comes to mind is Halle Berry’s new ad campaign for Revlon’s photo ready make-up which is accompanied by the slogan: “For a flawless airbrushed look.”
There is no harm with a little nip/tuck or a few shots of Botox to keep the wrinkles at bay, but when it gets to the point of disfigurement or sculpting features alien to our DNA, a genetic line is being crossed. Zanolari’s portrait of Michael Jackson is ironically entitled “Escape from Yourself” which was impossible for the conspicuous star to do. It reminds us that a kind of vicious circle is created as fans want their idols to remain forever young and beauriful and consequently celebrities feel more pressure to preserve themselves or fit the mainstream ideal of what is attractive just to stay in the limelight.
Zanolari borrows the term “Post Human” from Jeffrey Deitch who first coined it in 1992. It refers to a new world led by scientific and technological advancement, particularly in genetics, that has given us the tools to reengineer our natural human evolution into an artificial one. If this is the case, one can’t help but take it even further. The Vadoma or “two-toed” tribe in Zimbabwe have a dominantly inherited genetic mutation giving them V-shaped feet (no middle three toes). This anomaly is said to have survived because it has beneficial effects such as tree climbing.
So if to be famous is to survive on this planet, could the human race or at least the “Hollywood tribe” eventually change their genetic makeup to spawn a generation that look like Zanolari’s portraits? Not likely, but again it’s a frightening idea no matter how far fetched. His sinister and larger-than-life images, often depicting a degree of self-mutilation, highlight the absurdity of an increasingly narcissistic culture. The 33 year-old artist is based in Switzerland and the UK, and has works in permanent collections in New York, London, Paris, Milan, Basel, Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo.
Zanolari who grew up in Mendrisio, Switzerland creates portraits of not only famous people, but friends, family and everyday people too. “Everyday life is interesting and inspiring if you are interested in discovering the world behind the faces,” he says. The artist begins each portrait with a low resolution photograph which he then digitally draws on. “I think everybody has peculiarities, details that makes us individual. These details are not good or bad but I try to hyperbolise them, underline them, and put them as strong points of the subject portrayed,” he adds.
Part of his “Post Human” series includes pictures of doll figures based on fairytale characters that he imbues with modern symbols and irony. For example his version of Little Red Riding Hood has three wooden legs and Rapunzel has a g-string hanging off her escape ladder. Zanolari combines childlike qualities with geriatric ones to give these figures an eerie and impish appearence. His image “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” shows an Oriental girl, naive but with smart eyes playing with The Three Bears – one is a teddy bear that she holds in her arms, the second is a bear fur hat on her head, and the third is a hairy man whose nipple she pulls with a string. “I put my personal point of view on traditional fairytales. I’ve always thought that fairytales are based on society’s culture, and mirrors it. The same concept applies to celebrity sotries except they are for adults. So fairytales are for children and celebrity stories are for adults but there’s no difference between the two. Dolls are small reproductions of real people mixed with fantasy, and celebrities are fantasy mixed with real people,” he notes.
“Post Human” is an intelligent and timely commentary on contemporary society, all part of Zanolari’s crusade to save us from our increasingly celebrity-crazed global culture.
In 1992 Jeffrey Deitch invented the term “Post-human” to define an artistic current which now numbers, among others, Matthew Barney and Jeff Koons. Post-human is the world where we now live, a world of transformation, manipulation and contrivance which is a consequence of scientific and technological advancement, especially in the field of genetics: we are no longer bound to our original appearance, as we now have the opportunity to rebuild and totally change ourselves, passing from a natural human evolution to an artificial one.
The original art works of the young Swiss artist Saul Zanolari, who has absorbed the characteristics of the Post-human current to perfection, will be presented in his first solo exhibition in China at F2 Gallery in Beijing from March 1st to 31st, 2008.
Saul Zanolari’s technique, which cannot be placed in a common artistic language, takes the observer by surprise, since his works are neither photographs, paintings or digital designs, but an original combination of them all. He doesn’t confine himself to the realism of a picture or the stillness of a painting, but strays from the classical techniques into a personal artistic code. Starting from a simple figurative picture, Zanolari digitally transforms the photo into a whole new portrait in which the protagonist’s original identity is undermined by the one of his antagonist, a sort of avatar, who steals natural and human details in order to transform, exasperate or destroy them in a surreal balance between inner identity and exterior body.
The Beijing exhibition at F2 Gallery will present about 30 of Saul Zanolari’s works, including a selection of the Twilight of the Goddess series, showcasing celebrities such as Madonna and Sophia Loren. In addition, Zanolari will exhibit his 2006 series Dolls, a collection inspired by classic fairy tale characters, reinterpreted in a contemporary way. With his “Post-human Dolls” the artist looks for new ways to report our childhood stories, showing a Little Red Riding Hood with wooden legs, a Princess and the pea who cries silently, and an Alice in Wonderland dressed up as a fetish waitress. Exclusively for this exhibition, Zanolari has also created three dimensional sculptures of a selection of 6 Dolls.
To complete the event two huge linked compositions will also be presented, symbols of the artist’s Chinese experience. Four big eyes, the artist’s own in one of the works and a pair of almond-shaped ones in the other, investigate and question a Chinese reality which is still at the centre of intense social, political and environmental debates. These two original works close an exhibition that puts together, for the first time, the greatest part of Zanolari’s artistic flair, featuring a young talented artist whose success is his own personal and bizarre artistic language.
Saul Zanolari was born in Mendrisio, Switzerland, in 1977. He has a degree in Philosophy. His work has gained considerable attention in Rome, Milan, Paris, London, New York and Miami.