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Alessandro Bavari – in the belly of the beast

Alessandro the child artist would sit at a table drawing pictures of clowns with bare breasts and the Madonna with a moustache. In time, these childlike and whimsical representations morphed into darker, distorted, more unsettling interpretations of the human psyche. The work of Alessandro the adult artist, a fusion of mixed-media techniques, inspired by childhood impressions, delves into the very bowels of human despair.

There are many disparate moments in Alessandro Bavari’s childhood that inform the artist he is today – watching tadpoles hatch, the first time he walked into a Gothic church in Burgundy, losing grip of a balloon and seeing it bob away, meeting its fate against a rose bush. He says these impressions are so profound – a sensation, a feeling of wonder, a sound – they occasionally crop up in his work.

Bavari uses mixed-media techniques to create a unique body of work that incorporates both photography and film. He often draws on literary influences, offering his own interpretation using model sets, organic objects, photography and digital manipulation. The results are often macabre, and sometimes irreverent. His ongoing series, Sodom and Gomorrah, is one such unique fusion of media.

Sodom and Gomorrah was first conceived 15 years ago. I was inspired by Invisible Cities, a novel by Italo Calvino, written and published in the 1970s, but which he cultivated over many years through travel notes and reflections, and organised by themes – the five senses, the four seasons, mythology, history.

“I approach Sodom and Gomorrah in a similar way. It’s a narrative in pictures, with a thread of literary elements. A non-existent world, but a plausible one, where familiar elements like flora are decontexualised to create a world that’s paradoxical – fluid and genuine, but mediated by staged photographs.”

Sodom and Gomorrah was shot ​​in Bavari’s studio in Italy, as well as outdoors, in nature, which he grew to love as a child, scampering about rural France when visiting his mother’s family. “I generally shoot the models and natural elements, and then combine and manipulate them using digital techniques. I was using a Pentax 67 medium format until about 2006, and then moved to digital in 2007. I’m currently using a Pentax 645 digital medium format, as well as a Canon 5D Mark II.”

Bavari was born and raised in Latina, a coastal town outside of Rome. He studied art at the prestigious Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma, focusing on set design, photography and the history of art. “I was quite fortunate in that my parents encouraged my every artistic whim as a child. They realised early on that I was able to draw objects in perspective – human figures with the right proportions – and they always encouraged this, even though I was naturally inclined towards grotesque themes. I tended to draw irreverent pictures – a moustache on the Madonna, bare breasts on a clown. I have to thank my father for introducing me to photography and film. When I was five or six, we would sit at the table together making figures out of clay, then we’d film them in stop motion. I still have those films.”

At 15 Bavari was given a Reflex, some lenses and an enlarger: “I’d spend entire days in the dark, experimenting with processing and making photo montages.” His work today is an examination of the unpredictable, of aberrations, a study of the human psyche, he says. And it focuses primarily on the dark aspects of human nature. “Things that lurk in the dark recessess of our minds,” he says. “Things that move in the shadows.”

Metachaos, Bavari’s award-winning multidisciplinary short film, is an attempt to illustrate the most “tragic aspects of human nature” – war, madness, hate. It’s an eight-minute visual cacophony of amorphous frenzy that contains jarring moments of serenity. Using a ‘camera tremula’ to achieve a spasmodic effect, the imagery is disturbing yet spellbinding, its intensity indescribable – all set against the ominous strains of industrial machinery, the sound of goosestepping, wind, crackling. It’s a sensorial purgatory.

His personal artistic language is unique, and difficult to define. “I try not to place limitations on how my work is interpreted; I don’t want to define it too rigidly. I prefer viewers to interpret it in their own way. The only hint I offer is in the title. I don’t impose any stylistic connotation to my work and leave it open to all possibilities. But it’s important to find the right balance between technology and imagination, with neither dominating the other.”

Bavari is currently working on two new shorts, which he hopes to finish by the end of the summer. “Without giving anything away, one of the films is 3D animation, almost ​​entirely digital; the other doesn’t incorporate any CGI at all. I’m also designing a new photography series, and adding to Sodom and Gomorrah, a project that’s constantly evolving. In some ways, it’s a bit like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.”

For more of Alessandro Bavari’s work, visit his website.

• Metachaos, which is also a series of film stills, has won numerous awards, including the Golden Nica at Prix Ars Electronica Austria, Best Experimental Film at the Stortford Film Festival, 1st Prize Art Lab at the Festival Internazionale del Cinema d’Arte, among others. It can be viewed here.

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