Exploring the male body – so far more observer than observed – seems to be a contemporary
inclination. And the public, in its variety of experiences and expertise, begs now
more than ever for clues, prospectives and means to re-signify itself. Or, on the other
hand, to establish, with its own intimacy, a new relation of acceptance and listening.
Thus bodies, split and disputed between two opposite and complementary poles, the
private and public sphere, are finding new techniques of construction and assembling
themselves. Both aesthetic and functional techniques, symbols and signs of life paths
blended by personal subjectivity and by the cultural contest they live in.
Cum Of Age exhibition – curated by Tomas Ayerbe at Spazio Fontanella in Rome, open
to the public from the 18th of June – sees Aurora Manni’s written thoughts rhythmically
tuned to Simone Bozzelli’s photographs. The synergy between these images and words
takes the individual to a process of self-revelation.
If Bozzelli’s work appears on one side solid and sculptural, thanks to those aesthetic
archetypes of homoerotic iconographic backgrounds – thinking of baron Von Gloeden’s
Taormina or of Naldini’s Magreb – , on the other side it melts itself tending towards multiple
spaces. Pre-categorized. All to be re-read and re-energized by the audience.

The intimacy of pictures and words is moving and gloomy. Intimacy seems to
witness an imminent “crisis of presence”: both of the protagonist and its necessary
spectator. Intimacy seems to seal the tension – art’s most powerful duty – before its own
breaking. Narrating order, sensually foretasting chaos. How do you relate with your own
“hidden” and how much of it emerges in your art?

AURORA: To me words are a way to overcome inner chaos. I like to seal them together and play
with flying concepts and ideas, freeing myself in the comfort of my own intimacy. I personally
try not to encounter the viewer’s expectations with what I write and since I believe
there shouldn’t be a bias in intimacy I try and talk to myself freely in a counterpoint
way. I never take what I write seriously since I know I have pre-conceptions, based on
my personal background, that will shape my ideas. I feel like as soon as I express them
into words I’m able to understand them and get rid of the ugliness, and eventually laugh
about it. As soon as I reveal my “hidden” I’m able to resolve it and grow apart from it.

SIMONE: It is wonderful how art can be a triggering factor and vector of the staging or representation
of the personal “hidden” and at the same time be ambiguous, even if inscribed,
methodical, enclosed in a frame, on a canvas or in one shot. The image is always
ambiguous and becomes more and more ambiguous with the dialogue it has starting
from its (physical) frame, up to the historical context. In my opinion, intimacy holds the
same ambiguity.

TOMAS: When I think of my work, no matter the medium or format, I always try to dive into key
personal aspects from which I try to extrapolate a shared narrative with the audience.
I do believe that the “hidden” part of oneself, which is often feared, is the true richness
of the creative process.
Looking at myself and specifically at his exhibition, I felt the urge to talk about masculinities
through Simone’s eyes and Aurora’s words, analysing how much this gendered
construct can be perceived from various viewpoints, not necessarily in a cis and heteronormative
way. I felt like these types of conversations were very common in other cities
I lived in (such as London or Bogotà); and I felt the need to bring these “hidden” and
uncomfortable perspectives to a classical roman setting such as Spazio Fontanella.
So in a way this exhibition also wants to reflect parts of myself that I tried to keep hidden
for the majority of may life, which ultimately led to an acceptance of my own masculinity
in all its different forms.

Private as a space of experimentation and deconstruction. Growing awareness.
What does intimacy mean for your personal and artistic research in relation to the idea
of a normalizing externality?

AURORA: Intimacy to me is the only space where I feel able to write, to build my thoughts and
shape my representations of them.

SIMONE: I think everyone needs their own comfort zone. A place where they feels at ease and
where their deep scream has the right resonance. I started my artistic career as a director,
all the stories I wrote – perhaps initially due to budget problems – were set in a bedroom,
with two protagonists who discovered something more, not of the other (which,
indeed, became more and more mysterious and illegible) but of themselves. I believe
the process, in these photographs, is the same. But the journey to awareness is no longer
of a character but mine.

TOMAS: Intimacy is something that I had to learn to embrace and feel comfortable with. The
externalisation of one’s creative process has to inevitably pass through a place of intimacy.
Being able to analyse yourself in silence, without distractions allows you to face
the unfinished aspects of any process, even the awkward and flawed ones. Intimacy
for me exists within a threshold of physical and metaphorical space; In the case of the
bedroom, we can allow ourselves to be stripped down of all those social norms that
affect our identity and behaviours. To dive into someone’s private space is a luxury, it’s a
precious and fleeting moment of common understanding.

Cum Of Age inaugurates during LGBTQIA+ community pride’s celebrations. Your
artworks embrace a diagonal vision, definitely queer, of contemporary masculinity regardless
of the subject’s gender identity and sexuality. What does queerness mean to you?
How can queerness transform our western binary worldview?

AURORA: I’ve grown up in a queer context because of my family. I never really had a cis idea of
love ever since I was a kid. But when it comes to identity, I still feel influenced by binary
gender roles and their representation. Being aware of them and analysing them helps
me overcome the structure and play with its singular parts. It’s important to interrupt the
binary narrative, to question it and invert it in order to understand its cultural meaning.
But I also personally find it delightful to play with standardised roles by exasperating
them. I love “girly” and its implications as much as I love a classic masculine representation,
wore by whoever likes to, because I feel like I own them and understand them
as an integrant part of western culture more than in relation to my own gender identity.
I like to study the power and sexual declinations that lay behind these representations
and process them in a playful way. Queerness is able to subvert the binary signifier in
relation to its signified, it is necessary for culture itself since it’s able to deconstruct old
narratives and leave space for cultural growth.

SIMONE: I think that the universal can only be conveyed by the particular. A drop of dew can
be a reflection of the whole world. I am happy that my tiny gaze can be part of a larger
dialogue or reflection.

TOMAS: Queerness is a core part of my identity, but I didn’t want it to be the only defining
aspect of the exhibition. The multi faceted perspectives showcased in the exhibition
want to represent the subjective approach towards gender and identity. By doing so,
queerness plays a key factor in questioning these concepts as they cannot be perceived
as static elements. Looking back at my childhood I can see how the newer generations
are showing an exponential progress in the acceptance of these topics. Understanding
and embracing my own queerness has enabled me to define my own masculinity in a
more holistic way. It is important to talk about gender and sexuality, but it is essential
to understand how one’s personal development is affected by external norms that are
constricting one’s self expression. Being able to look at these limits, deconstructing
them and the inevitable discriminative gendered approaches, is one of the most freeing
processes I personally witnessed.

Through the exhibition different details are discovered, clippings, extrapolations.
Voyeuristic plots of body, erotic fragments of flash. What is your artistic yet personal
relation with the erotic body, and with its fetishized and sexualized components?

AURORA: I believe the concept of a sexualized body is what interests me the most in arts in
general. As I said before I like to examine how gender roles representations are involved
with sexualisation and desire, from fashion to fictional characters designs. Also, I’ve
grown up being told how “not vulgar” I looked, which always sounded funny to me as
much as interesting. What is sexual to someone and why? How does my fetishes representations
define myself and how much am I shaped by them? I’ve got more questions
than answers for this point here, and maybe that’s why it is the factor that interests me
the most and that I most like to write about.

SIMONE: The term “desire” must always be associated with the figure of the Other. That’s why
I find that the art of producing images is the most direct and coherent media of storytelling.
Let’s think, for instance about the figure of a photographer or a director: both look
through the viewfinder of their shooting device, select a portion of the world and record
it, it becomes theirs. Beyond the visual and technical approach that trivially answers the
question: “What about this situation, manifesting itself to me, do I like – and therefore –
what do I frame?”, I am fascinated by the condition, by the sensations that this desire
(satisfied or unsatisfied ) prompts.
In film schools they teach you that every character is moved by desire. Two specific
types are outlined: the first is one is the external desire corresponding to the protagonist’s
“conscious goal”, the one towards which all his efforts and actions are directed.
The second one is the internal desire, of a psychological and / or moral nature, and it
reflects a lack of which the character is not fully aware but which generates his true
unhappiness. They are the two sides of the same coin. During these days of distance
and solitude, perhaps, the exercise that we can all practise to get to know each other a
little bit more is to identify, understand and separate these two levels of our desire, and
then return to living better, or at least more consciously. , with the other.

TOMAS: When talking about the fetishisation of a body we immediately embark on a gendered
discussion. We normally approach bodily fetishisation regarding the female body, and
when we do talk about the male body it tends to be a homoerotic perspective. It’s as
if only men where allowed to talk and perceive eroticism without guilt; and it is exactly
this privilege that I wanted to question with this exhibition. I didn’t necessarily want to
talk about male bodies in an erotic way, or a queer way, or a masculine way. That is
precisely why the presence of Aurora’s writings are a key element for a more complete
understanding. She brings a necessary female gaze in a world which tends to talk about
sex and body from a one sided and patriarchal point of view.

The epilogue of the exhibition: a huge kingsize bed placed through the beautiful
Renaissance cloister. What immediately came to my mind was “Untitled” by Gonzalez-
Torres, 1991. The Cuban artist’s bed is used, still to this day, to reflect on the seropositivity
stigma. In order to think about the relation between the disease as a private
matter and its metamorphosis into a public matter. Metaphors linked to HIV and AIDS
have accompanied generations, identities and inclinations showing the cultural dress
of this status. How do you think new generations can demolish this vision and how can
masculine intimacy be re-narrate in light of this political perspective?

AURORA: The only way to kill a cultural stigma is getting educated about it. And in order to
educate oneself a conversation is always necessary. Art is simply able to open conversations,
often in the most powerful and effective ways.

SIMONE: The artist decided not to answer the question.

TOMAS: I have always observed how in the west, but specifically in Italy and in Rome, people’s
relation with their bodies and sex is filtered through a constant veil of guilt. We
could argue that this might be related to the catholic idea of family and gender which
is constantly being deconstructed by the youth; so it comes as no surprise that themes
like seropositivity, AIDS and STDS in general are such big taboos in Italian culture. It
is ironic because the issue is handled with a sort of “omertà”, if you don’t talk about it,
it ceases to exist. This dangerous and common fallacy needs to be addressed, clearly
social media and younger generations are changing the narrative, but it is a constant
fight in a culture that instead of prioritising awareness, prefers to protect old patriarchal
If we dress these topics, the portrayal of masculinity will inevitably shift.
Change is inevitable, it is just a matter of noticing it and deciding to to be a part of it or