In my Divine Triptych (2022) an ironic collage of the Divine Comedy I made on commission, I cast myself in the guise of a contemporary Dante and thought of using my arms to symbolise the Inferno, the Purgatory and the Paradise with popular and universally known gestures. The middle finger represents the devil, condemnation and offence; the typical Italian ‘knuckle’ hand, the request, the stop and wait; the outstretched arm, the call and salvation.
The panels are autonomous but structurally interdependent and conceptually connected; there are, for example, some figures that appear simultaneously in the Inferno and in the Paradise. That’s because I don’t comply to a Manichean worldview but I rather see our existence often unwillingly delirious and as based on ambivalence. Around my arms I placed my damned and my saints – or those waiting to become one.
From Harvey Weinstein to Elon Musk and social media, to Gino Strata, more than a hundred figures placed between old virtues and new vices make up my personal otherworldly theatre and invite the audience to imagine their own.
Placement in the Inferno is not necessarily a ‘declaration of dislike’, Dante himself placed in Hell people he esteemed or for whom he felt compassion, and does not claim to be an absolute and eternal condemnation, not even in the case of murderers. According to some theological interpretations, then, hell is an empty place or destined to become one because Good always triumphs over Evil. Mine is quite crowded, of course not exhaustive, but it will indeed empty out at the end of time, when even the last black hole has evaporated.
This place is a path of transit and atonement, I have chosen to include the overlapping and camouflaged but recognizable logos of the Big Techs that today shape the world and our lives on and offline, in some cases almost seamlessly (Chiara Ferragni and her husband, trapper Fedez). Purgatory involves us all, including me (acedia, top-centre). It is an obligatory passage, assisted and subjugated as we are by apps, tools, media and social media that exalt our virtues at least as much as they exasperate our vices; that make our lives easier and more fun, but at a very high human and environmental cost for which, moreover, we cannot even say we are fully responsible: technology – from the dawn of time – swoops into our existence and changes us much faster than the time it takes to process it.
On my Paradise I placed all representatives of the arts, including sports, but also scientists and benefactors, who are always ‘artists’ perhaps with a talent for pietas and caritas (Gino Strada as an artist of caritas, for example). Again, these are limited and subjective choices, but they should be considered in a very general and paradigmatic sense, each figure being a symbol of an entire class. As per Dante’s description, Paradise is an ethereal place, candid, softly colored, full of music, angelic songs, and mysterious sounds emitted by the motion of the heavens, vibrating crystals (like the one from which David Bowie emerges), sidereal winds and geometric shapes almost unrepresentable, such as the Hypersphere beneath my outstretched hand, described by Dante himself (Paradise XXX, 10-12) as:
Not otherwise the victory that revels,
in eternal joy around the point that overcame me,
and seems enclosed by that which it encloses,
little by little faded from my sight.
In any case, my Inferno is not infinite, nor are my Purgatory and Paradise. They originated the same moment 13.5 billion years ago and will end by thermal death in trillions of years. Everything will be reset, everything will begin again, like a Great Cosmic Reboot. Humanity will be a super-intelligent civilization immanent to the Cosmos, pure Mind consubstantial with Matter, ready to collapse within its own infinite singularity and then be reborn again, elsewhere and at other times, as a new cosmic breath.
“If God is, whence come evil things? If He is not, whence come good?”
ABOUT GOOD AND EVIL: THE SAINTS AND THE DAMNED.
In my hereafter, some characters are half in Hell and half in Paradise, because Evil and Good do not have a Manichaean polarization, they are not eternal, symmetrical and objective, but circular and even interchangeable; they can be the cause of each other, they can be simple logical consequence from certain conditions of the soul in a context. One can do ‘evil’ in the name of ‘good’, as in ideologues: but also ‘good’ through ‘evil’ as in wars or revolutions. Crime can generate mercy and civilization, too much civilization may cultivate vice and crime. Sickness may produce strength; well-being may soften the spirit.
Evil is not necessarily ‘bad’, just as Good is not necessarily ‘good’. Evil is disgust and pain, Good is seduction and enjoyment, but also the opposite. At its origin, evil is chaos and catastrophe, which we ourselves reflect in our dark and irrational depths; it is grief for the sudden and tragic death of the beloved, it is astonishment towards the Ineffable, to the absurdity of existence itsef. Evil is the harm caused, the harm suffered, the resentment and anger, the frustration. It is destruction, damnation, it is involution and closure. It is injustice. Evil can be the release valve for the tensions of the species, the output of a system seeking homeostasis.
Good is containment and expectation, arbitrariness and choice, the principle of order and symmetry, the promise wrested from chaos. It is inclusion and transformation, creative destruction. It is the holy nonsense of going against oneself, for an end that transcends us. It is a rope stretched across the void, it is smiling in the face of the abyss, it is abandonment. It is the exit from oneself.
Dante divides sinners into three macro categories: the INCONTINENTS, the VIOLENTS and the FRAUDULENTS – they are betrayers of something or someone, even of oneself. I have more or less followed this scheme, adding a few categories (please don’t get them super serious). Some of the sins are in “comorbidity” so they could be in more than one group.
Today I would add, in no particular order: the conformists, the well-thinking, the hypocrites, the disinterested, the boring ones, the vulgars, the deluded and disillusioned, the somnolent, the selfish people, the vicious, the sex-fixed, the groupies, the narcissists, the influencers, the mythomaniacs, the megalomaniacs, the control freaks, the noisy spoiled children, those who age badly, the old people who jump the queue, those who drive badly, the tourists, the fake progressives, the social justice warriors, those who doesn’t bother to learn another than native language and, of course, the conspirationists.
FEW REASONED EXAMPLES OF THE DAMNED:
The chimeric monster that leads Dante through the Malebolgies, representing man’s faithless nature, he is my tribute to Gustav Doré, the famous illustrator of the Divine Comedy.
Lu Zhihao, Second Circle, The Gluttons: the obese child (already 53kg at the age of 3) became a meme in 2011, attracting the attention of the Western media who made him a symbol of the Chinese superpower conquering the world. As China’s coastal cities rose, a new more affluent generation of middle-class families are raising increasingly spoiled only children called the ‘little emperors’, leading to an unprecedented and growing plague of obesity in Chinese society.
Harvey Weinstein, Second Circle, The Lustful: once a capable and powerful producer, later convicted of sexual violence and disgraced, he is the incontinent par-excellence, probably pathological, who entered history and the collective imagination as the predator-symbol of a male chauvinist culture that wields power by blackmailing in order to obtain sexual favors, especially in working environments. The denunciation of harassment gave rise to the ‘Me too’ movement which, despite its ‘witch-hunt’ excesses, has uncovered the Pandora’s vase of abuse that for too long has been concealed or hidden for convenience, hypocrisy and fear.
Mario Balotelli, Ninth Circle, Traitors of Talent: I have included the footballer from Bergamo not honoring it, not using is to give back and make others enjoy it. all the more so in his case, a son of Ghanaian immigrants and adopted by an Italian couple, it would have been nice to celebrate him as a symbol of the new generations of immigrants raised in Italy who make it and reach the top in some field. Instead, given his enormous potential, he has made (unfortunately) a mediocre career.
Achille Lauro, Ninth Circle, Art traitors: according to Benjamin’s saying, ‘in those who achieve success dwells a god’, is certainly true in his case, but I do not tolerate imposture. His talent is mainly in his appearance, in the ability to establish himself in the trap scene. Absolutely a lame singer even with the autotune, he used music mainly as a climb to success. He owes it all to the genius of Italian stylist and former Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele who made him a fluid national-popular icon, enhancing his image and exploiting his beautiful suburbanite face with sad eyes. Everything else is boredom. Accomplice a condescending press, really too hasty in exalting and incensing, not only in music, phony sensation of the moment for pure marketing and cultural positioning. LUCIFERINE.
Valerio Fioravanti, Ninth Circle, Traitors of the Homeland (or of Humanity): strange parable, from promising actor at a young age to heinous right-wing terrorist responsible for dozens of murders. I cast him as both violent and a traitor to humanity. They are those who do evil in the name of good. IDEOLOGUE.
Leonarda Cianciulli, Ninth Circle, Traitors of the Hosts: known as the ‘soapwoman of Correggio’, she murdered four women she had hosted in her home with an axe. During the trial, she confessed to having killed the women, destroyed the bodies by boiling them in a cauldron full of caustic soda heated to 300 degrees, created soap bars with rock alum and Greek pitch, dispersed the remains in the cesspit and preserved the blood to bake it in the oven and mixed it with milk and chocolate to make biscuits. Emblematic case his, certainly unbalanced but within a life full of misfortune, abuse, grief and suffering. Her story made it overseas and seems to have inspired the soap scene in Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Fight Club’, as well as several films (‘The Big Boil’) and documentaries.
Judas, Ninth Circle, Betrayers of the Benefactors: I have included the character of Judas from Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth superbly played by Ian McShane in this beautiful film that sublimely transposed the collective imaginary inspired by the Gospels. Who has never imagined Jesus Christ EXACTLY with that face? To betray Jesus is to betray civilization, to betray oneself, to betray the principle of love that holds the world together.
KAWS and CRYPTOPUNKS (NFT), Eighth Circle, The Ruffians and the Counterfeiters: I have included Brian Donnelly aka KAWS as a representative of an art that is more populist than popular, very well paid but not very meaningful, made for covers and social media, like the giant mouse, a kind of evil Micky Mouse, floating in Hong Kong harbor. Economic investors or digital economy entrepreneurs under 30 are crazy about KAWS, and his gadgets are ‘masterpieces’ worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions. The fact that such an esteemed curator like Germano Celant, who has contributed to art and culture with projects that are diametrically opposed to the KAWS phenomenon, has accepted the challenge of curating his exhibition, could mean that popularity and commerce are definitively replacing the old concepts of quality, commitment and content. The sin also lies in the perpetuation of this logic without bothering to change the paradigm of the still hyper money pumped current art system. So, he appears as the logical consequence of a parable that began in the early 2000s with the crazy quotations of which Hirst, Koons and Cattelan are only the best known examples.
NFTs, Eighth Circle, Counterfeiters: traitor to themselves, the latest hype, the latest revolution, the latest technology, actually the greatest child of the traditional art system, overpriced uninteresting stuff. A kind of art movement was born as a countercurrent thing, now already standardizing and conforming. Yet NFTs real potential is to be seen, perhaps in conjunction with diffusion of metaverse on large scale.
AI is “our final invention”as James Barrat puts in his homonymous famosi book. Its somewhat between or beyond good and evil. It can be destructive or the precondition of a giant leap towards a post-biological and post-human and augmented civilisation. Certainly biological flesh & bone humanity and its finite mind is destined to end.
Giovanni Brusca (Mafia guy), Ninth circle, traitor to the country: the material executor of the massacre of Capaci. I was 15 years old and I was abroad, on my first extended stay in Ireland to learn English, I heard the radio talking about this Italian news. The mafia as an anti-state, the mafia as a localized anthropological phenomenon, the mafia originally as honorable way of living, the current entrepreneurial mafia. The ruthlessness, the rigor, the mafia ideology, its historical significance. Judge Falcone’s car crumpled, in which his wife and escort cops also died, with 20 kg of TNT, the car that soared 20 meters into the sky is now exposed as a carcass
Michela Murgia, Octavius Circle, hypocrites: victimhood and passive-aggressive moralistic attitude, typical of the far-left wing activist. I am very ambivalent about her. I loathe the SJW slant, I don’t buy the militancy, I recognize the character and the intelligence. That’s why I chose to include her as a damned with her feet in Paradise: I think deep down her intentions are pure.
Jordan Perterson, excessive “gravitas”: he is a bit of Michela Murgia’s ideal ‘enemy’, I put his feet in hell because his philosophy and worldview is, at times, far too much turned towards a very North American Calvinist exaggerated pragmatism, at times far too tranchant in his reading of reality with a tendency to Manicheism. He, too, is perhaps a victim of his obsession with orderly and morally impeccable model of existence; but, after all, art (and perhaps even the ‘Good’) is often born from chaos, vice, despair, the sacrifice of the ego (of its principle of order); and novelty comes from experimenting: i.e new forms of bonding between people, or choices that challenge tradition. Nevertheless he is an honest, capable, highly educated intellectual, who has the courage to step into his own shadow and question himself.
Fabrizio Corona (gossip TV-figure) Eighth circle, seducers. He put his intelligence, cunning and shrewdness at the service of a profession linked to magazine gossip and trash. Hungry for money and television popularity, he led a ramshackle life devoid of limits, insane, which eventually devoured itself, lived largely between bars. Affected by pathological egocentrism and narcissism.
Lele Mora (TV agent), Eighth Circle, flatterers, ruffians: a capable and intuitive television agent, he has found great power in the popular trash segment of television, he has garnished the lives of soubrettes and more or less climbing models and has contributed to producing a very low-popular TV, capable of nourishing and exasperating imaginary models and behaviour already existing in the provinces. Etc
Emilio Fede (Journalist), Eighth Circle, flatterers, ruffians: the prototype of the ass-licker, natural born flatterer, convinced of the goodness of his flattery, a journalist who is nevertheless skilled but comically biased, always on the side of the most controversial figure Berlusconi.
Wanna Marchi, Eighth Circle, Counterfeiters: exploiting magical thinking, superstition, hypochondria, credulity, illiteracy, the insecurities and complexes of the average Italian, she managed to sell all kinds of scam products and remedies, getting rich over the years until her final defeat and conviction for fraud and swindling together with her daughter.
Magician Otelma, Eighth Circle, magicians and soothsayers: I don’t know how or why, but this magician has found a place on both commercial and public TV. And since TV is the deformed mirror of society, someone had to occupy this place, with divinations, magical practices and esoteric viewpoints on the world. Impressive to see him denuded, on the Isola dei Famosi (VIPs Island) TV program, injuring himself during a skill test of the show. Often mocked, but rather touchy for a magician.
Giucas Casella, Eighth Circle, magicians and soothsayers: another hypnotist magician, famous for his TV stunts in which he made viewers at home cross their fingers during these mega TV hypnosis experiments. Some viewers would call in saying they could no longer untangle their fingers.
Paul Marcinkus, Eighth Circle, Simoniacs: known as the ‘banker of god’, a controversial and shadowy figure in the Vatican, involved in the financial collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, and the IOR affair, the death of Pope John XXIII, and the disappearance of Emanuela Orlando. A true prealate-politician within the Vatican. Guardian of certain ‘arcana empires’ of the faith. The feeling is that he has used his role and office in the Vatican as a platform of power for unknown ends and advantages.
Bernie Madoff, Eighth Circle, thieves: one of the most notorious bankers and swindlers of the last 20 years, he represents the most common sin: reckless enrichment to the detriment of others. There are two striking aspects of this case: one is that enrichment beyond a certain threshold, enrichment per se, has little to do with money, but more with what money triggers and symbolizes deep down; second, the fact that the victims are never entirely passive, but unwittingly accomplice.
Conspiracists and no-vaxxes, Anti-Inferno, the Ignavi (the Uncommitted): these are today’s fresh new sinners, people who fight against imaginary enemies, fight for causes that do not exist, often arrogant, violent, presumptuous; sometimes simply naive, beautiful souls with a low-resolution thinking, unable to cope with or navigate their way through complexity. The ‘conspiracy mentality’ has the traits of paranoid-delusional personality and obsessive-compulsive disorder (confirmation bias). They all share a certain aversion to authority figures (the state, institutions, science, newspapers, everything ‘official’, the ‘mainstream’, etc.).
DAMNED WAITING TO BE REDEEMED IN PURGATORY
Myself: sloth, laziness indolence and neglect.
Cattelan, Hirst, Koons: they represent the art system and its great speculative bubble of the 1990s and 2000s with effects that are still current. Clever and ingenious, hyper-mercified, still active and quite reactive, they gave the impression that one could easily get rich from art and that everyone could be an artist, AMBIVALENT.
Jeff Besos: taxes and exploitation, consumerism. But also goods for all and work for many, accessibility, market paradigm shift.
Elon Musk: visionary genius, he is taking us the first steps as an interplanetary civilisation, but what a controversial character.
Chiara Ferragni and Fedez: the Ferragnis are us or many would like to be. Their damnation in Purgatory is to have their faces out of focus; they must redeem for excessive exhibitionism and vanity.
In general, in my Purgatory we must redeem for the nefarious effects of market economies (called ‘Capitalism’ always in a derogative way by ideologues). Likes on social networks, matches on dating apps, superfluous purchases, junk food, the market economy makes us addicted to anything and does so by exploiting our brains against ourselves. Dopamine, also known as the feeling-good neurotransmitter, is in fact the reward hormone, which is released when we engage in pleasurable activities such as eating sugar-rich foods, when we buy something we like or scroll through our Instagram feed. This is why an unbalanced relationship with dopamine can be very harmful, especially when used as a tool to exploit and induce addiction on people for better control.
What to counteract the excesses and well-being of the market economy? The theological virtues: faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance to which, in an updated version, we could add restraint from excess and intermittent fasting.
FIGURES IN PARADISE
All figures are self-explanatory and just need to be contemplated.