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Pier Paolo Pasolini (March 5, 1922 – November 2, 1975) – 90th Birthday Tribute

27. January 2012 – 1. May 2012

Pasolini’s life was supposed to end on a day when All Saints Day fell on a Sunday, as was the case in 1958, 1969, and 1975. A painter and friend of Pasolini’s since 1948, Giuseppe Zigaina, pursued the trail of leads in Pasolini’s works that reveal a suicide planned and prepared long in advance. According to Zigaina, Pasolini was planning his suicide for the year 1969, but then came to know Maria Callas, who helped him confront an artistic crisis, and decided to postpone his death until 1975. For Pasolini, all possible dates after 1975 would be too uncertain, not least because of his advancing age. Zigaina’s hypothesis has given shape to our tribute. This rite of individually-chosen death on an Ostia beach is the starting point from which we approach Pasolini’s life and work.

Human victims – exclusively vigorous young men – are celebrated in many of Pasolini’s films. They are brutally slain, hacked, and scattered in pieces. Their deaths assumed a particularly sacred meaning: they pacify the gods, quench the carnal desires of Mother Earth, create meaning, create solidarity, and relieve the victims of the banality of life. Pasolini, who was seen as a thorn in the side of both of Italy’s large Churches – persecuted by Catholics, who harassed him as a heretic and punished him with overblown accusations, and expelled by communists, because of his decadence and homosexuality – ensured Pasolini’s fierce resistance to the impositions of Italian post-war society. Provocation is the weapon of the underdog, and Pasolini struck out at the class of his own origin – the petty bourgouise. The rural underclass, which would disappear in the course of his life, brimmed with utopian promise for Pasolini. It was ruled by a dynamic anarchy and an unbridled lust; a place where pubescent adolescents were willing to engage on gay adventures due to a lack of contact with the other sex.

This archaic world was threatened by the emerging consumerism, scourged by Pasolini, as the latter destroyed old rural structures and paved the way for an environment that stripped these objects of their desirous quality. The boys of the dreary Roman suburbs offered an escape, as did the later the flights to the third world, which conjured up his desire for archaic erotic fulfillment. The films of his Trilogy of Life, though criticized as consumable pornography, were intended by Pasolini as a celebration of life, and as a resistance to consumerism. In his last film – Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom – Pasolini rejected the utopian power of sexuality. In conjunction with absolute power, it becomes a negative force, a fascist declaration against life, the last indigestible provocation of an anarchic mystic of despair.

Christopher Klimke calls the attempt of special interests to appropriate Pasolini’s life and work “in-ploitiation.” Pasolini himself refused the requests of gay activists to use his voice against social exclusion and discrimination. In Salò, the gay bridal vows are portrayed as a sacrilege, as a great pervision, and as a violation of boundaries. Pasolini had nothing in common with petit bourgeoise gays and the desire for social recognition. For him, homosexuality was a part of his nature; it was something as inevitable as the difference in hair colors. Alberto Moravia sees a considerable displacement of homosexuality in Pasolini’s work; it was simply not featured in his work. Moravia saw Pasolini as very manly, not effeminate, as someone who was interested in ordinary boys, as a pederast. Heterosexual misconceptions? The close relationship between Pasolini and his mother, too, repels Moravia. Superficially considered, Pasolini’s work denies the unnamable, but it does circulate insistently around that unresolved issue, and makes it an unnamed engine of his artistic inspiration.

Our exhibition presents the literary and film work, casts light on Pasolini’s methods of production, and connects work and biography. Short quotations from contemporaries expand the picture of Pasolini. The screenwriter Pasolini, who worked both for prominent and forgotten directors, will be portrayed as well. Here, too, the life of the Roman “Ragazzi” is a primary focus of his work, and gestures to Pasolini’s major works. Books about and by Pasolini: his novels, publications about films, poems, essays, and pamphlets will be shown in the exhibition. Information about Pasolini’s family, mother, friends including Ninetto Davoli, coworkers and muses: Callas, Anna Magnani, Laura Betti, and Silvana Mangana round out the picture. The focus is on Pasolini’s cinematic work, which is documented with posters and photos, and commented upon with quotes from criticism and interviews. Photos show Pasolini on the set. Pasolini’s presence on the camera speaks for itself. Of course, the exhibition is all one “in-ploitation;” an attempt to ascertain whether or not Pasolini’s works are gay art. The ending is as yet unwritten.

Curator: Wolfgang Theis