Marco Poloni

There is always more than meets the eye(s) in Marco Poloni’s photos, videos, performances, and the multimedia setups he calls “observation devices” (dispositifs d’observation): All serve to confront us with our perceptual and conceptual blind spots. A particularly concise defense and illustration of the Poloni method is his ninety-second video Mister Locke, . . . , 2002, which dubs a voiceless FBI webcast of what may or may not be a suspected terrorist with an excerpt from the sound track of Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975), where an African opposition leader turns the camera—and thereby turns the tables—on the reporter interviewing him (Mister Locke/Jack Nicholson) with the pronouncement, “Your questions are much more revealing about yourself than my answers will be about me.”

With AKA (Also Known As)—Script for a Short Film, 2002, the work presented in the Project Room at the Centre Culturel Suisse, it is Poloni who turns the tables on the viewer. Like Mister Locke, AKA touches on post-9/11 geopolitics, media representations, and individual psychology, as well as the millennial question of the self and the other. But here, the media-blitz tactics of the video give way to a more understated approach in the form of a photographic storyboard showing twenty-five scenes of a nonexistent film, disposed horizontally around the room in sixty-two numbered stills. But if the accompanying technical indications suggest the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action—three days in the life of the protagonist, who might or might not be a suspected terrorist—the images themselves belong to the new world disorder, where the only certainty, in life as in film, is uncertainty.

Notwithstanding a film-noir aesthetic coupled with settings inspired by the fact and fiction of contemporary terrorist cells (all shot “on location” in Berlin—plus, for the cognoscenti, the specific places where Mohammad Atta lived and studied in Hamburg), there is no real action, criminal or otherwise, to be seen. And if the looplike installation encourages more than one viewing, this serves not to make things clearer but to bring out the ambiguities, contradictions, and gaping holes in Poloni’s script. Not the least of which is that the title character is actually a succession of individuals, most of whom became unwitting actors in the artist’s nonfilm because of their “Middle Eastern” appearance.

In an earlier storyboard, Shadowing the Invisible Man—Script for a Short Film, 2001, Poloni reconstituted the typical itinerary of a clandestine immigrant from the south of Italy to the Swiss border, but the person himself remains invisible “because we cannot see him.” In AKA, the “multiple man,” as Poloni calls him, would seem to be everywhere for what amounts to the same reason: We’re not seeing him but rather the projection of a multiplicity of viewpoints, including that of the omniscient narrator, that of the hypothetical scriptwriter, that of the artist, and, ultimately, our own. But behind the stereotypes and between the “stills,” the “multiple man” (student, websurfer, electronics buff, subway rider, moviegoer, city-dweller, and/or temporary resident) reflects the multiplicity of identities within each of us. It is this visual subtext—Poloni’s way of photographing others as “us” rather than “them”—that makes AKA more than just the nth critique of CNN or CCTV. Poloni, who is perhaps more “multiple” than many of us by virtue of what he terms his “personal nomadology” (including, to date, Amsterdam, Mexico City, Rome, Geneva, New York, Berlin, and Chicago), explains that his “scripts” are also a way for him to explore and appropriate new cities. In the process, he has captured an existential paradox of globalization: Everybody is somebody’s outsider.

Miriam Rosen