Masks Unveiled pt. 1

The first time I met Victoria Ignis, in the mid ‘90s, I was about 25 years old and was making a living as a warehouse worker for a big food company. For a while, I was an effective barcode in the perfect “make–consume–die” machine. But at some point, I had become a useless and illegible barcode. I had lost every hope that I could find the meaning of my life: work, sport, love, family… everything felt useless, and nowhere around me I could find someone who truly felt realized.

I tried athletics first, training obsessively for years, then alcohol and drugs became my shelter from a reality that was insurmountable and insuppressible. As a natural consequence of my inability to make sense of my life, depression became my daily companion and, for some hours at night, the pain of being forced to live like a randomly thrown-in-the-world puppet was clouded by drugs effects. But pain became unbearable– sometimes not even the drugs could hide it–when, on top of my own inability to find a meaning and a purpose, I also came to the conclusion that other people, possibly everybody, felt the same, and that maybe life itself was a defeat, even when you’re the son of a rich businessman or a Hollywood actor.

At night I went to sleep hoping not to wake up anymore. I wanted to hide, to cancel myself, to slowly drift into unconsciousness, into nothingness. I was tired of thinking about who I was or my life.

When a human being realizes his powerlessness, when he sees that he’s mechanical, that he doesn’t really have any will and when existence pushes him into a corner, suffocates him, squashes him, and gives him no way out… there and then are created the right conditions for something great to happen. It wasn’t a coincidence that, during those excruciating years, a very unusual event occurred: one night, while I was out with friends, for the very first time I could truly See through their pain.

We were in a Turin pub (it’s one of the European cities that has more), chatting nonsense, joking and laughing. To a distracted eye, we’d look like an average group of friends in a average pub and on an average night. After all that’s why people go out at night: to have fun, drink, and possibly have the opportunity to know a new place and meet new people… then they go to bed. And the morning after they go to work: they spend eight hours in an office or a factory or they drive around to sell stuff, looking forward to the end of the day so they can meet their friends or go home to their family. So goes a day spent waiting for the night, a week spent waiting for the weekend, a year spent waiting for the holidays, thirty years spent waiting for the pension, and a whole life spent waiting for death… liberating death. All is planned to escape the insuppressible pain of a purposeless, meaningless life, with nothing to hold on to.


All of a sudden, as if a window opened inside me, I started seeing differently: time slowed down and colors appeared shinier and brighter. It looked as if there was more light in the pub, but this light actually came from inside the people and things. And the voices, all the voices and sounds, even music, felt distant and indiscernible. In that “suspended” state of consciousness, my friends and other people’s facial expressions revealed their true selves: I could spot the pain hiding in their laughs. They weren’t laughing, but rather grinding their teeth as if they were trying not to cry. They weren’t joking, but crying their anger out. They weren’t patting each other on the back, but expressing their repressed anger. None of them was content.

All of them, men and women, were busy trying to make their mask look reliable and genuine. None of them was happy. Obviously, if I had asked they’d have replied: “Of course I’m happy… can’ t you see? I’m laughing, therefore I’m happy… we all are, we are drinking and laughing together… come on, drink, what’s that sad face of yours, don’t spoil the evening”.

We used to go out to have a laugh, to show that we were “someone” and that we had an identity, to pretend we hadn’t fail our life. We were a group of disappointed, unhappy people that felt obliged, even to themselves, to laugh and joke every night. We had to wear our happy masks, because admitting to be unhappy would have meant admitting we had failed!

Those weren’t happy nights out with friends, never had been; they were just awkward escape attempts from the pain of living without a real purpose and a dream. Summer holidays, pension and an imitation of the perfect family can replace a real purpose as long as human beings live in a hypnotic state. When they start to awaken, to regain consciousness, these band-aids stop working, and appear weak and inconsistent.

(to be continued)

[Excerpt from the booklet Alchimia Contemporanea]