"We live in a facial society that continuously produces faces," Thomas Macho summed up. Whereas heroes, geniuses and saints lived in memory of their deeds, which were transmitted from generation to generation in myths and stories, the modern visual media usually reduce role models to an iconic image, such as the legendary portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Mao, Che Guevara, Marilyn Monroe, which Hans Belting names in his "Geschichte des Gesichts".
Daniele Buetti is an artist who has made a significant artistic contribution to the media history of the face. In the 1990s he became internationally known by adapting photographs from magazines of the advertising and fashion industries. He tattooed logos, fragments of writing, scars, unusual skin features, and later ornamental arabesques into the immaculate images of flawless faces and bodies. Later, company logos conquered the body as advertising space. By getting under the skin of icons, he simultaneously brought vulnerability, pain, and loneliness back into the images; experiences that are considered essential prerequisites for sanctuary in religions. To this day, Buetti repeatedly and with great skill uses the principle of "defacing" (overpainting) to achieve moments of individualization through interference fields. It is the imperfect, the deviant, sometimes morbid, that brings beauty to its limit and thus makes it visible.
For a long time, the face was considered the primary body part and an "interface" that guaranteed identity. The compassionless, surgical alteration of the face is a literary motif in crime novels, horror films, or science fiction scenarios. In grotesque representations, on the other hand, the whole body becomes the face. The fact that a face could be an empirically observable exterior of an unconscious and emotional interior is hardly relevant in the media anymore. Today, almost every medial face is an aesthetic artifact, a posed, optimized, idealized or masked identity object. Even small children suddenly change their facial expressions when their parents pull out their cell phone cameras. Thousands upon thousands of tutorials teach how to mask one's face for transmission via camera.
This creates a peculiar paradox. We look at faces every day and yet we don't actually see them. In the media context, the natural image seems to have long since been supplanted by media surrogates. In his more recent series of portrait works, Buetti removes celebrities' faces from photographs and replaces the yawningly huge holes with mirror surfaces. In doing so, he is reacting not least to the ever-increasing trend of self-examination and self-documentation. The spatiality in the pictures is created not least by a ring of mounted photo snippets from which the removed portrait could be reconstructed. But the question also remains what one ultimately gets to see when one looks into the emptiness of the picture as a further mirror. "Are you talking to me," is the title of the series. They are disturbingly beautiful masks without faces.
Buetti's early photographic works under the title "Looking for Love" brought the gap between mediatized feelings and real experiences into the picture in an almost inexhaustible way. This gap widened with the turn of the millennium. The horror of the images of death and the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, symbol of the world economy, the war in Iraq with all its cruel consequences, the permanent state of a predicted threat that has long since ceased to be merely a terrorist threat but is just as much an economic and ecological one, the media propagation of a permanent state of emergency and that of fear and terror, have brought about a further shift in the way we deal with images. In war, people lose their faces. In the late 2000s, Buetti leaves the more narrow field of photography and appropriates images of violence and torture through various transfer processes. He abstracts and transilluminates the digital (pre)images, creating new compositions and covering them with laser-cut processed acrylic glass. The long tradition of sacred imagery resonates in these image constructions, based on documentary photographs, reminiscent of architectural mosaics of times past.
Buetti has always been concerned with beauty and the associated transgression of boundaries. Light, measure and color are three aesthetic categories that he analyzed at the beginning of his artistic work with the "Flügelkreuz" tool that he developed. Are there pictures that are not allowed to be beautiful? At what point does ugliness arise? And is the beautiful always the true and good? Is the ugly more authentic? Buetti's "Beauties" found their counterpart in disturbing installations such as "Auf allen Knien" (Zurich 2003) or "Le grand rhume" (Fribourg and Marseille, 2004) and with the grotesque figure of a freak, which Buetti brought to life in a series of works under the overall title "Nothing but you" (2003 - 2009). It is an irritating figure, covered by an ugly rubber mask with a long nose, "loaded with atavistic, autodestructive and sadistic fantasies".
At times, Buetti moves away from representationalism and narratives altogether; at least superficially. In his "Flags" series, optical blurs reign. The sensually abstract color spaces have to do with "flags" only insofar as they quote color combinations. Flags function like logos. They have to be assignable and identifiable in order to recognize what they stand for. They need strong boundary lines. Many national flags resemble abstract color compositions. The more blurred the images are, the more the edges of the color fields blend together. Digital abstractions are created that give rise to other image-immanent spatialities. This can also be interpreted metaphorically. The series was created in the context of a sound installation for the Schirn Kunsthalle, "It's all in the Mind," in which Buetti suggested a color hypnosis. At its center was the idea of a "purification of color" and the question of what happens when color is not seen but perceived through hearing.
Buetti is an aesthete, theorist, and "craftsman" who has been incorporating current media transformations and debates into his work for decades. Buetti's diverse series are conceptually sophisticated and clever. In doing so, they create aesthetic events or individual images. The thematic fields on the cultural history of the face have not yet been exhausted and are currently being written on at breakneck speed. At the moment, with ultimately democracy-destroying platforms such as Facebook, Facetime, face-swapping and facial recognition programs, completely different challenges are being posed to the human face. Algorithms no longer need real faces to construct humanoid features, but can create ever different variations through endless models. On the other hand, the individual face has become reconstructible down to its smallest facial structures, by machines that can read us better than we can read ourselves.