About Marzili Portraits

Marzili Portraits: From Documentary to Performance

30 portraits by Gerardo Garciacano

In cooperation with Fondation JETZT KUNST
and Freibad Marzili

Vernissage: October 20th, 2024
Finissage: December 15th, 2024
Grounds of Freibad Marzili in Bern

Doris, 61
Petra, 42

Beach balls, äuä dry bags, sunglasses, pool noodles, bikinis, swim trunks, towels, tattoos, and tangas. And skin, lots of it, young and old, telling the story of a lifetime coming to an end or one just begun. What began as a documentary endeavor swiftly took on a performative dimension. The studio lights and a blue wall transformed a spot in the public swimming pool into a stage; the camera took the role of the audience, the photographer assumed the role of the director, and the individuals being photographed became the actors of their own story. Marzili Portraits is a celebration of the yearly ritual of bathing in the Aare, a time of renewal and recharging before the upcoming winter. This tradition brings together individuals and groups from very diverse backgrounds in the city of Bern.

Constanze, 60
Philipp, 43
Sabine, 58

About the Project

From 2020 to 2023, I photographed every summer at Freibad Marzili in Bern. I set up a camera and two lights in front of a blue wall adjacent to the information screen. I began this project with the assumption that few people would consent to being photographed in their bathing suits. However, to my surprise, in the first year alone, I captured approximately 200 participants. This number doubled in 2021 and continued to rise steadily in both 2022 and 2023. To date, I have photographed over 1000 individuals, and gathered a collection of more than 5000 portraits.

I started the Marzili Portraits, like other series in my Street-Portraits Project, to shed light on the stories hidden within our everyday attire through the formal portrait. The project delves into clothing choices and our individual and collective identities, exploring how the ancient ritual of dressing up expresses our deep need for belonging and helps to define different social groups. I believe that, just like our everyday clothes, the seemingly simple appearance of bathing suits also provides a canvas in which our social affiliations, cultural roots, and personal narratives are inscribed. In the case of Marzili Portraits, the revealing of the skin, with its tattoos, scars and wrinkles unveils even deeper stories about the subjects portrayed.

I began the project with minimal direction, treating the volunteers as conceptual figures in a documentary catalog. At times, I arranged miniature scenes with strict poses, aiming to accentuate existing or imagined stories within subjects, couples, or groups. These minimal narratives remain open for interpretation by the viewer. By the third year, Marzili regulars became familiar with the project. During sunny weekends, lines formed as people eagerly awaited their turn. They began to pose and perform, actively participating in the process by showcasing tattoos, attire, and companions. Through their active involvement, they crafted their own portraits, sharing their Marzili experience through their performance.

Kerstin, 40
Saskia, 34
Dominik, 26

The Exhibition

For the exhibition in October 2024 I have selected 30 portraits (ca. 100x80cm). They  will hang in the changing rooms of Marzilibad. Viewers will be invited to enter and playfully explore each cabin to discover who’s inside. The changing room serves as the threshold that marks the transition between people’s  everyday clothes into the distinct Marzili look. Just as individual bathers look at themselves in the changing room mirrors, the community sees itself reflected in the diverse narratives of the Marzili Portraits

Exhibiting the Marzili Portraits in their original setting, rather than in a traditional museum space, brings it back to its roots and invites a deeper connection between the artwork and the community and the local rituals it represents. It also celebrates the cultural richness of Marzili within the broader tapestry of Bernese society.

Daniela, 64
Simone, 56
Philipp, 40 and Laurin, 2

The Catalog

Considering the abundance of exceptional portraits beyond the 30 selected, I initially planned to publish a catalog together with the exhibition to offer more individuals the documentation they deserve and to be able to show more of the portraits. However, due to time limitations, I have decided to treat the catalog as a separate project, and I am planning to release it next year.

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