That genius of Bolo Paper: interview with Marco Nicotra
"It makes you laugh, but it also makes you think". If I had to describe in a few words Bolo Paper, an independent publishing label founded in 2011 by the Milanese graphic designer, typographer and artist Marco Nicotra, I would probably (and trivially) choose these. But to understand this irreverent editorial project a little better, I asked a few questions to its creator.
Marco is not Bolo, he is keen to point this out immediately at the beginning of a FaceTime call that does not hide my performance anxiety, inevitable if the day before an interview you are reached by a text message that reads: “But don't ask me trivial questions”. In short, Marco is not Bolo, but he perfectly embodies the irreverent and free spirit of his works.
I start immediately with a trivial question (tiè!): Who or what is Bolo Paper
Bolo Paper, unlike how it is perceived, is my personal project. It was born in 2011 from the desire to carve out some time to give vent to my creativity and has been going on for 11 years now. However, it is perceived as a group project based in Bologna and part of the sarcasm of my publications is also based on this misunderstanding. But I must admit that this association with Bologna bothers me a little, I would never have given my project the name of a city, giving it the characteristics and territorial stakes so defined.
Therefore, there is no "we" in Bolus. From the idea to the graphics, from printing to distribution to promotion, manage the entire process of creating your publications on your own. Can you tell us how a Bolo product is born?
I begin by saying that the key word to be able to do everything is determination over time and that is why I hardly collaborate with anyone. I happened to have to deal with people who start a lot of things together, who have a thousand ideas, but then don't get them done.
As for my method, it is probably opposite to that of anyone else because it does not follow a linearity, from idea to development, but rather the opposite happens. For me, both the creative part, therefore the ideation, and the concrete part of product creation are important.
I have a text file that is a sort of database of ideas and above all images from which I let myself be inspired and which I use when needed. I never start a job by saying to myself, for example, “now I'm making a fanzine about feminism”. I always start from a series of images, those collected in the famous file mentioned above, which put together work graphically and visually and which decline over several pages to form a more structured idea. Sometimes I am also amazed at the final product, born almost randomly.
In short, I can't start from a theme like most people do, I can't start a job with a word, to generate creativity I need images. This is another reason why Bolo is not a commissionable project. Often they ask me to collaborate on projects or to make fanzines on a certain topic, but I don't work like that.
I discovered you a few years ago during an event in Milan. Admittedly, your fanzines do not go unnoticed. They are ironic, but I think they make more than one nose turn up. In short, there is sarcasm behind it and one could even glimpse a "political" vein, pass me the term. What is the purpose of your work?
The purpose of my work is certainly not to entertain or at least not only. My goal is to subtly annoy people who become victims of social paradoxes. Fucking feminism, for example, it was created to strike those who take something as legitimate as feminism and lead it to an exasperation that makes it similar to male chauvinism, proposing the same dynamics of power.
Surely the theme of laughing is important because obviously my fanzines, posters, postcards must also be attractive products, but that is not the main objective. Almost all of my titles are intended to delve into the paradoxes that are created daily in society.
This desire of mine to want to annoy can already be understood from the name: the word Bolo does not come from Bologna but from a food bolus, therefore from something annoying and disgusting. I had given the name to the project a bit at random, but in the end it describes exactly the effect I want to create: Bolo Paper is a humor that wants to annoy.
Obviously then there are also nonsense titles, such as Edges The Miao, they are almost objects of art that it seems absurd that someone has printed. For me it is important to alternate the "heaviness" of the topics covered in some titles with the nonsense of others.
With my work I want to make it clear how some untouchable topics, such as children, motherhood or the defense of rights, it is not right that they are so untouchable. Turning up your nose as soon as you try to make a speech that needs to be better analyzed is a prejudice and I want to unhinge precisely these prejudices that arise when certain issues, absolutely right and acceptable, are taken to the extreme.
Another aspect that does not go unnoticed in your works is your exposing the same processes that hide behind graphic design, especially advertising. I think for example of the stock images you use and on which you deliberately leave the watermark. What do you want to communicate with these choices of yours?
I want to highlight a pseudo-paradox, namely the fact that we have free access to an almost infinite series of images in high definition, which for me or for those who do my work, are like the ingredients for making a cake, but which many think are inaccessible. This creates a sort of perceptual crash: it is certified proof that I am creating a fake thing. Furthermore, this communicative style aligns with the internet imagery made up of memes, grainy images, watermarks in plain sight, and which therefore makes certain limits and defects a distinctive trait.
One of your titles that I personally loved the most is the Bolo magazine that we have also selected for ours Secret Mag Club. Released in just three issues, it is a magazine with a level of graphic experimentation that is not seen every day. Do you think you'll ever go back to publishing it or creating more structured magazines like Bolo was?
It was a magazine like other titles, for example Optimus, for me they were micro failures in the sense that there was a lot of work behind them and it took a lot of money to produce them, but they were aimed at a truly niche clientele. These are projects that I will certainly continue to do, but less and less. Bolus became something else when I unconsciously shifted the focus from fanzines and magazines that I did especially for myself, to projects that, while reflecting me, can also become a gift idea and therefore reach more people. Furthermore, making a structured magazine takes a lot of time and energy, I prefer to make a new title a week rather than one a year.
Your work as a contemporary artist, however, does not end with publications in print. You have an instagram account with a bio that reads “Conducting an anthropological study on Tiktok”. In addition to making your followers smile, what are the projects behind your research?
Bolo is tied to paper but it might not be, it's an experiment in which I gradually decide what to reinvigorate and what to let die. With the first lockdown I had to figure out how to keep the instagram channel alive, which was very tied not only to my products but also to live events, so the idea of sharing videos from TikTok came a little by chance. At first I didn't know if this idea would have a connection with my project or not, several people wrote to me to tell me that sharing those TikToks could damage my editorial work. Then I realized that it was an experiment perfectly in line with what I do.
In fact, I take videos that make sense in their context and propose them completely decontextualized. What, looking at them, creates the cringe effect is precisely the resemantization of these videos in my context, because you watch them and you don't know what value to give them. It is exactly the same effect that my fanzines cause. In short, it must not be funny, it must make people understand the paradoxes we see every day.
I don't know what future this experiment will have, I'll think about it calmly.
Rite question. What is the point of a printed publication today? Is printed paper really doomed to die?
For me the meaning of a paper product today is one hundred compared to the zero of a digital product. I started collecting fanzines and picture books as a child and for me they are essential because if I did not have a physical counterpart I would not be able to draw inspiration.
Saying that paper is destined to disappear is a generic way of highlighting that a certain type of publishing, of which I do not feel I belong, is destined to downsize. But the fanzine, posters and many magazines, in my opinion will always exist because they cannot be replaced by a digital product, but also because they constitute a sort of status symbol, they serve to give a tone to the person who buys them, they are a sort of fetish and there is no reason for them to disappear, a bit like vinyl. Obviously we are talking about market niches, products destined for certain social bubbles.
This is to say, ultimately, that the paper will not disappear, but that it is not the raw material that makes the difference, it is the way in which it is used.
You have been active since 2011 and know the Italian indie publishing scene very well. How are you doing?
It is a very lively environment, we have many publishing festivals, more than I see in other countries, so there is a great desire to do. Obviously in these eleven years I have seen many projects born and die, in part I think it depends not so much on the value in themselves of the projects, but on the fact that they are almost always group projects and groups create conflicts, it is more difficult for them to remain standing for over 10 years. But it is a beautiful environment, there is a great desire to experiment, for example, lately many are recovering intaglio printing techniques with movable type. It is wonderful that there are projects that produce themselves, but I don't know how many manage to make them an economic force.
I also think of Bolo Paper, which was born with the purpose of venting creatively and not with that of making money, even if there are some months when my main income derives from Bolo. I'm happy to see that the things I do sell makes me more creative, but I definitely don't want to make it my main job because I couldn't afford to make mistakes and experiment as much as I want.
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