Franko B and the Agitation of the Flesh: An Investigation into the Aesthetic, Cultural and Symbolic Significance of Franko B’s Open, Fragmented and Bleeding Body

  • Abstract:

    Franko B opens up his body. He opens it up again and again. He bleeds. It is unbearable. It is beautiful. We are in awe. Why does he do this? What does it mean to render the body open and vulnerable? What does a transgression of the corporeal boundaries of the human body mean for our social, cultural and political identities? This paper aims to understand the cultural significance of the open, fragmented and bleeding body, drawing in particular on the history of Christian theology, iconography and ritual bloodletting, and examining the work of Italian-born performance artist Franko B ( It will explore the transformative and cathartic potential of bloodletting in light of Christian rituals in which blood is considered to have an essentially communicative function, arguing that Franko’s bloodletting performances embody a viscerally-charged form of communication that challenges traditional reception processes and engenders a spectatorship of witnessing. Furthermore, it will attempt to read Franko’s performance-based objects in light of the medieval cult of relics, arguing that they serve an essentially memorial function in recovering some of the ’liveness’ of his performative works. It will also examine the threat of contamination posed to the audience during bloodletting performances, which is particularly pertinent given that Franko B was a gay male artist producing bloodletting works at the height of the AIDS epidemic, in order to investigate contemporary issues surrounding blood, disease, sexuality and gay/lesbian identity. Exploring themes of sacrifice, contamination and redemption, this paper will investigate the cultural and symbolic implications of Franko B’s exploration into the limits and possibilities of his own corporeal boundaries. It will conclude that the ritualised and penetrated male body in both ’primitive culture’ and Christian theology exists in a liminal state of formlessness and ambiguity that challenges the distinct categories of male and female, culture and nature, form and matter, therefore challenging the idea of identity as exclusively heteronormative and heterosexual.