Aldo Runfola was born in Palermo in a working-class neighborhood between the four walls of his home.
Eight days later his birth was registered. On documents his official birthday is December 24th.
He and his mother live in a rented room just a few meters from a railway line. One night, startled awake by a passing train, he’s shocked to discover he’s alone. He spends a great deal of time in the countryside with his maternal grandparents. His mother moves to a city in Northern Italy.
He remains in Palermo, entrusted to an old married couple named Maria and Giuseppe (Joseph), a fact he considers anything but chance, like the false birth date. He attends the first three years of elementary school in a public school. He joins a small band of ragamuffins. During religious processions, they build rudimentary altars, sell “little saints,” cards with the effigies of Saints.
He spends his summers in the Carcilupo countryside. Fascinated by threshers and the grain harvests that overflow many of the surrounding rooms and silos.
His father decides to handle his education personally from this point forward. Reluctantly, Maria and Giuseppe put him on the train that will take him to Milan, away from them. He is enrolled in a religious institute run by Barnabiti fathers in Vigevano. He speaks little more than dialect.
After three long, unhappy months, he is enrolled in a different religious institute – the Rosmini Bolongaro di Stresa, located on Lake Maggiore – following the advice of friends of his father’s who live in a nearby town and would later become a second adoptive family.
He spends winter and the following months in a Kinderheim in Gressoney Saint Jean, in Val d’Aosta. He prepares for his fifth-year exams with a private tutor. He falls in love with the 18-year-old daughter of the director of the institute. He witnesses, and sometimes participates in, acts of cruelty. Other times he’s the victim of said acts.
He studies in Zug, Switzerland, in a private institute. He spends his vacations in a summer camp in Germany’s Black Forest.
The second consecutive year in Zug. Kept back in Latin, he spends the summer alone in a hotel on Elba Island. He fails the subsequent make-up exam.
He attends middle school in Lodi, at the Salesian religious institute.
For the first time, he lives with his father in Milan. Enrolled in public school, he is expelled for insubordination after just a few months. Beginning in January he moves to Germany, on the Tegersee, where he studies German. He wears sealskin jackets and takes mountain walks. In the spring, he spends several months in the south of France in a girls’ school, the only male aside from the teachers, studying French.
He returns to Zug.
At semester’s end he is sent away and never readmitted. These are tumultuous, indecipherable years. Indiscriminate drug use. Reading Nietzsche moves him. In September he runs away to Istanbul. He plans or dreams of working, armed and dangerous, selling stolen Ford Transits between Turkey and Afghanistan. He’s not up to the task.
He tries to recover lost time by taking the last two years of high school in a single year. In January, after two months of daily fevers, he learns he’s sick with tuberculosis. He stays in the pulmonary illness wing at the University of Pavia hospital through June. He comes out fat and bloated, unrecognizable. Despite this, he takes his exams. He fails. His father supports him via amphetamines.
He moves to his mother’s city, into a small apartment near hers. Once again he attempts to pass two years of high school in one fell swoop. In December he abandons school and moves to Rome. He works as a film assistant. In March he decides to travel to Palermo to visit his old “parents.” They still live on the same street, though in a different building. Maria still keeps his toys, and proudly displays them as tokens of her love. They walk together around the neighborhood on foot, so that everyone will see them, will know that he’s returned. The first photographic self-portraits with a self-timer. He sees a picture of the face of the girl he’ll marry in a book for the first time.
In Palermo, as a private student, he finally earns his high school diploma. During a break between exams a disturbing fact – the ingestion of a massive dose of some not-well-identified drug – affects him deeply, and the consequences will be felt further on. Maria and Giuseppe die just a few months from one another. The only witnesses to a fundamental part of his life disappear.
He’s hired as a postal worker on a limited contract. Following a violent fight with his father over a woman, he leaves for Munich and then Berchtesgaden. Here he teaches Italian and finds work as a hotel waiter. Returning to Milan, he learns of the tragedy that has struck the owners, whose only daughter was massacred by her husband in a fit of passion, along with their little girls. He would refer to this episode thirty years later in a novella. He meets and marries B. in Positano. He returns to studying philosophy. He reads Pasolini, fascinated first and foremost by the polemicist.
Divorce. He studies and translates Wittgenstein. Despite encouraging results, he despairs of becoming a “philosopher.” He lacks, he claims, a discursive intelligence. He leaves the university. He takes on occasional work, translations, in the perennial search of a “vocation.”
He works as night doorman in a small downtown hotel. He starts painting. During a nighttime raid the police arrest six clients, and he too is taken to the police station. He starts painting fulltime. He meets C. He has his first solo show.
He becomes convinced, over these years, that painting is not the expressive means best-suited to his personality. He experiments. He becomes separated from C., interrupting a relationship that had lasted for ten years. He meets V. He doesn’t find success as an artist, but his production now includes characteristics that will prove permanent, and which he can unreservedly consider his own. The phrase “Mi piace, Non mi piace” (I like it, I don’t like it) appears in spring of 1990 and decrees his independence from every form of external judgment.
His second solo show. The first embroideries: minimal, impersonal phrases.
His third solo show. Discouraged by the apparent uselessness of his efforts, he seriously considers moving somewhere else. His father dies. He travels in Africa, then to New York, for the first time. He’s surprised to discover that people don’t shoot one another from car windows, as a certain cinematographic mythology maintains.
He spends three years as a commuter in NY. He works intensely, at the same time collecting a long series of disappointments in his contacts with the art world. He marries V. in Manhattan, one splendid April morning. He’s too isolated.
He moves to London. His work difficulties are permanent, and apparently irresolvable. N. is born on December 20th, 1999. His attempts to join the artistic community prove a failure.
New change of address. From London to Monte Grande, in the mountains, on Lake Como.
The gallery owner he started with offers him a second chance. He produces editions of artworks that date back to more than ten years earlier and which were never exhibited.
His exhibitions now progress with a certain regularity. He writes and publishes Dopo Lenz (After Lenz), presenting it in Milan as one of the artworks in his show.
He starts filming his first videos. He presents his Trilogy in Berlin. He elaborates a form of “public writing” inside the Modena train station. He’s invited to the Locarno film festival to participate in “Play forward.”
He has lived fulltime in Berlin since September.