Hulk’s Toys by Tommaso Barsali

This is the story of a man and his self-made toys.

It’s a project on the life and art of Franco Bellucci, a poetic tale of his past and present, an examination of his creations in their ambiguity of works of art, toys and creative expressions, documenting a humane alternative to institutionalization of mental problems.

Franco Bellucci lived for four decades, since his childhood, detained in an asylum in Volterra, Italy, due to his compulsive destructivity towards objects. For fifteen years, he was constantly tied to his bed, as a means of containing his great force, until, in 1978, a reform inspired by psychiatrist Franco Basaglia closed down all asylums.

Franco had to live in the limbo of a decaying asylum, before an alternative to confinement was found: in 1998, he was finally accepted in an open facility in Livorno, for institutionalized people that, like him, could not take care of themselves anymore. At first, they called him Hulk, but there, finally, his condition was respected and his creativity encouraged. Instead of destroying, he started re-creating, making strange objects by tying together all kinds of materials into powerful works of art, that he considers his toys. Since then, his compulsive destructivity has almost ended.

The project is ideally divided in three parts: the first one, in b/w, is about Franco's everyday life in the health facility, his brother, his toys. The second one is a collection of colour still life photographs where I examined his toys in their ambiguity of works of art, toys and creative personal expressions. The third part, in b/w, is a short collection of pictures taken in the ex-asylum of Volterra where he lived for fourty years, now abandoned.

The closing picture is a photograph of the ex-asylum in Trieste, where Franco Basaglia, as the director of the mental institution, together with his staff, first started the long haul for the recognition of rights of the patients as persons, by opening the gates and letting the patients make their peaceful demonstration in the streets. That was the first public act that eventually lead to the promulgation of the reform bearing his name, in 1978.

The question that came after this law was "outside, but where?". Once freed from the tragedy of asylums, new forms of care have to be re-invented for the people affected by mental problems. The question has been only partially resolved, more than thirty years after, and still has to find appropriate answers. My personal opinion is that taking the exceptional story of Franco Bellucci as a positive example, the solution may start only from the fundamentals of humanity, in being humans among humans.

Quotes from Franco Basaglia writings on psychiatry and the situation of the asylums in Italy constitute the theoretical and cultural background for this project. Indeed, without a revolutionary law like the one inspired by Basaglia, Franco’s story would not have been possible, as he would still be tied to his bed in an asylum, dreaming of his toys.

One can survive his own and others' madness, and taste a better life, only when finally receiving a little humanity, a chance to express freely, and to be considered someone altogether different from the mental sufferings endured, a person before a patient, a human being before his disease.

I think that Franco does what he can to change the world as he sees it, he has done it all his life, destroying or creating, always courageously.

Year: 2011
Photographed in: Livorno, Volterra, Trieste, Liège (Belgium), Florence
Camera used: Leica M7, Canon Mark II

2 Responses to “Hulk’s Toys”


  1. more then half of the power of your work is not yours but the power of franco, but no one could have done it better

  2. Karel, thanks for your comment. I became much more interested in documenting the story with time, rather than dividing hypothetical merit between the toys and my pictures, because of what the story represents about how society conceives mental problems, and this is what’s important in my opinion. Everything started from the fascination for the toys, however. Best, tommaso

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