Ernesto “Che” Guevara was murdered on October 9, 1967, by the Bolivian 2nd Ranger Battalion. Che was captured alive on October 8, but the Bolivian regime feared a trial would rally support for the revolutionary cause, and decided to summarily execute their wounded prisoner. A CIA agent instructed the executioners to shoot Che from the neck down, to falsely claim that he died from wounds received in battle.11
Declassified documents on the death of Che Guevara, compiled by Peter Kornbluh, as part of National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 5. Published by The National Security Archive, George Washington University.

Roughly four years later, on the morning of April 1, 1971, a young woman entered the Bolivian consulate in Hamburg claiming to be an Australian tourist seeking travel advice, and requested a meeting with the consul, Roberto Quintanilla Pereira. Quintanilla was (in)famous for ordering the amputation of Che’s hands after his murder, which he delivered to his superiors as a trophy. That action made him a target for the ENL (National Liberation Army). Fearing for his life, Quintanilla requested to be assigned overseas. But moving to Hamburg proved futile: as he sat down for his meeting with the “Australian tourist,” she shot him at close range. The shots alerted Quintanilla’s wife, however, and in her hasty escape the mysterious woman lost her revolver. The story of Quintanilla’s murder is the starting point for Marco Poloni’s Codename Osvaldo—Case Study One: The Pistol of Monika Ertl (2013–14), the first of two installations that constitute Poloni’s current Berlin exhibition.

Monika Ertl—Quintanilla’s alleged executioner—was the daughter of Hans Ertl, Leni Riefenstahl’s director of photography, who later became General Rommel’s preferred cameraman. Hans Ertl moved to Bolivia after the war, in pursuit of a career as documentary filmmaker. Several of his wildlife films are displayed in the gallery, alongside forensic documents showing the floor plan of the Bolivian consulate and the crime weapon. Monika Ertl, who often worked with her father, is seen holding fish in front of a microphone, or forcing a piranha to bite the tip of a cigarette.

Monika had a strong motive for wishing Quintanilla dead: on September 9, 1969, Quintanilla tortured to death Guido “Inti” Peredo, Che’s heir at the head of the ENL, with whom Monika had an intimate relationship. Always boastful, Quintanilla made a gaudy display of Peredo’s dead body. Ironically, a photograph of Quintanilla’s naked corpse, lying in the morgue, also made it to the press. In his upper torso one can see bullet entry wounds, three in total, in the shape of a V for Victory.

The revolver left behind at the scene was traced to Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, who had purchased it in Milan on July 18, 1968. Feltrinelli is also the thread that connects Marco Poloni’s first case study The Pistol of Monika Ertl (2013–14) to his second one: The Orgosolo Laboratory Project (2015). Born into one of the wealthiest families in Italy, Feltrinelli joined the Italian Communist Party in the postwar period. He founded the publishing house Feltrinelli in 1954, and published the writings of Fidel Castro, whom he had met in Havana. It was Castro who gave him the codename “Osvaldo.” In 1967, while travelling to La Paz to meet Régis Debray, he was also detained by Quintanilla, but swiftly released at the behest of the Italian government.

In The Orgosolo Laboratory Project, Poloni focuses on Feltrinelli’s allegiance to the separatist cause of Sardinia, an island where a centuries-old culture of banditry forged an unlikely alliance with the militant left. Poloni collected the pamphlets and books Feltrinelli published, like those of Antonio Gramsci—who was born in Sardinia—mapping out the installation around Orgosolo’s Popular Assembly: the only case of successful self-governance in postwar Italy. A photographic archive, given to Poloni by a Sardinian bandit who spent 20 years in prison, ties these materials together. Feltrinelli’s image also reoccurs throughout the exhibition: he is depicted playing basketball with Fidel Castro (La Havana, 1964); posing in a spread for Vogue Uomo, photographed by Ugo Mulas; and appearing in a film by Gerard Malanga, for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests series (1964–66). “Codename Osvaldo” is a study in forensics and iconography, revolving around the question of the revolutionary subject.

All of Poloni’s characters meet an untimely end. Feltrinelli was found dead at the foot of a pylon of a high-voltage power line, near Milan, apparently killed in a botched attempt to cause a blackout, though forensic reports claimed his body had been tied to the pylon before the explosion. Monika Ertl returned to Bolivia, where, along with Régis Debray, she began to plot the kidnapping of former SS Captain Klaus Barbie, advisor for the Bolivian Interior Ministry and a friend of her father’s; having heard of her plan, he had her killed in an ambush.

Authoritarian regimes, as Marco Poloni notes in a wall text, have a tendency to “exhibit dead revolutionaries as trophies, starting with the anonymous 1871 photograph of bodies of executed Communards in Paris.” The photos of Che’s dead body were also widely circulated, though they didn’t flatter the henchmen: Che was likened to Mantegna’s dead Christ.22
Andrea Mantegna’s The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, circa 1480.
But either photography nor any other optical technology can capture structural oppression; photography can only capture violence. Feltrinelli had seen Alberto Korda’s picture of Che in the photographer’s house in Cuba. Within six months of Che’s assassination, he sold over two million posters bearing the famous picture, which kept Che eternally alive as a revolutionary icon. A third image, depicting a wounded and weak Che, surrounded by his captors, was kept hidden—it was a dangerous document, but somehow the CIA agent at the scene couldn’t resist taking it.