Italian artists Yervant Gianikian (Merano, 1942) and Angela Ricci Lucchi (Rome, 1942–2018) are both pivotal figures in avant-garde cinema, their work centred on films and filmic, compilation-based installations which explore the twentieth-century’s major wars and the ideologies that occasion them. This programme is a retrospective with the catastrophe of war as its fulcrum and includes the international premiere of the artists’ last film Frente a Guernica (In Front of Guernica, 2023).
This artist duo give a voice to film archives from the first half of the twentieth century, putting them through a series of transformations described as “the analytical camera”: a poetic-temporal machine in which sequences of bombings, exodus, mutilations, mass graves and daily life on the front undergo radical shifts in colour and are slowed down and sped up and set to hypnotic music and sharp poetic writing, leading to an understanding of history as a continuous space-time, an on-repeat loop of violence in a circular and repetitive time. By employing this eternal return they emphasise not only the distinction between past and present, but also how many of the themes substantiating their gaze on the twentieth century (fascism, brutality, colonial repression) reverberate in our present. In Gianikian and Ricci Lucchi’s words: “Our films and installations explore history that has defined our present as it is. We do not use archive per se, but use that which has been carried out to speak about today, about ourselves, about the horrors that surround us. The work of the artist is to fight against the violence that engulfs us from east to west. From the start, our work has been against violence towards the environment, towards animals, against the violence man inflicts on man”.
The retrospective has been put together in close dialogue with Gianikian and includes seven feature-length films on the representation of subjects, events and technology in the First and Second World Wars. It starts with I diari di Angela-Noi due cineasti. Capitolo secondo (Angela’s Diaries: Two Film-makers, 2019), a homage to Ricci Lucchi. The two films that follow serve to frame a constellation on war and survival.
In parallel with this series is the unveiling of the artists’ installation Frente a Guernica (In Front of Guernica) in the exhibition Machinations, a work comprising a selection of watercolours, manifesto-posters, made by Angela Ricci Lucchi and the looped screening of the last film, commissioned by Museo Reina Sofía, made by the duo. The origins of this film lie in the last script both artists wrote together — following their visit to the Museo in 2014 to present the film Pays barbare (Barbaric Land, 2014) — and are influenced by what at the time was new museography around Picasso’s Guernica, inside the context of the Spanish Civil War. Following Ricci Lucchi’s death in 2018 and after the pandemic and extensive research carried out from their broad film archive, Gianikian realised the project in 2023: a new single-channel film conceived as a grand historical fresco in which the mural is a symptom and symbol of catastrophic times.