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UCL European Institute

Illuminations -  the films of Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi


Yervant Gianikian & Angela Ricci Lucchi are pioneers of found-footage films that testify to the spectres of war, genocide and colonialism. Renowned for their landmark experimental work From the Pole to the Equator, they have redefined the documentary form, manipulating rare archival footage through re-photography, hand-tinted colour, and adjustment of the film’s speed.

On 21 Nov 2011, we dedicated an evening to three of their films, in cooperation with the Italian Cultural Institute in London and coinciding with a retrospective held at the Tate Modern.

Lo specchio di Diana (The Looking Glass of Diana)
1996, video, colour, soundtrack by Keith Ullrich, 31’

diana The title of this film refers to the lake at Nemi outside Rome, a place sacred to the goddess Diana. The notorious emperor Caligula kept huge pleasure galleys here for recreation. When archeologists drained the lake and reconstructed the vessels during the Fascist period, Mussolini himself paid a special visit. The documentary footage of the events is re-worked by Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi against the grain of the original propaganda message in which the glories of ancient Rome and the glories of Mussolini’s empire were presented as continuous. The second part, using original film of the campaign in Tripoli in 1926, underlines the ruthless militarism of the regime.  The images are accompanied by the haunting minimalist sound track composed by Keith Ullrich.


Animali criminali (Criminal Animals)
1994, 16mm, colour, silent, 7’ 

animali The idea of ‘criminal animals’ is drawn from the writings of Cesare Lombroso, the criminologist who is the subject of one of Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi’s early ‘scented films’ - Cesare Lombroso. Sull’odore del garofano (Cesare Lombroso. On the Scent of Carnation, 1976). In a series of tableaux vivants, drawn from old film footage, animals are placed one in front of another to illustrate how in Nature every relationship is essentially between hunter and prey, life and death, in a ferocious struggle for existence. For Lombroso, human society, like Nature, is organised on the principle of the survival of the fittest.. This short exemplifies the way that Gianikian and Ricci Lucchi’s films use human attitudes towards and treatment of animals as a metaphor for how life and death are understood in society.


Mario Giacomelli: Contacts
1993, 35mm, black and white, 13’

ItalianFilm4s Unedited footage of the Italian photographer Mario Giacomelli. Mario Giacomelli came from an impoverished family. He started out as a Sunday painter, and by the late 1950s had become Italy's foremost photographer. His work focuses on the themes of fate, old age and death, and man and the earth.

ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF THE ARTISTS


Yervant Gianikian, born in Italy in 1942 of Armenian origin, studied architecture in Venice. Angela Ricci-Lucchi, born in 1942 in Lugo di Romagna, studied painting in Austria with Oskar Kokoschka. Living in Milan, they have worked with film since the mid-seventies, firstly making scented films, and then re-working the old films in their collection that they tinted, toned and re-edited. Their oeuvre now consists of over 40 films of different lengths. Their most recent short work, Notes sur nos voyages en Russie 1989 – 1990, was included in this year’s Venice Film Festival.


book cover

Co-curator and cultural historian Robert Lumley (UCL) discussed the work with the filmmakers and with Robert Gordon (Cambridge). Robert Lumley is Professor of Italian Cultural History at UCL. His new book on the filmmakers Entering the Frame: Cinema and History in the Films of Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi (Peter Lang, 2011) was presented as part of the event. Robert Gordon is Professor of Italian at Cambridge University and author of, among other books, Primo Levi's Ordinary Virtues: From Testimony to Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2001).