curated by Diego Sileo e Iolanda Ratti
From 4 April to 11 June, the PAC Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea di Milano presents the first solo show in Italy devoted to the visionary and poetic artistic enquiry of Yuri Ancarani (Ravenna, 1972), whose works are based on an original and careful blending of documentary cinema and video art.
Forget your Dreams, curated by Diego Sileo and Iolanda Ratti, presents all of Ancarani’s films in one location for the first time, thanks to a selection that begins with his earliest works and moves on to his best known and celebrated ones, along with a new work conceived for the PAC.
With the same lucid, impartial gaze that has always characterised the artistic point of view, the show endeavours to present the most authentic aspects of his production, composed of impalpable images that cross the established boundaries between visual art and cinema.
The exhibition has been produced in partnership with MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, which, until 7 May, is presenting Ancarani’s project Atlantide 2017-2013, curated by Lorenzo Balbi.
Winner of the ACACIA 2023 Award, the artist has exhibited his work in the most prestigious museums and exhibitions, including the Kunstverein Hannover (Germany); the Castello di Rivoli (Rivoli Torino, Italy); Manifesta 12 (Palermo, Italy); the Kunsthalle Basel (Basel, Switzerland); the 55th Venice Biennale; the Centre Pompidou (Paris, France); the Guggenheim Museum (New York, USA), and the Palais de Tokyo (Paris, France), also receiving important recognition, such as the ‘Special Prize of the Jury CINÉ+’ Cineasti del presente, 69th Locarno Film Festival (Locarno, Switzerland); five nominations for the Cinema Eye Honors, Museum of the Moving Image (New York, USA); and the ‘Grand Prix in Lab Competition’, Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival (Clermont-Ferrand, France). In 2022, he was a finalist for the best documentary at the David di Donatello Awards.
Photo: Yuri Ancarani, Il Capo, 2010, film still. Courtesy Studio Ancarani
Among the most original voices working at the crossroads of cinema and art in Italy, Yuri Ancarani is the creator of an imaginative geography of fragments that investigate regions generally unseen, realities that the artist enters in the first person. His productions do not follow a specific script, but his films are rather expressions of intuitions that determine the very acts of filming and montage. In approaching aspects linked to the dynamics of work, the traumas of modern society and the failure of capitalism, Ancarani draws on a broad vocabulary of references ranging from the cinema of master directors, like Antonioni and Iñárritu, to the fiction of Japanese cyberpunk of the 1980s. The literature of Pier Vittorio Tondelli, the landscape photographs of Luigi Ghirri, and the Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna, his birthplace, are all part of the artist’s archipelago of influences.
Lascia stare i sogni (Forget Your Dreams), the title of the exhibition that brings together over twenty years of Yuri Ancarani’s production, is a quotation from the artist’s latest film Atlantide (Atlantis), and is an invitation to the viewer to be guided through the hidden revelations of reality.
Seduction, entertainment, disorientation are only some of the modalities taken up by Ancarani to resonate with the exhibition space, and, through visual leitmotivs of materials and forms, he creates pictorial choreography that acts upon the visitor, amplifying his sensory perception.
Ancarani uses the viewer’s body and his relationship to technology as the instruments for the mutual redefining of film and the visual arts, which is made concrete in his works in an almost sculptural expression of the moving image, emancipating film from the classical cinematic tradition.
The exhibition opens with an iconic work by Yuri Ancarani, a turning point in his oeuvre, Il Capo (2010), which synthesises the stylistic intuitions that characterise the fluidity of the shots and the effort to reduce images and sound to the essential in the cinematic narration. Part of the trilogy La malattia del ferro (The Malady of Iron) (2010 2012), the film is set inside a marble quarry in the Apuan Alps and focuses on the relationship between man and machine in the landscape. The head of the quarry is portrayed as he directs the operations of cutting, lifting, and moving rocky material, in a silent monologue expressed only in coded gestures. The human voice is replaced by that of the moving machinery in a mechanical chomping away that expresses the brutality of the situation being filmed. The visual narration shows the details of the man’s face, hands, and chest along with shots of him immersed in the landscape. His body is occasionally surrounded by the white, reflective two-dimensionality of the surfaces of the marble, and in other shots he is instead placed near the drop of a cliff, in a continual effort to harmonise different scales and volumes. ■ As the film unfolds, the man’s gestural vocabulary (similar to that of an orchestra conductor) blends with the language of Yuri Ancarani’s shots, in which the action portrayed determines a pause or a sudden acceleration of the events influencing the visual narrative. The image thus takes on a physical character, and the continuing relationship between the background and the action places the viewer in direct contact with the edges of the film frame. The film, moreover, is structured along a series of lines: those at right angles linked to the cutting of the marble blocks and the more jagged ones of the fissures in the rock, alternating contrasting sensations of containment and release until the aerial shot of the mountain peaks that concludes the work. ■ The images are projected in a large scale on the wall, in a close dialog with the architecture of the space, that is transformed by the artist into a temporary hourglass that the viewer can pass through. ■
Making his way through a red curtain, the viewer finds himself faced with a section of the floor covered in a blue carpet that introduces the presence of a screen where is projected Da Vinci (2012), the last chapter of La malattia del ferro. ■ The first image of the work is that of a pulsating organism, veined by capillaries inside membranes penetrated by metallic clips and probes. The colours turn toward cold blue tones, and the framing is slightly unstable. It is not clear whether this is a science fiction film or a hyperreal experience. What is actually shown is the filming of an operation performed with a sophisticated surgical system called ‘da Vinci Si’. The mini-invasive robotic technology offers an enlarged view of the area, in which the surgeon manipulates the tools from an external console, avoiding any direct contact with the patient’s body. The sound increases the sense of waiting and dread that accompanies the event. ■ Yuri Ancarani’s documentary approach continues in his exploration of the existential relationship between man and technology. In Da Vinci, the surgeon and the surgical instrument are portrayed as a single synergistic entity. By re-examining the relationships that opposed human beings to machines in the early modern period, Ancarani’s work can also be seen as being related to some performance art practices in the 1970s, which blurred the limits between the body and electronic equipment. ■ In Da Vinci, also presented at the 55th Venice Art Biennale, one observes a highly balanced ‘mechanical dance’, and, as in the other two films of the trilogy (Il Capo and Piattaforma Luna), the focus is on the rigour of the choreographed gestures that characterise the production process of specialised works. ■
Piattaforma Luna (2011) shows the inside of a hyperbaric chamber in which a group of six scuba divers specialised in working at great depths perform an off-shore operation on the platform Luna. For weeks, the divers’ existence unfolds in this space and under the sea, at a depth of 100 metres. Unlike Il Capo, set in a marble quarry, the scenes show an entirely unnatural place composed of a series of transitable passages and watertight openings that recall sci-fi imaginary. In the video, every movement is linked to the specificity of the environment, in which even the most ordinary everyday actions are questioned, defining a ‘new normality’. ■ The filming made with a fixed camera reinforces the general atmosphere of suspension, while the insistence on the centrality of the shooting heightens the intensity of the surveillance that the individuals are subjected to during the entire period. In the video, the dialogue is heard as a series of commands coming from a room outside the structure that guide the movements of the divers’ operations. Their replies, however, are distorted by the presence of helium in the hyperbaric chamber. Also in this work, language is employed as vehicle for movement: it produces unpredictable causes and effects and functions in relation to the claustrophobic environment, materializing the presence of the gas that is otherwise imperceptible to the viewer. Once out of the cabin, the image becomes increasingly abstract, and the dark shots of the deep sea —accompanied by the audio track by the Australian musician Ben Frost — reconnect the narration to the meditative tone with which the film opens. ■
In room 4, Yuri Ancarani presents his second trilogy, Le radici della violenza (The Roots of Violence) (2014-ongoing), and even before one enters the room where the films San Siro (2014) and San Vittore (2018) are alternatingly projected on two different screens, one can watch San Giorgio (ongoing) transmitted on a monitor, the last episode of the series. The three films’ titles evoke cristian tradition and at the same time emblematic contemporary spaces: the stadium, the prison, the bank, in this case San Giorgio Bank, dating XVII Century. ■ The shots, filmed in a clearly manneristic fashion, are characterised by cold, unpleasant tones in clear contrast to the gleam of the gold ingots in the safes. Going through the sequences, one discovers what is hidden behind the meticulous security measures: the destruction of the paper records of the transactions that determine the value of the precious metal. Unlike the images, the sound track diffuses a sense of discovery and revelation that contrasts with the concealment presented in theimages. ■ San Giorgio is a work in progress, and even if its status is still ongoing, Ancarani decided to exhibit it along with his other productions, giving a sense of indeterminacy to the exhibition narrative. In 2019, for his solo show at the Castello di Rivoli, the video was projected without sound on a plasma screen, and, as a sort of extension of the two-dimensionality of the pictorial surface, the images flowed by in an occasionally sinister scenario. ■ Like an abandoned body in the greyness of the city of Milan, San Siro (2014) narrates the moments preceding the start of a match in the homonymous stadium. Manholes, electric cables, padlocks, and bleachers form the skeleton of the football arena, whose “stomach” is dotted with grids of luminous panels that facilitate maintaining the grass on the field. Although Ancarani describes the routine procedures for supervising the operations and preparing the court, in the images he uses sound – punctuated by the explosion of firecrackers to scare away the pigeons from the grass – to imprint the echo of the empty space that, with the start of the match, will soon be filled with the energy of players and fans. ■ The stadium is portrayed as an architectural apparatus, made of ramps similar to electric wires and cement blocks that recall circuit boards, while the sounds of the city enter, bouncing off the bodies of the fans, awaiting the noise of the match. An iconic site, the structure has been the subject of various films, among which are the ironic Video – Stadio, 1997, by Paola di Bello, and San Siro, 2000, by Grazia Toderi, focussing on the relationship between television and the media. Presented for the first time as part of an exhibition in occasion of the MAXXI award in Rome, Yuri Ancarani’s video is an eloquent image of society. ■ Part of the Le radici della violenza trilogy, the work once again reveals the centrality of concepts connected to forms of communication. ■ Exhibited as a interdependent to San Siro, San Vittore (2018) follows Ancarani’s exploration of the staging of violence and trauma in everyday life, investigating childrens’ experience in prisons. With clinical attention, the artist lingers on the description of the security measures to which minors are subjected when visiting their parents inside San Vittore. Once again, Ancarani focusses on a specific moment in the prison procedures to refer to its overall structure. Without the use of pre-established rhetorical narratives, the prison is described through some of its elements of containing: the walls, the barred windows, and the metal detector. ■ The individuals who appear in the scenes are both faceless and voiceless, as the dialogue is replaced by the children’s drawings depicting the prison. Created during workshops conducted by the group Bambinisenzasbarre (Children without Bars)—which works in the prison to safeguard family relationships—the representations reflect the childlike imagination that transforms the prison into an enchanted castle with princes and monsters. Ancarani decides to entrust the children’s drawings with the narration of San Vittore, in a dialogue of mutual impressions between illustration and frame. ■ The simplicity of Ancarani’s visual approach, made by detailed and still frames linked to a distinctive sound design by his long-time collaborator Mirco Mencacci, gives the work a completely surprising impact. ■
Marina Valcarenghi, law graduate, journalist and political activist in the 1960s and 70s, and psychoanalyst in prisons in the departments dedicated to violence against women, is the subject of the latest work produced by Ancarani for the retrospective at PAC. Her voice extends into a monologue lasting about 45 minutes, while the shots portray her sitting at a chair with papers, a bottle and a wristwatch in the Legnaia courtyard of the University of Milan, where she herself had embarked on the academic career. The colonnade that marks the architecture divides the image into a central symmetry, to underline the narrated polarity. ■ Her words retrace readings of court testimony, abstractly theoretical speeches and life wounds related to her experience in the field, bringing out society’s fears related to the dichotomy between women and men and the result of private violence that has an echo in the public dimension and daily politics. Her image is shown from three different angles in a long approach from the waist up on the chair to her gaze to create a short circuit with the closed eyes of Albània Tomassini, who, in another film by Ancarani (Seance, 2014), talks to the spirit of the architect Carlo Mollino as if she were a medium. The voice marks the female presence in both works, and their expression demonstrates the urgency of the stories to be told. ■ Il popolo delle donne (The People of Women) the title of the video, is one of the sentences pronounced by Marina Valcarenghi in the monologue shot real time, in which you can also hear the sounds of a bell tower and the background noises of the University. ■ The work takes the form of a documentary on the paradigms of contemporary society, and offers a glimpse of the real towards the future in a parallelism that refers to the anti-systemic movements of the 1960s. ■
The artist’s first video series – filmed between 2000 and 2009 – grouped together under the title Ricordi per moderni (2009), unfolds longitudinally on eight screens placed in front of the darkened glass windows of the exhibition space. In the background, fragments of everyday life appear in transparencies and connect to the filmed images producing a real-time editing that crate a dizzying, melancholic view of the city. ■ The project, Ricordi per moderni, ironically evokes a society that has left its traditions behind, exchanging them for an idea of progress that has already surrendered to desolation and to the exploitation of the environment. The work is inspired by the prose style of Pier Vittorio Tondelli (1955–1991), in returning to the page what he called ‘the sound of spoken language’, an attempt to transmit the oral experience by rewriting it in strong, direct linguistic terms. ■ In this work, Ancarani is therefore the reporter and narrator of the circumstances that he encounters in disparate locations of the Riviera Romagnola: from industrial petrochemical zones to swamps, from the beaches of Rimini to family celebrations. Postcards of almost charming places, the videos narrate experiences that have a dreamlike and surreal characters, in which life passes with the emphasis on normality charged with contradictory impulses. In the various succeeding chapters, outskirts appear immersed in solitude, lagoons and inlets, along with streets and beaches crowded with languid presences. The Riviera Romagnola is portrayed as an incubator of destinies at the crossroads of atmospheres with ambiguous or rhetorical characteristics, each introduced by the title of one of the videos in the series exhibited here: Rimini (2009), Made in Italy (2009), In Dio Noi Crediamo (In God We Trust, 2008), Aranci Mantra (Mantra Orange, 2007), Baal (2007), Invito al Desiderio (Invitation to Desire, 2006), Parcheggi a pagamento (2005–2012), Fuori Stagione (Off Season, 2005–2012), Isole d’Acciaio (Islands of Steel) (2005), Lido Adriano (2004), Vicino al cuore (Close to the Heart, 2003), IP OP (HIP HOP, 2003), La questione romagnola (The Romagnola Question, 2002–2012). ■
Yuri Ancarani invests the spaces of the PAC’s passageway with an idea of time that is more stretched out than in the other exhibition rooms, transforming them into places for viewing two of his major feature-length films. Among Ancarani’s many productions, The Challenge (2016) stands out because of its strong cinematic qualities, recalling Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) in the opening titles; Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which the black monolith becomes the contours of an LED screen in the desert; and even Werner Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness (1992), where the strangeness of the landscape is filmed from an alien point of view. ■ The images in The Challenge take us to the desert of Qatar during the preparations for a falconry competition that illustrate the excesses of Qatari society. The sequences reveal the forms of amusement of various communities of men who gravitate toward the cult of the motorcycle, car races, and falconry, including the surreal image of a man with a cheetah on a leash in a Lamborghini speeding through the desert. The film employs carefully composed sequences with the frequent use of shots based on the symmetry of the central axis of the frame, together with moments in which the image becomes fragmented, and the camera, fixed to the falcon’s head, records sharp, restless views. The sound track, on the other hand, composed by Lorenzo Senni and Francesco Fantini, opens with broader orchestral passages. ■ A place of mystery and memory, the desert appears in highly topical video productions that, like The Challenge, offer a rereading of the traumas and amnesias of everyday life. Among these are the iconic film Atomic Park (2003), by the French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, filmed in the White Sands desert in New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb was tested, and the more recent Everything But the World (2021), by the artistic collective DIS, which traverses the evolutionary eras of mankind from the agricultural revolution to the Amazon, addressing the complexity of the worldwide existence of human beings. ■
Making one’s way through the passageway, in which posters created by the artist for the premiere of each work are exhibited, one reaches the second projection room, where Whipping Zombie (2017) is projected. In this work, the limits between ethnological and documentary cinema seem to dissolve in a silent coexistence between artifice and memory. The video records for the first time the so-called ‘Kale Zonbi’, or the traditional ‘Whipping Zombie’ dance of the same name, in which the inhabitants of a remote village in Haiti carry out gestures that evoke the dynamics of colonial violence until they go into a trance. The ritual, based on repeated percussion and flagellation, is a way of exorcising a not-too-distant past. Even more alienating is the rhythmic, gestural parallelism of the sequences showing daily actions (like the recycling of the metal barrels), whose repetitive character perversely retraces that of the abuse. A feeling of death accompanies the entire film, combined with shots of tombstones in the local cemetery that completely contradict the images of a natural paradise in the end credits. ■ The work explores the current transformations of memorial practices in relation to the wounds of collective history and brings to light the irrational aspects of the human existence. Yuri Ancarani’s experimentation can be addressed to other international filmmakers of his generation, such as the British director Ben Rivers, who creating remote landscapes populated by alien anddisorienting apparitions, and the French artist Neïl Beloufa, whose video are structured around hybrid narrative forms blending documentary and science fiction. These practices show the real world portrayed through symbolism, mythology and iconic figures. ■
YURI ANCARANI (Ravenna, 1972) is an artist and filmmaker active in Milan. His work focusses on experimentation with the medium of video, which he employs in a continual blending of documentary cinema and contemporary art. His films are accurate mixing of images and sounds, in which bodies, spaces, and technologies often interweave. Ancarani’s works have been presented in numerous exhibitions as well as in Italian and international museums, including: MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna (on view until 7 May 2023), Kunstverein Hannover, Castello di Rivoli, Kunsthalle Basel, the 55th Venice Art Biennal, CAC Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Centre Pompidou, Hammer Museum (Los Angeles, USA), and Palais de Tokyo. His films have been shown at many international festivals, among which are the Locarno Film Festival, Viennale, the 67th and 68th Venice Film Festivals, the IFFR International Film Festival Rotterdam, and the 23rd IDFA International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Ancarani has also received numerous awards and other recognitions, including: the ‘Premio speciale della giuria CINÉ+ Cineasti del presente’, 69th Locarno Film Festival; five nominations for Cinema Eye Honors, Museum of the Moving Image; and the ‘Grand Prix in Lab Competition’, Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival. In 2022, he was a finalist for the best documentary at the David di Donatello Awards.