VIOLENCE REMEMBERED. The avant-garde filmmaker Yervant Gianikian was born in Merano, an Alpine town in Italy’s South Tyrol region, in 1942. His father was Armenian, a survivor of the genocide, and his mother was half Austrian and half Italian. As a child Yervant went to the Armenian College in Venice and later he studied architecture in Venice. His wife and artistic collaborator Angela Ricci Lucchi was born in Lugo di Romagna, also in 1942. Her master was Oskar Kokoschka, she studied with him in Salzburg in the 60s. Angela and Yervant met in the Dolomite mountains in 1974.
Why do you live in Milan?
Angela and I came to Milan in 1975. I had a house here, and then we married here.
How did you start in films?
With the “scented films” about our large collection of simple toys in painted wood. We made many films with these objects accompanied by scents, and showed them at Biennale Cinema in Venice in 1976. In 1976 we also made the film “Cesare Lombroso – Sull’odore del garofano” about the criminologist Cesare Lombroso who studied the olfactory sensitivity of criminals by testing their reactions to essence of carnations. The film was shown accompanied by the scent of carnations and a text by a follower of Lombroso named Strassman. Lombroso found out that a criminal man has not the same sense of smell as a normal man, and that a criminal woman has even worse “anosmia” (the loss of the sense of smell). The film was shown in London in 1979 at the International Avant Garde Film Festival.
Then what did you do?
We went on tour in the US with the “scented films” at the Jonas Mekas Anthology Film Archives in New York. We went on long tours to places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. We came back to Milan from the US in 1981.
“I am an artist with the mission of the memory of violence.”
Edda Mussolini was the child of Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator from 1922 to 1943. Upon her marriage to fascist propagandist and foreign minister Galeazzo Ciano, she became Edda Ciano, Countess of Cortellazzo and Buccari. Here she is in 1926 in Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi’s film “Images d’Orient: Tourisme vandale” (2001).
In an old film lab in Milan we found the archive collection of the filmmaker who filmed the Italian royal family, the Savoias, and World War 1. His name was Luca Comerio. We discovered that the nitrate material was inflammable and dangerous, and it was impossible to make prints as the films were in total decomposition, so we spent a long time observing and describing all the frames with the help of a magnifying lense. With parts of a 35mm projector we built an optical printer that we called “our analytical camera”, and with this camera, frame by frame, we re-filmed all the bits of interest in 16 millimetres. We shot almost 500,000 single shots, like an animation. It took five years, and we finished in 1986. This film is long, 101 minutes. “From the Pole to the Equator” is the title and it was shown for the first time at the festival in Rotterdam. It was discovered by the Wallers, two cinema critics from Variety who came out from the German camp. They loved the film, and then the film started to travel in the US, and The New York Times and The Village Voice wrote about it.
What is “From the Pole to the Equator” about?
It is about violence. It is divided in ten sections, and it is about the South Pole and the Equator before the First World War. It is about Africa and Uganda in 1910, and it is possible to see the big game hunt of the white hunters. The film is about Baron Franchetti, and also shows the hunt of the bears in the South Pole. It is very cruel. It also shows that the state of the ice now is completely different.
In 1986 you made the film “Return to Khodorciur”. What is it about?
It is about my father, who was Armenian, and in 1976 returned to see his completely destroyed village called Khodorciur in his homeland of Eastern Turkey. He walked for almost a hundred kilometres to arrive there. He made a little film in Super 8 about his destroyed house and about the cemetery where his mother is buried. All the family were killed in the genocide, but his mother died before it. The film tells my father’s memory of his return, and in it he reads his diary about his return. “Return to Khodorciur” was shown in Berlin two years ago, and last year in Athens during Documenta 14 with English subtitles, and also in San Lazzaro’s Island during the Biennale of 2015 when we won the Golden Lion for the Armenian Pavilion by showing this film.
“I went to a bar and asked for a glass of red wine and they said to me: “Here you can only drink black wine.””
You made the film “Journey to Russia” from 1989 to 2017?
It was a film that was too long for a production. Adam Szymczik the Director of Documenta 14 and the Curator Hile Peleg said you can show this work in Kassel at Documenta 14 and it was shown as an installation on six screens. It is four hundred minutes long, about the survival of the Russian avant garde of the 1920s/30s/40s. Ida Nappelbaum was a poet and a photographer. She was the daughter of Moisei Nappelbaum, the photographer of all the avant garde and also the official photographer of Stalin and Lenin. Ida was a friend of the famous poet Anna Akhmatova and her husband Nikolay Gumilev, who was prosecuted for his alleged role in a monarchist anti-Bolshevik conspiracy. When Gumilev was in prison Ida often went to visit him to give him care packages, and one day they told her: “Don’t come anymore.” The next morning she went to see her friend the writer Nina Berberova, and they read the poster on the street announcing that Gumilev had been shot, along with many others.
You also made the film “Images d’Orient: Tourisme vandale” in 2001?
We showed this film in India, at the Tate and at the MoMA. It is a French film about the travel of an Italian group from Italy to Calcutta in 1926. Their boat waited for them in India and they returned from Bombay. When the film was shown in London they said that the Italians looked “more English than the English.” We found the film in the same lab in Milan where we found the other films by Luca Comerio. There was an Italian journalist of Corriere della Sera who wrote the diary of this trip. Doing this film frame by frame, when I was looking into the eyes of the most important woman she looked so much like Mussolini. He turned out to be her father; as she was indeed Edda Mussolini (later Edda Ciano).
Did you ever speak to Edda Ciano?
No. We were in Lugo di Romagna during the ceremony at Predappio for the centenary of Mussolini in 1983, and we had a camera and I shot some faces, and there was Edda Ciano. I went to a bar and asked for a glass of red wine and they said to me: “Here you can only drink black wine.”
What is the last film that you made with your wife Angela Ricci Lucchi before she died one year ago?
We made “Journey to Russia” and she made a ten metres long roll of drawings and watercolours to accompany it. In September 2018 we showed “I diari di Angela” “Angela’s Diaries” at the Venice Biennale, in Italian with English subtitles. It is a very long film, two hours and five minutes. Angela always used to write her diaries, and I used to film everything, travel or work…
How did you make this film?
I read “Angela’s Diaries” in Italian and in parallel I showed her; for example on the trip we made in 1987 looking for my father’s history of the genocide. We made that trip with our friend Walter Chiari, a famous actor of Italian comedy, who wanted to come because he had read my father’s book. Walter was ill and he wanted to walk as my father did during his journey to Turkey, and it became a crazy trip with this man. Or when we went looking for material to make a film about the Yugoslavian wars, starting from Sarajevo where we showed our 1995 film “Prigionieri della Guerra” “Prisoners of War”. Sometimes in “Angela’s Diaries” there is also the voice of Angela… she says: “I don’t understand who wanted this war.”
Angela Ricci Lucchi and Yervant Gianikian with the Golden Lion, the highest prize, won by the Armenian Pavilion at the Venice Film Festival in 2015
An image in “From Pole to the Equator”(1987), a 16mm experimental film drawn by Yervant and Angela from the 1910 archives of Luca Comerio
Angela Ricci Lucchi outside The Richard Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh in 1977
“La marcia dell’uomo” “The march of man” (2001), in a video installation relating to cultural repressions and the great examples of denial from history, such as Italian colonialism in Africa.
Yervant Gianikian in Ferrara, September 2018
Angela Ricci Lucchi secretly dedicated her private ten metre scroll about her life to Umberto Eco and Elisabetta Sgarbi, regarding the birth of the publishing house “La nave di Teseo”.
“Angela says: “We are disgusted by the world in which we lived.””
What are you doing now that Angela has passed away?
I am trying to show “Angela’s Diaries” everywhere, including at the MoMA in New York. “Angela’s Diaries” were shown at Tate Modern in December 2018, and we went to Seville, to Vienna, and it will go to Paris, to Madrid, Los Angeles…. It is too hard for me to go with the film, but I promised to finish our work together. Now I am working on a film about the Vichy Republic and the transport trains that were taking the Jews to Auschwitz.
Are you particularly concerned by fascism and its origin?
Yes, because our work is on the violence of this century. We did a film called “Pays Barbare” “Barbaric Land”, about the war in Ethiopia and racism. We found materials about the workers also. The film starts from Piazzale Loreto, with images of Mussolini hanged. The original film materials were sequestrated, and we found them in a camera. It is not cut, and it is like it was shot on that afternoon. It is also a film about the crowd looking at the camera. It is about Eastern Africa, about our treatment of black women, the conduct of Italian soldiers and workers; and I use my voice reading a text, and there are songs, and there is the voice of Angela about fascism.
Did you attend the 2018 Milanesiana directed by Elisabetta Sgarbi?
Yes, on 21st July 2018 at the Cinema Mexico, Elisabetta Sgarbi closed the Milanesiana with our two films about fascism, “Tourisme Vandale”, and “Lo Specchio di Diana” “Diana’s Looking Glass”, a 1996 film about the remains of two ships built by the Emperor Caligula which in 1926 were found at the bottom of Lake Nemi, near Rome. Mussolini wanted to show how big the boats of the Roman Empire were as a symbol of his power. MoMA has this film.
I want to thank Elisabetta Sgarbi and the poet Lucrezia Lerro for their contributions. Lucrezia wrote some poems that helped me finish the film about Angela, and on 14th January 2019 Elisabetta Sgarbi reopened the Milanesiana to show “Angela’s Diaries” at the Cinema Mexico. Angela Ricci Lucchi had secretly dedicated her private ten metre scroll about her life to Umberto Eco and Elisabetta Sgarbi, regarding the birth of the publishing house “La nave di Teseo”.
Are you now doing a film project on the French Vichy government?
I have material I found in France. For the next film, “Vichy”, I am re-filming all these home movies of people working on the trains. There is this contrast between history and religiosity during the war.
You are obsessed by fascism, and now it is coming back?
We have this mission to continue. Fascism is not finished. It was hidden all these years, and now it is coming out strongly. “Pays Barbare” “Barbaric Land” refers to the people who died in 2012 and 2013 in the Mediterranean. It is a film on the past that speaks to the present.
What do you consider yourself?
I am an artist with the mission of the memory of violence.
But violence is not a memory, it is everywhere?
Young people don’t know who Mussolini was. They never heard his name. I am using old material for the news to show what happens today. Looking at past material we discover the ideologies and the behaviours hidden in the frames. All the Russian avant garde people were Jewish. They were victims of the power, but they remember very well the history of what happened to them.
After 43 years of working together with Angela Ricci Lucchi you are now alone. How do you feel?
I have the sensation to continue the mission that Angela and I had together, through her writings and drawings. We had many other important projects to accomplish, and I have promised and sworn to continue our work. Angela says: “We are disgusted by the world in which we lived.” We titled our show at the Pirelli HangarBicocca in 2012 “NON, NON, NON” and the logo was:-
NOT – POLITICAL
NOT – AESTHETIC
NOT – EDUCATIONAL
NOT – PROGRESSIVE
NOT – COOPERATIVE
NOT – ETHICAL
NOT – LITERARY
NOT – CONSISTENT
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