One enters into Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi’s films by means of the chemical dust (or the superficial scratches) of the images of which they are composed. Before encountering any fragment of the landscape (the Alps, the Danube, the desert) or recognizing a particular event in the frame (a military parade, a bear hunt, a surgical operation), the film’s materiality offers itself to our gaze in all its deterioration. Lacerated by emulsions, stained, linked together, attacked by mold, tinted, and slowed down, these frames—in their projection—do not allow their material premise, their physical support to be extinguished. Rather, a display of ruins presents itself, the debris of a cinema battling against its own form of amnesia: that of the images it has produced and that of the inseparable medium onto which such images have been inscribed.
At the basis of Gianikian and Ricci Lucchi’s archaeological research is their stubborn attempt to demonstrate the bond between modernity and imperialism; the film camera plays a major role as apparatus in the service of the colonialists’ gaze, as the artists’ films never cease to provide evidence for. Whether this be the filmed travel diary of an anonymous French tourist in 1927, or the material of an Italian documentary pioneer such as Luca Comerio, or, further still, of Austrian medical-military films of the 1920s, Gianikian and Ricci Lucchi—both born in 1942 in Italy—have collected a multitude of lost and refound views, never neutral or innocent, shown through the use of various anachronistic technologies.
Archive cinema together with thinking through the “evidential paradigm” (Carlo Ginzburg), are the means by which their radical research has developed—pioneers of an artistic trend that, in recent years, has been defined as “a historical turn.” On the one hand, digging through existing material, refilming, reframing, and recoloring, subjecting it to a new montage according to junctions and leaps—a collage. On the other, the enlargement of the frames allows marginal traces and details to emerge, hidden elements to appear through changes in speed, all part of the Benjaminian “optical unconscious” that only the camera can capture. It is by these means that we can access a history that begins, as Gianikian says, “from the ground, from the minimal, from the detail.” De-archived and re-archived, history ends up liberating us from the imperium of time, from its univocal narrations, and from its dictates.