On Yuri Ancarani's vessels
(the Da Luz triad: The Challenge, Whipping Zombie and Atlantide)
Written by Léna Lewis-King, May 2022.
The semi-presented record of research, of the event, of the fragments that stuck with me the most.
I arrived to São Jorge late and blind to the content of Yuri’s work and the two specific films I was about to watch, aside from knowing they focused on questions and expressions of masculinity. My position within the cinema was at the far back by the exit doors, and the distance between myself and the screen was populated by the silhouettes of heads, facing forwards in their seats. This framing added a layer of alienation from the transportive nature of the films themselves, as I was hyper-aware of the communal experience of watching, the shared moments of people whispering to one another, of laughing at absurd moments, of the choruses of clapping or the jolted dances of leaving or staying when the end credits begin to roll and the lights return. This positioning, far from the screen, made me aware of how much within the cinema you are simultaneously communally intimate and alienated, together and somewhere else. (The second day when watching Atlantide I was much closer to the screen and therefore lost myself within the film, showing me that proximity can define experience & the intensity of losing yourself in the media).
I enjoyed the juxtapositions between the two short films (The Challenge and Whipping Zombie) as portraits of opposing expressions of masculine fervour, the former thriving in the silences of heat, punctuated by the impassioned yelling of event commentators or auctioneers both mediated by loud-speakers, phones, or TVs. From The Challenge to Whipping Zombie - from bone dry to blue wetness, neptunian and loud, completely immersed within (but still an outside witness of) the Haitian community that convulses and shapes the whipping ritual. The body dissolves into motion and into passion (pain and the release of pain as a channel for the spirit), alongside connections to fabrication and artistic practice seen in the hammering of metal into sculptural works. (the body as vessel, as sculpture, to be hammered into form or whipped into out-of-body experiences).
The hands are also a part of Yuri’s work, the maintaining of the claws or nails, making it clear how the objectification of the body (the feminine or the animal) takes place. A few weeks after Atlantide, I watched Super Natural by Jorge Jácome, and immediately noticed an echo of the environment of the nail salon, both Yuri's films and Jorge's sharing this specific ritual of beautification. In my brief research I find that nail-painting comes from Chinese and Egyptian culture, as a class signifier for the person wearing it.
Fake nails are augmentations of the body that transform the hand into a fetish object.
Within The Challenge, the falcon’s talons are its weapons, the condensation of its desire to kill (an evolution of intention and survival). These talons are sharpened, buffeted and cleaned by gloved hands, this semi-medical ritual placing more value onto the objectified falcon.
Atlantide's nail sequence follows on from the unseen rejection of the girlfriend (Maila Dabalà) following on from a depressing inferred sexual encounter with her boyfriend (Daniele Barison). The beautification of her hands within this emotional context becomes abject, she is without direction or purpose. The space of the nail salon itself, and the exchange that takes place between the nail artist and the client seems to become almost like a divination, a palm reading, where discussions surrounding life’s purpose, love, and future goals take place in an intimate and yet disjointed way (due to the camera’s focus on the hands and not the faces of those who are talking).
Within Super Natural, the nail sequence is one of excess, where the layers of nail varnish seem to consume the nail at certain points. Here too, they discuss life, it's trajectory. There's an experimentation with gender here too as the recipient of the faux-nails is male-presenting (layers of artificiality, status, perceived disability, nature and the body).
The rich saturation of color within The Challenge brought the film into the realms of design, the formal and the commercial - the impact of the title cards and their aesthetic beauty becoming stamps to reveal the artificiality of the image. This artificial/technological formality seems to be a reoccurring gesture in Yuri's work, this embodiment of slickness in the technical precision of his images, his framing akin to both paintings and to adverts, his color is rich and sensual, and the creation and believability of the filmic space complete and without error. The commercial image stays in the foreground within his films, especially where speed and mechanics are featured, but the feeling of seduction you usually perceive from adverts is replaced by the empty kind of horror you get when witnessing cruelty through a distant lens. This witnessing of cruelty is expanded upon in The Challenge when the flacon's eye becomes the camera at multiple points within the film, the POV embellishing the film with a sense of falcon-empathy and of subject-hood. We become the falcon, but never the men, who we can never seem to access or connect to in their plurality. The idea of animal or nonhuman visions is something Rebecca Tamas discusses in the 'On Hospitality' segment of 'Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman'.
philosophies of desire
Yuri’s male societies create vessels: from women, from animals, from themselves - vessels to be filled with their desires that seem without purpose, without resolution, and without grounding. Atlantide is the film that expresses this with the most clarity - women and boats become synonymous, their names embossed onto their boyfriend’s boats or peeled off after a break up. Girls lie atop the helm, sunbathing or taking selfies with their phones, couples have sex nestled into the interiors of the boat. When the girlfriend no longer holds their interest, the boys pour all that desire into their boats, they upgrade and renovate them, transforming them into the object of all their desires like a mechanical Pygmalion and Galatea.
The climax of the film is the coke-fuelled sex scene atop the boat underneath the neon lights of the canals and arches of the bridges. The girl (Bianka Berényi) never really speaks, she has no humanity other than the vision of her sitting spread-legged above the boat, dancing and feeling the sensations of the wind on her face. She represents the embodiment his desire of the boat itself, his eroticised perception of the speed, the prestige, the spirit of freedom that the boat convinces him of. Without his connection to his family (who appear at the beginning to be farmers, working the land), without a connection to his former girlfriend who cared for him as a person, he becomes totally possessed by the carnivalesque desires of the machine he possesses and through the vessel of Bianka, consummates this desire. The following sequences following the climax obscure a linear narrative, the girl vanishes, Daniele is beaten severely by shadows (who remain unseen), the unfulfillable longing and aimlessness of needing to achieve acceleration eventually leading him to his own death. In Atlantide, the machine holds more desire for the boys than the human does - their belief in their power as operators of the machine fulfils their control-fantasies - but the machine takes them to a point of no return (death-drive). This all is summed up very clearly in the manic writings of the Futurist Manifesto:
4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.’
8. We stand on the last promontory of the centuries!... Why should we look back, when what we want
is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already
live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed.
I wonder too how the spirit of Atlantide differs in comparison to the frenzy of the industrial age, and of new mechanical technologies at the turn of the last century (of course we're in the throws of a virtual revolution unable to enjoy the gift of hindsight). It seems that the capitalist acceleration celebrated by the futurist techno-fascists is no longer seen as a romantic grand escape, is no longer accompanied by Marinetti’s chorus of glory, his poetic flare, his overt misogyny. The acceleration within Yuri’s film is quiet, disjointed, self-betraying, greedy, sinking into the lagoon, consumed by water. The aftermath of this desire for omnipresent speed is silence.
“[…] Turn aside the canals to flood the museums!... Oh, the joy of seeing the glorious old canvases bobbing adrift on those waters, discolored and shredded!... Take up your pickaxes, your axes and hammers and wreck, wreck the venerable cities, pitilessly!”
Atlantide ends with the canals tilted sidewards, devoid of people, devoid of gravity, passing from night into dusk. The silence of this elongated sequence of drifting becomes cosmic, the curved venetian bridges transfigured into doorways that mimic birth canals ()
Perhaps this drifting vision is that of a capsized boat, without a captain, or a body floating in the water, pulled through architecture that exists on a different timescale (that which the futurists sought to escape, of the classical world, of the world of our ancestors).
The seas of the desert, the consuming heat
The society of men without women
Augmentation and relation of screens within that society - the broadcast of the auction, the documentation of the flying falcons, the recording of animals in domestic settings on mobile phones
The consumption and exploitation of nature embodied within the falcon as fetish-object
Camera as empathetic vessel for the falcon through the POV switch (On Hospitality citation, non-human visions)
Forms of imprisonment - chained cheetah, blindsided falcon, the artifice of a home within a desert holding wild animals captive
Cars climbing sand dunes becoming beetles or roaming hoards of insects
The polarity of the bidding frenzied voice with the silent spectator, weight of that monied silence, exercises of power, capital, the titillation in observing the hunt
The consumption of the bird both in entertainment and in flesh
Visceral frenzies of the body and raising up of the flesh through whipping
The silence of the island, a heaviness in the murky graveyard, the wetness of the shore, the blueness of dusk or of dawn
Ritual as a form of enacting communal religion, the channeling of the spirit as a possessive force
Body as sculptural material, the salvaging of tin cans to make sculptures from, the rhythms of the hammering and the whipping
Community forms of total release, dissolution of signalling or cohesion
The commercial-seductive underpinned by loss, by losing
Location as character, Venice expressed through people
Men as islands, boats their own - mini nation-states
Embellishment and value signalling through speed, machine tech and heartlessness
Human as boat, as vessel for possession and alteration
Cast out into orbit from society, consumptive lagoon
Innocence and self-destruction, rights of initiation
The power of what goes unseen, the gaps between