Riccardo Giacconi

The Variational Status
research project and mixed media installation
2012 - ongoing

The Variational Status investigates the relationship between a range of narrative forms (puppetry, street storytellers, flyers and pamphlets) and a series of pre-political acts of revolt staged between Italy and South America, evoking a narrative constellation between animation, suggestion, revolt and orality.

The project develops around the striking similarities between the espiritado, a Colombian puppet character presumably inspired by the murder of a policeman during a village celebration, and Italian soldier Augusto Masetti, who in 1911 in Bologna shot at his commander in an act of insubordination against the colonial war in Libya. The two figures share the total amnesia of their act of revolt, carried out in a trance or a state of somnambulism.

Working on archive documents, oral testimonies and theatre scripts, the project intertwines the real and fictitious vicissitudes of the two characters in order to investigate a possible connection and to question the status of those documents, which are not based on stable and certified supports, but rather which may exist solely in the form of variations.

The Variational Status was co-commissioned by ar/ge kunst (Bolzano, IT), Centrale Fies (Dro, IT) and FRAC Champagne-Ardenne (Reims, FR), and carried out in collaboration with Franco Citterio and the Compagnia Marionettistica Carlo Colla & Figli (Milano, IT), Carteles La Linterna Edigraphos (Cali, CO), Herlyng Ferla, Carolina Valencia, and Paola Villani.

The project comprises a book published by Humboldt Books.

Genealogy of a Research. Conversation with Emanuele Guidi and Antoine Marchand about the project.

Conceived as a cutaway view of a puppet show, the installation comprises a marionette abandoned on the floor, performing an automatic choreography activated by a mechanism that pulls its strings.
The series of movement reproduces hypnic myoclonia, those involuntary twitches that occur as a person is just about to fall asleep.
The marionette was constructed in collaboration with the historical Compagnia Marionettistica Carlo Colla & Figli.

Behind the marionette, a plastic curtain serves both as a visual reference to the traditional backdrops used in puppetry, and as a storyboard for the various episodes of the Colombian puppet show El Diablo en el pozo, whose script includes the espiritado character.

The installation features a series of posters about the El Diablo en el pozo script, printed using a 19th-century letterpress machine in Cali, Colombia.

Installation views at ar/gekunst, Bolzano, Italy.
(photos: Tiberio Sorvillo)

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The project was also presented in a performative version at Centrale Fies (Dro, Italy), on the occasion of the performing arts festival Supercontinent (Drodesera XXXVII), under the name Occhiacci di legno [Wooden Eyes].

The performance was constructed as an underground visit in the dark to a series of stanzas – intended both spatially and literarily – where a series of episodes on the constellation between animation, possession and robotics took place. Objects, documents, masks and a sleeping figure appeared, while a recorded voice, of singer/songwriter Alberto Camerini, accompanied the visit.

Photos: Alessandro Sala. Video: Lino Greco.

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In 1972 the Teatro del Parque Nacional in Bogotà, Colombia, until then used for puppet shows for children, was occupied and turned into a communist/anarchist Commune. Many Colombian puppeteers took their first steps in that context, and within that political climate.

Indagación sobre la forma de los milagros [Investigation on the shape of miracles] is a radio-documentary that, as a puppet show in the dark, presents the voices of the puppeteers recalling the 1972 Commune events. Furthermore, it focuses on a traditional puppet character, el espiritado, supposedly inspired by a real event: a man shot a policeman dead, and then always asserted not to remember having done it – thus becoming an icon for the anarchist movement.

Along the development of the vocal texture, latent connections between sleepwalking, anarchy, miracles and puppetry, emerge. The radio-documentary was produced in collaboration with the Fonoteca Nacional de Colombia.

Full radio-documentary (60'. Spanish, English Subtitles)

Installation view at lugar a dudas, Cali, Colombia

Another outcome of the research is a slideshow in loop, focusing on the espiritado puppet character, on the controversial and untraceable story of its creation, as well as on the mysterious murderer that supposedly inspired it.
The texts featuring in the slideshow are excerpts from interviews with puppeteers from Bogotà.

Exhibited at: FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Reims, France; Centrale Fies, Dro, Italy; MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre), Belfast, Northern Ireland (2017); ar/ge kunst, Bolzano, Italy (2016); lugar a dudas, Cali, Colombia (2014); Bulegoa z/b, Bilbao, Spain; Viafarini, Milan (2013); Museo de Arte Moderno La Tertulia, Cali, Colombia; Colombian National Radio; Universidad Nacional, Bogotà, Colombia (2012).