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April 16 - May 9, 2016

When the Eye Quakes. The Cinema of Paolo Gioli

“As a premise for my way of making films and working with film, the most important thing is the movie-camera understood almost as a laboratory (for the shooting and printing of films)… I express my love for the cinema through the movie-camera; in terms of time requirements and production costs, I’m beginning to invent them for myself.  Free films made freely.”  – Paolo Gioli

One of the last of the generation of filmmakers to emerge from the period of the neo-avant-gardes of the 1960s—when the Italian underground flourished, briefly, in dialogue with developments in North America—Gioli’s work represents a continuation of avant-garde investigations of the aesthetic and technological materials of the medium. The avant-garde legacy is clearly signified, throughout Gioli’s filmography, in his frequent quotations from Duchamp, Vertov, Eisenstein, Richter and Buñuel. Across four decades and nearly forty films, Gioli inherits and reworks the legacies of the surrealist avant-gardes as well as that of the New American Cinema he first encountered in New York City in the late 1960s.

Born in 1942 in the city of Rovigo, not far from Venice, Gioli originally studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice. It was not long until Gioli’s experience of European and American avant-garde film would lead to the purchase of his first 16mm camera. Though Gioli has eloquently described how he used it the way the first Lumiere cameramen did in the late 1800s—for both shooting film and as an optical printer—his first film, Traces of Traces, was made without a camera, applying pigments to clear leader, using his fingers, hands, arms and other body parts, as well as paintbrushes and rubber stamps. Traces of Traces is a record of the impressions made by the artist’s body, including the texture of skin and contours of the flesh—and we should not forget that the Italian word for film is pellicola (from pelle: skin). Gioli made his first film-pellicola as an analogue of skin, conceived as the interface between the human being and the outside world. It is a film that announces one of the central concerns of all of Gioli’s work to follow: the human body, desire, and the physical and psychological processes involved in sense perception.

While continuing to work in film, he also began experimenting with photography—making photographs with what he called “stenopeic” devices (from the Greek stenos opaios, narrow aperture). He built many different sorts of pinhole cameras from very unusual materials, including boxes of various dimensions, shipping tubes and containers, seashells, loaves of bread, walnuts, saltine crackers, perforated soup ladles, buttons, traffic cones, cheese graters, salt shakers and the human hand. He also experimented with large-format pinhole cameras using large sheets of Polaroid positive film and pioneered the technique of Polaroid transfers. 

Gioli has made many pinhole motion pictures since the early 1970s, including Pinhole Film (Man without a Movie Camera), as well as his very recent film Natura obscura. With these devices, Gioli says, he “explores” what is in front of him, recording the world without the interference of optical lenses and without the imposition of a single, stable perspective. The exposures on the film strip merge together in diffused lap-dissolves of very simple images of windows, bodies, household objects, tree and plants, which are remarkable for their auroral beauty. The irregular dimensions of the apertures, the slight variations in the distance between apertures and in the length of exposure all combine to lend Gioli’s images their fragile intensity.

Ultimately, Gioli’s investigations center on the physical and psychological processes of perception and cognition. For Gioli, the film camera locates—in the mysterious, apertured interior of the camera obscura—an analogous encounter with the earth as it registers itself onto light-sensitive materials. And this analogy between the camera and the human body—the body with its apertures and orifices, with its skin—will be the dominant leitmotif of all his films, beginning with his first gesture of pressing his pigmented body to clear celluloid and culminating in his meditations on the erotic dimensions of the cinematic apparatus, as seen in When Bodies Touch.

Gioli’s interest in film as a surface upon which the earth imprints its image leads to his subsequent meditations on motion and the historical development of motion pictures out of the camera obscuras of the Renaissance and various other optical devices and retinal toys of the 19th century. However, Gioli’s cinema takes us even further back towards the birthplace of photographic images, the first positive heliographic image of a window in Joseph Niepce’s studio. (Niepce’s image, as well as similar photographs by Fox Talbot, are in fact reprised in the opening section of Pinhole Film.) And it is at that moment of photographic invention, it seems, that Gioli locates the splitting of nature between the earth and its representation, between reality and its picture, as cinema’s primordial wound, to which the history of its development can be seen to respond. In Gioli’s often frantically cut films, the procedures of editing and montage seem ever to repeat the splitting away of human consciousness from nature, with each cut reenacting the animating wound of the alienated modern(ist) artist. However, in a perhaps paradoxical fashion, Gioli’s pinhole cameras, with their filmstrips immediately exposed to the world, express the artist’s regressive desire for a clearing away of alienating consciousness and a return to an energeia of nature—to an experience of conceptually unbound phenomena—that tempts the artist with the promise of knowledge—though at the cost of oblivion.

Ever refusing to divorce poetics from ideology—and stubbornly insisting on a “do it yourself” creative autonomy that is exemplary in its resistance to any fetishization of technology—Gioli makes art in which aesthetic experimentation might be a prelude to psychological and ideological renovation. To that extent, each of his films—though none more than his pinhole films—express a desire for a new beginning, a fresh start, both for filmmaking and for sense perception. And perhaps this, most of all, is the task of avant-garde and experimental film artists from Futurism to today: to make films that take spectators to very edge of human understanding, to the very limits of their own selves, where they can open their eyes, perhaps, and see what is there. – adapted from “Free Film Made Freely: Paolo Gioli and Experimental Filmmaking in Italy,” by Patrick Rumble, CineAction, no. 78 (2009)

On April 16 and 17 Paolo Gioli will be joined in conversation with David Bordwell, Jacques Ledoux Professor of Film Studies, Department of Communication Arts, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Patrick Rumble, professor of Italian, European Studies, and Visual Culture Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will also introduce the evening of April 17.

All films directed by Paolo Gioli. All prints courtesy Paolo Vampa.

$12 Special Event Tickets
Paolo Gioli in conversation with David Bordwell

Saturday April 16 at 7pm

Commutations With Mutation (Commutazioni con mutazione)

Italy 1969, 16mm, b/w & color, silent, 7 min

Composed using three different formats that have been made to co-exist: super-8, 16mm and 35mm on a single 16mm support, clear leader. The variations in size caused the original framelines to overlap, subjecting them—and with them their images—to a singular diabolical rhythm. – Paolo Gioli

According to My Glass Eye (Secondo il mio occhio di vetro)

Italy 1971, 16mm, b/w, 11 min

The semi-scientific character of this work is in some degree due to the stereo-stroboscopic visual mechanism employed in its making. The careful and paradoxical loading up of profiles alternating between negative and positive is aligned along the axis of a soundtrack of super-synchronized percussions, giving rise to a complexity which can be deciphered only by an attentiveness of the degree required for a visual psychological test. – PG

Pinhole-film (The Man Without A Movie Camera)
[Film stenopeico (L’uomo senza macchina da presa)]

Italy 1973/1981/1989, 16mm, b/w & color, silent, 13 min

This film, as the Vertovian title indicates, was made without a movie camera, more precisely with a device custom-made to restore to images freedom from optics and mechanics. The act of substituting my device for a traditional movie camera is part of a project I have continued from that moment on towards weaning myself from a consumer technology, a toxin to pure creativity. This strange movie camera is a simple little hollow tube, one centimeter thick, two centimeters wide... with two reels to hold 16mm film pulled manually causing alternations of time and space. The images enter simultaneous through 150 holes distributed along one side in proximity to each frame, that come to make up 150 tiny pinhole cameras, also called stenopeic from the Greek stenos = narrow and from the stem op- from oráo = to see. – PG

When the Eye Quakes
(Quando l’occhio trema)

Italy 1991, 16mm, b/w, silent, 11 min

It all started with the notorious Buñuelian sliced eyeball, that surprises us every time! The anxiety of the incision is transformed into a saccadic, uncontrolled anxiety precisely of the eye and its pupil. – PG

The Perforated Cameraman (L’operatore perforato)

Italy 1979, 16mm, b/w, silent, 9 min



Italy 1992, 16mm, b/w, silent, 9 min

This brief film, it seems to me to exist, finally, as if it I had found it somewhere completely forgotten, as if it had been some unsuccessful pre-cinematic experiment. – PG


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Paolo Gioli in person - ROOM B-04
Free Admission

Sunday April 17 at 4pm

Land's Red

Paolo Gioli will conduct a live experiment and demonstration, "a cinematic verification of Edwin H. Land's experiment in color perception." Using two 16mm projectors Gioli will explore the pioneering work of Land to understand how colors are created and perceived. Approximately 25 minutes.

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$12 Special Event Tickets
Paolo Gioli in conversation with David Bordwell - Introduction by Patrick Rumble

Sunday April 17 at 7pm

Natura obscura

Italy 1969, 16mm, b/w & color, silent, 7 min

With 45 pinholes distributed along a 50 centimeter long hollow tube, I made this film. The purpose was to shoot the seasons... I always shot in the crepuscular half-light of dawn and dusk, since there was too much light during the day. – PG

Anonymatograph (Anonimatografo)

Italy 1972, 16mm, b/w, 26 min

This film was shot one frame at a time using laborious extreme optical close-ups. Anonimatograph: the reanimated image of an unknown amateur filmmaker at the beginning of the century who become conventional as he settles down, movie camera in hand, indoors and outdoors surrounded by war and by his sisters. – PG

Slit-scan Figures (Il finish delle figure)

Italy 2009, 16mm, b/w, silent, 9 min

Extracted from rolls of 35mm film on which I had made exposures using the photofinish technique. That is, images intended as photography, and therefore as still images. – PG


Italy 2008, 16mm, b/w, silent, 6 min

I have always been interested in the sequencing of images in books, where the possibility exists of imposing movement onto still images. – PG

When Bodies Touch
(Quando i corpi si tòccano)

Italy 2012, 16mm, b/w, silent, 3 min

A reflection on the material basis of film. Fragments of figures wander, flutter in the swirling kinetic rhythms imposed on them. – PG


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Monday May 9 at 7pm

Images Disturbed by an Intense Parasite (Immagini disturbate da un intenso parassita)

Italy 1970, 16mm, b/w, 36 min

This film, completely shot off a television, is by far the most complex and labor-intensive work I have completed on video images. Its divisions are marked by poetic titles and by structural-visual allocutions: it has four protagonists, the geometric givens furnished directly by the square and other plastic forms deriving from the square. – PG

Little Decomposed Film
(Piccolo Film Decomposto)

Italy 1986, 16mm, b/w, silent, 15 min

This extremely short film is dedicated to chronophotography... excavated from books and catalogues, that is, from typographic ink. I tried, in a certain sense, to reanimate the inanimatable as does the photographer Duane Michals... – PG

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