Abstracts: Eye on Italy


Clodagh Brook   (University of Birmingham)

Cinema and the Arts in Italy: Creativity, Conflict and Collaboration (OPENING)

This talk investigates how Italian cinema has collaborated with the arts, particular other visual arts, from the sixties through to our digital contemporaneity. Crossing boundaries between artistic disciplines has been variously described as ‘avant-garde’, ‘experimental’, ‘disruptive’, even, for Roland Barthes, as ‘war’. However, by the 1960s, cinema was already a collaborative art, so was there still room for such experimentation? Where has cinema set its artistic boundaries? Has it domesticated art, architecture or fashion? And are there players who defamiliarise the normality of cinema’s interartistic and intermedial collaboration? Taking mini case studies from Italy of the 1960s, 1980s and the 2010s, I will focus attention on individuals and groups who are actively engaged in disrupting boundaries and I will explore how institutions and technologies foster or hinder such disruption. In so doing, the talk will challenge and amend established ideas of cultural centres and peripheries. I seek to examine how an interdisciplinary (and interartistic/intermedial) approach can subvert widely accepted artistic canons; what looks central under the lens of the monodisciplinary microscope may not be so from an interartistic one.

This talk forms part of the AHRC-funded Interdisciplinary Italy project, for which I am Principal Investigator. Details of the project’s work can be found at http://www.interdisciplinaryitaly.org.

Interdisciplinary Italian Teaching: Strengthening the Discipline (CLOSING SESSION, FREE FOR AND OPEN TO TEACHERS OF ITALIAN)

Interdisciplinary teaching has rapidly become normative and naturalised. We do it without thinking too much about it. We show cinema clips in a language class. We examine illustrations of Inferno alongside Dante’s text. Moreover, literature and film, key to our Italian Studies programmes, are also per se interdisciplinary, harbouring concepts from economics, philosophy, cultural studies, psychology and so on. Despite the apparent omnipresence of interdisciplinarity, however, Alan Liu (1989) argues that interdisciplinary study is the most seriously underthought critical, pedagogical and institutional concept in the modern academy.

As the discipline of Italian Studies comes increasingly under threat, two key questions emerge: Can interdisciplinary practice help us strengthen the position of Italian as a discipline? Can it enrich the kind of teaching we can provide for our students? Beneath these two questions lies a perplexity: what is 21st-century Italian Studies? What could it, or should it, include? What does it exclude? Drawing on the work of Julie Thompson Klein, Hans Lauge Hansen and others, as well as on emerging research from the AHRC-funded Interdisciplinary Italy project (www.interdisciplinaryitaly.org), these are the questions that this talk will endeavour to answer.

Giancarlo De Cataldo: The Dark Side: raccontare il crimine tra letteratura e fiction TV


Claudia Bernardi  (Victoria University of Wellington)

How to (un)see a massacre: visual strategies around violence in Giorgio Scerbanenco’s I ragazzi del massacro (1968) and Fernando Di Leo’s screen adaptation (1969) – WCFM

The third book in the Duca Lamberti tetralogy, I ragazzi del massacro is the first novel by Giorgio Scerbanenco to be adapted into a film, written and directed by cult Italian noir film-maker Fernando Di Leo. Scerbanenco’s narrative, centred around the investigation of the rape, torture and murder of a young, idealistic teacher by eleven of her male students, problematizes from the start the extent to which such an extreme act of misogynistic violence can and should be presented: through sophisticated visual strategies, the author frames all descriptions of the massacre in terms that clearly warn his readers against any temptation of voyeurism. By contrast, in his screen adaptation Di Leo wavers between the need to confirm the moral tenets of his source and the desire to titillate his audience through pornographic suggestions. Yet, both novel and film betray the anxiety of their authors (and of part of their readers/viewers) vis-à-vis the social changes taking place in Italy in the late 1960s; in particular, they reveal a resistance against the shifting power dynamics between men and women, and against the growing visibility of diverse sexualities. Through different narrative solutions, which are reflected in Di Leo’s departures from the original text and that culminate in his choice of a different main culprit for the massacre, both fictions reflect an important moment of crisis of traditional Italian male identity and heterosexuality. In doing so, they also contribute to a genre aesthetics that, especially in film, will end up normalizing visual representations of violence against women, homosexuals and transsexuals in popular culture.

Luci Callipari-Marcuzzo (La Trobe University)

Lost in space and time: weaving stories and tracing threads of the past

Families dispersed for social or political reasons to different parts of the globe were like satellites or capsules of culture, who then became the main custodians of a cultural preservation, where time more or less stood still. A cohort of migrants from towns within the Commune of Careri in Reggio Calabria left during the post-war mass migration of the 1950s and made new lives for themselves and their families in the area surrounding Mildura in North-West Victoria, Australia (collectively known as Sunraysia). Like other recently arrived migrants, they immersed themselves in the familiar and clung to their traditions by keeping a microcosm of their culture and cultural practices alive. These settlers contributed to the development of the agricultural fabric of the local area, bringing with them skills and knowledge acquired in their homeland.

Utilising the modes of Narrative Enquiry, Autoethnography and Grounded theories, my practice-led research also explores the ideas of Postmemory (Hirsch, http://www.postmemory.net/) and cultural (be)longing (understood as both belonging and longing) through the use of video, performance, enactment, relational art and installation. Dressed in typical 1950s immigrant fashion, my series of live art performances, Tracing Threads of the Past [Tracciando Fili del Passato] are transformative explorations which attempt to re-imagine traditional methods of “making” or women’s work, interpreting and translating the experiences of Calabrian settlers to North-West Victoria in a contemporary visual art and sociological context. The presentation will develop through a visual, multimedia and performative essay, and include documentation from the live art performances and my recent travel research to the province of Reggio Calabria, where I often felt as though I was lost in space and time; caught between two worlds: the old and the new; two cultures: Australian and Calabrian, and three languages: English, Italian and dialect.

 Stefania Capogreco  (Macquarie University)

Expanding the terra d’amore: Post-colonial and diasporic Italian identity in John Turturro’s Passione

This paper examines the extent to which the pervasive cinematic trope of Naples as terra d’amore (land of love) has undergone post-colonial revision in John Turturro’s Passione. Dominant representations of Naples in cinema have conformed to two tropes: Hollywood filmic representations of Naples as terra d’amore to the outsider/tourist protagonist, or local filmic stereotypes of Napolitanità or Neapolitanness as collection of good attributes (the Neapolitan formula). Importantly, three recent films have moved in pivotal ways beyond these tropes. This paper examines the extent to which one of these films—John Turturro’s Passione (2010)—sees a continuity in the representation of Naples as land of love, but reconfigures hegemonic notions of insider/outsider status implicated in its traditional predecessor.

Lacking the informative approach of a traditional documentary, this docu-musical’s ‘rewritings of original [Neapoltian] music creates a dense cloud of significance, linking past and present, and new images’ (Gaudiosi, 2014, 286). Of particular interest to this paper is 1) Turturro’s opening narration, wherein which he makes his outsider position pronounced, explicitly addressing his tourist gaze/Italo-American diasporic status; 2) performances by M’Barka ben Taleb and James Senese which function to disrupt a closed notion of Neapolitanness. We might then say that the ‘dense cloud’ that Turturro constructs in Passione is one of Neapolitanness as diasporicness. Whilst Passione is still seen from elsewhere, like in the trope of terra d’amore, it is narrated through a vast amount of ‘outsider’ positionalities. Here, the Neapolitan film configures as an expansive visual and sonic critique of closed notions of culture through which to critically think Italian visual culture in light of Italy’s diasporic and post-colonial others.

Clara Casagrande  (Utrecht University)

Racial expectations on Italy’s national identity: a case study of the documentary “18 Ius Soli: il diritto di essere italiani”

Current postcolonial democracies face the difficult challenge of rethinking state membership in times of globalization. The legal frameworks currently available to assign citizenship, that is, the so-called ‘right of the blood’ and ‘right of the land’, create complex relations between citizenship, race/ethnicity, and national identification. In Italy, the legal apparatus establishes that individuals born in the Italian territory to parents of non-Italian origin are not allowed to acquire Italian citizenship, which creates a contradictory situation of inclusion and exclusion and plays a role in the creation of a national identity and belonging. In sum, the inability of the Italian system to adapt to a postcolonial era reinforces and is embedded in colonial ethnocentric expectations of what makes the authentic Italian citizen. This paper investigates the controversial situation of individuals born in the Italian territory but who do not have “Italian blood” and are thus denied access to citizenship. I will analyse how the documentary ‘18 Ius Soli: the right to be Italian’ (18 Ius Soli: il diritto di essere italiani), which narrates the lives of “second generation” young Italians who struggle to stay in their homeland once they turn 18 years old, directed by Italian-Ghanaian Fred Kuwornu, deconstructs colonial normativity on identity while casting light on the deep transformations of what means to be “Italian” in the Postcolonial era. Thus, drawing on Cristina Lombardi-Diop’s (2012) notion of postracial in Italy, I will explore to what extent self-recognition and representation of these individuals problematizes racial assumptions in relation to Italianness.

 Luciana d’Arcangeli  (Flinders University)

Le donne nel cinema di Matteo Garrone

I personaggi femminili nei film di Garrone, nonostante la marginalità e la marginalizzazione, risultano in qualche modo coerenti con la loro epoca. O forse no? Mary Wood, nel suo libro Italian Cinema, apre il capitolo “Gender Representations and Gender Politics” affermando che “fictional female bodies do not seem to be able to represent political or social power”; questo intervento propone una disamina dei personaggi femminili della filmografia di Matteo Garrone, dalle femme fatale alle vittime, dalle prostitute alle madri di famiglia per capire se sono effettivamente tagliate completamente fuori da ogni tipo di potere politico e/o sociale.

 Giulia Golla Tunno  (IMT School for Advanced Studies)

Can you be a stranger in your motherland? Theo Eshetu’s Postcolonial Representation of Italian and Ethiopian Identities

A growing number of video art and documentary projects are investigating Italy’s postcolonial heritage, still largely unexplored. Sometimes described as “migrant cinema”, experimental filmmaking has become the locus for the investigation hybridity and fragmentation of diasporic experiences, positioning itself in countertendency to the dominant filmic and television canons.

Within this framework I will analyse the work of the video artist Theo Eshetu (b. London, 1958), whose work, starting from the mid-80s, explores the themes of a postcoloniality both in terms of his personal and wider societal tendencies. Eshetu, being of Dutch-Ethiopian origins, has had an international upbringing and education, but has lived for over 30 years in Italy. This has shaped his hybrid and multicultural identity that is strongly reflected in his film production.

In particular, I will analyse four of his works, in which the artist investigates Italy and Ethiopia’s postcolonial identities. His documentary Blood Is Not Fresh Water (1997) in which the search for his autobiographical roots in Ethiopia, enables the artist to carry out a wider political and social analysis of the country. The video Africanized (2002), in which he questions the meaning of an “African spirit” in the context of the contemporary globalized society. I also examine the multi-screen installation The Return of the Axum Obelisk (2009), that follows the repatriation of a highly symbolic monument to Ethiopia and the multi-screen video Roma (2010) in which the artist tries to capture the city’s multi-layered identity. From this analysis I will show how Eshetu depicts the cultural displacement of contemporaneity, characterized by clashes and encounters between cultures. Moreover, I will suggest that the artist’s hybrid identity, his condition of statelessness, of being a researcher without a motherland, enables a more profound understanding of reality, as described by Kracauer (1969) referring to the exiled status of the historian.

Sally Hill (Victoria University of Wellington)

Mothers of Invention: Representations of Maternity and Disability in Italian Cinema

Until quite recently, as Laura Benedetti has noted, mothers were rarely considered in Italian fiction or film as a subjects in their own right (5). Religious, societal and family conventions have promulgated an image of the perfect mother as self-abnegating and self-effacing, and consequently of little creative interest. Mothers with disabilities and mothers of children with disabilities have tended to occupy an even more liminal position within this cultural context, as they are doubly subject to “oppressive mothering ideologies and disabling environments” (Ryan and Runswick-Cole 199). Such ideologies and environments enforce norms of motherhood and frame it according to expectations of extreme self-sacrifice, attaching blame to mothers who are seen as failing to live up to those expectations. Within this normative cultural framework any perceived ‘imperfections’ of the child are blamed upon ‘imperfect’ mothering. This paper explores these cultural dynamics in the context of cinematic representations of maternity and disability, an area that has received very little critical attention. Drawing on theoretical work in disability, gender and film studies, it assesses the ways in which mothers are portrayed – and invented – in these films in relation to guilt, blame, anxiety and activism. It argues that analysing Italian cinema from this perspective provides insights both into changing attitudes towards disability and maternity in Italy and into wider anxieties about the institution of motherhood in Italian society.

 Brigid Maher  (La Trobe University)

Multimodal translations of violence – Massimo Carlotto’s Arrivederci amore, ciao – WCFM

In this paper I will discuss representations of violence in Carlotto’s novel Arrivederci amore, ciao and in two subsequent adaptations or “intersemiotic translations” (Jakobson 2004): the two-volume comic book adaptation and the film adaptation. I will explore the ways in which the different capacities and conventions of each medium – book, film, comic – allow different aspects of this “storia di una canaglia” to be emphasized. In the case of the comic, I will look at the way the distribution of panels across the page directs the reader through sequences of events; the role of the audience in mentally filling in the gaps between panels, imagining those scenes not depicted but merely suggested (McCloud 1994: 68); the role of colour in creating a sense of menace; and the use of onomatopoeia as a visual and textual depiction of certain aural qualities of violence. I will also touch upon the film version, and the way its use of the extra modality of sound serves to create a feeling of suspense and even dread at certain key moments in the narrative.

 Gianmarco Mancosu  (University of Warwick)

Envisioning the Imperial Utopia: Fascist Newsreels and Documentaries on the Ethiopian War (1935-1941)

Eighty years ago Benito Mussolini announced the victory of the Ethiopian war and declared the fascist empire. In these moments, the regime reached the highest level of internal consensus. One of the most effective tools for both fostering this consent, spreading the dictator’s voice, and envisioning the utopian empire were the newsreels produced by the Istituto Nazionale Luce, the State-owned institution called to define and disseminate aesthetic discourses of the fascism. This paper focuses on these events and the wider consolidation of fascist power by looking at how fascism reworked reality and described itself within its newsreels. Thanks to archival records not previously studied, I have reconstructed the organization and the activity of the Reparto Foto-Cinematografico Africa Orientale Luce, its direct legitimation from Mussolini’s will, and its controversial relationship with other cultural/colonial institutions. In particular, the paper will focus on the pivotal role of the Ethiopian war in the process that, according to fascism’s rhetoric, defined the new Italian culture reclaimed by the liberal/socialist swamps. Notwithstanding these fascist aims, both contents of newsreels and their production disclose original features that give a deeper understanding of the fascist phenomenon. All these elements fit in the latest trends in Italian studies, inasmuch they show transnational dynamics acting in the relation between fascism and popular culture. Additionally, the analysis of representations of colonial otherness, which were used by fascism to embody fascist values, allows for a reflection on the historical roots of current representations of migrants/others in Italian society.

Barbara Martelli (University of Auckland)

Visualization and Domestication of the Dead Body in Italian Crime Fiction

My research focuses on a particular current of crime fiction, the Italian Neonoir that became conspicuous as early as the 1990s. It is an international media phenomenon with a growing success in readership and critical recognition, not only as a literary category, but also as a tendency of a collective, cross-genre and cross-media imaginary. Considering that its driving force is the murder and its by-product, the corpse, I examine how the representation of the dead body changed from a spectacularization of death to a biomedical gaze. The existing availability to a large public not only of autopsy practices, but also in general of medical techniques, has transformed our perception and storytelling of the body, dead or alive. The common perceptiveness of the dismembered body has undergone a double change: it has been both visualized and domesticated. In this paper I illustrate how Italian noir fiction reflects these two changes in our epistemology, taking as examples four Italian novels: Attenti al Gorilla (Sandrone Dazieri), Organi (Alda Teodorani), Almost Blue (Carlo Lucarelli), Pericle il Nero (Giuseppe Ferrandino). As for visualization, the investigation is mainly led as a visual procedure, through sight and the scientific instruments that potentiate it, making the bodies almost transparent. As for domestication, the dismembered body has become an all-pervasive and soft representation. The body, seen from the inside or in pieces, stops being exotic and becomes banal and reified. This normalization turns the noir imaginary into a common language for a vast public and also becomes a successful technique for understanding and narrating death.

 Michela Meschini (University of Macerata)

The Visual Unconscious: Photographic Images in the Fiction of Antonio Tabucchi

The intimate interrelation between photography and saudade, which in various forms and degrees characterizes Tabucchi’s fiction, echoes remarkably the speculations of both Sontag and Barthes on the essence of the photographic art. For both critics photography possesses, in comparison to other arts, an additional dramatic temporal value that makes it the perfect source for melancholic desire. In line with this idea, photography appears in Tabucchi’s narratives in connection to memories and reveries, entering less into the realm of the “seen” than into the realm of the “remembered”. It acts as a memory-trace through which the author addresses issues of subjectivity and desire while exploring his characters’ re-appropriation of the past: a re-appropriation that is never merely appeasing or consoling but, on the contrary, is imbued with ambiguity and concern. For if on the one hand photographs are a privileged
visual means by which to connect the present to the past, on the other hand they constitute, by the same token, a powerful way to underline the illusion and deceptiveness of this very operation. By drawing inspiration from Sontag’s and Barthes’s theories, this paper will illustrate how Tabucchi’s interest in photography shapes his idea of fiction enlightening the uncertain territory of its relation to the real, rather than just emphasizing the emotional overtones of his stories.

Samantha Owen (Curtin University)

Murdered Women and Masquerading Faces: Crime, Death and Moral Panics

In early-2016 the English-speaking press reported on two murders which had taken place in Italy. The first was the death of young British mother, Claire Martin. Martin lived in Grottaminarda, Campania in a small apartment adjoining the home of her partner’s family. Her partner lived in Germany and they had a one-year-old child. On the evening of 1 March 2012 Martin is said to have appeared at the door to her family’s house gasping “A man”. Minutes later she died from 10 stab wounds to the throat. After 15 months of investigation, and with no suspects identified, the case was closed as a suicide and it was suggested that Martin suffered from post-natal depression. The second was the death of a young American artist, Ashley Ann Olsen. Olsen was found by her boyfriend in her Florence apartment on 7 January 2016 with marks on her neck consistent with her being strangled. On 13 January 2016 Cheik Tidiane Diaw, a 27-year-old Senegalese illegal migrant was arrested for her murder. In the reporting of these cases the high-profile murder investigation into the death of British student, Meredith Kercher, was mentioned and there are some similarities: a sex crime; involvement of an immigrant without papers; foreign women; and discussions of links to the criminal underworld.

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the reporting of the cases of Martin and Olsen and to ask the question: what is the face of the migrant and the immigrant? Why are particular stereotypes invoked and what do they say and mean? What is the connection between women, crime, moral panics and the im/migrant?

 Aurora Perego (Utrecht University)

SVEGLIATITALIA: è l’ora di essere civili. On the visual representations of the 2016 Italian campaign for LGBT rights

In the context of the recent parliamentary debate on the so-called ‘Cirinnà Law’, several Italian organisations advocating for LGBT rights promoted a campaign to support the approval of the first law guaranteeing same-sex couples the right to civil partnership and stepchild adoption. Under the banner ‘Svegliati Italia’ (Wake up, Italy), not only did such actors directly demand that Parliament recognise civil rights for LGBT individuals, but also organised a series of national mobilisations, such as street demonstrations, political debates, conferences, and so forth. In this paper, I propose to analyse the combination of textual and visual representations associated with the campaign, in order to enquire into their deeper multiple meanings through a postcolonial queer lens. While the logo of the Svegliati Italia campaign was a (pink) clock, token of the Italian waking up in terms of LGBT rights, the main slogan ‘E’ l’ora di essere civili’ (It’s time to be civilised) was articulated around the discourse of the ‘progress’ of the nation, to be measured through the extension of civil rights to non-heterosexual individuals. The concern of this paper, then, lies on the need to analyse to what extent the representation of white, abled, young, beautiful LGBT subjects, together with the reference to the notion of ‘civilisation’ (see an example below), is entangled in the (re)production of (white) Italianness. By addressing the racial implications of such images, my essay aims at contributing to the on-going discussion on ‘homonationalism in queer times’ (Puar, 2007) and homonormativity (Duggan 2003) applied to the Italian construction of a (homosexual) national identity (Colpani 2015).

Barbara Pezzotti (ACIS)

Visualising the anni di piombo: Romanzo criminaleLa serie to come – WCFM