Spike Island, Bristol, UK
4 October to 14 December 2014
The world in Anna Franceschini’s films is one deserted by humans, a world in which movement is the result of mechanical action, a world of infinite repetition and constant sameness, of gravitation and attraction.
Franceschini harnesses the illusionist potential of motion pictures to animate the inanimate. Her favourite shooting grounds are the sites of industrial production in the widest sense, from factories and workshops to funfairs. To work her magic, she typically starts by isolating or framing a single object, device, machine or process, which she then submits to the discerning gaze of her camera until it takes on a life of its own, freed from its functional context to become an object of poetic contemplation.
Yet the context never vanishes completely. Glimpses remain to remind us of the parallel development of cinema and industrial manufacturing. This correlation is suggested in the only video in the exhibition, The Player May Not Change His Position (2009), which assembles long, static shots of empty swirling rides and carousels in a deserted theme park – a nod to the early days of film, when it was a novelty attraction at funfairs. The connection also surfaces when clothes in a dry-cleaning factory are pumped up with air (The Stuffed Shirt, 2012), their life-like gesticulations throwing a bridge between modern-day robots and the ancient figure of the golem, ‘a creature made out of matter and form’ that ‘performed hard work’ for his master, itself the inspiration of countless films from pre-talkie expressionist horror flicks like Frankenstein to later incarnations such as Ghostbusters.
Franceschini acknowledges the influence of the French impressionist filmmaker and theorist Jean Epstein on her practice – particularly his idea that ‘the cinema is true; a story is false’, which she uses to highlight the lack of narrative in her films and her belief that cinema is as real – or unreal – a concept as reality. Her work effortlessly revisits the beginnings of the medium, from early image-recording devices exploiting the phenomenon of the persistence of vision to the illusionistic trickery in the films of Georges Méliès or Segundo de Chomón. A telling example in this respect is It’s About Light and Death (To Joseph Plateau) (2011), in which flashes of light illuminate the animals in a taxidermist’s workshop, recreating the wonder of pre-cinema spinning devices such as the zoetrope (literally ‘wheel of life’ from the Greek ‘zoe’ meaning life, and ‘trope’ which translates as turn) or the phenakistoscope, whose mechanisms relied on still (i.e. ‘dead’) images. And when in Before They Break, Before They Die, They Fly! (2014), knick-knacks from a tourist gift shop start to levitate in a set-up worthy of a low-budget sci-fi movie, the artist’s contention that hers is essentially a ‘cinema of animation or re-animation’ has come full circle.
Franceschini’s cinematic language is also informed by avant-garde and experimental cinema (from Fernand Léger and Oskar Schlemmer to José Val del Omar and Hollis Frampton), which she loosely references in several of her works. In It’s All About Light (To Joseph Plateau) / 1 (2011), for instance, the sparks produced by the sanding of train tracks call to mind the work of structuralist filmmakers who used to scratch the emulsion from the film strip. But if the results look similar, the means are radically different, as Franceschini does not operate according to a set of rules nor with a predetermined conceptual framework in mind.
The more mainstream influences in her work hark back to her studies at IULM (The International University of Languages and Media) in Milan with the Italian theorist Gianni Canova, whose research focuses on Hollywood blockbusters such as Batman or Alien. This can be seen in a work such as The Stuffed Shirt, with its postmodern techno-human overtones, and in Angel (2013), a looped shot panning across a logo, which in this exhibition also acts as an animated caption for The Stuffed Shirt (where the lettering was found on one of the machines).
Franceschini uses the camera to track the laws that govern the secret lives of her ‘emporium of things’, as she calls the protagonists of her filmic musings. These laws, it seems, are affective as well as physical, much like her cinema.
Laws of Attraction is the artist’s first solo exhibition in the UK. It presents work from the past five years including silent 16mm short films as well as single and multi-channel digital projections.
 Moshe Idel, Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid (New York: State University of New York Press, 1990), p. 296.
 Jean Epstein, ‘Bonjour cinéma’, in Écrits sur le cinéma (Paris: Seghers, 1974), p. 86.
 The theory that an image persists on the eye’s retina for twenty-fifth of a second.
Anna Franceschini (b. Pavia, 1979) earned a master’s degree in Television, Cinema and Multimedia Production in 2006 from IULM University in Milan and was then awarded a postgraduate research fellowship in History and Criticism of Italian Cinema. Her videos and films have been selected by numerous film festivals such as the 60th Locarno and the TFF/Torino Film Festivals (both 2008). In 2009–10, she was in residency at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam, and has been exhibiting her work in the visual arts context ever since.
Spike Island is an international centre for the development of contemporary art and design. Based in Bristol, UK, it is home to a gallery, café and working space for artists, designers and creative businesses. A vibrant hub for production, presentation and debate, Spike Island offer opportunities for audiences to engage directly with creative practices through participation and discussion.