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Appunti del passaggio



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Appunti del passaggio introduces a minor perspective into the ways in which the historical phenomenon of migration from southern to northern Europe is represented today, testing the validity of History and exposing it to the first-hand accounts of those who actually made the passage.

The film reconstructs forgotten episodes related to migration from Italy to Switzerland in the 1960s, which was characterized by immigrant workers being restricted to the sphere of production, by discrimination and rising xenophobia, and by the use of "health risks" as a strategy to control immigration and the legality of border crossings. Following the narration of a young woman, which gradually gives way to a polyphonic narrative, Appunti del passaggio gives precedence to the accounts of the people who lived out the historical event in question from a subordinate position – accounts that were recorded and later used as transcripts for the making of the film. It also recirculates and remediates archival images, taking them out of their institutional framework so that the people who were once in the place of those depicted in the pictures can comment on these images. The film revisits different locations indicated by the protagonists in the course of repeated conversations: villages in the south of Italy which have been deserted by their inhabitants, the border zone in the Alps, the facilities of the former Grenzsanität in Brig, a modernist building used as an immigrant health inspection center until the mid-1990s. The film concentrates on the subjective, micro dimension, retracing the trajectories of the protagonists and letting their accounts unfold. As the film evokes how people crossed the border, their working conditions, exploitation, the limits placed on their rights and movement in order to obtain a work permit, all the way to the inspections that marked the "passage" of migrants from Italy to Switzerland, the contours of a common, collective experience emerge. Thus, Appunti del passaggio manifests a counter-memory of the period of the “economic miracle” and exposes the logics of biopolitical control that forced the bodies of immigrant workers through intrusive health checks at the border, as well as the effects of the current border regime in this frontier zone, where arrests and deportations of migrants back to Italy are a daily occurrence.

A first version of Appunti del passaggio was presented in the form of an art installation including documents and props as part of Logica del passaggio, a solo exhibition curated by Simone Frangi at Querini Stampalia, Venice (6 May - 7 June 2015). The final version (2016) has been reworked and expanded. Appunti del passaggio is part of a larger – still ongoing – body of work that investigates the general context of European "economic" migration in the post-war period of the “economic miracle”, sticking scrupulously to the facts and yet trying to reconfigure them through storytelling and figurative constellations. Bringing to light aspects neglected by the historiography of the period, the project sets out to question the processes whereby historical memory is constituted – represented, conserved, at times obliterated or repressed, performed and transformed.

The project includes explicit references to the Commedia dell’arte and to some of its historical protagonists, especially Pulcinella, a character originating from the region of Naples. Born in the 16th century in Italy, the Commedia subverted the antagonistic relationships between the servants and their masters or patrons. It later spread to the whole of European culture, influencing and infiltrating other theatrical traditions that incorporated and hybridized the repertoire and characters. In this tradition, masks have been used to re-enact – satirize, criticize – past and contemporary events. In the series of illustrations about Pulcinella’s life Divertimento per li Regazzi, GiandomenicoTiepolo used the mask to critically evoke recent, traumatic events related to the contemporary history, namely the conquest of Venice by the Napoleonic army, creating unexpected associations and anachronisms.

The project uses "the strategy of doubt to emphasize the discrepancy between official, institutional portrayals of Italian economic migration and the subjective views of the migrants, trying to construct a 'history from below' capable of capturing the life experience that drives historical events, their polyphonic nature and the degree of oblivion and obliteration that accompanies the construction of collective memory". (curators Simone Frangi and Virginie Bobin).

The body of work grew out of a period that initially involved research at migration museums and photo archives, then shifted into observations in the field and passages through the same areas traveled by the migrants. It will result in a series of interrelated works (including Appunti del passaggio), which can be presented autonomously or as clusters within specific architectural displays.

Part of this body of work, the complementary research Cinema delle rondini (titled after the derogatory nickname – “swallows” – given to seasonal Italian workers) examines the multiple and complex relations between migration and film. It focuses on political, transformative moments related to these phenomena and how film was involved in this process. Cinema delle rondini has resulted in a series of curated film programs, which invites us to rethink both the history of migration on a transnational scale and the history of film.


Logica del passaggio

Reader published by Archive Books, Berlin, on the occasion of the exhibition by Maria Iorio and Raphaël Cuomo, Logica del passaggio, curated by Simone Frangi at Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice (06.05.21015 – 07.06.2015)

Texts by Simone Frangi ("Logica del passaggio"), Cynthia Fornage ("The border health service in Switzerland after the Second World War") and details from Heidi & Peter Wenger, Album 33, Grenzsanitaet Brig [1959-1961] (Archives de la construction moderne – École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, fonds P. et H. Wenger)