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Remembering Paolo Gioli at Chazen Museum Of Art

February 19 @ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

A photo of Caroline Kennedy as a child is layered with an image of a child wounded during the Vietnam War in Paolo Gioli's "Children" (2008).

A photo of Caroline Kennedy as a child is layered with an image of a child wounded during the Vietnam War in Paolo Gioli’s “Children” (2008).


Filmmaker Paolo Gioli (1942-2022) may not be a common reference for the movement of structural cinema. But his diverse and consistent body of work, stretching from the late 1960s to the 2010s, is a rich and varied exploration of celluloid that often asks the viewer to reconsider the mechanics of their own seeing. In observance of Gioli’s death in 2022, the UW Cinematheque is hosting a career-spanning short film program of his work at the Chazen Museum Of Art, which will be introduced by UW-Madison professor Patrick Rumble, arguably the leading scholar on Gioli. 

The eight-film program begins with Traces Of Traces (1969), an animated film made with varied materials including the oil impressions from his own skin. As Gioli’s first film, it is more deliberately abstract than many of his others, exploring an on-cell animation style most commonly seen in Stan Brakhage’s films. Line patterns move between dense cross-hatches and looser, globular forms.

The remainder of the program includes Gioli’s many experiments with found footage, including Children (2008) which juxtaposes images of the privileged Kennedy family with photos of war-torn Vietnam, as well as Faces Of An Unknown Photographer (2009), which mines the collection of an anonymous early 20th-century photographer to re-photograph the materials and create dense superimpositions at different shutter speeds.

This ability to study and recreate old work with new methods runs through Gioli’s filmography; he uses the medium to rediscover and reanimate lost materials, and does this most extensively in Little Decomposed Film (1986) with a series of motion studies that echo Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering work. Borrowing only printed images from textbooks, Gioli stitches together a series of short animations, each simulating motion from as few as two or three still images with stroboscopic imaging and flicker effects. The dazzling effect calls the viewer’s attention to how, and at what exact point, we feel like we’ve seen a “moving” image.

If Gioli’s work possesses a psychotropic effect, it’s a self-aware interrogation of the act of seeing itself. Face Caught In The Dark (1995) most evocatively achieves this as a piece similarly made from the leftover materials of a long-gone photographer. Here, Gioli photographs the portrait photographer’s leftover glass plates (a pre-film era way to capture an image impression) and sequences them in a ghostly montage. Each thin impression is barely legible as a face on its own. Shots accumulate as a sort of all-face, like watching a granular prototype of the now-ubiquitous face-generating AI. It’s an eerie effect, and one that brings our awareness not only to the act of seeing but to film’s ability to trans-historically reanimate.

If all of this sounds heady and Frankensteinian, the program also includes the palette-cleanser Natura Obscura (2013), one of Gioli’s most purely beautiful films. Using a “pinhole” style (shooting through a tube pin-pricked with small holes), Gioli reduces the frame and surrounds it with tiny streams of light. The experimentation feels most jubilant. Each image is covered in a staticky halo with the clear footage at the center of the frame like the tip of a sparkler.

In a varied career that restores meaning to the filmic term of “experimental,” Gioli’s restless innovation made him a consistently interesting, if not widely known, filmmaker. His work reminds us that even the most conceptual work can have a potent psychological effect.

Maxwell Courtright


Chazen Museum Of Art
800 University Ave
Madison, WI 53706 United States
+ Google Map
(608) 263-2246

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