Critics’ Picks

Yuri Ancarani, Il Capo, 2010, 35mm film, color, 5.1 dolby digital audio, 15 minutes.

Los Angeles

Yuri Ancarani

Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
September 27–January 19

In a dark and cushioned gallery, Yuri Ancarani’s trilogy of short films La malattia del ferro (The Disease of Iron), 2010–12, plays on a seamless loop. Each lush 35-mm segment focuses on an “unseen” form of labor, reveling in the dexterity of machine-amplified human bodies: the micro movements of a da Vinci surgical machine inside the abdomen of a patient; the macro movements of two excavators with enough force to break a mountain into slabs, directed by the flicks and waves of a quarry chief; and the human movements of submarine sailors systematically manipulating the ergonomic suits and bulkheads and diving bells that house them at deadly depths.

Throughout, Ancarani’s camera marvels at technologized, ultra-human extensions of labor. What is shown is no mean “work” but is in fact highly specialized, not to mention dangerous. Lurking under the smooth cinematography is the sense that the slightest error could be catastrophic: death by crushing for the sub crew or il capo, peritonitis for the patient under the da Vinci. This thrill—that such precision can be accomplished with an alien-looking apparatus—is paralleled in the apparent mastery of the filmmaker over his own, lensed extension. As his subjects go beyond their normal abilities, the artist sees as never before.

At the same time, Ancarani’s films indulge in a technohumanist vein—in shots of the quarry chief’s dense, glossy chest hair, or in a sequence where the robosurgeon’s servos cycle through their range of articulation. Never mind that the doctor-operator almost certainly makes more than the quarry foreman—the value placed, seemingly, on mechanical sophistication over bodily risk. Surplus value be damned. Labor here obeys a “beautiful choreography.” Il capo stabs a stub-fingered hand into the air, stopping the excavator’s claw. A sci-fi sound track sucks and groans as the da Vinci plunges into the abdomen, into the frame.