Animated Passions: The Films of Ursula Ferrara

During the Q&A for the screening of Animated Passions: The Films of Ursula Ferrara, Ferrara commented that her body of work reflects the conventional progression of her formal art school training, graduating from monochrome to color, simple sketches to more complex forms. The theme of evolution and transformation is also integrally connected to the metaphorical image of natural evolution in her early pencil drawing films, Lucid Insanity (Lucidi Folli, 1986) and Past Future (Congiuntivo futuro, 1988) – a penchant for metamorphosis that Ferrara describes as a logical way to represent the subconscious creative process. Playful and singular, these early films reflect youthful exuberance and irreverence in their organic illustrations of recurring life cycles – love, work, leisure, sexuality, and reproduction (the image of an infant in Lucid Insanity and an egg in Past Future) – that unfold against the familiar rhythms of everyday life (as symbolized by the incorporation of contemporary pop music).

Asymmetrical Feel (Amore asimetrico, 1990) and As People (Come persone, 1995) reflect a newfound maturity, distance, and restlessness in Ferrara’s work. Vacillating between disparate modern art forms, in particular, cubism and graphic arts, Ferrara abandons the simple, flat space, line drawings of her early films to create more voluptuous and geometric forms. It is interesting to note that in the use of a violin adaptation of Recuerdos de Alhambra (traditionally, a guitar piece) in As People in lieu of seemingly random pop music that had accompanied her early films, Ferrara incorporates a more deliberate, tensile dimension to her work in this period, supplanting the brashness of her earlier films with a more introspective tone.

Almost Nothing (Quasi niente, 1997) represents Ferrara’s adoption of oil paints on film, marking a transition from black and white to color, and also from singular lines to filled spaces. The shift towards volume, gradation, and texture is also reflected in Five Rooms (Cinque stanze, 1999) and The Match (La partita, 2002), where dimensionality is created through isolated framing that compartmentalize movement within the context of larger, overarching spaces (a house floor plan in Five Rooms, and spectators and players in The Match). Ferrara further experiments with faceting and layered compositions in her collage approach to the most recent film in the program, News (2006). Intriguingly, Ferrara’s mixed media approach to News is also an integration of old (paper) and new (cel), combining found object (newspaper clippings) with hand-painted illustrations that insightfully convey the complex issues behind terse, often sensationalized newspaper headlines.
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