Lions After Slumber #1 – Federico Campagna

30 September 2014

Federico Campagna: the first contribution following the inaugural meeting for the talk series, Lions After Slumber. Born in Milan in 1984, Campagna works in rights management at London’s Verso Books.

His book The Last Night: Anti-Work, Atheism, Adventure (Zero Books, 2013) will be translated into Italian in 2015. He has been invited, amongst others, in the talks: Whistle While You Work: palpitations of productivity (South London Gallery, London, June 2014); Radical Thinkers: Federico Campagna and Saul Newman Present The Ego and His Own by Max Stirner (ICA Institute of Contemporary Art, London, February 2014).

Here he writes about his film choices:

La classe operaia va in paradiso (1971) by Elio Petri

Stalker (1979) by Adrei Tarkovsky

Limitless (2011) by Neil Burger

‘Work work work, I prefer the sound of the sea’, reads the monument of Ugo Medlar, seven-meters of colored steel on the coast of Apulia. For me, living under the much more pale sun of the north, the sea is not only an (absent) element of the landscape. The sound of the sea is gathered back into the white noise of the subway in the morning, and the train back home in the evening. But the sea, the real one, remains an unattainable goal, almost metaphysical.

The three films selected for this projection are the story of the movement from work to the sea.

It begins with La classe operaia va in paradiso (1971) by Elio Petri. The English translation of the title (Lulu The Tool) perhaps renders even more clearly the theme and atmosphere of the film. Turin is snowy, dark, deafening. Turin is a factory, a dismissal and an empty kitchen. Lulu works like crazy, accumulates ulcers, becomes hated by his colleagues. And when he tries to rebel, he finds himself isolated like the crazy, not like the heroes. There is no paradise for the working class as long as it remains so.

But the film by Petri is for the old, it belongs to an era of grainy color and political beards. In forty years, the colors have become HD and beards ironic. Watching Limitless (Neil Burger, 2011) is like looking at oneself in the mirror. A failed writer discovers a new life of money, esteem and success thanks to a drug that expands his mental abilities. If the film of Petri belonged the underground time of marijuana and LSD, Limitless recounts the perfectly normal world of study drugs. Drugging oneself to work, and working because there is nothing else to do. Even the CCCP, with their lyrics ‘Produci Consuma Crepa / Sbattiti Fatti Crepa’ (Produce Consume Die / Work your ass off Take drugs Die) are no longer in step with the times. To die has become something for the lazy. Who’s got time to die? Only the terroni (southern Italians) die, and they are ugly, as in the films of Ciprì and Maresco.

A century ago, when Transhumanism took its first steps in the secret circles of the Russian Cosmists, we imagined that the development of bioengineering and chemistry would take us towards higher spiritual horizons. But the dreams of the Cosmists have suffered the same fate as those psychedelic ones of Huxley and Leary: tall and beautiful and immortal men, intent to work work work in order to dry up the sea.

Stalker (1979 Adrei Tarkovsky), tells us with a silent nod that the sea still exists. It can be bounded by electrified grids and perimeters of armed guards, like the Zone in the film, but it is still there. A “Stalker” is an illegal guide who leads a few fearless into the middle of the Zone, up to the room where wishes come true. Moving between submerged tunnels, abandoned warehouses and ruins of factories, you find yourself immersed in a place that has a life of its own. A Zone that would never submit itself to the exploitation of productive resources. And so the Stalker and his companions, who entered as professionals, come out changed. At one time, perhaps, the Zone would have been large and bright, blue like an ocean. Today, however, in order to continue to exist it must hide, and we find it dirty, yellowed, a swamp. The journey into the Zone begins as a descent into the realm of the dead, in the wake of man and a black dog. It concludes where the words end – where the work is up to machines (robota in Russian), and where even the word ‘sea’ is no longer necessary.

(Federico Campagna)