Unit 2, BJ House 10 - 14 Hollybush Gardens London E2 9QP

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Johanna Billing
Hollybush Gardens
26 October - 2 December 2012
Review by George Vasey

Set to a soundtrack of an ‘improvised homage to Italian progressive experimentalist Franco Battiato,’ five children ditch their parents at a restaurant and run through the streets of Rome until they chance upon a disused school. They steal a set of keys from the janitor’s office and break into a room where they find a stash of antique pedagogical equipment. The children investigate the broken machines, jabbing the keys of a typewriter and speculating as to the potential use of a dismantled reprographics machine. The session turns into an impromptu workshop with the children painting Rorschach blots on the floor.

‘I’m Gonna Live Anyhow Until I Die’ (2012) is a new short film by Johanna Billing, co-commissioned by the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin and the MAC in Belfast to mark the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. The film conflates many of the artist’s recurring themes while attempting to subtly tackle Italy’s dire austerity cuts and subsequent educational reforms.

Billing’s work has been informed consistently by an interest in pedagogy, and the informal editing and framing concentrates attention on the tactility and collaborative play of the children. Filmed in 2010-11 to a backdrop of student protests, Billing choreographs the exuberance of her young charges against the stasis of contemporary Rome. Set amongst some of Rome’s poorest districts, there are a number of allusions to the poet, director and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini. From the restaurant where he ate his last meal to the streets near where his murdered body was later found, the film is haunted by one of Italy’s most famous political dissidents. In the Sixties, Pasolini famously extolled the virtues of a national popular art that would engage a critical working class, and ‘I’m Gonna Live Anyhow Until I Die’ portrays the same poverty stricken communities represented by neo-realist cinema.

The extensive press release and interview between the artist and Cecilia Canziani further explicates the sense of a country that has not realised its full potential. Pasolini’s death represented a moment where a genuine alternative was extinguished, and Billing’s film seems to suggest that we have come full circle. There is that famous moment in Jean Luc Godard’s ‘Bande à Part’ (1964) where the restless Anna Karina and her two male friends run through the Louvre. The scene captures an era when the calcified establishment was confronted by the agility of a younger generation that would become radicalised as the Sixties progressed. The children in ‘I’m Gonna Live Anyhow Until I Die’ parallel this moment of opportunity. The last few years have provided us with numerous representations of protest and this film feels like an attempt to shift political antagonisms towards the representation of possibilities.

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