Trailer for Director Francesco Clerici’s Documentary Hand Gestures

Francesco Clerici’s Hand Gestures (Il Gesto delle mani) follows the process of creating one of Velasco Vitali’s famous dog sculptures, from wax to glazed bronze, at Fonderia Artistica Battaglia (Battaglia Artistic Foundry), in Milan. The film observes the work of a group of skilled artisans in this 100-year old foundry and reveals the ancient traditions of bronze sculpture making, unchanged since the 6th century B.C.

This craft has been passed on in the ancient oral tradition and through apprenticeships from artisans. Hand Gestures observes and feels the work of Fonderia Artistica Battaglia: a place where the past and present share the same gestures and where each gesture is a sculpture itself. The story of the process will follow the birth of a dog sculpture made by the Italian artist Velasco Vitali. The story of a dog from wax to glazed bronze will show, with the use of archive footage, the historical process of a bronze foundry yesterday and today. This required historic research on 16mm prints that had not yet been catalogued or archived, which were shot in Fonderia Artistica Battaglia.

Historic Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzù used to say that the sculpture is a hand gesture; a gesture of love. According to Larry Shiner, Professor of Philosophy, History and Visual Arts at the University of Illinois: “Art, as we understand it normally, is a European invention of just two centuries ago. Involving many hands and many minds, art, however, has always been a matter of collaboration.” These are the two ideas at the core of this film. Ancient Greeks did not distinguish between art and craft. Techné covered both. This is the starting point from which the project has been developed, and we take the point of view of the camera, which observes and reveals the process. An artist who sculpts, who works the waxes, is treated in the same way as a craftsman who turns that wax into bronze, building and destroying other ephemeral sculptures: they have been making the same gestures for centuries, and by showing this to the camera they reveal historical “jumps” in time.

Hand Gestures is screening at the BFI London Film Festival, 9-10 October, BFI Southbank, and in cinemas nationwide from 20 November.

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1. Poster for Francesco Clerici’s Hand Gestures (2015).