Archivio Aperto 16th edition

Experimental Stories / Barbara Hammer

Experimental Stories / Barbara Hammer

Curated by Francesca Brignoli and Giulia Simi


Experimental Stories is Archivio Aperto’s retrospective dedicated to a filmmaker who made the history of avant-garde cinema in film projection.


Feminist and radical lesbian, Barbara Hammer is a true icon of militant experimental cinema. Born in 1939 in Hollywood – her grandmother, of Ukrainian descent, is David W. Griffith’s cook – with a mother who would have hoped for an acting career for her, Hammer discovered cinema relatively late, in her mid-thirties.
After a degree in psychology and a major in English literature, and after getting married and pursuing various careers, she enrolled at San Francisco State University where she was thunderstruck by Maya Deren’s poetic cinema and lesbian feminism. Her life would never be the same again and in 1974, in a true feminist road movie gesture, she climbed onto a motorbike with a Super-8 under her arm, ending her marriage and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a pioneer of lesbian cinema. She will do so, however, while remaining anchored to the aesthetic, production and fruition forms of experimental cinema, of which she is a true master and which she will explore in its most turbulent and surprising margins. Experimental cinema remains, for her, an artistic and political laboratory, where she also reflects on education outside institutions as a creative and community-building process. Not being able, in fact, to teach cinema in universities that, without openly declaring it, preferred not to hire her due to her open position as a lesbian feminist, Hammer opened her atelier to women who wanted to approach cinema and began a democratic education course for small groups, where, we can say it in the words that she would later coin bell hooks, she “taught to transgress”. She did this in private spaces and by actually teaching home-made cinema (Creative Teaching Spaces: Home Movies, is the provocative title of one of her most significant writings on film education as an artistic practice), because it is precisely in the intimate space of a home with open doors that cinema can flourish in its freest forms.


Barbara Hammer’s production is boundless: over 90 films and videos in her 50-year career. We have chosen 12 of them, all shown on 16mm film, where the topic of the lesbian body is intertwined with reflections on care, history and personal memory, on the matter and the senses as space and language of thought. “Cinema it’s a plastic and transparent medium.