Statement #19 | Rilaben/Paz — Dear Lucy

Performative installation, January 17, 2023, 3 – 7 pm

From grandchildren to grandparents, from Africa to Europe, from humans to more-than-human beings: Dear Lucy is a performative project about the manifold connecting threads between personal and collective history, and between the body’s presence in the here and now, its origins in the past, and its orientation toward the future. The Italian-born artists Rilaben/Paz derive this work from their shared experience with family members who were active in the colonial army in the 1930s in what is now Ethiopia. Dear Lucy is based on letters Rilaben’s grandfather wrote to his family during the almost 30 years he worked as a doctor in East Africa. He followed the troops in 1935, when Italy, under the fascist government of Benito Mussolini, invaded the country to establish a colonial empire.

The letters, which are primarily addressed to family members, read like testimonies of a very personal story and yet are set in an overarching context. Rilaben/Paz intersperse the detailed text documents, in which the colonial doctor addresses his sister Lucia in particular, with the story of Lucy, the renowned fossilized bones of an Australopithecus afarensis discovered in the 1970s in the Afar Depression in Ethiopia. In this way, they reveal entanglements that would otherwise remain hidden. “In order to negotiate our personal and collective connections with the colonial past,” say the artists about their approaches to their family histories, “we choose a performative form that conceives of remembering as a corporeal and material practice, so that we do not get stuck between amnesia and an inability to act. The performance is intended as a form of meditation in which the doubling of the name ‘Lucia/Lucy’ unlocks a multitude of relationships, while activating interference and resonance between different levels of time and meaning.”

Philosopher Alexis Shotwell suggests that “thinking in terms of interdependence helps us work from the understanding that our bodies and selves are complex coproductions of our self, other people, the social relations that undergrid our world, and the material realities in which we live.”* Not only are family stories interwoven in Dear Lucy. In an expansive, performative montage, Rilaben/Paz also capture the material elements of the different narratives, converging categories such as organic and inorganic, colonial medicine and paleoanthropology, ancestors and future: While images of Lucy’s bones as well as their 3D print variants are displayed during the performance, Rilaben attempts to respond to the images and objects with his own body. At the same time, excerpts of the letters, mixed together with historical facts and information about the Ethiopian War, some family stories, scientific and mythological facts about Lucy, and paleoanthropological reports are played from tape or spoken directly into the room.

* Alexis Shotwell, Against Purity. Living Ethically in Compromised Times (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 179.

Enrico L’Abbate aka Rilaben (b. 1977 in Italy) lives and works in Berlin.

Valentina Lapolla aka Tina Salvadori Paz (b. 1979 in Italy) lives and works in Florence.

In collaboration with:
Music: JDZazie |; Cristina Abati (viola)
Multimedia Lab: Dr. Giuseppe Andrea L’Abbate, Pisa University
Fosca, MAD Murate Art District, Regione Toscana

AL288-1’s bones images and 3d models from:


Rilaben/Paz, Dear Lucy, 2021