Dear Lucy

Dear Lucy, performative installation, with Rilaben, 2021- ongoing


Dear Lucy is a performance project about the multiple lines of connection between personal and collective history, between our bodily presence and our historical past, starting from a common experience of our family members who fought in Ethiopia in the colonial army in the 1930s.

The project 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. 

The detailed text documents, in which the colonial doctor addresses his sister Lucia in particular, are interspersed with the story of Lucy, the renowned fossilized bones of an Australopithecus afarensis discovered in the 1970s in the Afar Depression in Ethiopia, by an American paleoanthropologist who listened to the Beatles. Lucy, a beloved symbol in Ethiopia, is known as one of the most famous human ancestors. 



As images of Lucy’s bones and their 3D-printed variants are shown during the performance, Rilaben tries to respond to the images and objects with his own body: at the same time letters, read by Rilaben himself, resonate in the space, while video sources show historical facts, related to the Ethiopian War, Lucy’s history and family history.

In order to elaborate our personal and collective connections with the colonial past, we choose a performative dimension that conceives 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. (from Franz Thalmair and Gudrun Ratzinger’s exhibition text)





Music: JDZazie | Cristina Abati 

With the support of: Fosca, MAD Murate Art District, Regione Toscana.

Incollaboration with:

Multimedia Lab Dr. G.A. L’Abbate, Pisa U.

Affect and Colonialism Network, Berlin FU,

Kunstraum Lakeside, Klagenfurt, AT

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

Images and video shot at the performance at Kunstraum Lakeside – Klagenfurt – 17.01.2023

Ph credits: Johannes Puch