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Her Boyfriend
Came Back
From
The War

AND THEY NEVER SPOKE ABOUT IT AGAIN

Download the App HBCBFTW

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The starting point of this project was the discovery of my Italian grandfather's WWII archive and the love correspondence between my grandparents at that time.

The aim of HBCBFTW is to reactivate this archive through the use of Augmented Reality (AR), and to trigger a re-enactement of individual and collective memories through Augmented Postcards.

A project by

Valentina Peri
 

AR App developed by

transmatter.art
 

Produced by

Tirana Art Lab & Beyond Matter Eu

THE HIDDEN HISTORY BEHIND THE ARCHIVE

The "Her" in the title refers to my Italian grandmother, Manfredina Falchi and the "Boyfriend" is her future husband, my Italian grandfather, Giuseppe Peri (Peppino). The war her boyfriend was fortunate enough to survive World War II.

From 1939 to 1943, Albania was an Italian protectorate and more than 100.000 Italian soldiers were deployed to the Balkan front to fight alongside the Germans.

After the armistice of 8 September 1943, when Italy capitulated to the Allies, Peppino became a deserter, fleeing the Germans and their concentration camps. His fate, together with that of more than 20.000 men like him, has remained hitherto largely unknown.

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My grandfather’s photo archive consists of candid shots of Italian soldiers about their informal daily activities, military exercises and gatherings, and plenty of civilians, taken with an Hasselblad camera from 1940 to 1942.

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THE LOVE CORRESPONDENCE

Peppino regularly sent love postcards to Manfredina.

This correspondence was the result of the peculiar epistolary phenomenon of the "war godmothers", women who were assigned to correspond with a soldier on the front. If the main objective was to provide moral support to the young men at war, these exchanges often evolved into intimate conversations, confessions of love and, once returned home, into long-awaited marriages. This was the case with my grandparents.

The photos and the official postcards of the Italian Army I found in the archive make up the fragmentary mosaic of a love story that grew up between home and the front, an intimacy mediated by the propaganda images of the fascist regime.

Along with their love contract, my grandparents signed another one: never to speak again about the painful period of their youth during the fascist regime and the war.

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MBCBFTW is one of the first net.art works engaging non-linear storytelling through hypertexts. The story - the get-together of two lovers after the end of a war - unfolds by clicking on images and texts in various sized windows within the frame.

BROWSING MEMORY

The title of my project refers to one of the most iconic works in the history of net.art: "My Boyfriend Came Back from the War" by Russian artist Olia Lialina, a browser based internet artwork from 1996.

The story of my grandfather and the unspoken facts have always haunted me, until I recently found a small handwritten notebook, in which he had diligently listed places, events, and people he met day by day from September 8, 1943 to his way back home, on foot, in 1945.

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Starting from the notes he left and following his photographs, I went to Albania in search of answers.

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Albania, 2022

This project attempts to reconstruct different stories through the fragments I collected alongside my research and the journey to Albania, and to address some aspects of Italy’s postcolonial heritage and Albania’s postcommunist present.

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MEMORIES OF THE THEATER

 

On May 17th 2020 Tirana National Theater was thrown down. Built by the Italian architect Giulio Berté in 1939, during the Italian occupation of Albania, the Teatri Kombëtar survived many political transitions and was active until recently. Its distruction erased an important site of the cultural patrimony and enhanced a void in the memory of the country. Today it is just an empty square in the public space, a sort of "negative monument" in the center of Tirana. 

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The metaphor of the theater is a take on Giulio Camillo’s “Theater of Memory”, a mental device from the Italian Renaissance that created the possibility of a shared space, based on a common set of associations that anyone can use, but whose significance is intersubjective.

Inspired by my grandparents’ archival material and the documentation I have gathered during my research and journey throughout Albania, on the traces of this archive, I have decided to explore the parallel between the operations of Camillo’s mental theater and today’s AR technologies by means of data that can be accessed and activated through the Augmented Postcards.

Download the App HBCBFTW from Apple Store or Google Play