December 11, 2010

CHANGE 11.12.10

11 December 2010, 7.36 am

December 10, 2010

A GREEK ISLAND DOCTOR AT WORK, 1920s

Doctor attending a patient, Kythera, 1920s

This is one of the most interesting and unusual images in the Kythera Photographic Archive. It shows a severely ill woman in bed, attended by a man, almost certainly a doctor, who is taking her pulse; he is holding an open watch in his left hand. What must be an ice pack lies on the patient’s head, suggesting an attempt to reduce a high fever; her forehead is protected by a napkin, while the pack is held in place by a string rising diagonally over the bed. The table holds two bottles, one of them probably containing medicine, an octagonal pill (?) box, an enameled drinking mug and a jug covered by a beaded cloth. The doctor's calf-length boots with their heavily studded soles are an indication of the state of the roads in the twenties.

The print, which is in poor condition, has been cut down at some point in its history. The truncated text was inscribed in china ink directly on the glass negative plate. It reads “Panayot[is]… by the side of the p[atient ?]”, or maybe “Panayot[a]”, possibly the name of the patient. Whatever the circumstances, it was a very unusual choice of subject, and, given the slow speed of film at the time, was almost certainly set up for the camera. We know the woman did not survive, since another photograph from the same source shows her on her deathbed – formal photographs of the dead, unlike this one, were not uncommon in prewar Kythera.

Gelatin chloride print, 23x26 cm. Ref. no. KPA 00070.

November 27, 2010

WASHING CLOTHES IN THE KASTALIAN SPRING

 École Francaise d'Athénes: The Delphi Excavations, 1892-93

Human geography is innately conservative; once a location has been successfully occupied for a significant length of time, it is rarely abandoned, unless conditions change radically. Temples were often founded on the sites of primitive shrines until superseded in turn by Christian churches, while cyclopean walls, byzantine castles and crusader keeps might succeed one another upon the same commanding position. If such a site is eventually abandoned, the consecutive strata offer rich picking to archaeologists; conversely, continued occupation often poses serious practical problems, such as occur almost daily in Athens or Rome.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the site of ancient Delphi was almost entirely covered by the village of Kastri. The new Greek state, however, fully alive to the crucial role to be played in the development of national consciousness by identification with ancient Greece, showed particular interest in this historically and emotionally loaded site; the earliest tentative excavations, by the German architect Edmund Laurent, were carried out at the express order of the first head of state, John Capodistria.

Full-scale excavations were obviously out of the question until the village could be removed elsewhere; it took 68 years to complete the process of removal, beginning with a census in 1838. Among the problems to be dealt with were the excessive claims of the locals, at least according to government functionaries (“They will demand three, perhaps even four times the value of their property”, opined an inspector of finances), the already hydra-headed Greek bureaucracy, the earthquake of 1870 and a persistent plague of bandits. Confirming that nothing ever changes, a report dated 1841 informs us that some considerable time after all new construction had been forbidden, “repeated requests were submitted, demanding either that excavations be put in hand, or that construction permits be issued”.

It appeared for a moment that the earthquake might open the way to a final resolution of the problem. In a letter, the Secretary General of the Archaeological Society claimed that “the majority of inhabitants, consumed by fear of earthquakes and fearing a violent repetition, genuinely desire to remove from Delphi”. There were, of course, a few stubborn holdouts (“some few old men prefer to die in their ancestral huts”), but in general the secretary felt he could conclude “rejoicing that the Delphi earthquakes have been the occasion for this missive”.

Things were not that simple. Before the village could be moved the villagers had to be compensated, but no funds were available for the purpose. In 1879, the French Archaeological School of Athens expressed an interest in undertaking the excavation at French government expense, and a serious attempt at concluding a treaty between the two governments came close to fruition in 1881. There followed interminable negotiations between the French, the Greek government and the Kastriotes, which ended in 1891 when relevant legislation was finally passed.  As usual, however, putting it into practice proved another matter entirely. In September, according to Théophile Homolle, the School’s director, “no sooner had work began, than the whole village gathered round, and the more hot-blooded among the inhabitants attacked the workmen and took the tools from their hands, shouting that because compensation had not been paid, they would prevent work from proceeding…”.

It is to the work of the Ecole Francaise, and particularly Homolle’s interest in photography, that we owe the photographs which commemorate the unusual (and very provisional) co-existence of an extensive archaeological excavation and an occupied settlement. The Kastriotes were eventually removed to a new site, abandoning Delphi to archaeologists – and tourists. I admit to a certain satisfaction upon finding that even forty years later, the descendants of the Kastriotes were making their presence felt: in a document dated 1930, Alexander Kondoleon, Overseer of Antiquities, complains that “the women of Delphi persist in washing their clothes in the Kastalian spring”. Amen.

Adapted from John Stathatos, Archaeologies, Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, 2003. Quotations from Delphoi, Anazitontas to chameno iero [Delphi, Searching for the Lost Sanctuary], École Francaise d’Athènes & Directorate of Delphi Antiquities, Yiannikos-Kalthis, Athens 1992.

November 24, 2010

CHANGE 28.10.10

28 October 2010, 8.25 am

November 21, 2010

GHOST FIELDS

From Κώστας Μανωλίδης, "Μορφοποιήσεις του καλλιεργημένου εδάφους" (2010)

In a recent post on his blog, the architect Kostas Manolidis proposes the term “ghost fields” for the increasingly numerous abandoned cultivations of rural Greece. Over time, the distinguishing marks of these fields and paddocks sink back into the landscape, becoming less and less visible to observers at ground level. From the air, however, the traces of what were once sites of intensive agricultural activity at once snap into focus - a technique already used to good effect by classical and medieval archaeologists. Manolidis has posted a set of diagrammatic maps of abandoned field systems from several different regions, together with the aerial photographs the diagrams are based on.

November 18, 2010

CLASSICAL LANDSCAPE WITH RUINS




“Landscape with Ruins” is a succinct enough description of early Greek landscape photography. The ruins have multiplied a thousand fold since the 1860s, but in their latest guise they rarely attract the attention of seekers after the picturesque. Like ancient shrines and temples, the ferroconcrete skeletons of half-finished and abandoned structures are often to be found in particularly attractive locations (beaches, hilltops and woodland clearings are all favourites); they spread like festering sores, and like pustules, they are symptomatic of a deeper sickness in the body politic.

In the more innocent post-war years, unfinished or half-finished structures were usually encountered in towns and villages. They were indicative of a modest prosperity, sufficient to permit the building of a family home in stages: this year the foundations and load-bearing columns, next year the brickwork, the rendering and window frames whenever there was a good olive harvest. Often, when the ground floor was complete, rebars would be left protruding from the roof slab, witnesses to the ambition to someday add another floor to the structure.

In recent decades, however, the elaborate concrete skeletons in their mostly rural or semi-rural settings are almost always indicative of corruption, greed or hubris. It is these contemporary ruins that Jeff Vanderpool has photographed like so many new temples to Nemesis. The luxurious country villa dropped in the middle of a protected forest, the proposed seaside restaurant an illegal stone’s throw from the beach, the pharaonic development funded through who knows what ‘arrangements’ by EU money: all have been stalled, half-completed, by poor management, financial irresponsibility or – too rarely – court order.

Some will eventually be completed, once more money is raised and the right people have been bribed; others will remain in situ, crumbling far too gradually, a cynical legacy to future generations. For whilst a building may on occasion be legally condemned and a court order issued for its demolition, never in living memory has a single such order actually been carried out. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.
Jeff Vanderpool, Dreams: Ruins of a Forgotten Future. Manifactura Gallery, Athens; to 2 December


Οι πρώτες φωτογραφίσεις του Ελληνικού τοπίου θα μπορούσαν σχηματικά να χαρακτηρισθούν “τοπία μετά ερειπίων”. Τα ερείπια έκτοτε έχουν πολλαπλασιασθεί, η τωρινή τους όμως όψη σπανίως πια προσελκύει τους λάτρεις του γραφικού. Όπως άλλοτε οι αρχαίοι ναοί, οι τσιμεντένιοι σκελετοί μισοτελειωμένων και εγκαταλελειμμένων κτισμάτων συναντιόνται κατά προτίμηση σε τοποθεσίες ιδιάζουσας ομορφιάς, όπως παραλίες, κορυφές λόφων ή δάση. Πληθαίνουν και απλώνονται σαν επιδερμικά καρκινώματα, συμπτώματα βαθύτερου νοσήματος στο σώμα της κοινωνίας.

Στα ποιό αθώα μεταπολεμικά χρόνια, τέτοιες κατασκευές συναντούσε κανείς κυρίως σε πόλεις και χωριά. Ήσαν ένδειξη μιας καινούργιας, σχετικής πάντα ευημερίας, αρκετής πάντως για το σταδιακό χτίσιμο της οικογενειακής οικίας: την πρώτη χρονιά θεμέλια και κολόνες, την άλλη τα τούβλα, ενώ ο σοβάς και οι κάσες ίσως περίμεναν την καλή χρονιά στις ελιές. Συχνά άφηναν αναμονές στη στέγη του ισογείου, ένδειξη ότι κάποτε θα έπεφτε και άλλος όροφος.

Τις τελευταίες όμως δεκαετίες, οι τσιμεντένιοι αυτοί σκελετοί, ως επί το πλείστον σε εξοχικές ή περιαστικές τοποθεσίες, είναι σχεδόν πάντα απόρροια διαφθοράς, πλεονεξίας ή ματαιοδοξίας. Τους καινούργιους αυτούς ναούς της Νέμεσης επέλεξε να φωτογραφίσει ο Jeff Vanderpool. Η πολυτελής βίλλα στη μέση του προστατευόμενου δάσους, η παραθαλάσσια ταβέρνα πάνω στον αιγιαλό, το φαραωνικό σύμπλεγμα που χρηματοδοτήθηκε, άγνωστο πως, από Ευρωπαϊκά κονδύλια: όλα έχουν παγώσει από έλλειψη χρημάτων, από κακοδιαχείριση η (πολύ σπανιότερα) ως αποτέλεσμα εισαγγελικής απόφασης.

Κάποια από αυτά τελικά θα αποπερατωθούν, όταν βρεθούν καινούργιοι πόροι και  δωροδοκηθούν τα κατάλληλα άτομα· άλλα πάλι θα παραμείνουν ως έχουν, φθαρμένα (δυστυχώς πολύ σιγά) από τον χρόνο, κυνική κληρονομιά στις ερχόμενες γενεές. Διότι εάν σε αραιά διαστήματα εκδίδεται καμιά διαταγή κατεδάφισης, το απολύτως βέβαιον είναι ότι ουδέποτε θα εκτελεσθεί. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice: Αν αναζητάς μνημείο, κοίταξε γύρω σου!
Jeff Vanderpool, Ερείπια ενός ξεχασμένου μέλλοντος. Γκαλερί Manifactura, Αθήνα, μέχρι 2 Δεκεμβρίου

October 4, 2010

CHANGE 02.10.10

2 October 2010, 8.27 am

September 28, 2010

UNACCOMPANIED MINORS / ΑΣΥΝΟΔΕΥΤΑ ΑΝΗΛΙΚΑ







Giorgos Moutafis' photographs of young people who have attempted the often dangerous crossing of the Aegean from Turkey won the last year's Young Photographers Award at the Kythera Photographic Encounters. The complete sequence, "Unaccompanied Minors", will be shown at the Zeidoros Art Centre as part of this year's event.

War, enforced conscription, physical and psychological violence, the death of their parents or simply disastrous economic conditions are only a few of the reasons why hundreds of children find themselves obliged to flee their countries. The journey to Europe is difficult, the crossing of the Aegean perilous. Some of the children make it. Others are lost. In the narrative, the term illegal immigrant always precedes the term child.                                                                                        Giorgos Moutafis


Οι φωτογραφίες του Γιώργου Μουτάφη με θέμα τη συχνά επικίνδυνη διάσχιση του Αιγαίου από ανήλικους μετανάστες απέσπασε το Βραβείο Νέων Φωτογράφων κατά τη διάρκεια των περσινών Φωτογραφικών Συναντήσεων Κυθήρων. Ολόκληρη η σειρά παρουσιάζεται στο Πνευματικό Κέντρο Ζείδωρος στα πλαίσια των φετινών ΦΣΚ.

«Ο πόλεμος, η υποχρεωτική στράτευση, η σωματική και ψυχολογική βία, ο θάνατος των γονιών τους και οι οικονομικές συνθήκες είναι μόνο λίγοι από τους λόγους που εκατοντάδες παιδιά  εγκαταλείπουν τις χώρες τους. Το ταξίδι προς την Ευρώπη είναι αρκετά δύσκολο, το  πέρασμα από την θάλασσα του Αιγαίου επικίνδυνο, κάποια παιδία τα καταφέρνουν. Κάποια χάνονται. Ο όρος
λαθρομετανάστης προηγείται πάντα της λέξης παιδί».                                                                                                                                   Γιώργος Μουτάφης

September 14, 2010

URBAN STRUCTURES / ΑΣΤΙΚΕΣ ΔΟΜΕΣ

 
Eleni Maligoura / Ελένη Μαλιγκούρα
 
John Stathatos / Γιάννης Σταθάτος
 
 Panayotopoulos & Petsini /  Παναγιωτόπουλος & Πετσίνη
This year’s Kythera Photographic Encounters will focus in part on contemporary urban landscape. Urban Structures, a group exhibition curated by Penelope Petsini, will include work by ten Greek photographers: Costis Antoniadis, Erieta Attali, Pericles Boutos, Kostas Kolokythas, Eleni Maligoura, Fotis Milionis, Eleni Mouzakiti, Nikos Panayotopoulos, Penelope Petsini and John Stathatos. The exhibition will take place in the old primary school of Mitata village on October 1st.

Related events include a showing of Gold Dust (“Chrysoskoni”), a new full-length feature film by Margarita Manda: “Gold dust was born of a need to speak about Athens, my home city. A city whose daily transformation eradicates its past, whose globalisation proceeds without respect for its inhabitants, without concern for either aesthetics or ethics”.

Fotis Milionis / Φώτης Μηλιώνης 
 Costis Antoniadis / Κωστής Αντωνιάδης
Οι φετινές Φωτογραφικές Συναντήσεις Κυθήρων εστιάζουν εν μέρει στο σύγχρονο αστικό τοπίο. Οι Αστικές Δομές, ομαδική έκθεση επιμελημένη από την Πηνελόπη Πετσίνη, θα συμπεριλάβουν έργα των Ελλήνων φωτογράφων Κωστή Αντωνιάδη, Εριέτα Αττάλη, Κώστα Κολοκυθά, Ελένη Μαλιγκούρα, Φώτη Μηλιώνη, Ελένη Μουζακίτη, Περικλή Μπούτο, Νίκο Παναγιωτόπουλο, Πηνελόπη Πετσίνη και Γιάννη Σταθάτο. Η έκθεση εγκαινιάζεται στο παλιό δημοτικό σχολείου των Μητάτων την 1 Οκτωβρίου.

Στην ίδια θεματική εντάσσεται η καινούργια ταινία της Μαργαρίτας Μαντά, Χρυσόσκονη, που θα παρουσιασθεί το ίδιο βράδυ στο “Λιοτρίβι του Φάβα” στα Μητάτα. Σύμφωνα με τον σκηνοθέτη, “Η Χρυσόσκονη γεννήθηκε από την ανάγκη να μιλήσω για την πόλη μου. Την Αθήνα. Μια πόλη που μεταλλάσσεται εξαφανίζοντας το βιωμένο της παρελθόν. Που παγκοσμιοποιείται  χωρίς σεβασμό στο ανθρώπινο στοιχείο της, χωρίς αισθητική και ήθος”.

THE 2010 KYTHERA PHOTOGRAPHIC ENCOUNTERS

The Kythera Photographic Encounters, now in their ninth year, take place at the end of every September. This event, which has become an important date in the Greek photographic calendar, brings together photographers, photographic historians, critics and curators for four days of exhibitions, lectures, discussions and socialising. The focus is largely on Greek photography, but efforts are being made to give the Encounters a more international flavour.The highlights of the Encounters are the annual two-day Conference on the History of Greek Photography, the only one of its kind in the country, and a regular group exhibition of new work by young Greek photographers. Two annual prizes are also awarded: the Municipality of Kythera Award for the best Greek photographic book of the past year, and the Encounters Award which goes to one of the portfolios submitted for the young photographer’s exhibition.

This year’s event takes place from the 29th of September to the 3rd of October. The Kythera Photographic Encounters are organised by the Kythera Cultural Association under the direction of John Stathatos. For further information, please consult www.photokythera.com, or contact the organisers at mail@photokythera.com.

August 29, 2010

CHANGE 29.08.10

29 August 2010, 7.45 am

August 25, 2010

PREMONITIONS OF ART NOUVEAU


The object pictured above is the so-called Jasper Cup, or Bowl, a highlight of the treasury of the Athonite Monastery of Vatopedi. What follow below are the opinions, expressed forty years apart, of two tolerably knowledgeable British aesthetes, Robert Byron and John Julius Norwich.

Byron first: “In the whole collection one object stands alone. This is the cup bestowed on the monastery by Manuel Cantacuzenos, son of the Emperor of that name, who was despot of Mistra from 1349 to 1380. Standing about 10 inches high, it consists of a broad bowl of transparent, gold-flecked jasper, yellow, dark green, and red, which is mounted on a thick octagonal stalk of silver-gilt. From a bulge in the centre of this, two rhythmic tapering dragons spring off at a tangent, until, taking an acute-angled turn, they come to rest upon the metal rim, wings folded, heads supported by little pair of clutching claws”.     (The Station, 1928)

And then Norwich: “For the truth is that the treasures of Athos, though nearly always interesting and often beautiful, are rarely in themselves sublime. One or two, admittedly, catch at the breath; … several others fascinate for their associations, like the monumentally hideous jasper receptacle presented to Vatopedi by Manuel Cantacuzene, son of John  VI, with its dire warning of what, five hundred years later, was to be described as art nouveau by a deluded posterity”.     (Mount Athos, 1966)

Personally, I can see where Norwich is coming from. The proportions of the bowl and its base are worryingly out of balance with each other, and there is something about the whole thing which tends to set one’s teeth on edge. Maybe after a while it set the Despot’s teeth on edge, too, so that he ended up banishing it to the skevofilakion of Vatopedi.

August 10, 2010

DIGITAL DIRECTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHERS IN GREECE


Earlier this summer the Hellenic Literary & Historical Archive, more familiarly known as ELIA from its Greek initials, released researcher Alkis Xanthakis’ Directory of Greek & Foreign Photographers in Greece, 1839-1960 in CD format. This extremely useful tool has entries for many if not most of the photographers known to have worked in Greece during the period specified, with the emphasis necessarily on native photographers; inevitably, the entries for some of the more obscure practitioners can be on the sparse side. Each entry includes (where known) basic information such as date of birth and death, nationality and place and period of principal activity; a brief biography; and one or more examples of the photographer’s work. The information is available in English and Spanish as well as Greek.

The photographers can be consulted alphabetically by surname, by date, by nationality and by location; the latter is particularly useful, given that many professionals in the 19th and early 20th centuries tended to confine their activities to a single town or geographical area, often extremely restricted. Unfortunately, the Windows-only CD has no true search function, so that one has to wade through what are in effect very short menu pages to find something (96 of them, in the case of surnames beginning with ‘P’). In general, this otherwise highly commendable effort is rather let down by a very inflexible and old-fashioned digital execution; for example, whilst actually occupying a relatively small screen area, it refuses to run in windowed mode, thereby making it impossible to switch between it and other applications – a major limitation in what is a research tool rather an entertainment CD.

The entire database will eventually be available online. In the meantime, ELIA has very courteously announced that copies of the CD can be obtained free of charge by personal application either from the Archive or from the National Bank of Greece’s Cultural Institute, both in Athens. Researchers abroad should write to the Photography Archive at ELIA, Agiou Andreou 5, Athens 10556.

July 1, 2010

INTERACTIVE MOUSSAKA



Η GALLERY VOULGAROKTONOU 32
σας προσκαλεί  την Παρασκευή 2 Ιουλίου 2010 στο χώρο της, το βραδάκι, για μια δράση του Νίκου Παναγιωτόπουλου και της Πηνελόπης Πετσίνη.

Οι καλλιτέχνες  θα προσπαθήσουν παρουσία κοινού να φτιάξουν μουσακά.
Διάρκεια δράσης από τις 18.00 έως τις 21.30, ίσως και λίγο ακόμη (θα εξαρτηθεί από το φούρνο). 

P.S. Για τους εκτός Αθηνών, θα υπάρχει live stream στο διαδύκτιο. 
Το έργο θα μοιραστεί μετά στους φτωχούς.


June 24, 2010

CHANGE 24.06.10

16 June 2010, 6.15 pm

June 15, 2010

GENTLEMEN OF BACONGO

Daniele Tamagni, from Gentlemen of Bacongo

 An inevitable side-effect of our culture's constant visual overload is that photographs have lost their sense of wonder; the world grows smaller, and we think that perhaps we've seen it all before - except, of course, we haven't. One can still sometimes recover the excitement which comes from stumbling across photographs that show us something truly new, astonishing, delightful or amazing. For me, the discovery of Daniele Tamagni's wonderful photographs of Congolese dandies, published last year as Gentlemen of Bacongo by Trolley Books, was the cause of precisely such delighted astonishment.

According to Paul Smith's introduction, "The Sapeurs today belong to 'La SAPE' (Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes) - one of the world's most exclusive clubs. Members have their own code of honour, codes of professional conduct and strict notions of morality. It is a world within a world within a city. [...] Unlike some US hip-hop gangs who are dressed in similar fine threads, there is no bloodshed here - here your clothes do all the fighting for you, otherwise you are not fit to be called a Sapeur."



What comes across vividly is the sheer exuberance of these dedicated performance artists - performing above all for one another, that most unforgiving of audiences, but also and however fleetingly, in Tamagni's images, for us.
Daniele Tamagni, Gentlemen of Bacongo, Trolley Books, London 2009. ISBN 978-1-904563-83-9

June 11, 2010

LIMINAL LANDSCAPES

Pavlos Fysakis, Cabo Espichel, 2007
Pavlos Fysakis, Vatsiana, Gavdos, 2006

Boundaries and margins, fringes and borders exert a strange attraction. The southernmost tip of the British Isles is called Land’s End, as is Cape Finistere in Spain (from the Latin finisterrae), once thought of as Europe’s westernmost edge. Lands End is also the title Pavlos Fysakis has given to his latest project, a journey to the four corners of Europe: to Gavdos, south of Crete, the continent’s southernmost island; to Cabo da Roca in Portugal, now officially the westernmost point by 16 kms; to Nordkapp (“North Cape”) in Norway; and to Vorkuta in the Urals, Europe’s easternmost city. Fysakis notes that one function of borders is to define the safely known world, and he wonders how one might conceivably define a European identity.

There can be no answer, of course, but the question proved the inspiration for a striking and thoughtful body of work. The four locations are illustrated through a seamless combination of landscape and portraiture. Though the images have evidently been organised with care, even precision (the level horizons, the careful centering of subjects), their formal quality allows Fysakis considerable expressive latitude. With the exception of two almost abstract seascapes, he anchors his landscapes by placing some humble object in the near or middle distance: an animal skull, a fence, a television aerial, a pedestrian bridge, a wind gauge. Beyond them extend minimalist scenes of water, sand, dry sedges, snow or tarmac. Through Fysakis’ eyes, the fringes propose liminal landscapes stripped of all inessentials. “Aqui... οnde a terra termina e o mar começa” (“Here… where the earth ends and the sea begins”) wrote Camoes about Cabo da Roca, and the same could be said of Gavdos and Nordkapp, while Vorkuta, still haunted by the ghosts of Stalin’s victims, turns its face to the ocean of the tundra.

The melancholy of the margins.
Pavlos Fysakis, Lands End, Babel, Athens 2009. ISBN 978 960 931681 1.

Παύλος Φυσάκης, Praia das Maças, 2007

Τα άκρα, οι παρυφές, οι εσχατιές ασκούν μια μυστηριώδη γοητεία. Το νοτιότερο σημείο της Αγγλίας λέγεται Land’s End, «Γης Τέλος», όπως και το ακρωτήρι Φινιστέρε στην Ισπανία (από το λατινικό finisterrae), που για χρόνια εθεωρείτο το δυτικότερο σημείο της Ευρώπης. Lands End είναι και ο τίτλος που έδωσε ο Παύλος Φυσάκης στην τελευταία του εργασία, ένα οδοιπορικό στα τέσσερα άκρα της Ευρώπης: στη Γαύδο, το νοτιότερο νησί της ηπείρου, στο ακρωτήρι Cabo da Roca της Πορτογαλίας που τελικά (με 16 χιλιόμετρα διαφορά) απέσπασε τον τίτλο του δυτικότερου σημείου από το Φινιστέρε, στο Nordkapp («Βόρειο Ακρωτήρι») της Νορβηγίας, και στη Βορκούτα των Ουραλίων, ανατολικότερη πόλη της Ευρώπης. Ο Φυσάκης παρατηρεί πως «η λειτουργία των συνόρων είναι να οριοθετεί το ασφαλή κόσμο», και αναρωτιέται πώς άραγε ορίζεται η ευρωπαϊκή ταυτότητα.

Η ερώτηση βέβαια παραμένει αναπάντητη, αποτελεί όμως το έναυσμα για μια εξαιρετικά ζυγισμένη και ώριμη εργασία. Οι τέσσερις τοποθεσίες που επέλεξε ο φωτογράφος σκιαγραφούνται με τοπία και πορτραίτα που συνεργάζονται αδιάρρηκτα μεταξύ τους. Αν και οι φωτογραφίες είναι εμφανώς στημένες με μεγάλη προσοχή, θα έλεγα μάλιστα με τυπικότητα (η ευθύτητα του ορίζοντα, το κεντράρισμα των προσώπων), ο φορμαλισμός αυτός επιτρέπει στον Φυσάκη μεγάλη εκφραστική ελευθερία. Με εξαίρεση δύο σχεδόν αφαιρετικές θαλασσογραφίες, προσγειώνει τα τοπία του τοποθετώντας κάποιο αντικείμενο στο πρώτο πλάνο ή το πολύ στη μέση απόσταση: κρανίο ζώου, φράχτη, αντένα τηλεόρασης, πεζογέφυρα, ανεμομετρητή. Πέρα από τα ταπεινά αυτά αντικείμενα απλώνονται μινιμαλιστικές σκηνές: θάλασσα, άμμος, ξερά χόρτα, άσφαλτος, χιόνι. Μέσα από τη ματιά του Φυσάκη, οι παρυφές προτάσσουν τοπία απογυμνωμένα από κάθε τι περιττό. Για τρεις από τις τέσσερις ισχύει αυτό που έγραψε ο Camoes για το Cabo da Roca: “Aqui... οnde a terra termina e o mar começa” («Εδώ… όπου τελειώνει η γη και η θάλασσα αρχίζει»)· η τέταρτη, η Βορκούτα, στοιχειωμένη ακόμα από τα θύματα του Στάλιν, στρέφεται προς τον ωκεανό της τούνδρας.

Η μελαγχολία των άκρων.
Παύλος Φυσάκης, Lands End, Babel, Αθήνα 2009. ISBN 978 960 931681 1.

June 7, 2010

“I WANT WHAT IS GOOD FOR GREECE AND NOTHING ELSE…”


To the General Government of Greece
Unfavourable rumours of new dissensions in the Greek Government, or rather of the start of a civil war, have reached here. I hope with all my heart that they are false or at least exaggerated, since I could not imagine any calamity that is more to be feared for you than this. I must admit to you frankly that if some kind of order and union is not confirmed, all hopes for a loan will be lost, - any assistance that Greece might expect from abroad, which certainly would not be inconsiderable nor contemptible, will be suspended, and maybe even stopped, and what is worse is that the great Powers of Europe, of which none was an enemy of Greece, and which seemed favourably inclined to agree with the establishment of an independent Greek state, will be persuaded that the Greeks are not capable of governing themselves and will arrange some means for putting an end to your disorder which will cut short all your most noble hopes, and all those of your friends.
Lord Byron, 30 November 1823
Original in Italian. From Byron’s Letters & Journals, edited by Leslie A. Marchand, London 1981, vol.11, p.69.

Προς τη Γενική Διοίκηση της Ελλάδας
Δυσοίωνες διαδόσεις μιλάνε για καινούργιες έριδες στο εσωτερικό της Ελληνικής Κυβέρνησης, ακόμα και για απαρχές εμφυλίου πολέμου. Εύχομαι με όλη μου την καρδιά να πρόκειται για ψέματα ή τουλάχιστον για υπερβολές, γιατί στην αντίθετη περίπτωση δύσκολα θα μπορούσα να φαντασθώ μεγαλύτερη και πιο επίφοβη καταστροφή. Σας ομολογώ ευθέως πως αν δεν επέλθουν πρόδηλα κάποια τάξη και κάποια ενότητα, θα εξανεμισθεί κάθε ελπίδα δανεισμού· η οποιασδήποτε μορφής βοήθεια στην οποία ελπίζει η Ελλάδα, βοήθεια κάθε άλλο παρά αμελητέα ή ευκαταφρόνητη, θα ανασταλεί, ίσως ακόμα και να ακυρωθεί. Ακόμα χειρότερα, οι μεγάλες Δυνάμεις της Ευρώπης, καμία εκ των οποίων δεν εχθρευόταν την Ελλάδα, παρά απεναντίας έδειχναν να αντιμετωπίζουν θετικά την εδραίωση ανεξάρτητου Ελληνικού κράτους, θα πεισθούν ότι οι Έλληνες είναι ανίκανοι να κυβερνήσουν εαυτούς και θα επιλέξουν κάποιον άλλον τρόπο να δώσουν τέλος στη αταξία σας, θάβοντας οριστικά τις λαμπρές ελπίδες που τρέφαμε τόσο εσείς όσο και οι φίλοι σας.
Λόρδος Βύρων, 30 Νοεμβρίου 1823
Το πρωτότυπο της επιστολής είναι γραμμένο στα Ιταλικά. Δύο αντίγραφα βρίσκονται στην Εθνική Βιβλιοθήκη.

June 6, 2010

CHANGE 06.06.10

6 June 2010, 2.35 pm

June 1, 2010

ON THE SLIPPERY NATURE OF EVIDENCE

Frames from an enhanced-light video distributed by the Israeli Defense Forces

The problem with still or moving imagery produced in evidence is that it can sometimes show more than had been intended. The frames above are from a two minute, forty second video produced and distributed by the Israeli Defense Forces in order to justify yesterday's attack on the vessels of the Free Gaza flotilla. The first minute or so is particularly dramatic, and has been marked up to underscore the violent nature of the response to armed Israeli commandos dropping on the Mavi Marmara in the middle of the night: the passengers certainly appear to be beating at least one of the intruders with sticks of some kind (the video calls them "metal rods"), and another unfortunate is pushed over the side, to land on the deck below. However, within seconds the passengers are seen to be beating a hasty retreat away from the commandos (on the right in the images), who are brandishing what are clearly handguns; since there were at least ten deaths amongst the defenders, we may take it for granted that the guns were sooner or later used to fire live ammunition.

In a televised statement yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justified the deaths in these words: "They deliberately attacked the first soldiers who came on the ship. They were mobbed, they were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed, there was even a report of gunfire, and our soldiers had to defend themselves or they would have been killed. And regrettably, in this exchange at least ten people died". A justification eerily reminiscent of the old courtroom joke, "The defendant proceeded to attack the police officer's boot with his face".

May 30, 2010

A MODEL OF THE UNIVERSAL NATURE

 John Stathatos, Parc André Citroën, Paris

Next, a spacious, wonderful garden, wherein whatsoever plant the sun of divers climate, or the earth out of divers moulds, either wild or by the culture of man brought forth, may be … set and cherished: this garden to be built about with rooms to stable in all rare beasts and to cage in all rare birds; with two lakes adjoining, the one of fresh water and the other of salt, for like variety of fishes.  And so you may have in small compass a model of the universal nature made private.
Francis Bacon, Gesta Grayorum (1594)

May 28, 2010

A WARTIME CHRISTMAS EVE, 1942

Manolis Fatseas, Livadi, 1942 (contemporary print from glass negative)

Photographed by a young Manolis Fatseas, the six men in this photograph formed part of the German occupying forces on the Greek island of Kythera during the World War II. They have gathered in a requisitioned house in the village of Livadi, most likely the one serving as their unit headquarters, and it is Christmas eve - 24 December, 1942. The large sign they are holding up, composed of several sheets of typing paper glued together, reads “A Wartime Christmas Eve in the Mediterranean”.

Kythera was very much a military backwater, but it overlooked the strategically important sea passage between the Greek mainland and Crete. The men belong not to a Wermacht (army) unit, but to a Luftwaffe (air force) field unit, and they are there to keep tabs on Allied sea and air movements. Much later in the war, the Germans were to ship a mysterious listening device to Kythera, quite possibly a primitive form of radar, but before it could be installed the retreat from Greece was ordered, and it was evacuated, still under wraps, along with the last occupiers. That this posting was not regarded as particularly arduous is underlined by the middle-aged appearance and distinctly unmilitary bearing of the group; all six are enlisted men, including the single NCO.

The decorations include what must have been one of the smallest available official photographs of Field Marshal Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe. On a shelf to the left stands a makeshift Christmas tree consisting of an Aleppo pine bough covered in tinsel and placed in a clay water-jug, alongside a small vase of flowers. Continuing the festive theme, the calendar on the wall at the right proclaims that “Who loves not wine woman and song, remains a wet blanket all life long”. Interestingly, the man in the middle is flourishing, not bottles of Asti Spumante or the equivalent, as one might have supposed, but real champagne from Epernay – in this case, Champagne Eugène Cliquot, a reputable but long-since vanished brand. Since these cannot by any stretch of the imagination have been available locally, they must represent booty from the fall of France, quite possibly acquired by the Luftwaffe unit itself during an earlier posting.

The men seemed determined to make the best of things. They certainly have every reason to be thankful; within the last month, the Soviet army has completed the encirclement of General Paulus in Stalingrad, and Rommel has been defeated yet again in the North African desert. For German soldiers on Christmas Eve, 1942, there were very much worse places to be in than Kythera.

May 23, 2010

INHABITING A LANDSCAPE


To even begin understanding a landscape, you must also consider its natural history – specifically, the plants, animals and above all the people who live upon and from it. Divorced from any sense of the natural and human forces which went into its making, a landscape photo is nothing more than a sometimes pretty picture postcard. Teresa Kaufman, an American photographer, has lived in the French Alps since 1976, and knows the valleys and high pastures around Chamonix as only a year-round resident and walker could. In 2007 a regional publisher, La Fontaine de Siloé, published an astonishing collection of black and white photographs by Kaufman under the title Thérèse et ses deux fréres (Thérèse and her Two Brothers). The photos, backed by a minimal text, illustrate the life of what must be one of the very last families of full-time subsistence farmers in the European Alps.

Thérèse Thissot and her two elderly bachelor brothers live in the Faucigny region, wintering on the sunny slopes of La Côte-d’Arbroz and summering in the high pastures of the valley of Combafou. In 1446, sixteen families acquired the rights to settle in Combafou from the Carthusian monks of Bellevaux. Towards the end of the 19th century, ten families still made the annual trek with their cattle, including cows, goats, pigs, rabbits and chickens. These days, the Thissot family are the last to maintain an alpage chalet at Foron; the rest are slowly decaying. When, in time, Thérèse and her brothers pass on, or give up a way of life which they love for something perhaps easier, the landscape will change once again; at this moment, it is still marked and defined by the presence over the centuries of farmers like the Thissots and their beasts, by their paths and settlements, their pasturage and clearances. Above all, in a very tangible way, by their presence in the landscape.

Teresa Kaufman’s photographs, evidence of an intimacy which somehow, delicately, avoids thrusting itself on either its subjects or their viewer, remind me in their obvious honesty of Jean Mohr’s in A Fortunate Man, his collaboration with John Berger. Berger opened that book with the following lines: “Landscapes can be deceptive. Sometimes a landscape seems to be less a setting for the life of its inhabitants than a curtain behind which their struggles, achievements and accidents take place. For those who, with the inhabitants, are behind the curtain, landmarks are no longer only geographic but also biographical and personal”.

Teresa Kaufman, Thérèse et ses deux fréres, La Fontaine de Siloé, Montmélian 2007. ISBN 978 2 84206 349 8.

May 14, 2010

CHANGE 14.05.10

14 May 2010, 12.59 am

CHANGE 13.05.10

23 May 2010, 6.28 pm

May 2, 2010

THE EATING OF THE GODS

John Stathatos, Untitled, 2010

"Pentheus is made the scapegoat. The scapegoat is a surrogate who must be made to resemble the One whom he has replaced; in an ancient ritual a ram led to sacrifice had his horns gilded and a wreath hung around his neck. The scapegoat is the image of the One to whom he is sacrificed. The ritual is a repetition of divine sacrifice. Pentheus is torn to pieces because the Other had also been torn to pieces."
Jan Kott, The Eating of the Gods (1970)
Theophagy, a mixed media group exhibition at the Cultural Centre of the Municipality of Athens, 3-11 May.

"Ο Πενθεύς γίνεται άθελά του αποδιοπομπαίος τράγος. Ο αποδιοπομπαίος τράγος είναι το υποκατάστατο που αναγκάζεται να πάρει τη μορφή Εκείνου που αντικαθιστά· σύμφωνα με πανάρχαια ιεροτελεστία, ο τράγος που οδηγείται στη θυσία έχει επιχρυσωμένα κέρατα και φοράει στεφάνι. Ο αποδιοπομπαίος τράγος είναι η εικόνα Εκείνου στον οποίον θυσιάζεται. Η ιεροτελεστία είναι επανάληψη της θείας θυσίας. Ο Πενθεύς κομματιάζεται γιατί και το Άλλο είχε κάποτε διαμελισθεί."
Jan Kott, Το φάγωμα των θεών (1970)
Θεοφαγία, μικτή έκθεση στο Πνευματικό Κέντρο του Δήμου Αθηναίων, 3-11 Μαΐου.

April 29, 2010

THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY

Found photograph

If photographs are meditations on memory, then they are also, inescapably, meditations on death. This is partly because the ability to travel in imagination from present to past cannot be divorced from that, more ambiguous, of projecting into the future; we remember, with greater or lesser accuracy, what has been, but the one thing we know about the future we know with absolute authority, and that is our own passing. The other reason, of course, is that photographs are subject to a kind of temporal red-shift. Far from standing still, they recede from us at the speed of light; faces, objects, landscapes, all vanish over the event horizon almost as soon as the emulsion dries. It has been said that photographs are a way of seizing and preserving time, of saving something from the Heraclitean flux, but that is a delusion; nothing is as surely torn from our fingers by the rushing waters as the photographs of our dead. This, I think, explains the elegiac nature of so much photography and of almost all old photographs; they are attempts at freezing the passage of time which, inevitably, failed.

_________________________________________

Στον βαθμό που κάθε φωτογραφία είναι κατά βάθος ένας στοχασμός πάνω στις διεργασίες της μνήμης, αποτελεί αναπόφευκτα και στοχασμό πάνω στον θάνατο. Και αυτό γιατί η ικανότητά μας να ταξιδεύουμε με τη φαντασία στο παρελθόν συνυπάρχει με την αντίστροφη διαδρομή, την ατένιση δηλαδή του μέλλοντος· ενώ μπορούμε να ανασύρουμε στη μνήμη λεπτομέρειες του παρελθόντος, το μοναδικό μελλοντικό γεγονός για το οποίο μπορούμε να είμαστε απολύτως βέβαιοι είναι η μοιραία έκβαση της ζωής μας. Ο άλλος λόγος είναι το ότι οι φωτογραφίες υπόκεινται σε ένα είδος ερυθρής μετατόπισης (red shift) στον χρόνο. Όχι μόνο δεν στέκονται ακίνητες, παρά αντιθέτως απομακρύνονται από μας με την ταχύτητα του φωτός: πρόσωπα, αντικείμενα, τοπία, όλα εξαφανίζονται πίσω από τον ορίζοντα γεγονότων προτού καλά-καλά στεγνώσει η εμουλσιόν. Κάποιοι πιστεύουν πως με τις φωτογραφίες μπορεί κανείς να συλλάβει και να ακινητοποιήσει τον χρόνο, να σώσει δηλαδή κάτι από τον Ηρακλείτειο ρου - πρόκειται όμως περί αυταπάτης. Τίποτα δεν χάνεται μέσα από τα δάκτυλά μας τόσο γρήγορα όσο οι φωτογραφίες των νεκρών μας. Αυτό, πιστεύω, εξηγεί την ελεγειακή φύση των παλαιών φωτογραφιών: πρόκειται για προσπάθειες να ανασταλεί το πέρασμα του χρόνου, προσπάθειες εκ των ενόντων καταδικασμένες και άκαρπες.

April 24, 2010

CHANGE 23.04.10

23 April 2010, 7.30 pm

April 22, 2010

THE SHROUDED GODS

Lizzie Calligas, Metoikesis, 2010

“The statues are in the museum.
Goodnight”.
 
George Seferis, Thrush

The figures in Lizzie Calligas’ photographs are severe, almost hieratic. The once perhaps familiar statues from the old Acropolis museum, wrapped now from head to foot in white linen cloth and on the verge of moving to their new home, seem suddenly and strangely remote. Shrouding has changed not just the statues’ appearance, but their very nature. The anthropomorphic depiction of ancient Greek gods went well beyond a generalised human aspect; significantly, sculptors did not aim at an expressionless or inscrutable appearance, like that of the Egyptian divinities, but gave their statues realistic expressions which are still recognisable today. Naturally, the gods were of their very nature represented as infinitely more impressive, flawless and remote than mortals, yet they remain graven in our image and after our likeness. In contrast to most peoples of the ancient world, when Athenians turned to representations of their gods, they would be confronted with something at least partly familiar. The expressions worn by the gods might suggest condescension or effortless superiority, but they were easily comprehensible.

In Calligas’ arresting images, the statues have acquired a new and almost disquieting gravity. Whereas one might expect the enveloping fabric to diminish their authority, banishing any hint of individuality and reducing them to abject bundles, the effect proves to be exactly the opposite: unrecognisable, the muffled shapes rear up imposingly, virtually demanding our respect. They might be priests, seers or even warriors, were it not obvious that these are deities.

The concept of veiled or covered deities can be found in many different cultures. The Aiseras or Dii Involuti of the Etruscans, the Shrouded Gods, governed the destinies of gods and men alike, much like, according to Bulfinch’s Mythology, “the inscrutable Necessity [Ananke] that filled the dark background of the old Greek religion”. Nor is the notion alien to the monotheistic religions. In a well-known passage, Martin Luther wrote, “Until now we have dealt only with the veiled God, for in this life we cannot deal with God face to face”, whilst according to a Sufi belief, the word “Allah” derives from “al-lâhu”, meaning that which is hidden or veiled. Shrouding, of course, serves two purposes: on the one hand it hides the deity from the unworthy eyes of sinful worshippers, but on the other, it can also blind. Triglav, the three-headed god of the ancient Slavs, was veiled in order to avoid seeing the sins of humanity.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the issues which this latest work raises in the context of the debate around positive and negative sculptural space. If an ancient statue, for example, occupies positive space, and a cast such as Rachel Whiteread’s Holocaust Monument in Vienna’s Judenplatz occupies negative space, where should we place Calligas’ shrouded gods? The statue’s positive space is now bounded and defined by the enveloping fabric, resulting effectively in an imprint or cast of the original. And in any case, what exactly are we dealing with here? Photographic images? Sculpture? Photographic images of sculpture? Photographic images which, having acquired a monumental quality, are laying claim to the status of sculpture? Such a claim is less unlikely today than it would have been even a decade ago; after all, Gilbert and George have been calling their large photographic compositions “two-dimensional sculpture” for some time now.

The statues were once in the museum, and are now again in the museum; whether the change is for the better, only time will tell. The Shrouded Gods, suspended in temporary limbo by Lizzie Calligas, maintain the cryptic silence proper to their nature.

From an essay in Lizzie Calligas: Metoikesis, Cube Art Editions, Athens 2010


Λίζη Καλλιγά, Μετοίκησις, 2010
 
   - «Τ’ αγάλματα είναι στο μουσείο.
Καληνύχτα».
Γιώργος Σεφέρης, Κίχλη

Οι μορφές που βλέπουμε στις φωτογραφίες της Λίζης Καλλιγά είναι αυστηρές, ιερατικές. Τα άλλοτε γνώριμα αγάλματα, τυλιγμένα εξ ολοκλήρου στο λευκό ύφασμα και έτοιμα για μετοίκιση από τον βράχο της Ακροπόλεως στην καινούργια τους κατοικία, φαντάζουν ξαφνικά απόμακρα και ξένα. Σαβανωμένα, τα αγάλματα αλλάζουν όχι μόνον όψη, αλλά και φύση. Χαρακτηριστικό της απεικόνισης των θεών της αρχαίας Ελλάδας ήταν η ουσιαστική ανθρωποποίηση των, ενσάρκωση που δεν εξαντλείτο σε μια γενικευμένη ανθρώπινη μορφή· είναι ουσιώδες το ότι οι γλύπτες δεν παρουσίαζαν τα έργα τους ανέκφραστα ή αποστασιοποιημένα, όπως τα αγάλματα των Αιγυπτίων, παρά τους έδιναν εκφράσεις ζωντανές, που μπορούμε ακόμα και σήμερα να διαβάσουμε και να κατανοήσουμε. Φυσικά, οι παραστάσεις των θεών τους ήθελαν εκ των ενόντων απείρως επιβλητικότερους, ομορφότερους και πιό απόκοσμους από τους θνητούς, δεν έπαυαν όμως να είναι φτιαγμένοι κατ’ εικόνα και ομοίωσή μας. Σε αντίθεση με τους περισσότερους αρχαίους λαούς, όταν οι Αθηναίοι κοίταζαν τα ομοιώματα των θεών τους, αντίκριζαν κάτι που ήταν, εν μέρει τουλάχιστον, οικείο. Μπορεί οι εκφράσεις των θεών να επέπνεαν ανωτερότητα ή να προκαλούσαν το δέος, τουλάχιστον όμως ήσαν άμεσα αναγνώσιμες και κατανοητές.

Στην αναπάντεχη εκδοχή που παρουσιάζει η Καλλιγά, τα αγάλματα έχουν αποκτήσει μια εντελώς καινούργια, σχεδόν ανησυχητική βαρύτητα. Ενώ θα περίμενε κανείς ότι το ύφασμα που τα κουκουλώνει θα τα αποδυνάμωνε, αφαιρώντας κάθε ίχνος ατομικότητας και μετατρέποντάς τα σε ταπεινούς, ανώνυμους μπόγους, συμβαίνει τελικά το αντίθετο: οι σαβανωμένες μορφές,  αγνώριστες, ορθώνονται επιβλητικά, αξιώνοντας απαιτητικά σχεδόν τον σεβασμό μας. Θα μπορούσαν να είναι ιέρειες, μάντισσες, ακόμα και πολεμιστές, αν δεν ήταν τελικά προφανές ότι πρόκειται για θεότητες.

Η έννοια του συγκεκαλυμμένου θεού συναντάται σε πολλούς πολιτισμούς. Οι Aiseras ή Dii Involuti των Ετρούσκων, οι Σαβανωμένοι Θεοί, κυβερνούσαν θνητούς και θεούς κατά τον ίδιο τρόπο που, σύμφωνα με τη Μυθολογία του Bulfinch, «η αινιγματική Ανάγκη κρύβεται πίσω από τους πρωταγωνιστές της αρχαίας Ελληνικής θρησκείας». Αλλά και στις μονοθεϊστικές θρησκείες εμφανίζεται η ίδια έννοια. Σε γνωστό του κείμενο, ο Λούθηρος γράφει, «Μέχρις σήμερα, αντικρίζαμε μονάχα τον καλυμμένο Θεό, γιατί σε τούτη τη ζωή δεν μπορούμε να αντικρίσουμε τον Θεό πρόσωπο με πρόσωπο», ενώ κατά μια δοξασία των Σούφι, η λέξη «Αλλάχ» προέρχεται από το al-Lâha, δηλαδή το κρυμμένο, το συγκεκαλυμμένο. Το σαβάνωμα, βέβαια, έχει διπλό αντικείμενο: αφενός κρύβει τη θεότητα από τα μάτια των πιστών, που λόγω των αμαρτιών τους δεν είναι άξιοι να την αντικρίσουν ακάλυπτη, αφετέρου όμως τυφλώνει. Ο Triglav, ο τρικέφαλος θεός των αρχαίων Σλάβων, ήταν σκεπασμένος με πέπλο για να μην βλέπει τα ανομήματα των ανθρώπων.

Αξίζει τέλος να μνημονευθούν ορισμένα ερωτήματα που εγείρουν τα έργα αυτά στο πλαίσιο της συζήτησης γύρω από τις έννοιες του «θετικού» και «αρνητικού» χώρου στη γλυπτική. Εάν ένα αρχαίο άγαλμα, λόγου χάριν, καταλαμβάνει θετικό χώρο, και ένα εκμαγείο σαν αυτά της Rachel Whiteread, όπως το Μνημείο του Ολοκαυτώματος στη Βιέννη, καταλαμβάνει αρνητικό χώρο, πού ακριβώς θα πρέπει να τοποθετήσουμε τις σαβανωμένες θεότητες της Καλλιγά; Ο θετικός χώρος του αγάλματος ορίζεται πλέον από το περιβάλλον ύφασμα, με αποτέλεσμα να βλέπουμε ουσιαστικά την αποτύπωση ή το εκμαγείο του πρωτοτύπου. Και εν πάση περιπτώσει, με τι έχουμε να κάνουμε εδώ; Πρόκειται για απλές φωτογραφίες; Για γλυπτά; Για φωτογραφίες γλυπτών; Για φωτογραφίες που, έχοντας αποκτήσει μνημειακό χαρακτήρα, διεκδικούν κάτι από την καλλιτεχνική υπόσταση της γλυπτικής; Να θυμηθούμε ότι οι Gilbert & George από καιρό χαρακτηρίζουν τις μεγάλες φωτογραφικές συνθέσεις τους «δισδιάστατη γλυπτική».

Τα αγάλματα ήσαν στο μουσείο, τα αγάλματα βρίσκονται και πάλι στο μουσείο· το κατά πόσον η αλλαγή αυτή είναι για το καλύτερο, ο καιρός θα δείξει. Οι σαβανωμένες θεότητες, στο μεταίχμιο όπου τις τοποθετεί η Λίζη Καλλιγά, τηρούν τη σιωπή που αρμόζει στο λειτούργημά τους.
 
Απόσπασμα δοκιμίου στον τόμο Λίζη Καλλιγά: Μετοίκησις, Εκδόσεις Τέχνης Κύβος, Αθήνα 2010


April 19, 2010

BEFORE PHOTOSHOP

Unknown photographer, Composite portrait, Athens, c.1912

A three-part composite souvenir portrait of a young woman in a flying machine soaring over the Acropolis of Athens. It consists of a rather crude pen-and-ink drawing of an monoplane, a much older photograph of the Acropolis (or, more likely, its lithographic reproduction), and a contemporary photograph of the woman from the waist up, including her hands and a car steering wheel. This collage, quite sophisticated for its time, would have been the work of a photographic studio rather than a fairground photographer. The woman portrayed is Aikaterini Leftheri from Kythera (b.1889); around 1912 she was in Athens, working for the family of a retired admiral. The photograph must have been taken during one of her afternoons off, and she is depicted in her best walking-out clothes, including an elegant bonnet. Her expression seems slightly apprehensive and she is gripping the steering-wheel hard, as though imagining herself diving through the clouds.

Σύνθετο αναμνηστικό πορτραίτο μιας νέας γυναίκας που πετάει ο ψηλά πάνω από την Ακρόπολη. Αποτελείται από ένα κάπως απλοϊκό αεροπλάνο ζωγραφισμένο με μελάνι, από προγενέστερη φωτογραφία της Ακρόπολης (ή μάλλον, από τη λιθογραφική αναπαραγωγή της), και από σύγχρονη φωτογραφία της γυναίκας από τη μέση και πάνω βαστώντας τιμόνι αυτοκινήτου. Το κολάζ αυτό, αρκετά επιτηδευμένο για την εποχή του, θα πρέπει να ήταν έργο κάποιου φωτογραφικού εργαστηρίου και όχι πλανόδιου. Η γυναίκα ήταν η Αικατερίνη Λευθέρη το γένος Λουράντου, από τα Κύθηρα (γ.1889). Το 1912 εργαζόταν στο σπίτι κάποιου ναυάρχου στην Αθήνα· μάλλον φωτογραφήθηκε κατά τη διάρκεια απογευματινής εξόδου, αφού φοράει τα καλά της, συμπεριλαμβανομένου του κομψού καπέλου. Η έκφρασή της φαίνεται λίγο φοβισμένη, και τα χέρια της σφίγγουν γερά το τιμόνι, σαν να φαντάζεται τον εαυτό της να βουτάει μέσα από τα σύννεφα.

April 12, 2010

LOMBROSO REDIVIVUS?


The Italian psychiatrist and professor of “criminal anthropology” Cesare Lombroso believed a person’s face could reveal evidence of a predisposition to criminal behaviour. Enlisting photography in support of his theories, he assembled an extensive collection of photographic portraits of criminals in Italian and German prisons, hoping to deduce from them those characteristics which would identify social deviants through appearance alone. In his book L’homme criminel (Paris, 1887), he concluded that “we can now ascertain – with ease, simply by holding up a photograph – that among criminal men the predominant features are a massively developed jaw, sparse beard, hard eyes, thick hair and, secondarily, sticking-out ears, receding brow, a squint, and a misshapen nose”. His later descent into the wilder fields of racist eugenics and Social Darwinism helped discredit his views, but though there was clearly no scientific basis to Lombroso’s speculations, photography inevitably became an important tool of criminology, detection and, in the wrong hands, repression.

The idea that a person’s photograph can tell you anything much about their morality is of course suspect. Nevertheless… The mug shots above, which I first came across on (Notes on) Politics, Theory & Photography, are of members of a Christian fundamentalist terrorist group called Hutarees. Based in the state of Michigan, they were arrested in March 2010 for, according to the New York Times, “plotting to kill law enforcement officers in hopes of inciting an antigovernment uprising”. The Hutaree website speculates, amongst other interesting concepts, that the Antichrist appeared on January 1st, 2007, and that his name is Javier Solana, then NATO Secretary General and later Secretary-General of the European Union.

Looking at these portraits, what comes almost automatically to mind is the Lombrosian term “moral imbecile”. And yet context is, as always, paramount. How civilised would any of us look in a US law-enforcement mug shot? Indeed, simply examine the photograph in your driving license, passport or identity card and ask yourself how it could look on a wanted poster. To balance the possibly unfair police mug shots, however, consider a photograph of the same group chosen by themselves and posted prominently on their website, file name “happy pics”:


Ο Ιταλός ψυχίατρος και καθηγητής εγκληματολογίας Cesare Lombroso πίστευε πως η προδιάθεση για εγκληματική δραστηριότητα ζωγραφίζεται στο πρόσωπό του ανθρώπου. Επιστρατεύοντας τη φωτογραφία για να στηρίξει τη θεωρία του, δημιούργησε συλλογή από χιλιάδες φωτογραφικά πορτραίτα φυλακισμένων στη Γερμανία και την Ιταλία, ελπίζοντας να ανακαλύψει ποια ακριβώς χαρακτηριστικά σφραγίζουν το πρόσωπο εν δυνάμει αντικοινωνικών ατόμων. Στο βιβλίο του Ο εγκληματίας άνδρας (Παρίσι, 1887), συμπέρανε πως “μπορούμε πια πολύ εύκολα, κοιτάζοντας απλώς μια φωτογραφία, να βεβαιωθούμε ότι στη τάξη των εγκληματιών επικρατούν τα υπερτροφικά σαγόνια, τα αραιά γένια, τα σκληρά μάτια και τα πυκνά μαλλιά…”. Η μετέπειτα ενασχόληση του με τον ρατσισμό, το ευγονισμό και τον κοινωνικό δαρβινισμό βοήθησαν στο να πέσουν σε ανυποληψία οι θεωρίες του, η φωτογραφία όμως εδραιώθηκε ως βασικό εργαλείο της αστυνομικής έρευνας, της εγκληματολογίας και, σε λάθος χέρια, της καταπίεσης.

Η ιδέα πως μια φωτογραφία έχει κάτι να πει σχετικά με τις ηθικές αρχές του εικονιζόμενου είναι βεβαίως κάθε άλλο παρά επιστημονική. Εντούτοις… Τα φωτογραφικά πορτραίτα στην αρχή του λήμματος αυτού απεικονίζουν τα μέλη μιας τρομοκρατικής ομάδας Χριστιανών φονταμενταλιστών που αυτοαποκαλούνται Χάτερι. Βασισμένοι στην πολιτεία του Michigan,  σύμφωνα με τους New York Times συνελήφθησαν τον περασμένο Μάρτιο επειδή σχεδιάζαν να δολοφονήσουν αστυνομικούς, με σκοπό να προξενήσουν γενικευμένη εξέγερση. Στην ιστοσελίδα των Χάτερι συναντάμε, μεταξύ άλλων πρωτότυπων ιδεών, την πληροφορία ότι ο Αντίχρηστος δεν είναι άλλος από τον τότε Γενικό Γραμματέα του ΝΑΤΟ, Χαβιέρ Σολάνα.

Μελετώντας τις φωτογραφίες αυτές, δύσκολα θα αποφύγουμε να θυμηθούμε τον Λομπροσιανό χαρακτηρισμό “ηθικά ηλίθιοι”. Και όμως, τα συμφραζόμενα μιας φωτογραφίας είναι πάντοτε ύψιστης σημασίας. Πόσο πολιτισμένοι θα φαινόμασταν, οι περισσότεροι από μας, αν η φωτογραφία της ταυτότητάς μας δέσποζε πάνω από τη λεζάντα “καταζητείται”; Για να αντισταθμίσω λοιπόν σε κάποιο βαθμό τα - άδικα ίσως - αστυνομικά πορτραίτα των πρωταγωνιστών μας, διάλεξα την δεύτερη, ομαδική φωτογραφία, την οποία οι ίδιοι ανάρτησαν στην ιστοσελίδα τους. Ο τίτλος του ψηφιακού αρχείου της εν λόγω φωτογραφίας είναι “χαρούμενες εικόνες”.