May 30, 2010


 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


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


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


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.