Greek Artists at the New Museum Talk to TNH

February 14, 2018

NEW YORK – The 2018 Triennial, “Songs for Sabotage,” at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, opened to the public on February 13 and runs through May 27. Filling four floors of the Museum, the fourth iteration of the Triennial is co-curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari, Kraus Family Curator at the New Museum, and Alex Gartenfeld, founding Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami.

The Greek artists in the Triennial are the art collective KERNEL founded in 2009, in Athens, Greece by Pegy Zali, Petros Moris, and Theodoros Giannakis; lives and works in Athens, and Manolis Daskalakis Lemos, born 1989 in Athens where he lives and works. The talented Greek artists spoke with The National Herald about being included in this remarkable exhibition and about their work in general.

Mr. Lemos was born and raised in Athens, his father is from Crete and his mother from Aignousa, Oinoussa, the islands off the coast of Chios. When asked if he always wanted to be an artist, he told TNH “I think so, yes, since I was in school, as soon as I found out there was a School of Fine Arts, I wanted to do that.”

The exhibition is his first in New York, though he had previously made an on-site publication for Ideas City New York, a New Museum program, on September 16, 2017, at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, one block from the museum.

He was also included in the 2016 emerging Greek artists’ exhibition co-organized by the New Museum and the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, in collaboration with Athens’ Benaki Museum. Selected by the New Museum’s artistic director, Massimiliano Gioni, and curators, Gary Carrion-Murayari and Helga Christoffersen the group exhibition of 33 Greek and Cypriot artists celebrated DESTE’s 33rd anniversary.

Lemos noted that he met “Garry and Helga and Massimiliano and they got to know my work. We had a nice collaboration for that show. I also met Alex [Gartenfield] since he had come to Athens for the show, then one year later they asked me to send updates on my work and I did, so this piece that I’m showing here, they really liked out of my new works and they felt it fit the themes of the show very well, so they chose it.”

He said of his work, “I’m showing a video work here but in general I use many different media. I studied painting and I do painting and photography but I also make installations and video works and some musical performances. The video work here includes a music score that I made together with a French musician and I incorporate music into my work, lately.”

Lemos continued about the video work entitled, dusk and dawn look just the same (riot tourism), “It’s very dense with themes and references and very abstract in the way I conceived it. I didn’t want the reading of the work to be straightforward. There’s a mix of things that create this kind of poetry in a way. There is obviously a political part in the work, but there is much more to it, it’s also about Athens, that street in Athens, the landscape, the sunset and the sunrise, and there is obviously this running crowd. I shot it with 24 performers on Athinas Street leading up to Omonoia Square which is the central square of Athens, there is a very long history about Omonoia Square, and it’s shot at 100 frames per second with a car and a Steadicam so it plays in slow motion and the music score with Julien Perez this French musician it’s an electronic soundscape based on a rembetiko song To Minore tis Avgis by Markos Vamvakaris.”

The work was made last year, Lemos noted, adding that “we had one month in Athens to make it so I did the rehearsals, I did the painting of the jackets and there were three rehearsals, and then we kind of occupied the street to shoot it. We did it early in the morning on March 25, the national holiday, very early like 6 am, so it is actually a sunrise.”

Lemos told TNH, “I’m working on some completely new projects. It is based on a story I’ve written and there are some paintings and photographs and floor installations and a musical performance. It’s a story set in the future in Greece.” Lemos has a studio in central Athens. He is also part of an artists’ collective of 5 visual artists, Arbit City Group, “the themes we work on are more related to public space, history, and private institutions and the effect they have on public space.”

Lemos said of the New Museum Triennial, “I think it’s a strong show.”

KERNEL- Pegy Zali, Petros Moris, and Theodoros Giannakis, told TNH they all studied art in Athens and explained the inspiration behind their work entitled, As you said, things resist and are resistant. Mr. Moris said, “It was the beginning of us understanding in a more socially engaging way the phenomena that we were looking at, witnessing specific stories that were unraveling around us in Athens and suburban Athens, especially this new infrastructure project, this new railway bridge, and an actual incident of sabotage, a very mysterious one, an obstruction made with a barricade in a tunnel on the inaugural journey of this private railway.”

“The railway is actually Chinese and American and the Greek government, it’s a collaboration between them, that connects Piraeus port with a huge area, a logistics center that’s going to happen in Attica,” Ms. Zali noted.

Moris said, “So we heard about this incident and we were interested in seeing if there were any remains of the bridge, evidence of the collision between the train and the barricade, and we went there and found nothing, so we thought it was a fake story or something or it was not the right spot, we still don’t know. We found a huge graffiti sprayed on both sides of the bridge which was another mysterious act of a more soft type of sabotage and this started about two years ago or more and apart from investigating all this phenomena in theoretical terms and research, to actually configure the story again and again in order for us to understand it.

Mr. Giannakis noted “the curiosity that brings you there to the fact to see what’s going on, if it’s true or not.”

Moris continued, “The installation here is actually one of the configurations of the story, but for example the copper parts are a custom-relief we made from the form of the actual graffiti, the copper was scrap copper that we bought from a local scrap yard.”

Giannakis added that it may have been stolen and sold to the scrap yard. Moris noted that the rise of “the smuggling industry is related to the loss of jobs after the privatization of Piraeus, a lot of people in the area are now connected to this kind of illegal industry so the copper that we bought was probably stolen from somewhere, probably from public construction, also the black tubing, the cable jackets, are the product of this smuggling because it’s what’s left behind.”

“There’s a black sea of it,” Giannakis added.

Moris said, “Since three years ago, we have been configuring all these materials again and again so the story somehow is unfolding in a very abstract way and at some point, for this show because the installation was a new commission, we reached the point that we wanted to do something more specific with these materials, this artificial muscle system, it’s like an arm, an artificial arm to which we gave this robotic joint in order to animate it somehow.”

“It links back to a previous attempt for us to find out how the story unfolds,” Giannakis said, “so we had a performance with dances, we tracked the data and the algorithm we gave to the robotic joint, but it’s disassembled at the moment, so there is no actual movement, but it does move.”

“Because we see the whole installation as a platform or a landscape or a scenography or story or play, the sun could be a character, as an abstract subject that is related to all this emergence of automation, things that are very un-human somehow but have some kind of character in the end almost, not only physical but also an ideological struggle with humanity and automation.”

“These tubes look like a muscle system for us, we were trying to store them and we created bundles and then we understood that these bundles looked like muscle tissue, like a muscle system.

“It’s a bit complex but also quite literal somehow. We found ourselves between some kind of documentation of real life and then total abstraction of specificities of the stories having to do with something very local but it relates to a very global type of operation and industry which for Greece and Athens is a very important thing. The formal sensibility of the piece was formulated by us looking at the traditions of mechanical theatre which was both Hellenistic and an ancient Chinese thing so there is this dialogue between two ancient cultures which is unresolved. At some point, we called this muscle system a monster but with no negative or positive connotation, it’s a non-human entity and it’s unknown.

Zali pointed out that the background behind the story is what they are exploring in their work. Moris said, “We’re very interested in what happens when there is a small disruption, of actually witnessing such phenomena. Even with the Chinese investment in Greece, it is a huge subject that’s not really in the news, it’s a real change, a real shift, but no one actually talks about it as much as they talk about the relationship with Europe, for instance, even if the basic infrastructure is owned by a very exotic entity, not really exotic, but in the local imagination it is still something very distant, it’s not like talking about Germans. We were always a bit uneasy touching on these issues because they don’t really feel personal. The encounters are really personal for us, it’s something you experience with your body, with your eyes but from there, there is also this kind of network from doing research through more conventional ways, we’re trying to find the story beyond the news, the background, and beyond what’s being said in the everyday discourse.

“We were very lucky with the commission,” Moris said.

Giannakis noted, “It was a nice thing for us because we were already in that kind of direction from the beginning, it was a great opportunity.”

“It was almost like it had to happen,” Moris observed.

“The sabotage, the elements, the idea of resistance in a way, even the title was a way of speech for us somehow in the end, so it was fitting the right time,” Giannakis added.

“It was also a very improvised thing,” said Moris. “If you think about it, it’s just junk that we formulate again and again, even the metallic pallets were actually sourced locally, they were used once, they were already in the logistical flow so this is what was important for us, to use what is already within reach, it has to do with the economy, practically, we never had a budget, we never do. Back in Athens, we do with what we can find, and also what we can do and not own, ecologically-wise.

“Somehow, strangely, it’s always very personal, even if it has to do with a collective work, collectively personal.

“Thinking about KERNEL, we don’t think of it as a collective, it’s like a fourth subject or entity that has its own story that we’re trying to figure out somehow. It’s like a fiction, like writing a book.

“It’s the difference of being human and simulating. An attempt of the human body to train this algorithm in this very difficult area, bodily expression, so it was an attempt that would fail anyway, we’re quite interested in these types of failures because they show us a lot about the nature of things actually.”

More information about the New Museum Triennial “Songs for Sabotage” is available online at: newmuseum.org.


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