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Precarious Structures: Passing thoughts on forms and encounters

Alexandros Mistriotis, One-day Residency, Embros Theatre Re-activation/Occupancy, November 2011. On the wall is written in Greek: “I am writing to you, because I know these days will be forgotten”. Photo: Georgios Makkas.

Tonight, late summer, 20th of August 2015, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned and announced early elections, marking the closure of a period of hope when alternatives seemed still within the political spectrum. After five years of austerity and political struggles on the ground that took an almost insurrectionary form the election of the first Left Greek government in January 2015 opened up new political horizons in the "unimagined reality" of the last years. However, a series of political adventures this summer offered new versions of this "unimagined reality". As a period of time seems to be passing, tonight I revisit two moments from recent years, two ephemeral "impotential" artworks that appeared within emergent collective cultural contexts.

During the first years of crisis many collectives emerged across different artistic fields. In some cases these initiatives sought to directly intervene in the socio-political landscape while in other cases these emergent collective formations sought to explore the limits of collective practice, collaboration and exchange. Cultural workers across different fields of practice increasingly engaged with the political conditions of the economic crisis and sought to produce new works and practices. These new practices often returned to representational forms of political theatre and guerrilla interventions while in other cases focused on artworks inspired/influenced by the urban and social conditions of crisis.

As the social frameworks collapsed under the crisis many cultural workers questioned what constituted "practice" and "art" within these conditions. A series of "interventions" emerged including cultural occupations, collective direct actions and other counter-forms that practiced "critique" within and of the urban and cultural landscape.

In 2011, Mavili Collective, a group of performance makers and theorists, initiated the occupancy of Embros Theatre. The occupancy installed itself as a reactivation of an abandoned theatre building and proposed a twelve-day cultural programme of activities. This programme sought to function as an incomplete cultural proposal and critically respond to the conditions of the Greek cultural landscape of the last decade (2000-2010). Instead of a curatorial statement or a theme, Mavili curated the programme by devising forms, categories of action, and structures that others could inhabit. Those structures were simultaneously open enough to include anyone, and tightly organized enough to provide a framework and coherence for the audience. The short duration and the density of the programme allowed accidents, mismatches and oppositional approaches to exist productively together in a dialogic or perhaps conflictual relationship. Inviting works across a wide spectrum and resisting categorization this curatorial strategy gave rise to controversial artworks and practices and brought together unexpected audiences. Mavili Collective collaboratively devised these structures that were made of, and through, emergent dynamics and conflicts present within the Greek cultural landscape bringing together radical political social works, institutional experimental performance, as well as established and marginalized art practices. This "curatorial/non-curatorial" practice produced a series of programmes organized/curated by Mavili after this first manifestation that took place in Embros and was used as a mode of comprising programmes of work by other collectives in Embros and in other spaces in Athens during the following years. Artworks that emerged within these programmes were often emergent, incomplete, responsive, ephemeral, and critical actions produced at minimal cost. What was foregrounded was not the validity of artistic quality but rather its relation to a "here and now" that also as José Esteban Muñoz writes "is transcended by a then and there that could be and indeed should be"1.

June 2015, Green Park Athens. A collective of artists and theorists, new and old friends initiated a new occupation in Athens. Seeking to learn from the failings of the struggles of last years this new initiative proposed a new mode of organisation in their manifesto: "Today on the 19th of June, 2015 we are occupying Green Park café in the Pedion tou Areos, one the two central parks of Athens. Almost 4 years after the occupation of the Embros Theatre in 2011 we are activating with our own means a space deserted and left empty for years by the Greek state and propose a 10 day program of cultural and political intervention in the here and now of Athens. [...] The occupation is not defined by a particular ideology or interest but rather comes about as a result of the encounters born out the experiments and struggles of the last few years. Thus, we look to, rebuild modes of collectivity and solidarity and reclaim friendship for its political importance. We propose friendship as a model for organizational formations and autonomous instituting that exceeds neo-liberal calls to order"2. In the Greek cultural landscape of crisis dominated by the new private cultural institutions as the State was gradually withdrew its support of cultural activities, the twelve-day programme of Green Park called for joy and politics to emerge in "a shared fight for, and from within, marginalized, forgotten and unexpected places" and sought to function both as a critical intervention and a temporary infrastructure.

Thalia Raftopoulou's artwork Dancefloor existed in the garden of Green Park as part of the strand 'Re-Park' of the activation programme. A series of artworks that were left unprotected and unguarded against decay. There to interact with disappear into the open space of the park and its human ecology. From time to time in Raftopoulou's precarious structure, music played and people gathered in this enclosed space in this impotential structure, to dance or awkwardly stand together in close proximity with another. A precarious structure attempting ephemerally to hold people together, in the impotential times and events of this summer. As Stefano Harney and Fred Moten write "it's not who's holding you down [...] its who's holding you up"3.

November 2011, Embros Theatre. Mavili Collective occupied the disused theatre building of Embros at a time when Greece was temporarily without a government and occupations in the nearby Syntagma square and Universities as well as other squares, and places around the world activated a new potential of collective political action. Through the reactivation programme Mavili sought to test what culture can do in times of crisis exploring the limits, practices, structures and methods of an unexpected emergent collective cultural space in the city. As stated in the manifesto: "Today 11 of November 2011 Mavili Collective occupied the historical disused theatre building of Embros in Athens [...] We act in response to the general stagnation of thinking and action in our society through collective meeting, thinking and direct action by reactivating a disused historical building in the centre of Athens"4.

"I am writing to you, because I know these days will be forgotten" is written in Greek on the wall. An artwork by Alexandros Mistriotis as part of the strand "One-day Residency" of the re-activation programme. This strand of the programme invited visual artists to inhabit Embros for a day and respond by leaving ephemeral traces in the building. During these twelve days visual artworks/traces occupied the foyer of Embros leaving the auditorium for performance and live events. However, on the last day of the re-activation programme, this ephemeral artwork occupied the dangerously packed auditorium. I am writing to you because I know these days will be forgotten. A packed theatre, events on stage, events on the streets, precarious structures, unstable times. Letters start falling in the following months "am, [...] you [...] these days" until one by one all the letters disappeared.

Tonight, I am writing to you because...

1 — José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, New York and London: New York University Press, 2009.

2 — Green Park Athens, Manifesto. Accessed: 20 August 2015).

Thalia Raftopoulou, Dancefloor, Green Park Activation, June 2015. Photo: Elena Sarantopoulou.

3 — Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, "Mikey the Rebelator", in: Performance Research, Vol. 20, (4), pp. 141–146, 2015.

4 — Mavili Collective, Re-activate Manifesto, 2011. Accessed: 15 March 2012.

Posted 26 Aug 2015
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