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Features Performance Published 15 December 2015

Love Letters to a (Post-) Europe

Love Letters to a (Post-) Europe brought together a wide range of artists to consider the European crisis, including Ivana Müller, Matthew Goulish, Tim Etchells, and Kira O'Reilly. Diana Damian Martin spoke to artist and curator Lisa Alexander about the event.
Diana Damian Martin
Yoko-Tawada. Photo: Eftychia-Vlachou

Yoko-Tawada. Photo: Eftychia-Vlachou

Diana Damian Martin: Love Letters teases out the future of Europe as a provocation of disunity. It made me think of theorist Etienne Balibar’s musings on the European project in We, the People of Europe, where he raises the question of Europe in relation to a political organisation that offers the possibility of transnational citizenship, as much as a cultural and social public sphere. Love Letters begins with is an expression of solidarity. Tell me more about the project.

Lisa Alexander: The impetus for Love Letters arose in a particular moment during the summer of 2015 just following the Greek referendum. Voting followed capital controls and widespread political and media scare-mongering – despite this Greece voted a resounding oxi to the stringent austerity measures for bailout. An unprecedented moment. A clear outcome did not accompany the negotiations with the troika however. It was a time of stasis, uncertainty, frustration. Day by day, hour by hour as friends in Athens will bleakly testify to.

A red rose cut from a bush. I am lying through my teeth each time i say I’ve lost my breath. I’ve lost it, lost any faith i ever had in the markets. X, Please Recycle X OX. I sold my tongue and now i’m homeless. Torn out by the root, wrapt, a living twist of coral. Sweating a fish of unborn fire in the mountain.[1]

In this context I sent out the provocation. It was a call to being, a coming together. Framing the act of participation or presence in an act of gifting was integral. Selected artists were asked to respond with an action, idea or form of a love letter – a frame of witness and expression that approaches another in the moment. The missive could be in any format – but it had to be 15 minutes or under and conceived for live presentation. A personal address whose reception would be shared in the moment.

In this sense the provocation does not espouse a vision of the future – both future and past imply a fixed perspective, attempting to pin down the ongoing fluctuation of moments. Their performance. Their sharing. The multiplicity of mortal singularity. In a small way it was an attempt to step outside of the expressive confines of these times through the language of poetry and performance. To express the sensuous understanding to be derived from an emplaced, embodied experience of being. To quote Berardi again, poetry (and by definition poetic/artistic forms of expression): “exceeds economic exchange…and (is) the return of the sensuous body of language.”[2] A language that lets in the human–being and is not based in neoliberal forms of economic exchange and subjectivisation that normalize us into generalized ‘individuals’ – into numbers. We are not tidy completed subjects; we are always in a state of becoming and flux. Hélène Cixous also refers to the agency of the poetic to evade the fixing of categorisation and: “If only we listen, a language always speaks several languages at once, and runs with a single word in opposite directions.”[3]

In the provocation I reference the encampments five years ago; in public squares across Europe (and beyond) protesting against austerity as an example of something that cannot be quantified by a global economic system and its “technolinguistic automatisms.”[4] A poetic witness(ing) performs a similar relationship to the moment, in time, in place, in body. Temporal, sensual, emotional, psychical qualities of know-how cannot be accounted for. A nomadic mode of subjectivity[5] open to the multiplicity of the moment in alterity. It is a process that offers the possibility to witness the self as other, to approach another and is ethical in its openness, as distinct to a technocratic model:

It is as though it [Europe] has silently replaced a common language based on words and verbs, with the grammar of calculators. The current political elite has no sense – in every possible meaning of the term – of the cultural and historical dimension of the great game they are playing so badly.[6]

The last referendum in Greece was the republic referendum of 1974. Early July’s was the first in Modern Greek history that questioned economic conditions imposed from outside, their political powers and not the form of government. There was a lot of sympathy with Greece’s situation amongst many people I know, many of them artists. It seemed at the time that Greece was the only country prepared to make a stand against the tide of neoliberal global governance that uses economic reasoning to inflict regime change on whole countries. In the light of these events I wanted to create a project that somehow responded by an artistic coming-together.

Come creditors, collect our icons, our incense, our isthmus, our ivy.

Come collect our jasmine, our jib, our June, our July.

Collect all our keels, our kerchiefs, our kilns, and our kisses.[7]

The title Love Letters to a (Post-)Europe refers to finding different ways to express a coming together and sharing between persons living within the landmass currently known as Europe at a time when decisions and actions in the name of Europe were being imposed that directly affected the everyday life of whole countries and peoples which do not necessarily reflect the struggles and opinions of those living (or trying to live) there. Despite this people living all over Europe continue their own friendships, help each other, love each other and mostly live beside each other in peace. There are many small acts of solidarity, friendship, gifting, hosting – connections that move beyond the transnational to the translocal. The title therefore attempts to reflect this and also indicates with ‘(Post-)’ that the name ‘Europe’ and what it stands for publicly, historically, economically, geopolitically and personally varies enormously and is not to be taken at face-value. Not intended to indicate either unity or disunity – but to provoke the possibility for multiple responses/perspectives.

Your mention of Balibar’s debate concerning internal and external borders and issues of ‘European apartheid’ could not be more relevant now. The process of Europe needs to be continually questioned and its relationship to a global sovereign state – in which agency and democratic process are not afforded equally to all. Artistic practice by definition has no role to play in practically combating these difficulties but it might offer another paradigm for understanding and reflection that engages human-being. Since the ‘crisis of social imagination’ underlying the use of economic dogma to justify control of peoples still stands – multiple modes of understanding and expression are needed.

It is said that today nation does not play a role any longer. It is said that nation is a halluci-nation in a transnational world.

Europe pricks Europe to feel its own body. Where it hurts, the self is located. A painful search for the ‘self’. It is not forbidden to colonise oneself.[8]

Alec Finlay. Performance devised by Haris Attonis. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Alec Finlay. Performance devised by Haris Attonis. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Diana: The project stems from your own experience, from connecting artistic practice and intervention with solidarity, as a mode of visibility. You mentioned that all artists taking part in the event travelled at their own expense, and box office proceeds were donated to a local organisation. Can you tell us a bit more about the financial architecture of the event, and your own curatorial relationship to it?

Lisa: At the outset I approached artists to participate voluntarily: to respond with an artwork as an act of gifting to be witnessed live and that this would also provide a little support to a venue in Athens (Bios) and a charity working on the ground. It was an opportunity to create a platform that brought artists together from different parts of Europe to reflect upon a provocation by engaging artistic practice – a lens free from the restrictions of political rhetoric, reportage and economics and to show solidarity in an act of participation.

The event was sold out and box office proceeds were split between the venue Bios and Solidarity for All:[9] a charity working on both a practical and informational level in Greece with local projects in Athens; to combat the effects of austerity on all vulnerable people living there – citizens, migrants and refugees. The charity and the venue preferred that an announcement concerning the donation be made on the nights of the event itself rather than be a means of promotion. Publicity did communicate how artists were participating voluntarily as an act of solidarity and covering their own expenses including travel or hosting. This was intrinsic to the expressive frame of the event and the form of the works: a collective action of coming together that to an extent stepped out of pervading modes of operation.

Responding in the moment to unfolding events – the timescale, location and nature of the project ruled out the possibility for public funding. The act of gifting, hosting, the brevity of form and the flow of communication and spontaneous support however enabled something that would not have occurred in the same way at that moment if at all were it funded or commercial. I worked on this independently. There was no open call for works: in part because I lacked the resources to co-ordinate that. The provocation had its roots in prior research[10] on the agency of a poetic witness and this informed the curatorial process. I had envisaged a smaller event but the majority of artists I approached agreed to take part and it quickly grew in scale. There were twenty seven works over two evenings.

Artists could respond with a work in person or remotely. Those who could not be there in person created short films or texts to be performed by another artist live. The act of gifting and participation was key. It was also an opportunity to show solidarity with Greece and with each other. Those that travelled from outside Greece did so knowing that in a small way their custom would help – at the same time visiting artists were hosted by Athens-based artists – who welcomed them into their homes. The generosity of all was overwhelming.

Artistic expression potentially offers another form of insight as it does not (have to) operate within a fixed system or agenda and is able to draw upon all aspects of human being. There are political, economic, social structures that can – do inhibit this. The need to make a living is bound up in these inhibitory factors. Austerity measures also control forms of expression. I oversimplify of course. And this is not to promote a situation in which artists (or anyone for that matter) are not paid and have no means to live – but there are moments and contexts when not allowing economic and political controls stifle an impulse to freely create, express, to be relational, imaginary and unfixed join with a need to show support to each other.

I have spent maybe half my time in Greece since 2009 and witnessed the effects of austerity on the ground and the difficulties experienced by friends and their families. I had a strong urge to respond. The motivation for the event arose from this personal experience of living in Greece, my own artistic practice and research and a desire to do something small to help that brought people together. I had quite recently returned to London in March 2015 after spending almost a year in Athens. Tsipras was elected by a landslide in late January 2015 and I watched the results with two of my closest friends at their home in Kypseli. The next day there was a palpable sense of hope felt on the streets – several months before the referendum was called. I had not planned to return to the UK at this point. I curated and produced Love Letters to a (Post-)Europe whilst staying at various friends’ homes in London and looking for work – their generosity and hosting certainly fed into the project. I worked voluntarily as did all the artists. A friend of a friend who had heard about the project generously offered to lend me money for my own travel and living expenses during the event. (I have a small debt now – luckily it’s interest free and sustainable).

Brian Lobel. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Brian Lobel. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Diana: Artists taking part are drawing from a range of performance contexts, and include Tim Etchells, Wendy Houston, Brian Lobel, Robin Deacon, Matthew Goulish, Ivana Müller, Kira O’Reilly, and many more. Their invitation was to respond with an action, idea or in the form of a love letter. You mention presence, singular witnessing, friendship, gifting, wilderness, messages in brokenness, utopias and post-utopias. Tell us more about some of the works that came through, as well as the invitation extended to the artists.

Lisa: The summer of 2014 was a time when the frustration of endless talks, the regurgitations of 24 hour news against a backdrop of serious hardship in Greece and beyond, demanded some kind of response and at least the opportunity to express something other than the endless reportage, technocratic grammar and backtracking.

It’s touch and go. It’s touch and go it’s touch and go it’s touch and go. It’s touch, and go it’s touch and go it’s touch and go it’s touch and go. It’s touch. And go. It’s touch and go it’s touch and go it’s touch and go. It’s touch and, go it’s touch and, go.[11]

The provocation gave a frame of witness that approaches another in the moment. Something shared. A letter addresses another directly, a love letter invites intimacy, dispenses with formality, exceeds boundaries, engages a sensual encounter of the moment, is plural. To respond with an action, idea or form of a love letter to a Europe stuck in economic dogma, disembodied and disconnected to a flow of living being. The event was an opportunity to explore an-other response to the situation from a place of alterity through creating artworks to be performed or presented in the context of a shared live event. Outside dominant fixed narratives why not a rant, a song, a message of tough love, adoration, seduction or nonsense, a witness in situ, a grave laugh, a movement, a body, a fellowship, an action of storying?

My heart is full of so many things to say to you – ah – there are moments when I feel that speech amounts to nothing at all.[12]

The form and content was unrestricted, accepting the 15 minute time limit, and artists could chose whether or not to respond directly to recent events – framing the act of participation or presence could itself be a response. Despite the open format for responses their presentation was conventional: two nights of sequentially presented works on stage with an intermission. This was partly due to available resources but it also intersected with the provocation’s call to come together in the moment: the audience experienced the works together and it brought attention to the temporality of each piece beside a multiplicity of responses.

Over half the works were performed in person and others created short films or wrote texts and actions to be enacted collaboratively by nominated performers. The twenty seven works/responses were presented over two evenings with a different line up each night responding to the theme in different mediums: poetry, video, sound and different forms of live performance: spoken word, readings, song, visual, participatory and movement-led performance, devised works and actions. It is impossible to summarise the wealth and nuance of all the works that resulted and I can only dip in and out of a few here. Please also see the programme for each night.

The parcel from a government contained a replacement tongue. I tried to insert it but it didn’t fit. Locked out of my house I sit in silence, a post-man sucking an unworkable organ. A crock of letters, when i try to speak, as an ox-man, with bad makeup, I can taste the dead animal.[13]

Textual responses to the provocation included works of poetry and prose that explored the voice and agency, processes of translation, meaning and identity. cris cheek’s poem x ox, was realised visually in a video of a man who has literally lost his tongue and sold his ability to humanly speak – an ox tongue replaces his own. The strikingly grotesque images perform an aggressive silencing of language to inarticulate grumblings by a mistaken cause of austerity that has locked this man outside himself. We hear their sound, and text in English appears on the video in lieu of his voice. The text was translated – uttered live in Greek.

The agency to express personal and divergent opinion is embodied in Alec Finlay’s book length poem a better tale to tell; composed entirely from submissions to the Smith Commission;[14] a found poem of multiple voices excerpted from the many singular letters that it comprised. Finlay comments that the letter is a form of address that demands “a particular mode of attention.”[15] A performance was devised from Finlay’s work by Haris Attonis that riffs on this plurality of address by juxtaposing parts of the text with found images that related to the context of Greece, Europe, everyday life and its parallels with the Greek referendum, whilst performing a live translation of parts of the text in Greek. The performance highlighted how a multiplicity of personal, singular responses seemed to make more sense of the state of Europe and its systems.

I have no easy answers

   that would be

         to put my-

           self on a

           pedestal

but it is not just

my voice

please do not

       return to your

              remote ways[16]

Many of the textual performances and videos by artists were in English – performed for an audience of (predominantly) Greek native speakers. This emerged from a curatorial process in which the emphasis was on inviting artists to Athens in an act of solidarity. Debates on what to translate into Greek and what to leave – as is – inevitably emerged and the question of English (again) dominating a transnational gathering. Translation as a creative process ran through the event in a number ways in addition to linguistic translation. Translation of the provocation into actions and of its context(s) and as a form of witness that continues a story already begun, as embodiment and as transmission. Embodying and bearing witness to more than one culture, language, voice, identity and continually being between them in a process that approaches another was a theme that ran through all the works. The event performed this space of liminality. Some works expressed this too in word form:

Claire MacDonald performed by Evangeli Fili Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Claire MacDonald performed by Evangeli Fili Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

And I am thinking how different the words are in English and in Greek

for what it means to

love,

to care

for the guest

to open your house

In Greek, spiti — house — is from Latin,

The same root as in ‘hospitality’

Which is to offer shelter.

In Greek hospitality — filoxenia

is love or kindness offered

the stranger

the guest who must always be fed

If she crosses the threshold.

Filoxenia.

And so the threshold

Becomes a space between worlds

In and out.[17]

Claire MacDonald’s text This Table was a personal address to a recently departed friend exploring the spaces and experiences of coming together at tables, over meals, in each other’s homes, between cultures, languages, temporalities; performing a process of attending, of holding the ongoing moments in their multiplicity. Matthew Goulish performed a process of translation by rewriting of Odysseas Elytis’ poem What One Loves so that the intimacy and scale of this poem was applied to the inhuman scale of austerity and debt:

Seal, seaweed, September, sesame.

Sheepskin, shells, shrimp, a shroud.

A sparrow, a spinning wheel, a spright, and a squall.

A stalactite, a starfish, a debt of starlight.[18]

The alliterative beauty of the language impresses the impact of these items and ciphers, their everyday significance and variety in contrast to the language of economic systems. Yoko Tawada’s new text for the event, Where Europe Ends, written in German and performed by her in English with Greek surtitles, explored the absurd symbolism and colonial past informing Europe’s identity and how notions of debt and self-colonisation are a means for Europe to feel herself. Tawada draws on her childhood encounter of Europe through literature and performs her text using objects as symbols: building paper houses from Euro notes, an apple as the forbidden fruit of colonisation, a ragdoll as Europe and wine as both blood and escape.

The dead part of Europe is as important as the living part. The dead European authors lie in several layers beneath the ground. They grew after their death.[19]

Not without affection for her subject, Tawada uses surreal humour to express the dangers of a Europe prone to inward looking, nostalgic thinking. The title of Tawada’s piece recalls a book of short stories Where Europe Begins (2002) inspired by her exophonic witness of Germany as a non-native speaker who has adopted German in adulthood.

This cultural witnessing between languages is something that Kate Adams explores in Μα Ποια Πάπια (or I’m not a Pheasant Plucker)[20] that performs a poetics of her effort to speak and be understood, her witness of herself in Greece and her origins in Jersey. Erica Scourti’s performance Symbolic Values[21] accompanies a film made in Greece just prior to the event documenting the use of the Greek flags in shops, on products and elsewhere juxtaposed by the translation of phrases between Greek and English. The piece performs her attempt to seek and speak a common pattern of meaning that ultimately fails and is expressive of her inability to pin down any one definition, interpretation or understanding of her own feelings of belonging, identity and the ‘crisis.’ Scourti is Greek and has lived in the UK for a number of years.

Robin Deacon. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Robin Deacon. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Robin Deacon’s performance involved repeated live vinyl scratching/ mixing of European national anthems and Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless[22] (also the title). It performed a comedic, deliberately pompous and even thrilling reminder of the concept and rousing familiarity of anthems, their cultural and historical references, whilst hinting at imperial, colonial pasts and rising nationalistic tendencies in the present. The repetition through mixing performed the anthems’ phrasal dogmatism and suggested like Tawada, an inward looking, nostalgic Europe – and one that we perhaps unwittingly identify with. Something that Demosthenes Agrafiotis suggests in his preamble to his action CRISE/ cries in a meta-Europe.[23]

A number of responses involved addressing Europe as lover or an ex-lover and as a human scale beside an immensity of disconnection in global political and economic parlance. Brian Lobel bore witness to his anger, passion and grief in a personal story of a former lover who died a week after completing his work on the Lehman Brother’s examiners report into the financial practices that caused the economic crash of 2008.

I know that they would get theirs someday – karma’s a bitch. Are they still rich? How old are they? How hot are they? I wanna face-fuck them with butcher knives…What would you do with them Brian? Have fun in Greece let’s hook up when we’re back in town.[24]

Lobel describes how he used to consider trading anything or anyone to bring back Grant, “the human being I loved so hard and so imperfectly” just for a moment:

…long enough for a kiss, long enough for one of our stumbling encounters…eight to twelve minutes. My mathematic calculations were precise – would I kill someone with my own hands if I could have a day with him?[25]

The measure of Lobel’s grief equates with the anger he feels for the “financial criminals” trading on a daily basis with peoples’ lives and whom Grant had to investigate. Brian comments:

I can conclusively say that Grindr is not a safe platform for austerity-mongers.[26]

Maria Sideri composed, performed and recorded a song remotely for the event The Union.[27] The audience listened in darkness together to what seemed to be a conventional love song beginning “Once we dreamed to be one.” Sideri’s voice and melody are genuinely moving however and her lyrics take us elsewhere – to contemplate the charade of identity based on entrenched narratives that dominate “the common rule applied and made the strongest survive” and

I loved you and you let me down/ I gave my hopes to you now you shut your borders all around.[28]

As lights build towards the end on the empty stage and the audience with refrain:

Union never lasts/ unless there’s a future together no need for repairs/ Union never lasts/ unless there’s a future together no need for repairs/[29]

Catherine Hoffmann’s What Happened to The Glory Days?[30], culminated the event with a work that drew on transcripts from a series of interviews on ‘breaking up’ that were interwoven with her own texts on being broke, being a woman, on debt, desire, expectations, and the economy.

We’re all broken up/ But I can set bones with care/ I’ve been practicing/ Perfectly/ To/ Re-/ Member/ It’s love/ Not the money[31]

Barefoot, clad in a red dress with a voice pedal and microphone for company, Catherine wove these texts and voices into layers of song and spoken word, poems, rants, movement and actions of yearning, rage, wit and wisdom. Her final episode involved tapping out the rhythm of her speech with Euros thrown onto stage by the audience that she had strapped to her feet with red tape.

Everybody needs to decide/ Is money money for everybody or is it not?/ You are ooh/ Delicious and sweet/ With strap on feet that create/ A weird sensation in me…

We need to do some more kissing

We need to do some more kissing

We need to do some more loving

We need to do some more loving[32]

Florence Peake. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Florence Peake. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Video responses varied in form and length. Tim Etchell’s short work: touch and go explored a state of anxiety in a performance to camera through the repetition of the phrase touch and go that enacted the state it spoke of, whilst different meanings arose with the variations in cadence of his utterance and embodiment. Another short video performed to camera was Mikhail Karikis’ Introduction in which he performs a series of abortive attempts to speak inspired by “political modes of speech and…the disturbing contradictions in prevailing models of neoliberal masculinity.”[33] Both Jungmin Song’s Dear Constellation[34] and Brian Catling’s response Coiner[35] were short works that used animated photographic stills of coins to suggest financial trickery in quite different ways. Georgios Makkas’s video animates a series of stills that document some of the many thousands of shops that have closed down in the last five years in Greece in The Archaelogy of Now.[36]

I started to write this text some days ago in another hotel room in Zagreb. A place where I was born which I left twenty years ago and where I showed my work after more than six years…[37]

Ivana Müller’s video takes the form of a message in-situ contemplating her movements over the last few days, Europe, recent events and the thoughts and moments in between. It was recorded four days prior to the event and uses the full fifteen minutes. Müller addresses us from behind the camera whilst looking out of a window from a train travelling through somewhere in Europe. The movement of the train is fitting as it is expressive of the movement of events and thoughts within the short period that she recorded the missive and performs the happenstance of intertwining themes arising within these few days from which her recollections are drawn and some in the moment of recording.

…the insulation was quite bad and my relationship to the outside world was quite visceral. On the first night in that hotel I could not sleep at all and neither of my colleagues could… That night more than twenty thousand refugees entered Croatia on their way to Germany. Tracing a new passageway after Hungary indefinitely closed its borders.[38]

There were a number of works in which the body was the text or transmitter of a message. Florence Peake’s Voicings[39] invited the audience to ask questions about Europe and austerity that she attempted to answer by using her body as a channel – exceeding the boundaries of word and language through psychophysical means. It was moving, sincere and at times uncomfortable and hilarious – a litmus of the audience’s communal experience. Kira O’Reilly’s[40] response was a series of instructions for an action that was realised live by Vassiliki Dimou. The action involved two glass cylinders; one filled with seawater, the other empty. The performer was to dip a glass into the seawater and speak the words “I came to the sea and I was scared. My heart is broken” whilst holding the seawater in her mouth, and then spit it out into the other cylinder. This could be spoken in Greek or English. The action was to continue for the full fifteen minutes and the aim was to transfer the seawater from one cylinder to the other.

‘I came to the sea and I was scared. My heart is broken.’ were the words reported to have been spoken by a fisherman on finding the bodies of the small child Aylan Kuridi who drowned along with his five-year-old brother Galip and their mother, Rihan when they attempted to make the crossing from Turkey to Greece and the hope of refuge in Europe.[41]

O’Reilly would try to perform the action at home around the same time as Dimou performed it in Athens and Dimou commented afterwards that “It was the most intense fifteen minutes I’ve ever experienced on stage…I could hear both of us in the word ‘broken’ and taste the word ‘terrified’.” The action’s ritual transference of seawater over fifteen minutes was a powerful communal experience for the audience also and although the duration was short the effort slowed the experience of temporality to contemplate with Kira and Vassiliki the still ongoing plight of refugees attempting to make the crossing to safety in Europe, Greece being one of its borders.

Kira O Reilly realised by Vassiliki Dimou. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Kira O Reilly realised by Vassiliki Dimou. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Performance and poetic forms of expression experienced in time, frame a visceral, participatory witnessing. A process of affirmative endurance; that is ethical in its mortal singularity; within an ongoing, fluctuating, embodied duration. This particular quality of the performative taps into becoming narrativities that often go unacknowledged, unexpressed, unspoken. A process that speaks to recent thought on social agency and the commons that partly inspired the provocation I sent out to the artists. To inhabit the ongoing, unregulated living space of being. To acknowledge that crisis is part of a fixed cycle, debt can never paid off, and as soon as we realise this; that there is nothing to be repaired; we understand that:

…there are spaces and modalities that exist separate from the logical, logistical, the housed and the positioned. Moten and Harney call this mode a “being together in homelessness”…this interplay of the refusal of what has been refused…[42]

Potentially this also enables the agency to perceive and step out of pervading systems of control, perhaps create another paradigm, an-other meaning.“You are already in it…you are always already in the thing that you call for and that calls you.”[43]

Matthew Goulish reading by Evdokia Delipetrou. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Matthew Goulish reading by Evdokia Delipetrou. Photo: Eftychia Vlachou

Diana: In hindsight, with the passing of the event and the ongoing political and cultural shifts that are taking over Greece, what are your thoughts about these gestures and mediations? In what ways do they offer solidarity, and how does that resonate with the wider questions asked surrounding Greece and the European project?

Lisa: Much happened since early July across Europe. Despite Greek citizens’ overwhelming vote against austerity measures Tsipras’ government appeared to renege on this outcome although the troika also appeared to coerce Greece into accepting a much harsher deal. Tsipras called a general election and was narrowly voted back in (just over a week before the event). Four months on and the debt ‘package’ remains unsustainable – the prolonged austerity measures continue to exacerbate hardship. Whilst a home as shelter and safety has become a crucial humanitarian issue for so many entering the land mass known as Europe in the last few weeks and months, many of whom arrive in Europe through Greece. Singular action and imagination embracing multiplicity is necessary in order to remain human.

Love Letters to a (Post-)Europe addressed a particular moment a few months back, a moment that galvanised the will to come together. The gestures and meditations gifted by the artists feel like a beginning of a journey and something to be glad and grateful for – the will and generosity of so many people made it possible and so much more can be done, expressed, explored. Continuing to step out of the frames; the language of financialisation is one; from an embodied singular place that’s poetic, relational, plural, in brokenness and in the places we are already – is a good place to start. A lot has happened too since I began responding to these questions – but the surrounding issues still remain. And as Muriel Rukeyser puts it (I’m thinking of ‘exchange’ as sharing, coming together as distinct to ‘trade’):

Exchange is creation; and the human energy involved is consciousness, the capacity to produce change from the existing conditions. Into the present is flung naked life. Life is flung into the present language…complicated, fresh, full of dark meaning, insisting on discovery…[44]

Here. Now. A place to continue.

References:

[1] Excerpt from cris cheek’s x ox, a video/poem. Programme notes: on having my tongue torn out by the root and dealing with a replacement, I can still taste and feel the tongue of the dead animal in my mouth. austerity takes many forms. a letter of love written for Love Letters to a (Post-)Europe in Athens. Interpreted live by Stefanos Achilleos. Text translated into Greek by Christina Themeli.

[2] Berardi, F. B. (2012). The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance. Los Angeles, Semiotext(e). p.139

[3] Cixous, H. (2005 (1998)). Stigmata. Abingdon, Oxfordshire, Routledge. p.xii

[4] Berardi, F. B. (2012). Opcit p.7

[5] Braidotti, R. (2006). Transpositions. Cambridge, MA, Polity Press.

[6] Badovinac, Z, Bart de Baere, Borja-Villel, M, Esche, C, Kortun, V, Petresin Bachelez, N, Ten Thije, S, (2015) “How Much Austerity Can Europe Endure?” Internationale Online: 04 July 2015

[7] Excerpt from Matthew Goulish’s Ledger Lines – a text for Athens. Programme notes: rewrites the abecedarial poem What One Loves by the Greek poet Odysseas Elytis in order to comprehend the austerity/debt economy’s immensity and translate its reality into human terms and images. Performed live by Evdokia Delipetrou

[8] Excerpt from Yoko Tawada’s Where Europe Ends. Programme notes: A new text about Europe and the past, using objects like flags, apples, dolls and wine. Performed by Tawada in English with Greek surtitles. Translators: Iokasti Krontiri: German to Greek and Katharina Günther: German to English.

[9] Solidarity for All – works on a local and national level in Greece in the form of practical (soup kitchens, clinics, provision of groceries etc) and informational (advice networks, support) aid to all those affected by crisis. http://www.solidarity4all.gr

See p.21 for an outline in English: http://www.solidarity4all.gr/sites/www.solidarity4all.gr/files/aggliko.pdf

[10] Alexander, L. (2014). “Performing agency and the poetic witness.” Department of Drama, Theatre and Performance. (PhD thesis). London, University of Roehampton.

[11] Excerpt from Tim Etchells’ video response touch and go for the event. Programme notes: I’m thinking about the state of anxiety, taking care and worry when things are in the balance, when things change for the worse and for the better at any moment.

[12] From a text written by Mariela Nestora that she based I was born old on for the event, in collaboration with Maria Xanthopoulidou, and Filippos Kanakaris. A performance was created through an open call published by Yelp dance company: twenty seven performers participated.

[13] Excerpt from cris cheek’s x ox, a video/poem. Interpreted live by Stefanos Achilleos.

[14] The Smith Commission invited individuals and organisation to respond to the settlement that followed the Scottish independence referendum, September 2014. Finlay’s work is composed from submissions by individuals.

[15] See: http://alecfinlayblog.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/a%20better%20tale%20to%20tell

Readings from a better tale to tell were performed at The Shock of Victory exhibition at CCA, Glasgow occurring simultaneously to Love Letters to a (Post-)Europe and a year after the Scottish referendum.

[16] Excerpt from a better tale to tell by Alec Finlay, performance/reading devised by Haris Attonis from part of the text. Programme notes: a better tale to tell is a work of collaged contemporary history – a book-length poem composed entirely from individuals submissions to the Smith Commission on the settlement that followed the Scottish Independence Referendum. The text brings out a range of ideas and issues in the guise of rhetorical, personal and quirky voices, juxtaposing contradictory statements. The claim of these statements is that they remain separate from party political language, and they prove, once again, citizens are advancing ahead of party organisations.

[17] Excerpt from Claire MacDonald’s This Table. Programme notes: My letter reflects on hospitality, and is dedicated to my friend Merita Hoxha, who died this summer aged 44, and who came to the Cyclades from Albania in 2003. Gifted beyond the life in which she found herself, her presence is part of my own history in Greece, troubling it and enriching it through her sharp, joyful, at times difficult experience as a stranger longing to be seated at the table. Text performed by Evangeli Fili following an email exchange during its writing.

[18] Excerpt from Matthew Goulish’s Ledger Lines – a text for Athens. Performed live by Evdokia Delipetrou.

[19] Excerpt from Yoko Tawada’s Where Europe Ends. Performed by Tawada in English with Greek surtitles. Translators: Iokasti Krontiri: German to Greek and Katharina Günther: German to English.

[20] Programme notes: Μα πια πάπια is a struggle to speak in a foreign language. It is a game of vulnerability and foolishness, an attempt just to say what I want, clearly, and without any mistakes. It is a search for home and a search for a voice.

[21] Programme notes: Erica’s performance accompanies a film made over the last few weeks around Greece, picking out Greek flags on a variety of products found in shops, homes, boats and other places and is interspersed with words and phrases translated between Greek and English drawn both from the media and from her own writing. Attempting to address feelings of home, identity, belonging and socio-political crisis, the video/ performance becomes a ritual of seeking a stable pattern – the Greek flag – but failing to make sense of its myriad meanings both for the artist and for the global media.

[22] Europe Endless by Robin Deacon for the event.

[23] CRISE / cries in meta-EUROPE. Demosthenes Agrafiotis. Programme notes: Many efforts have been attempted to define the cultural “essence” of Europe. One of them assumes that Europe is the territory in which the cultural difference is respected. I could use the term “meta-Europe” in order to name the end of the above respect. “Krisis” has two meanings in Greek. The first, the disruption of the normality or regular functioning of a system – biological or social. The second, the crucial moment in any process of decision making, when a judgment is needed in order to assess the objectives and methods. What could be a performative lecture of the binome [Europe/crisis]?

[24] Transcribed excerpt from video footage of Brian Lobel’s performance for the event: Lehman Brothers And Other Underwhelming Lovers (or, No One Would Fuck Them So They Fucked Everyone)

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] The Union, Maria Sederi. Programme notes: Responding to the on-going economic and social crisis that marked the beginning of the end of the European Union and everything it represented, this song addresses Europe as a lover and uses the metaphor of a love song to demonstrate the end of the relationship between its member states. Neglecting any initial plans made for a common future, Europe aware of this “separation” is now asked to shape its identity and define its positions. Recorded by: Tasos Korkovelos. Piano and voice: Maria Sideri

[28] Excerpt from lyrics to The Union, Maria Sederi

[29] Ibid.

[30] What Happened to The Glory Days, Catherine Hoffmann. From programme notes: Songs and texts created utilising interviews with hundreds of people about ‘breaking up.’

[31] Excerpt transcribed from video footage of What Happened to The Glory Days, Catherine Hoffmann.

[32] Ibid.

[33] From programme notes: Introduction, a performance to camera by the artist Mikhail Karikis, in which he draws inspiration from political modes of speech and observes the disturbing contradictions in prevailing models of neoliberal masculinity, questioning the performance of ‘maleness’ and exposing the fault-line between machismo, aspiration and masochism. In the video, Karikis assumes the role of a suited male who is attempting to speak without being able to. He uses a variety of vocal gestures, such as coughing, clearing the throat and mumbling to question notions of gender and authority, eloquence and embarrassment.

[34] Dear Constellantion, Jungmin Song. Programme notes: I write this love letter to the Europe I have inhabited as a stranger, like writing to the stars from the ground of planet earth.

[35] Coiner, Brian Catling and David Tolley. Programme notes: COINER is the old street name for a confidence trickster, thief or forger. The video is a spontaneous performance made for still camera. It of course talks about the brutality of finance and the Charon of possession. Video and photography: David Tolley. Performed by Brian Catling. Sound track Growler by Brian Catling, played on an electric Hurdy-Cello built by the artist.

[36] The Archaeology of Now, Georgios Makkas. Programme notes: With Greece in its 6th year of recession tens of thousands of small business have already closed, and many more are about to close. The Greek economy has shrunk by 25% in the last 5 years and this is very visible in the cities where every second shop has closed down. Shops where generations of merchants had run successful businesses are disappearing and together with them the post WWII Greek dream – the family run shop – is coming to an end.

[37] Transcribed excerpt from video footage of XXXXXXX by Ivana Müller. A video missive created for the audience.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Voicings, Florence Peake. Programme notes: In Voicings Florence explores the notion of ‘channelling’ from the imagination hidden information that can provide insights into current situations locally and globally. Live interpreter: Stefanos Achilleos.

[40] ‘I came to the sea and I was scared. My heart is broken’, Kira O’Reilly, realised and performed live by Vassiliki Dimou.

[41] Ibid. Programme notes.

[42] Jack Halberstam, “The Wild Beyond: With and for the Undercommons” in: Moten, F., Harney, S (2013). The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. http://www.minorcompositions.info/?p=516, Minor Compositions. p.11

[43] Ibid. p.7

[44] Rukeyser, M. (1996 (1949)). The Life of Poetry. Ashfield, Massachussetts, Paris Press. p.172. Eileen Myles in her review of the book after 20 years being out of print comments: “Rukeyser unspools one of the most passionate arguments I’ve ever read for the notion that art creates meeting places, that poetry creates democracy.” Myles, E. (1997). “Fear of Poetry.” The Nation April 14.

Love Letters to a (Post-) Europe took place at BIOS in Athens on 2nd and 3d October 2015. For more information you can visit the BIOS website.

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30x-MPU

Diana Damian Martin

Diana Damian Martin is a London-based performance critic, curator and theorist. She writes about theatre and performance for a range of publications including Divadlo CZ, Scenes and Teatro e Critica. She was Managing Editor of Royal Holloway's first practice based research publication and Guest Editor for postgraduate journal Platform between 2012-2015. She is co-founder of Writingshop, a long term collaborative project with three European critics examining the processes and politics of contemporary critical practice, and a member of practice-based research collective Generative Constraints. She is completing her doctoral study 'Criticism as a Political Event: theorising a practice of contemporary performance criticism' at Royal Holloway, University of London and is a Lecturer in Performance Arts at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

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