Δευτέρα 13 Φεβρουαρίου 2017

Nomadic artists: Nostos* for the “bare – life”?

       Nikos Charalambidis, Rietveld's Red Blue Chair blocked in a traditional loom [2006]                                                           
Nikos Charalambidis, Rietveld's Red Blue Chair blocked in a traditional loom, 2006

                                                                                                                                                                   By Vassilika Sarilaki
What’s the role of cultural nomadism nowadays? How the artistic residencies influence contemporary artists? Do nomadic artists have a desire to experience the “otherness” and “bare-life” in any cost in order to find the truth for themselves and their artwork? What’s the result of comparing different cultures and having cross-cultural experiences? How valuable can be the concept of a nomadic art evaluation in everyday life? Do we still believe in postmodern values or something different is about to rise? We looked upon the nomadic experiences and artworks of four Greek artists who answered our questions and helped us to enlight the topic..
Displacement has always played an important role in 20th century art, starting from impressionism till nowadays. It is known that even some art movements were influenced by this. Artists known as fauves, -Gauguin, Matisse, e. t. c -were constantly travelling abroad to get some artistic experiences and inspirations. European people have always been migrating to USA for economical or other reasons and at the dawn of the 20th century (between 1850 and 1914) as Glynn, (2011) states “over 50 million Europeans migrated to North and South America. Ireland, Italy and Sweden contributed, over 15 million of these emigrants”.
Artists’ emigration to America continued all along the Modernist period. In a way, we can claim that the New York’s abstraction movement was based on foreign artists. Moreover, the New Bauhaus was established in Chicago after the Nazi’s attack to Weimar. Fluxus was also a multinational movement expanded all over the world. Artists always travelled a lot and worked in different places.


Alexandros Georgiou, Group of Forgotten Gods, Mixed media processed photograph, National Museum of Contemporary Art 

It  is common knowledge among art historians that the avant garde in Modernism was built upon a number of artists, the great majority of whom, lived in the metropolises of Europe, the USA and Russia. Artists moved from poor countries to richer ones in order to have a carrier. Those days, however, travelling, staying abroad or moving to cities, such as New York or Paris, was a personal choice but not an indispensable move in order to become famous.
Today, we live in a more globalized world. For that reason, artists who want to become really eminent are obliged to travel continually to different countries in order to establish an international carrier. They should also participate in certain artistic residencies, several biennials or other big expositions and symposia.

Ptak, (2011), refers to residencies and says that “the basic goals of residency programmes is individual artistic development and the pursuit of experimentation. Nowadays, residencies are often incorporated into the core of artistic practice which allows geographical imbalances to be redressed, signalling an end to artistic discourses based on one-way traffic”.

As Denson (2012) also states “It's now over two decades since some of us--critics, theorists, artists--called for a nomadic valuation and criticism of art--a valuation and criticism encouraging us to diversify the cultural terrain with the contributions of indigenous artists the world over. If there is a nomadic enterprise today, it is no doubt that of the consumption of culture; and if there is a nomadic profession, it surely must be that of the globally-attuned artist.”
Additionally to this, from some years and on we are attesting a new phenomenon. Some artists choose to leave their rich home countries and move in emerging and developing countries for creative purposes. And after a long period of time they return home and present their work as being witnesses of another culture.

As Palomino, (2010) states “At the actual flow of globalized commodities, interchanges, transportation, technology, global financial investments, communicational networks, international migrations movements, tourism etc the figure of the artist has become a witness and an actor of his time.” This is the case of four following Greek artists we are going to present, Alexandros Georgiou, Georges Drivas, Nikos Charalambides and Dimitris Alithinos.. There are, certainly, some other important artists...

Alexandros Georgiou, 42 years old, was well known as a young artist in Greece, even from the time he was still a student in the Greek Athens School of Fine Arts, from the series of photos (of an intimate existential character) appearing in the “Spring Collection” exhibition of the “Deste Foundation” of the famous collector Dakis Ioannou. After graduating the School of Fine Arts he went to New York, he prepared a MSc at the School of Visual Arts of New York and participated in various international exhibitions.

Why did I choose to present him among others? The reason is because he is different. His difference from other similar nomadic artists is that he is not photographing neither exotic images nor melodramas or atrocities addressed to the Western eyes and international market. He is not creating photos of misery that humiliate Eastern people. He just collects relics, memories and embers of a culture that leans sinking to the West and sensitizes us about the real meaning of life. Another difference is perhaps the most important: whatever he lives, he lives it locally, from within and from his own for years now.

    Alexandros Georgiou, Persepolis, Mixed media processed photo, Courtesy of the artist and Eleni Koroneou gallery

Alexandros, seeking for reality beyond media lies and the prejudice regarding life and art of the East, escaped from an atmosphere of the market and marketing of New York to a new, strong emancipation of his artistic representation by living and creating with entirely new materials from those of the West. In 2005 he decided to go to India and other Eastern countries and live there for a long time, till 2013. Returning he exhibited his artworks at the National Museum of Modern Art. Some questions emerge.
What really made Alexandros Georgiou to abandon his 7 year long stay in New York- the dream of every young artist of the “periphery”- and depart for his long term journey to India, Iran and Pakistan ?
Which was the path of his artistic quest up until then and what was his differentiation regarding the “reading of the world and art”?

Alexandros 5
   Alexandros Georgiou, Without My Own Vehicle India – Kids Wearing MacDonalds Clown Masks 2006-07, digital print on paper

His images – fragments and the comments that he sent to a number of selected participants in Greece- are coloured by the immediacy of a painful everyday reality of poverty, by a hybrid mist that bonds the sacred with the commercial, by personal poetic images, by colourful visions of deities that are erased by advertisements but still remain alive in the soul as the last sign of hope and faith. These images of spirituality emerge as in communion with life and pain and are presented as pure, experiential, honest and immediate revealing their own aesthetic, that of solitary transience that leaves, however, a permanent mark of longing. They are the exact paradigm of what Agamben was describing with the term “bare life”. By this term Agamben,  (1998), characterizes the made of life of many “excluded” and poor population, some kind of the “luben proletariat” in Marxist terms. . Alexandros is someone who familiarizes us with the “otherness” of the “bare life”. More in the following video…


 George Drivas  is an artist and filmmaker. He received an M.A. in Film and Media Studies at Freie Universitaet, Berlin, Germany and a B.A. in Political Science at the University of Athens, Greece. He is the recipient of numerous awards namely, Best Experimental Film Award at London Greek Film Festival, London, UK (2010), Special Mention at “Strange Screen”, Experimental Film and Video Festival, Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece (2009) and others in Germany, Russia and USA.
drivas portait 
His work has been featured as a Tribute to him at the Athens's International Film Festival (2014), as a Solo Show at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece (2009), and as part of a group exhibition or festivals all over the world. He mainly lives in Athens and Berlin and travels to different countries of the planet to create his artworks.


George’s work is interesting and strange. It’s like a compilation of contemporary mute scenes of Antonioni’s film using extraordinary black and white photos and a psychological thriller atmosphere. His work consists of some optical experimental “essays” about alienation, lonely citizens, “excluded” people, pollution, frustration, surveillance etc. He is exploring the “otherness” not only based on external cultural differences but also on our civil culture that produce alienated people, excluded persons e. t. c. He defines his concept as follows: “My story sounds old and new, depressing and promising, suicidal and creative and strangely enough at the same time by questioning its own possible existence, by investigating parts of our most primitive fears, by emerging from the aesthetics of a contemporary electronic observation of ourselves, it feels absolutely distant, familiar and haunting, all at once.” You can see his works here: http://www.drivas.org/



In Artfacts.net (2009) we read about his film “Empirical Data”: “With photographic technical mastery and an objective, almost scientific language, Drivas narrates stories that touch upon the subjects of alienation, social integration, the promise and the disappointment from interpersonal relations in a society of surveillance”.

drivas 4

Bailey, (2011) wrote at “Frieze Magazine” about his film "Sequence Error": "A microcosm that echoes Greece’s current economic crisis (...), the work exposes Greece’s situation within the framework of a system that turns people into numbers.".


This year, Georges filmed “Kepler”. It was produced in Tbilisi, Georgia. Kepler is a political thriller of science fiction involving politicians, businessmen, toxic waste and waste management experts. It may be happening here and now or tomorrow in a distant place. The title of the film was taken by Kepler 186f , a distant, new found planet that raises expectations for a completely different future, since, according to scientists, he has similar soil, atmosphere and size to the earth, something that makes him potentially habitable. According to the creator of the film this is a planet that people could move to when the circumstances in Earth would be unbearable.


Drivas has created also other films in others countries. You can hear our recent conversation about his artistic experiences and nomadism here:  http://vassilika.tumblr.com/post/106451660372

If Alexandros Georgiou’s work is about experiencing the “otherness” and trying to find another way of life, more honest and fair to everyone in order to return to some primitive good values of life, George Driva’s work observes and criticizes the current alienation of the citizen in his familiar environment and explores the similarities and/or differences of East and West. I think that both of them they are motivated by Nostos in their works.
Both of them remind me of a contemporary Odysseus who is trying to return back Home and by trying this he is currently trying to find the essence of his life and soul, trying to find his true identity.. Alexandros is less introspective than George and his easy going character allowed him to stay a long time and absorb the Eastern way of life so his images became more free and emotional. George’s educational background and his character made him less influenced by the new environment and the form of his artwork remained almost the same..In fact he incorporated the new images and behaviours to his artistic code.

What I have also understood is that nomadic artists have learned to live mostly in a zen way of living. By living the moment and the present. I have realized that is possible to live another way of life without constant consumption. Moreover, I have learned that the western propaganda gives us often false picture for the countries of the East.
Nikos Charalambides, is another case of a brillant Cypriot artist, 40 years old, who lives for many years in Greece. He has created many works, installations and videos concerning Nostos and excluded population in a more political way. He mainly lives in Athens but he has created many artworks about the political situation of his homeland Cyprus. He has exhibited those works all over the world and he has also invented the nomadic museum, a rumbling museum.. He has also made an artistic intervention in Green Line, Cyprusm in 1989. At 2006 I interviewed him about his “nomadic” exhibition at the Turner Contemporary Art, London.
This is a fragment:
V. Sarilaki: You are preparing an important exhibition at Turner Contemporary Art in London . In this new political/interactive installation, you make a core reference to the Nicosia wall, to the Situationists, the anti-architecture of the Sixties, and more. How do all of these relate to the overall concept, and how do you use the Turner’s space?

N. Charalambides: Let’s start with the title, “NOCHELEIA: The C.I.A. Project”, which gives the viewer the impression that what they are about to see relates to some CIA secret mission with a Greek codename: “nocheleia” [languor]. It’s obviously an oxymoron I chose deliberately as the Social Gym, the activist programme of actions I follow, challenges social inertia and passivity of exactly this sort.
The C.I.A. Project (Cultural Imperialistic Activities), on the other hand, referes to the troubled situation in Cyprus and the Middle East . It is significant that the artists hosted by the project are the Atlas Group.

In his recent "Exercises on Democracy", Nikos Charalambides, deals once more with the concepts of home, house and home, creating a heretical home biennial, "extending from the home of the artists participating in the White House, the flagship residence that houses the President of the United States and his family”.

                     CIA's propaganda kiosk, Christmas crib made out of Israeli old weapons, Nicos Charalambidis, 2003

 Dimitris Alitheinos,  60 years old, another Greek nomadic artist has confirmed also this to me when I onced interwied him. He is a famous and dynamic artist. From 1981 until today he has made 175 Concealments, a life project that stretches across the globe, from Thessaloniki to Istanbul and Machu Picchu, in Varanasi, Patras to Venice and from Cyprus to the Cook Islands and Easter Island. Essentially, he is hiding on earth paintings and constructions that he creates or other works and objects, in the presence or not of public, in an effort to rescue the cultural memory of ethnicities.


I was reading the other day an article of Mazower, (2014), saying that the concept of the nation-state fights back and that its abolition is not performed as it was suggested in the era of globalization. As he states, “The era of globalisation was always one of instability and in Mexico, East Asia, and Russia, the costs of crisis were evident to those who cared throughout the 1990s. But it was only a decade later, when the failure of Lehman Brothers and its aftermath robbed Americans and Europeans of their faith in capitalism that perceptions started to change where it counted. Since then, power has shifted back towards the state. It was, after all, taxpayers who bailed the banks out.”

So nation or nationality was not concepts “to get rid off” easily. Maybe the global markets prefer us not to be identified to a major national entity and to be atomistic and easily manipulated but this thought is too much superficial and anti-human. Human being is a social being and some golden boys many times forget it. Nomadic artists help us to realize that the Nostos, the need to return Home, (that each person may appoint as his home country) is also a return to a real homeland which is still important. And what gives them an importance is returning to the soul.
The crisis in Greece which has become humanitarian taught me that we can live with less. In addition to this, no one could ever be happy when everyone else around him is unhappy. The same applies to nations and countries especially in our world where communication is global. To care about the “here and now” finally means to care about everywhere.
And this, I think, worth it.

I will end this post with the words of a wise and eminent art critic Denson, (2012) :
Because the world's many cultures offer so many models of reality and identity existing simultaneously, because there are so many societies and cultures converging in a global community, because discourse is being negotiated among them and because we are recognizing multiple histories of the world, we require a critical attitude that rides with the shifts in civilization's discourse. The best of today's artists and critics are ready to visit the models of any given community―ideological, spiritual, political, economic, technological, scientific, aesthetic―at any given time without obstructing communication or insinuating personal models on them. This doesn't mean that we must have expertise in a model or even accept it personally, only that we be ready to relinquish our dreams of domination for an acknowledgement of the world's diversity.


Agamben, G. (1998), Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford UP, Print. ISBN 0804732183.

Denson, R. (2012), Nomads Occupy the Global Village: Left Political Art Timeline, 2001-2012, Huffpost Art and Culture On Line, Available at : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/g-roger-denson/nomads-occupy-the-global-_b_1464387.html. (Accessed 31 December 2014).

Glynn, I. (2011), Emigration Across the Atlantic: Irish, Italians and Swedes compared, 1800–1950, site EGO, European History On line, Published: 2011-06-06. Available at http://ieg-ego.eu/en/threads/europe-on-the-road/economic-migration/irial-glynn-emigration-across-the-atlantic-irish-italians-and-swedes-compared-1800-1950#. (Accessed 27 December 2014).

Mazower, M. (2014), After the crisis, the nation state strikes back, Financial Times, On line, Published: 26/11/2014. Available at http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/61915746-756e-11e4-a1a9-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3NQwvyHk9. (Accessed 31 December 2014).

Palomino, J. (2010), Nomadism, Performativity and democratic criticism in contemporary art practices, recherché, doctoral studies programme, Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinky,( p. 3), (on line), available at : http://www.jesuspalomino.com/Comunes/DocPress/12-04-17_PubArt.pdf. (Accessed 8 December 2014).

Ptak, A. (2011), RE-tooling RESIDENCIES: A Closer Look at the Mobility of Art, page 10, Available at <http://re-tooling-residencies.org/media/upload/img/ReToolingResidencies_INT.pdf>. (Accessed 27 December 2014).
Sarilaki, V. (2006), Nocheleia: the C.I.A. Project, On Line interview, Available at: http://www.whitehousebiennial.com/portfolio/exhibition.( Accessed 31 December 2014).


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