It is refreshing to see how the MOMAFAD project playfully explores a series of fundamental questions. Some of these questions are timeless and others quite specialized; relating to the aura of the artwork, the accessibility as a demand of self-realization (the artwork is only completed by the viewer according to Duchamp) and the institutional mission of art museums, photography as performance (when performance is originally conceived for the camera lens) and the exhibition as an archive among many others. This entire project could be conceived as an artistic gesture with an element of performance. This, in my opinion, is what makes this project so unique. This is also the reason I am not attempting to isolate certain elements but rather will emphasize the ones that feature clearly performative and corporal elements such as the final photographs of the artworks by Giorgos Tserionis, Annie Fassea and Yannis Adoniou.
The above three works use the human body and voice as raw materials. Such bodies function as carriers of the embodied memory in the ‘here and now’. These works belong to different disciplines (visual arts, dance, music) but are presented in the context of performance art, contributing to the activation of the place (locus) through a live event that is conceived and documented and bringing to the fore the dialectic of presence-absence. The performers activate, embody and mark the experience of locus for the duration of a photographic shot or short video. According to performance scholar Peggy Phelan, these are
I would describe them as fleeting vulnerabilities; disappearing while performing.
Giorgos Tserionis’ The Arrival is a performative action where the artist used a traditional rug called ‘Flokati’ that envelopes his body and covers his facial features. This choice enables him another kind of protection; a status of anonymity while we are faced with the enduring reality of the body, to quote Yvonne Reiner. Tserionis’ live body sculpture is inspired by the ‘Telesphorus’ sculpture he encountered during his recent solo exhibition Saxa loquuntur in the archaeological museum of Amfissa. Telesphorus was a divinity in ancient Greek mythology symbolizing the recovery from an illness. He was depicted as a small figure with a cap around his body and face. Performance seems to be the ideal medium for this work since through the repetition of normative acts some form of healing and liberation can be achieved.
The performative subject is a site of intersubjectivity since it is always in relationship with others. In this sense, the Flokati has multiple functions. Traditionally it is not only used to cover the floor but also the walls of Greek countryside houses, protecting the inside of the house from the harsh winter days whilst also serving as a folklore decoration. Given the airport’s recent history as a temporary shelter for migrants fleeing the Syrian war, we can think of the rug as an object that not only protects from the cold but is also a home in itself (since they usually carry it everywhere). It is striking how such a thin layer defines the inside from the outside or the private from the public realm. When seen in this context, the feeling of domesticity associated with Flokati takes on uncanny nuances.
Annie Fassea’s All that Glitters is not Gold shows the artist performing an operatic rendition of ‘Old Man Beis’, a classic song by the Greek composer and poet Emilios Riadis. There is a certain ambiguous yet hypnotic beauty that attracts us. She embodies the narcissism and vanity of all things that glitter. Whether it is the main character of the song or the airport that used to be part of our modern golden age; a period of extroversion, prosperity and globalization with an innocent breeze of capitalism. The manipulation of the voice enables the exploration of the multiplicity of self. It has the capacity to transform the structure of interpretation, in this case the airport as a stage for the action.
Perform is a multifaceted piece by Yannis Antoniou that functions both as tableau vivant depicting a motionless group of performers and as a choreography engaging playfully with all the conventions of photography as performance. Perform also explores the concept of transformation through the symbol of ‘chrysalis’ and rebirth informed by the actual fountain and its symbolism. It embraces the conception of the body as an unstable, transforming entity, as the art historian and curator Cecilia Fajardo-Hill would describe it. This transient status enables the production of new forms and escaping categorisations.
Nude and barefoot, these bodies embody otherness and comment on the vulnerability of the self. The airport itself has a body that goes along with the sex appeal of the inorganic. A decadent body made of concrete, metal and glass. In all its fragility it vibrates with the bodies of the performers sharing similar qualities. The airport stands as an empty shell, unable to fulfill its original mission but still standing in the anticipation of inscribing new meanings.
Passing from the performance to the documentation; the photographs remain as traces of the presences in their absences. As a fixed memory the photos ensure continuity. I am not going to argue about the relation of photography and “reality”. Artists are conscious that photography is not a transparent medium for the transmission of an action. I’d rather discuss how photography has been associated with nostalgia through the invention and mass commercialization of portable cameras in the late 19th century. In this context, technological memory was sold as a mere commodity promoting nostalgia as an epistemological position.
By specifically turning the camera into a toy (small size, automated process) and removing the complexity of the history of photography, the demand for the ‘here and now,’ as the main demand of performance art, is heightened. The camera may have taken images of the children but the photographs were for the parents to reconstruct childhood memories. We experience a similar nostalgia. A nostalgia that I cannot shake when I look at these photos. Nostalgia for things that I have not experienced, for something I have no embodied memory of. For me this place has been accessed not as an airport nor as a temporary exhibition venue. It was always too young or too late. It is through these photographs and imaginative participation that I can reconstruct a sense of ‘here and now’. Photographs are granting permanence to the ‘fleeting’ and the ‘vulnerable’.
By summarising various works in the exhibition, this essay proposes that all the images similarly explore fundamental questions to do with an artworks’ aura, the institutional mission of art museums and spaces and the idea of photography as performance. Particularly, this essay is interested in these artist’s intention to activate, embody and mark the experience of locus (geographic place) for the duration of the photographic shot. The location and presentation of the body within the significant for it highlights one’s vulnerabilities. In thinking about the ‘enduring reality of the body’ and its always being in relationship with others, this essay proposes that the power of photography is its ability to communicate nostalgia. For Riga, the photographs present a sense of nostalgia for a place not experienced and permit visibility to the ‘fleeting’ and ‘vulnerable’ through their reference to the ‘here and now.’