A RARE GATHERING
Instead of a curatorial statement, we decided to have one more discussion, ask one another, share our thoughts – so what did we really do? We put to paper fragments of a conversation that originated in the same collective process in which the Greek participation in PQ23 was born and realised.
Maria Konomi, Eva Nathena, Sofia Pantouvaki, Andreas Skourtis, Adonis Volanakis, Constantinos Zamanis
- What do you think brought the six of us together?
– I think it was our diversity, i.e. artists from different paths of practices came together in what is called, quote unquote, scenography, and I believe that one of the things that brought us together and joined us is some sort of curiosity to learn things from one to another, at least personally speaking.
– I understood this question to be about the intention as a starting point, so I’d initially say I was the one who brought us together, urging all of us to do something jointly! But in terms of intent, I think, we were united by our need to make our work visible.
– Different forms of love brought us together: love for our work, team spirit, enduring scenography, and love for the theatre in general. The determination to have a Greek entry in the Prague Quadrennial brought us together.
– Yes, the need for participation and the need to have a voice. And the momentum, the particular occasion, was very significant, because this PQ came at the exact moment when we had sensed the danger of having been at a standstill for too long, and perhaps that was why we committed ourselves so passionately.
– We sensed a threat, too.
– PQ was the common goal indeed, but we joined forces because of the different things we all found around this. We took a great risk in discussing and persuading several institutions to engage with this form of art that we love, but which remains fairly unappreciated even in our own field, i.e. the performing arts. Eventually, many artists and a variety of works are presented in our proposal – and this makes me truly glad.
– What brought us together was a wish-turned-decision to do something for us, for all like us and see where this will take us and what it will bring to the community in the future.
– It seems as if each one of us added a small piece. Putting all the pieces together: A project connects 60 individuals, which is thrilling. The first thing that brought us together –and I can see that clearly in the passion we all have– is love for our work. We originally got involved in this process with a completely different personal goal in mind, but we put aside our ego and we came together thanks to our love for our work, clearly,… and the passion we all have, so that we chased our colleagues for the tiniest detail. The way we collected the submitted projects, how we wished for every single one of them to be included, to ensure the best quality, the best photograph and text, well, this can’t be anything else but genuine love and passion. And care, of course.
– We get to know one another anew, in unreserved openness. In the beginning, there was no fixed or concrete idea. There was faith in the process, in togetherness and in the unknown.
– Dismissing the burden of personal preferences, we made sure from the very beginning that everything in the process would please all of us, which has been wonderful.
– For all matters, even the minor ones, we have respected each others’ opinion.
- What was the process like? What did we discover?
– You cannot really call it a discovery, but one thing became clear: we are all in the same boat. For good and for bad, no matter the challenges, we are much closer to one another than we actually think…
– Abroad, when you say “Greek theatre”, Aristophanes is the first name that comes to mind. A great number of people are going to find out what contemporary Greek theatre and Greek scenography and costume design mean, which should have been the case a long time ago.
– Regardless of our individual inclinations and background, there is a solid understanding of the work of other artists and their different aesthetic approaches and practices. As for the curatorial approach, it turns out you are not expected to have set a prefabricated theoretical or aesthetic framework. Instead, this can be the result of a very open and inclusive perspective. Looking at contemporary Greek scenography through the perspective of the artworks our colleagues have contributed; in a horizontal democratic relationship, excluding vertical ranking or any sort of categorisation for that matter. The material submitted was the very starting point for deciding on the best way for its presentation.
– We all coexist in our own distinctness so the community is ever changing and porous. The six of us, being the ten per cent of a total of sixty participants who responded to the open call, somehow belong together. In that open call, you could clearly sense the voice of the community wanting to be heard.
– Lately, I realised that when I watched a performance I liked very much, I tended to become a part of it. In other words, I was happy as if I had created the work, and that feeling only intensified during our curatorial process. What I mean is that I shared the joy of creation of all artists whose work we collected; and I can see it is essentially the result of teamwork and collective thinking.
– I also wonder to what extent the pandemic affected us at an experiential level, and if this catalytic period of time worked instrumentally for our cause. In what ways has it affected issues pertaining to the process of scenography and live performance, and consequently has influenced our shared perspective in this group? In retrospection, I find that this period has essentially prepared me for such collaborative practices.
– We saw many cases of collaboration and co-design in the entries.
– We may have resumed “normality” for some time now, but many of the projects we received focus on ways of collaboration or the question of the camera and the recording of live performance – actually, some colleagues refer to the fact that their scenography turned into a film set, for example.
– During the pandemic, many designers were active, and there was activity despite closed theatres. What has been documented in the Greek participation in the PQ23 is very significant.
– The pandemic called for different collaborative methodologies. Take for instance the translocal nature of our own group: three of us also work abroad; the other three are based in Greece. The context of collaborative practices brings a different equilibrium. Scenography studies bond the different “pure” arts and are based on collaboration. Let’s remember that Tsarouchis’ name featured next to Koun’s in the posters and the productions they created, visual language and directing were equally significant. This is what the community seeks now, not in terms of acknowledgement but…
- Ethically speaking?
– Not ethically. I’d say in terms of creativity.
– By saying “ethically” I meant in terms of non-hierarchical co-creation, as this kind of balance has been disturbed lately. There has been an imbalance in how co-creation happens and how it is acknowledged. This is evident in the wording, that is, in the visibility of the set and costume designers’ creative contribution, since the director features as the main creator. In many cultural institutions, we see the director’s name featuring next to the title of the work.
– To trace the origin of this practice in Greek reality –although I believe this is not a purely Greek practice– one should go back to around 2006. In other words, the practice in which a director features as an auteur was in a way consistently applied by two institutional theatre organizations. According to this practice, there can be no space for a second name. Thus, our role is undermined on paper, and when this happens, it remains to be seen when it will be undermined in reality too.
– Seen from a broader perspective, the work of an ensemble becomes the work of an auteur. Thus, a work originally …
- Collaborative and collective?
– Exactly! It changes identity…
– It is indeed encouraging to see there are substantial examples of work focusing on space and scenography – performances that are co-created by a director and a designer, but also hybrid works that sometimes start as a designer’s inspiration.
– How scenographers give up being “contractors” and act as co-initiators?
– And co-generators of performance.
– Co-creators of the narrative and the spatial dramaturgy.
– The contribution of scenography was inherent and organically interconnected to theatre making, for a long time, to quote teacher Fotopoulos; that is, from a point onwards, the contribution of scenography to theatre was not negotiable.
– This has been happening already for quite a long time. Since the 1990s the dramaturgy aspect of scenography has been acknowledged both theoretically and artistically. What is required is that the industry and some institutions are brought-up-to date.
– We all introduced this approach in higher education in this country years ago.
– As to the word “visual” mentioned earlier on, what I see, and it is corroborated by the material we collected, is that “visual” scenography, let’s just call it that way, is gradually receding. The examples of Greek productions demonstrate that there is a very strong tendency towards the starting point of a design being primarily dramaturgical.
– We may be using the same word for different things. You mean visual design – whereas I use “visual” in the sense of the creation of a narrative.
– I use it in its conventional meaning; what non-experts understand when they hear or read “visual” which is the usual meaning and obviously is to do with appearance.
– I was liberated through scenography, and have always thought of it as painting. Even now I can only think of it as painting – so, in this battle it’s always my visual self who wins. Over the years, I’ve come to see that many of my projects look like visual installations, not sets per se – and I don’t mean it in a negative way. That’s why I like hybrid experiments and shapes that break the rules and the established, and everything is shuffled in a completely different way. The contemporary artwork is often conceptual, as well. It may not be relevant only to the form, but purely to a process, content or other issues pertaining to contemporary art. Art has moved on towards countless directions – many of them have nothing to do with painting or sculpture. So there is tremendous artistic diversity. In a nutshell, for me scenography is applied philosophy, a philosophy visualised and performed in space in all sorts of ways.
– Just think of what is happening in all arts schools internationally now and how this is evident in the works included in the Greek entry in PQ23: how many different definitions can be given to fine arts, visual arts. It always takes a more detailed analysis. There are many different interpretations.
- And we come to the following: What is “Greek scenography”? What is it we are trying to say or show about Greek scenography through this project? These two are interrelated, so I’m posing a two-part question. Is “Greek scenography” a valid term? We also talked about it in the beginning in relation to the open call for participation – how it is defined: as “Greek scenography” or “scenography in Greece”. It is the people working in Greece, regardless of nationality. It is the Greeks working in Greece, but also working around the globe. And the second question I want to ask here is about the content. What is “Greek scenography” as content? Are there any specific designers, certain characteristics or some common themes that are “included” in Greek scenography, which we would like to highlight through this project?
– I don’t think it is to do with nationality but rather with having, in whatever way, the experience of what Greece and making theatre in Greece means. Or what is so special about making theatre in Greece, often without funding, strict working hours or safety rules. Often, work which is luckily artistic and spontaneous is indeed done.
– In this context, I do not understand the word “Greek’ in a national perspective, but as a human geographic rationale, originating from space and place. Place suggests also a cultural background, people and collaborations, all sorts of production particularities that are definitely more improvisational and extremely diverse. In Greece there is often an uncertainty about the conditions of production and collaboration, as well as about the terms of artistic creation. Strangely enough, sometimes all this comes down to something unforeseeably artistic, or else to mayhem.
- So, do we define the people, the condition, the frame, and –redefine– content?
– We didn’t start by setting a framework of evaluation with specific aesthetic criteria to all this. We examined the raw material collected through the open call in its submitted form; and I think what bring us together is the goal to give visibility to this creative, heterogeneous and diverse artistic community. Those of us who mostly work in Greece are faced with the issue of visibility abroad; PQ is a rare opportunity and I truly believe that we are making the most of this 2023 edition.
– Apart from the geographical and national aspect, despite our initial intention to address everybody, this open call was eventually written only in Greek: language does actually make us. I don’t mean to say that greekness is used in the same way as back in the 1930s, nor do I believe that Greek scenography is something different. I’m saying this because sometimes we tend to have a rather pompous idea about Greek scenography that has a beautiful and rich history. But many of the 60 designers and of us here have not been formed by the Greek tradition of painters/sculptors/architects, but rather by the British-based practices of expanded scenography.
– …My question is provocative by using the term “Greek scenography”; I guess it’s quite clear…!
– The question beamed me up to what Greek scenography means, historically speaking. How it was built and what it means today, what contemporary Greek scenography is all about today. So I guess in both questions the ingenious Odysseus’ gene is still going strong. In other words, those of us working domestically have had to do things we had never imagined. Tough circumstances probably make us more imaginative.
– Ingenuity is a very characteristic word. Making the most out of the least available, which is a continuous practice of ingenuity and sufficiency, is something everybody keeps going back to. There has been a very systematic effort to reuse materials and objects, or to stage shows that do not depend on material cost, but rather on the way in which few things can create whole worlds.
– But what you are saying refers to just a trend, or a particular policy. The Greek phenomenon is often about not having an alternative…
– This brings to mind a discussion I’ve often had with colleagues from abroad, when different production reasons call for reusing, recycling and upcycling practices – something that is deemed necessary today and expressed as eco-scenography, a practice of alternative thinking that has always existed in Greece.
– Yes, they are in effect social economy practices…
– I feel that the 57 examples that form the Greek entry are very much alikeGreece: there are highs and lows; they are big and small, rich and poor. The entire Greek entry is so much like Greece itself, with its good and bad aspects, its traumas, and its beauties. Obviously, the contemporary Greece, not the “Greece”…
- … of archaeological interest?
– Definitely not! Nor the tourists’ destination seen on postcards… we are talking about the “now” of recent years.
- What does our group think of the scenographers’ pavilion with the ancient Greek references? Will self-sarcasm be understood?
– While our pavilion is not literally “original”, it still is more of a statement of the fact that we do not care about the original. We are interested in creating an experience out of humour and self-sarcasm, and an invitation that reads “take a printed postcard, take the stamp, and pick where-who you want to send it to”. An invitation for communication. Perhaps to see things in a more relaxed way, and see time as less of a hurry.
– Eventually, we managed to not try and make something merely for the gaze of the other, i.e. a juror’s gaze in the jury. As an end result we have something that represents the here and now of our own artistic identity. To a great extent, I sense the expression of self-determination here – rather bold in terms of the Greek reality.
– To have managed to exclude solemnity, this is the key to our coming together.
– The form of the exhibit was born at that precise moment out of the entire process, when we all first smiled and then laughed – period.
Greek National Participation in Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space 2023 (PQ23):
Open Call for Participation with Submission of Work
How do we build the future through our art in times of successive challenges and redefinitions?
How do we reflect on the past through the experience of a pandemic that abruptly left the (live) performing arts suspended as to their spatio-temporal existence?
What new perspectives, transformations and scenographic practices are born today?
- Was there a rare and unique moment of expression for you? (Rare expressions)
- Can you think of a unique experience of artistic collaboration that defined you? (Rare collaborations)
- Has there been a rare way or space of encounter with the audience that marked you? (Rare encounters)
- How do post-pandemic spatialities emerge as a live, virtual or mixed reality performance context? (Rare spatialities)
- What new forms and possibilities of connection and communication with the audience are we called upon to design? (Rare connections)
With the above questions in mind and in a unifying spirit, we are invited to delineate the past, present and future of scenography in our country.
Based on the themes set by the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space 2023 (PQ23) and with the intention of shaping the Hellenic National Participation in the professional section of the exhibition (Exhibition of Countries and Regions), the curatorial team is inviting scenographers/costume designers based in Greece, and Greek scenographers/costume designers based abroad, to submit a representative work that has been (or is expected to be) realised in the period January 2017 – January 2023.
Which of your design works (theatre, dance, opera performance etc, site-specific performance, performative installation, etc) do you think answers one or more of the above questions?
The designers’ work is often described and defined in the documentation of the final artistic outcome – for instance, final designs, photographs and videos of all kinds of realised work. A big part of the creative process and artistic journey remains unseen. The workplace, the designer’s workshop/studio, backstage and the rehearsal spaces, short or long-term collaborations, discussions, thoughts, undisclosed stories, professional concerns, creative inquiries that worked as the starting point of and motivation of a work, are only some examples. We invite you to include in your submission samples of both the final work and this unrevealed material, using various presentation media, such as texts, images, sounds, or videos.
Work from all who will respond to the open call will be included in both the printed catalogue and to a dedicated website/on-line exhibition – a rare extensive collection of scenographic material spanning the last six years. A Rare Gathering.
The Curators’ Team (alphabetically)
Maria Konomi, Eva Nathena, Sofia Pantouvaki, Andreas Skourtis, Adonis Volanakis, Constantinos Zamanis