Performing places and stories of resilience:
Four cities, ten departments, one participation
Lila Karakosta, Maria Konomi
Greece’s participation in the Student Exhibition of the Prague Quadrennial dates back to 2003, with the School of Drama of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki1, while in the following years the presence of students from Greece in the exhibition gradually expanded. Indicatively, in 2015 Greece was collectively represented by eight departments with 240 students in the Student Exhibition of PQ152. At PQ23, Greece participates in the competitive Student Exhibition with ten departments from eight academic institutions from four cities (Athens, Thessaloniki, Nafplio and Florina), joining forces and presenting projects by about 350 students, realised during the last two years. This student participation is both extensive in volume and expansive in its scope and design focus, the result of the diligent and imaginative response to the open call for the Greek student participation and to the theme formulated: Rethinking cities: performing places and stories of resilience.
We would like to point out that it is the first time that the theme of the Greek Student Exhibition is collectively shaped and differentiated from the professional Countries and Regions Exhibition. This theme is the product of collective initiative and action through the process of an open call and the implementation of many group gatherings and diverse collaborative practices among the tutors/supervisors of the many educational institutions. The theme functioned as a common thematic umbrella, to which each department responded by proposing different projects focusing on their specific interests and making use of local dynamics and human resources. The theme itself responded to PQ23’s thematic call for the Student Exhibition: Rare stories from unique places – in relation to its general exhibition theme Rare; and also, it diversified the general thematic by reflecting multiple locations and agents in the field of professional and/or specialist training in scenography and performance design in Greece.
The intense diversity that emerged is indicative of the possibilities offered by the many different educational institutions, teaching subjects ranging from architectural and visual art approaches to the study of scenography, to more performative explorations and practices (with additional deviations in terms of performing and visual arts), to the cinematic space and the search for the audiovisual image and new digital media. To somewhat summarise this panoramic perspective, we could say that it largely echoes an expanded philosophy and practice of scenography. Placed within an inclusive scientific/artistic context, the above approaches are also indicative of divergent interdisciplinary scenographic perspective which tends to characterize the landscape of higher and/or specialised education in Greece, since no stand-alone university degree in the field of scenography and costume design is offered; in some departments, such courses are offered either as electives or as a more organised course of study in the programme syllabus3. In any case, this polyphony and multiplicity of approaches reflects to a large extent a timely and desirable convergence with the aspirations of contemporary expanded scenography and costume design, being also a characteristic feature of the education provided in Greece in the fields of scenography, costume design and performance design. The rich and varied material offered by the Greek student participation encourages us to reflect on the contemporary educational process itself in these fields and to further explore in the future and consolidate certain collaborative practices that have proven to be fruitful and effective in practice.
The theme of the Greek Student Exhibition in PQ23 Rethinking cities: performing places and stories of resilience highlights in particular the function of cities as a key experiential common performative space with all its social, cultural and historical specificities. Moreover, influenced to some extent by the archival turn in art4, it addresses urban environments as living archives of experiences and events, as environments of inspiration, artistic expression and public intervention, as well as fecund sources of local knowledge5. The theme also highlights the different possibilities and artistic processes of urban reactivation, reflecting the diverse responses after the catalytic experience of the pandemic. The reflection on the lived urban environment and the creative and imaginative use of public space and the public sphere connects -in one way or another- all the separate contributions of the educational institutions, highlighting the particular importance of the theme for experiencing urban space in Greece6. It also documents the great interdisciplinary value of this particular artistic research field, while a significant part of the contributions, following established international trends, explores more specifically the performative aspects of this dialogical relationship between urban and performance space7.
The performative use of space is equally important in relation to the overall design of the outdoor exhibition space of the Greek Student Exhibition, the Tent Stage. Both the theme and the design concept advocate knowledge of place, the use of public and outdoor space as fertile ground for performance space, flexible performativity and a collaborative ethos, features that we believe will be vital to the sustainable future of scenography and costume design and, in general, the performing arts.
Performing places and stories of resilience
PQ23 Theme Authors (in alphabetical order):
Angeliki Avgitidou, Lila Karakosta, Maria Konomi, Athena Stourna
The global pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives, reconfiguring how we relate to both physical space and our cities. In these unprecedented times, a global world was revealed to us providing boundless access to communication and information from the seclusion of our homes. By contrast, our physical realm was reduced to the confines of our cities, often to the limits of our neighbourhoods, thus turning our focus towards the local, the everyday and the ordinary. Cities are resilient, multifaceted and vivid entities of humans and places that have resisted and recovered from extreme situations and serious crises in the past. As unique, experiential loci, cities are inextricably linked to their histories and local cultures -material and immaterial- and to their various spatial, social and cultural identities. These identities are inscribed in the formation of the city itself, in its local communities, in artistic expression, in customs and rituals. They are manifested in every kind of spatial activity and performance event placed within the urban environment.
The city as a physical, anthropogenic, symbolic and imaginary cultural entity functions as a living archive of everyday, social, cultural and artistic performance. As an open-ended, all-encompassing archive, it involves all dimensions of time (past, present and future) and space (spatial experiences and collective actions). Cities are living archives in constant transformation, offering alternative readings and mappings of the seen and the unseen. Places and sites, narrations and stories become site-specific dramaturgies that conflate the cities’ past and present. We will use these open, performative archives of our common spaces to rethink our cities and human connectedness that stems from our physical environment; we will follow the threads of local knowledge and culture to (re)discover new paths of creativity, inspiration and interpretation.
Within this context, the Greek Student Exhibition aspires to draw a performative mapping of the four historical cities where the participating schools are based. With their distinct multiple layers and contesting histories, the cities emerge in their successive transformations. In southern Greece, lies Nafplio with its neoclassical architecture; right at the centre, Athens is an ancient palimpsest city in constant transformation and flow; up north lies multicultural Thessaloniki and further to the west, Florina, a border city of rich contrasts. These four cities will provide a general spatial, narrative and dramaturgical framework: our creative process will draw inspiration from the cities’ special geopolitical position and climate, their historical sites and other sites of remembrance, their built environment, outdoor and public spaces, literary narratives, urban myths and personal stories shared by local inhabitants, artists and communities.
The pandemic experience changed our perception and our relationship to space and our cities, offering new perspectives with regard to both the micro and the macroscale, as well as to their material and immaterial attributes. We intend to use this rare instance of transformation with resilience and creativity, inscribing the richness and diversity of spatial experiences in the living performative archives of our cities.
1. For more information see https://www.thea.auth.gr/international/prague-quadrennial/
2. For more information see https://www.scribd.com/document/328609111/Catalog-of-the-hellenic-participation-PQ-2015#
3. For a concise historical background on this subject see Giovani, D., Karakosta, E., Konstantinakou, P., Pipinia, I. (2021). «Teaching Scenography in Greece (1958-1976); a Research». Journal of Arts & Humanities, 10, pp. 30-45.
4. For the archival turn in art, see indicatively: Κaraba, Ε. (2011). «Το αρχείο ως δημοκρατική δημόσια τέχνη. Μια θεσμίζουσα πρακτική». Επιστήμη και Κοινωνία, 26, pp. 82-109· Merewether, C., ed. (2006). The Archive. Documents of Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Ventures Limited · Sabiescu, Α. G. (2020). «Living Archives and the Social Transmission of Memory». https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cura.12384 · Κaraba, Ε- Kouros, P. (2012). Αrchive public. Athens: Cube art editions.
5. For the interdisciplinary conception of the city as a living and resistant archive, see Βurgum, S. (2020). «This City is an Archive: Squatting History and Urban Authority». Journal of Urban History, pp. 1-19.
6. See indicatively, Avgitidou Α., ed. (2021). Δημόσια Τέχνη, Δημόσια Σφαίρα. Thessaloniki: University Studio Press.
7. See for example, Whybrow, N., ed. (2014). Performing Cities. London: Palgrave MacMillan.