SNF Nostos



We Interrupt Regular Broadcasting to Bring You This Special Program!

International Video Art Program

17 - 24 June, 2018, 06.00-00.00, Lighthouse

We Interrupt Regular Broadcasting to Bring You This Special Program!

As The New Yorker humorist James Thurber once noted, much of modern life is devoted to “alarms and diversions.” These days that means bad news, fake news and alternately entertaining and appalling absurdity. The arts have a rare capacity to seize upon the temper of the times and crystalize its extremes, holding them in suspension that we may more fully experience them and better judge their possible meaning and our thoughts and feelings in response to their uncertain significance.

The theme of this year’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Conference on Philanthropy –to be held at SNFCC in Athens– is Disruption. In response, the visual arts component of Summer Nostos Festival disrupts or interrupts its regular program with selected videos and films by nine distinguished international artists that tackle the very notion of disruption in a variety of ways, addressing sociopolitical concerns as well as universal existential issues. Just as counterpoint elaborates upon and enhances a musical theme, this video and film program directly or obliquely accents the primary themes of the SNF conference's proceedings.

It is our firm belief, that whether seen only in parts or in its entirety, the video and film program being made available to the diverse audience for which it is intended will be of genuine interest to any and all comers. Moreover, we sincerely hope that under the circumstances, it will also be the predicate for free discussion among those who give it their attention.

Curators Barbara London, Kalliopi Minioudaki, Francesca Pietropaolo, and Robert Storr, Artistic Director.

Participating artists:

Martha Colburn, Kahlil Joseph, Erkan Özgen, Didem Pekün, Wong Ping, Liliana Porter, Jérémie Reichenbach, Belit Sağ, Yorgos Zois.

Liliana Porter (Argentinian, b. 1941)
Actualidades / Breaking News, 2016
Digital video (color, sound), 22 min.

Unfolding in a series of short, incisive vignette-like chapters infused with subtle whimsy and a penchant for quietly subverting absurdity, this enticing video by Liliana Porter takes its cue from the recent phenomenon of the virtually ubiquitous breaking news that unexpectedly disrupts the stream of our daily life. The subjects of such “news” are, in Porter’s idiosyncratic rendition, forever caught between the ordinary and the extra-ordinary.

Fittingly, the video begins with an evocative epigraph by Jorge Luis Borges:

“… when there is nothing on earth that forgetfulness does not fade, memory alter, and when no one knows what sort of image the future may translate it into.”

Soon after, a playful exploration of the disruption of linear time ensues under the viewer’s eye, collapsing present, past and future. Porter structures each scene in Breaking News as if it were a segment from a newscast or section in a newspaper, including “Arts and Leisure,” “Fashion and Style,” “World News,” “Real Estate,” “Weather Forecast” and “Religion” to name a few. The protagonists of these scenes comprise small figurines, vintage toys and various mass-produced objects, chosen from a vast collection accumulated by the artist on her numerous trips across the world. Arranged in unexpected situations juxtaposing different eras and cultural/historical narratives, this peculiar set of characters, turned into vulnerable human surrogates, invite political and existential interpretation.

Image and sound are characteristically intertwined in Porter’s work. With music arranged and composed by Sylvia Meyer, the chapters of Breaking News poignantly encapsulate the incongruities and fragilities of human life. The result is a tourbillion of enchantment, playfulness, empathy, irony, and absurdity, seemingly wrapped into one.

Yorgos Zois (Greek, b.1982)
Eighth Continent, 2017
Film (color, sound), 11:02 min.

In this film, which premiered at the 2017 Venice International Film Festival, the Greek artist and filmmaker Yorgos Zois gives life to a poignant meditation on the refugee waves on the shores of Europe, in particular of Greece. The opening image of this visually stunning work is that of the open blue sea, with the view of the horizon suggesting worlds afar and the possible meeting of different cultures. The camera draws our attention to a brightly orange object floating in the blueness of the sea: we recognize a life jacket. Gradually, thousands of them are gathered in an old abandoned dump on the island of Lesvos. Taking the shape of a mountain, this new landscape, of man-made quality, seemingly becomes part of the nature around it. Its outline plays against the gentle lines of the mountains nearby. The only human presence is that of a worker, temporary inhabitant of a place that resembles an alien planet or a new continent, the Eighth Continent. As Zois has commented, “This graveyard of life jackets constitutes a modern monument of our absurd world. It does not only represent the aftermath of this massive population movement in the 21st century. It also haunts us with images that dig deeply into our own existence and carry a universal life meaning that goes beyond the daily news.”

The Lighthouse at SNFCC where Zois’s film is screened looks out to the Mediterranean Sea, the relationship between the architectural complex and the water (the port in Faliro Bay) having been intentionally restored by the architect Renzo Piano with his design. It is the same Mediterranean Sea we watch in Eighth Continent, and it is only fitting that the site of an exhibition and the art presented in its space be so closely intertwined, thus sparking new reflections.

Jérémie Reichenbach (French, b. 1975)
Les corps interdits (Banned Bodies), 2016
Film (b&w, color, sound), 12:30 min.

In this masterful documentarie de création, the French filmmaker Jérémie Reichenbach opens a poignant window onto the otherwise-invisible existence of refugees living in the camp near Calais (in Northern France) at the time of filming. After having traversed different countries –some the Balkans, others Libya, Greece and Italy–, they ended up trapped there. They still hoped to reach the UK but, displaced, they found themselves in a dramatic limbo. They break the silence of their “invisibility” by denouncing the inhuman conditions they are subjected to in the “jungle,” as the Calais camp has come to be referred to. (The camp existed from January 2015 to October 2016 when the French authorities closed it.) In the film, we never see them –their bodies are banned, just as their very existence is from ours. We only hear their voices, while black-and-white images capturing the misery of the camp flow under our eyes, interspersed with still images that suspend time momentarily thus creating a great visual tension.

Reichenbach dedicates his film “to those who entrusted me with their voice.” He employs the vocabulary of the documentary in a distinctive fashion so as to afford a visually enticing and emotionally powerful meditation on the tragic existence of refugees. He restores their humanity. Their anguish is our anguish, as fellow human beings. In closing, we hear a voice that declares, “What takes place in Calais is shame on all Europe! Enough!” This film disrupts preconceived assumptions and in so doing it profoundly resonates with universal existential themes, eliciting new thoughts and feelings

Belit Sağ (Turkish)
Disruption, 2016
Video (color and b&w, sound), 4:59 min.

Working primarily in video, Belit Sağ investigates issues of identity and dislocation. This short video explores the experience of political and personal disruption, scrutinizing, in the process, the transformative power of images on everyday life. Centered around the breaking news of the attempted military coup in Turkey, the artist’s native country, in July 2016 when she was living in Amsterdam, Disruption poignantly bespeaks of displacement. Sağ recalls, “I could not get back to Turkey. I was constantly watching the news.” Documentary footage captures her act of walking –only her feet visible, she walks without getting anywhere, as though trapped in a state of suspended alienation. Over the background of her filmed wandering soon appears a collage of digital images culled from the media and brief excerpts, mostly in black and white, from films exploring the thin line between reality and fiction -Woody Allen’s 1985 film The Purple Rose of Cairo and the Turkish 1965 film Sevmek Zamani (Time to Love) by Metin Erksan. The latter, set in Istanbul, tells the story of a man who fells in love with the picture of a woman, preferring the image to her –a riff on the ability of images to keep hold of us. Such fictional fragments are juxtaposed with recent history: in particular, they coexist with images of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan broadcasted live on Turkish television, via a mobile phone, as he incites his supporters to take to the streets and counter the coup under way; as well as with images from the last televised speech of Romanian President Nicolae Ceaușescu to the masses in 1989, capturing the defining moment when it becomes clear that he has lost his power over the crowd.

The result is a highly condensed, personal universe suspended between an oppressive feeling of entrapment and the impulse to break free. Disruption offers a meditation on the uncertainty of the future and yet it affirms the resilient hope in the transformative possibilities of change.

Martha Colburn (American, b. 1972)
Western Wild…or how I found Wanderlust and met Old Shatterhand, 2017
Animated film (color, sound), 9:09 min.

Vibrant imagery and a sustained rhythm characterize Martha Colburn’s meticulously rendered stop-motion animations. Her work is often the result of intensive research and a laborious process. Colburn generally combines found imagery with her own painted and drawn cut-paper figures and landscapes, set to propulsive soundtracks. Densely textured, this animated film is a documentary about a film-maker, Colburn herself, making a film about the German writer Karl May (1842-1912), best known for his adventure novels set in the American Old West –which he never visited, contrary to what he maintained. (Among the protagonists of his books is Old Shatterhand, evoked in the title of Colburn’s film.) In a tour de force performance, Colburn narrates in the first person the adventures of her research journey from her native Pennsylvania to Germany, near Dresden, to retrace May’s life, conflating past and present in a distinctive way. In the process, she tackles timely issues of identity and representation, gun violence and war. Imagery of the American West mingles with current images of socio-political tension.

This work refreshingly challenges our notions of truth and fantasy. Colburn and May share a penchant for “Wanderlust,” that is the impulse to escape from their familiar surroundings (the artist’s home in rural Pennsylvania, in the Appalachian Mountains, and May's home in Kaiser Wilhelm's German Empire, respectively). Weaving together stop-motion animation, photography, found footage, and diary filmmaking, this work bespeaks of make believe worlds and the will for an escape. Imagination and an invitation to dream, Colburn seems to suggest, can positively disrupt the limitations of a given everyday context and widen our horizons. The artist has pointed out: “The root idea behind my film is that art is something through which we experience the world, real or imagined, and that it is the one thing that represents freedom regardless of whatever confines we are faced with.”

Wong Ping (b. 1984, Hong Kong)
Wong Ping’s Fables 1, 2018
Video animation (color, sound), 13 min.

Wong Ping is a self-taught animator with an online following for his childlike cartoons of disturbing subjects. His zany, dreamlike stories convey strange tales that might be difficult to watch, were they not rendered in animated form. His madcap Wong Ping’s Fables 1 is about every day in Hong Kong—the music clubs and public transportation, and the economic anxieties that tend to fracture and isolate his generation. In the video, grid-like patterns allude to the work’s deep digital structure, while comic-book imagery illustrates a series of strange moral parables. The work tells the story of Elephant, an intellectual who discovers second sight; Chicken, a police officer with Tourette Syndrome who accidentally kills his family; and Tree, a bus passenger forced to confront his darkest fears. Rendered in bright colors and naïve design, they are flawed characters. Wong Ping annotates each of their stories with a short critical maxim, in which his politics feels as much existential as circumstantial. The artist recently wrote:

“The tradition of fables providing a maxim is like the tradition of the artist’s statement… It tries to explain work that often doesn’t need it. But in the internet era, maybe we don’t have the time for long fairy tales—we want everything to be short and pithy.”

Kahlil Joseph (American, b. 1981)
Until the Quiet Comes, 2012
Video (color, sound), 3:49 min.

Kahlil Joseph, the versatile artist, filmmaker, and music video director, is an active member of the Seattle-based collective, What Matters Most. This online co-operative, spearheaded by a young generation of artists and filmmakers, seeks to improve their respective crafts through collaboration.

Joseph’s video Until the Quiet Comes successfully matches the intricately-nuanced soundtrack and style of the electronic musician, DJ, filmmaker, and rapper Flying Lotus. The video revolves around the astonishing street dancer Storyboard P, whose eerie performance is set amongst neighborhood onlookers who live in the Nickerson Gardens housing projects of Lotus’ native Los Angeles. As joy resides with pain in this community, loving interaction resides alongside a lethal self-hatred evidenced by Storyboard’s body lying dead from a gunshot. The disorienting emotional vertigo caused by the sight of the body is compounded by Joseph’s playing with time and narrative by showing a scene in reverse, of a man running past the dead body. Is he the shooter? Is he running before or after the gunshot?

The oblique narrative underlines how closely death dwells with life—and tragedy with ecstatic joy—under the constant reminder of police helicopters that are as ubiquitous as stars in the summer sky. Boys run through a wide-open field with an abandon, which comes from being too young to think about the end of summer.

Erkan Özgen (b. 1971, Derik, Mardin, Turkey)
Wonderland, 2016
Video (color, sound), 3:54 min.

Erkan Özgen is a Kurdish artist, curator and ecological activist from Turkey, living and working in Diyarbakır. With this poignant video, he responds to the Syrian war through a minimally edited embodied testimony that cuts across documentary genres of art, media, activism and all kinds of research that “bear witness.”

Ironically titled and shockingly eloquent, Wonderland gives voice to a thirteen-year old mute and deaf survivor of the Kobani massacre named Mohammed. A refugee in Turkey at the time he volunteered his story, compelling the artist to film him upon his family’s consent, the young Syrian boy recounts, with animated gestures and sounds, the nightmarish memories of the events that disrupted his childhood: ISIS’s violent siege of the predominantly Kurdish town in the autonomous region of Rojava in Northern Syria, begun in September 2014, and his escape. Shared with passion that communicates urgency rather than sadness, Mohammed’s experiences of cruelty and deprivation aid Özgen in raising awareness about the genocidal extent of the Kobani Kurds’ attack by ISIS, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis of the area. It is the vagueness of Mohammed’s untrained sign language and the unspecificity of its revelations that allows the artist to turn such an affective account of the unimaginable horrors of the attack and its resistance into a potent cry against all wars and their atrocities, while also convincingly and respectfully arguing for the unrepresentability of the suffering of others, and the inevitable shortcomings of their documentation in news media and art.

Wonderland was included in the 15th Istanbul Biennial in 2017 and was awarded the 2016 Film Festival POLARIZED! Vision Prize that had war and peace as its theme.

Didem Pekün (b. 1978, Istanbul)
of dice and men, 2016
Two-channel video, (b&w, color, sound), 43:06 min.

Didem Pekün’s of dice and men is a diaristic essay filmed in Istanbul and London between 2011 and 2015 that comprises a potent archive of our times in the form of select pages of an audiovisual journal.

Combining a dialectic juxtaposition of word and image across two screens with bilingual voice-over, it eloquently captures the disruption shaping the artist’s transcultural existence, in its constant displacement between the city of her origins and that of her new European citizenship, while critically contemplating the intersection of self and history in the context of its recent turns and ruptures. Beginning with scenes from the Occupy Movement street protests in London (2011), and ending with the ISIS attacks on Kobani (2014) and a foggy view of London, Pekün pieces together salient moments and idyllic views of her everydayness with mediated or experienced highlights of the sociopolitical actualities that frame it, mixing still and moving images drawn from social media or recorded by her lens. In effect, of dice and men selectively chronicles a tumultuous four-year period, capturing –through an often poetic filter of subjective consequence—the precarity, oppression, violence, wars, racism, nationalism, ethnoreligious fundamentalism and terror that mark life today in Turkey and across the world, along with the rise of hope in the form of disruption, protest and social movements. The Gezi park protest stands out, among the recent historic events piercing her narration, for its transformative role in nurturing political subjectivity and the dream of a common world, as well as the “hopeless hopefulness” of a throw of the dice.

The title of the film evokes the Depression-era realities of migratory labor in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. It also refers to the haunting motif of a woman throwing dice, structuring of dice and men as a key metaphor of the limited combinations of chance and agency underpinning the repetitiveness of history and life, as well as the tragedies and pleasures alternating in this film.