Friday, October 7, 2011

Junta Aesthetics

“The vision is but one. It is well known, it is certifiable, it is the vision of Greece. The Greece of Greece. Greece which will be for the Greeks their lives, their purpose. And it will be asked: What is the form of the vision?
G. Papadopoulos in the newspaper Eléftheros Kósmos, 10-2-68.

Bost’s cartoon for the Nation's Vow.Magazine "Anti".

35 years after the restoration of democracy the military regime is still remembered as imposing a particular aesthetics of its own devising. As Káti to Oréon, published by the friends of ANTI magazine who experienced the Junta, aptly reminds us, “Vulgarity, pomposity, militarism and continually atrocious taste marked the events and language of the dictatorship of the 21st of April.” Those not yet born at the time mainly experience this seven year period through television and are likely to associate it with a few select moments—black and white footage of celebrations of “the military Glory of Greece,” for example, or Papadopoulos’s famous words: “Hellas is a patient who needs to be placed on the operating table.” But what might proceed from a recognition that the aesthetics of the Junta have a history prior to the Junta, that in fact the Junta institutionalized an aesthetics already in place and already quite popular? Small-scale re-enactments of the diachronic virtues of Hellenism on the occasion of national celebrations were popular at schools throughout the 20th century. The usage of a certain language as indicative of a preference for the extreme right certainly pre-dates the 21st of April, while the origins of architectural projects of national grandiose such as the Táma tou Éthnous can be traced to the beginning of the 19th century, the Epanástasi, and the years of the King Otto. There is also much more to the aesthetics of this period than what is publicly remembered and discursively allowed to be expressed. The fact that prominent figures of Greek public life—Aliki Vougiouklaki, Dimitris Papamichail, Kostas Voutsas, Viki Moscholiou, Evangelos Papanoutsos, Ilias Lalaounis, and Konstantinos Doxiadis to name a few—participated in the public production of a certain aesthetics during the Junta raises an important question: How do we regard the professional activities of individuals in times of non-democratic rule? Along which lines is the history of the recent past produced? If certain figures are stigmatized for empowering a military regime by virtue of continuing to work, why is such stigma largely absent from their contemporary biographies?

This panel discussion on the aesthetics of a painful period attempts to address these questions by exploring the case of those who did not resort to silence, did not choose self-imposed exile, but continued to live and work in Greece during the dictatorship. It brings together two artists and two academics (a presenter and a panel discussant) working across media (literature, video art, photographic essay, and ethnographic paper) to facilitate a dialogue between contemporary art and modern Greek studies as well as a larger discussion on the Junta, its culture, and its continuous divisive impact on Greek society. Untitled (The Remake) 13 min.
The panel commences with the screening of Untitled (The Remake). This is a single channel video installation investigating Junta aesthetics through the use of archival material from the years 1967-1974, a detailed reconstruction of Studio B of Τ.Ε.Δ (Television of the Armed Forces) and the artist’s own video footage. The video commences with official celebrations, festivities and parades in the Athens Marble Stadium and then depicts preparations for an evening broadcast. Three actors enact the final preparations of two newscasters and a cameraman minutes before they go “on air.” In the background, monitors show international news and original black and white footage of the real newscasters getting ready for the broadcast. The video’s structure encourages a range of theoretical explorations and attributes multiple interpretations to its title: Remake. It reminds us of the historical moments out of which Greek Television was born, while also commenting on the possibility of reality reconstruction, the fundamental role technology plays in this process, a dictatorial regime’s propaganda mechanisms and the ways in which reality is documented and presented in the news.

Kostis Velonis, The Nation's Vow-Ταμα του Εθνους, Ongoing project(detail), 2011

The Nations Vow: Part I (ethnographic essay) and Part II (photographic essay)
Following the screening of the Remake, the panel presents the preliminary findings of a research project undertaken by an anthropologist and a visual artist concerning the Táma tou Éthnous (The Nation’s Vow). The term refers both to a collective vow and to a (unrealized) church that Greek notables promised to construct in the early years of the Epanástasi. Almost a century and a half later, the idea of fulfilling the old vow was revived by the military regime, which launched several architectural contests, established a special fund, and organized fundraising campaigns.

The junta’s conception of the project was first articulated in documents introducing the architectural competitions (later mocked by ANTI for their incoherency and particular writing style). Eventually this enterprise drew the interest of shipping magnets, businessmen, artists, architects, and engineers.

Konstantinos Doxiadis, for instance, obsessed with the Táma as early as 1964, produced plans, models, and monographs elaborating on the significance of the Nation’s Vow and the steps to be taken towards its fulfilment, while jewellery designer Ilias Lalaounis published newspaper articles in which he proposed a particular architecture for the Táma inspired by a study of the dome of St Sophia. The ethnographic paper and the photographic essay (i.e. two approaches to the same theme) explore the controversial story of this endeavour by revisiting developments in 20th century modernist architecture and presenting oral accounts (e.g. interviews with Stylianos Pattakos) and archival material (ranging from topographical maps produced by the National Technical University to Bost’s cartoons).

In this way the project inquires into an unrealized government enterprise that would have radically altered the Athenian landscape, may well have marked the end of modernism in Church construction, sheds light on a peculiar conception of nationhood as articulated in the proposed architecture of the Táma and poses a question concerning the mechanisms that block large scale state initiatives: Why was the Táma never built?

MGSA Panel Proposal
Participants: Kostis Kornetis (Brown University) Dimitris Antoniou (organizer, University of Oxford), Stefanos Tsivopoulos(ISCP NY International Studio Curatorial Program), Kostis Velonis (University of Thessaly, IASPIS, Sweden)
The 22nd Biennial MGSA Symposium is being held at
New York University
October 13-16, 2011.