Eleni Kamma, Parrhesia: courage / breath / speech, Thessaloniki biennale of contemporary art

Eleni Kamma

View of multi-media installation: Parrhesia: courage / breath / speech, Eleni Kamma, 2015. Photo: Chryssa Nikoleri.

In Parrhesia: courage / breath / speech (2014-2015) Eleni Kamma takes the notion of the Greek word parrhesia (frankness of speech or candid speech) as a point of departure, and relates it to two recent events in the Eastern Mediterranean. One was the protest against plans to turn the Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul into a shopping mall and residential area. A video shows interviews with young protesters at the Gezi Park speaking on the notion of engagement, citizen participation and humour as a strategy of resistance. A series of photos from the same location zooms in on the use of certain objects as means of protest, such as watermelons, kitchenware, lemons, whistles, dust masks, signs, barriers, etc. It illustrates the visual culture and outlook of the peaceful protestors and shows how they manage to remain optimistic in light of the looming forces of oppression. The second event is former Greek culture minister Panos Panayiotopoulos’ opening speech at the EU-conference “Financing Creativity” in Athens in 2014 about Greece’s cultural policy in the coming decades, which outlined an increasingly neo-liberal view of culture as being something that should be privatised. One can hear the minister formulate the proposed future role of culture in exclusively economic terms, a vision that is indicative of how the Greek state is increasingly abandoning its support for contemporary culture. Stunningly, not a single artist was invited as a speaker to the conference. Given this situation a group called the Mavili Collective (which is involved in producing nomadic, autonomous collective cultural zones in disused urban spaces in Athens) called for artists from different fields to attend the conference. Having been excluded from a dialogue about cultural policies, the artists present at the conference publicly expressed their disdain regarding the proposed role of culture and made a mockery out of the proceedings. The response of the Minister is revealing. It is shown as a video of a black screen showing only the English subtitles for the Greek sound track. The Minister’s response to the artists’ use of irony, sarcasm, and laughter was met with an utter lack of humour, intelligence and imagination, reinforcing the stereotype of the political status quo as being completely staid. Utterly confused by the artists’ reactions, he was unable to come to any conclusion and witnessed how populism was counteracted, and finally smothered by idealism. The videos are incorporated into a theatre-like setting that includes props relating to the practice of protest in public space and highlighting the performative aspect of public, free speech. Ultimately, Kamma probes the deployment of free speech in different contexts, reminding us of the essential role it plays in democratic processes. (Katerina Gregos)

Eleni Kamma

Eleni Kamma

Parrhesia: courage / breath / speech
Multi-media installation by Eleni Kamma
Video 1
Duration: 08 min 52 sec
Extract taken from an incident that took place in Athens in February 2014, during the opening speech of the Greek Minister of Culture for the EU presidency conference “Financing Creativity”. We hear the minister’s voice interacting with the audience. The dispute is over bravery of public speech and the notion of the stage. This action was initiated by Mavilli Collective.
More information: Mavili Collective Website
Video 2
Duration: 08 min 06 sec
Camera: Ilgın Deniz Akseloğlu & Ferhat Tokmak
Video consisting of interviews with protesters on the use of humor, everyday objects/tools and physical experience during the occupy Gezi.
Interviewees:
Elif Ünal , 22 years old, intern journalist and student
Barış Mumyakmaz, journalist, 30 years old.
Samet Kesen, 26 years old, event manager
Ilgın Deniz Akseloğlu, 26 years old, translator & editor
Gani Ömür Çekem, 23 years old, student, LGBT
Uygar Çehreli, 30, musician and salesman
Alize Garip, 27, events organizer
The work was produced with the support of the Mondriaan Fund, the Netherlands, and co-produced by the 5th Thessaloniki Bienniale.