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The Art of living above the abyss

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To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world — and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.

                                                                               Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air


The acceleration of change we are experiencing has led many of us to either a longing for the past or to a belief that the stories of the past may explain the present. Thus, casting a glance at the list of performances currently taking place in Athens, one sees that the well-known pantheon of writers and plays remains unchanged over time, just like a provincial feast follows the same routine every year, never minding the snow.

Usually, art speaks in a way which is not useful per se but rather leads you to ways of renegotiating how you see things, that is your own life. However, there are several stories from the past that leave you helpless in the present.

For several years now, we have all been living in the same country called capitalism1Quote: Bong Joon-ho, director of the film Parasites.. However, many of us think we just live in our own country. This country we live in mainly utilizes stories from its past, stories which form the ‘national body’ of its narrative. The result is a usage of stories where there is always a golden age to which we hark back, or actually to the opposite (which is the same thing): a past trauma which we cannot overcome. Why, though, are older stories performed? Stories from another, older world, less or not at all modern? Why do we always hear the cliché phrase ‘classic texts are timeless’? Why go to the theatre where everything has more or less been known and said a long time ago?

I have no idea but I imagine that the adventure of a living body and the emotion it provokes has you participate in something unique no one else can give you. Maybe this is the only thing that theatre may offer you, the conceptual distance from a world where everything is overexposed and operates at the rate of a weekly topic trend, only to disappear a little later. After 2-3 days, new topic trends are created, keeping us alert through algorithms. What is there to discuss when the topics of discussion are growing rapidly old?

We should mention at this point that, although some texts or authors come from an older lost world, they give a solid narrative to all times, as they contain fundamental references one can rely on in a changing world. And yet why is there no contemplation or even expectation within us when we see them in the theatre?

The problem becomes even greater, because 20 years after the mass use of the internet, 16 years after YouTube and social media, and 14 years after the construction of the first smartphone, our world is unlike any previous world. The stories we need now must speak about the rhythmic and conceptual change of the present and not just about the past.

In the last three years, the Ministry of Culture and Sports has instituted the festival ‘All of Greece, one culture’. It took place for the first time in 2020 and then again in 2021; its theme is ‘Greekness’ across time, with a total of seven topics. The topic of this year’s festiva is the Asia Minor Catastrophe. The Asia Minor Catastrophe is indeed a great event in modern Greek history, its geopolitical and cultural significance has affected the country, it is a trauma that is slowly fading over time, and although the survivors have disappeared, even now some people identify themselves as Asian Minors. As we all know, history is primarily political.

Taking a look at the history, we see that Greece paid dearly in 1922 for the irredentist ‘Great Idea’ it had been fostering since 1821. Immediately after the Asia Minor catastrophe, six people were executed in Goudi as those responsible for the catastrophe, as almost exclusive culprits2In 2011 the verdict was recalled by the 7th Criminal Division of the Supreme Court, which ruled that the six people sentenced to death in Goudi were not to blame for the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922. Also, Aeropagus rejected the representation of the civil action of the Federation of Refugee Associations of Greece, which considered the six men responsible for the uprooting of Asia Minor..

The issue remains extremely complex politically, especially when it comes to its treatment through performances which do not wish to recycle the mourning for a part of Hellenism forever lost, let alone talk about the colonial relations Greece has always had, or the failure of the Greek bourgeoisie to manage the situation. However, this is not our issue, our issue is why a theatre festival should be exclusively about the past. If we are interested in the management of Greekness, this must not only concern the past; it must also involve a new identity for the future.  As we all know, the symbolic is primarily poetic.

If anything, this was one of the visions of the ‘Generation of the 30s’, which was shaped after the Asia Minor Catastrophe and established, if not restrained over time, how an entire country sees itself. The two Greek Nobel Prizes won by this generation were not random; these people were the most extroverted generation of Greek artists. The creation of a culture festival must first and foremost concern the twentysomething people who hold new tools of expression in their hands, all those who grew up in this gloomy time and went through hard times in a distorted regularity. If you want to have culture in 2050 you have to take care of today’s twentysomethings. This requires vision, plan, human resources, courage, and, above all, a theme with which to express themselves. To talk about the changing of the world they live in. About how one can make art when living above the abyss.

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