© Panos Sklavenitis. All Rights Reserved.

The snake

2021, HD video, sound, 7 min

A colabboration with artist Eva Giannakopoulou.
Camera, video and sound editing: Eva Giannakopoulou, Panos Sklavenitis
Musicians: Spyros Karamitsos, Solis Barki
Work commissioned by curator Nadja Argyropoulou for the project: “Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin”

 

THE SNAKE
Introduced through a conversation between artists Eva Giannakopoulou &
Panos Sklavenitis and curator Nadja Argyropoulou
Nadja Argyropoulou: We are having a zoom-talk, within quarantine ‘number
many’, as you are still working on this new video and as a snowstorm, dramatically
named “Medea”, is upon us. What do you think is the matter here? The drama, the
virus, the viral, the uncontrollable infection (of any kind) experienced via rituals of
care, law enforcement protocols and the like. I would like us to enter the question of
ceremonies through your work, old and recent as it persistently engages with them.
Panos Sklavenitis: As for ‘Medea’, we know that patriarchy is doing the naming
and everyday state-terrorism is setting the drama. No surprise there.
Eva Giannakopoulou: There is a contradiction here, in all of this, in performativity
itself that is very important. The kind of performativity that refers to the domestic,
the house, the private way you live, and the kind that concerns public space and the
way we may ‘infect’ it with our presence. This new work registers our move to the
public space at whatever risk. Breaking and entering with our camera to a cemetery,
a public garden, a temple of some kind…we are considering our options but we are
determined to go ahead. The ‘outside’ becomes an imperative now that we are
deprived from it. When everything is about ‘inside’, we need to reclaim the ‘outside’.
The question of naming typhoons after women somehow relates to this dramatized
tension, this falsely constructed divide. Western thought described the shaman’s
public inward-turn as wildness, pathology, hysteria, a mostly female sickness in need
of treatment. For me this ‘hysteria’ has always been a weapon, a state of power that
confounds and successfully confronts those who are trying to impose their ways on
me.
PS: I may add here that even a male shaman within certain cultural contexts needs
to act stupid, be ‘disturbed’, salós, or batalós as we call them in Ithaca. Men can
also be hysterical subjects, be in panic attacks.
NA: I am thinking as you speak of Maya Deren’s ritualistic form of cinema. Because
if ritual is indeed an art - in that it seeks the realisation of its purpose through
exercise of form- and all art derives from ritual, we can trace a long lineage of
artistic actions that seek to revitalize the ‘carnival spirit’ by mimicking and repeating
archaic roots of ritual in ambivalent, even dark and grotesque versions of
derangement of the senses. What you described Eva as your ‘successful’
appropriation of hysteria-as-pathology and stereotype, is I believe a very effective
contemporary ritual of defiance, reclaiming and recasting.
PS: And I have to clarify that this happens quite naturally, with no difficulty.
Because we are already within this stereotype or maybe there is in us something
that corresponds to it.

NA: In the words of Fred Moten, we are always, already in the thing that we call for
and that calls us and the call is always a call to disorder. I think that precise but
unregulated wildness, an ambivalence of almost gravitational power, is at the core of
your work where questions and answers are not separated but enact the one in the
other. How is this present in your new work titled “The Snake”, made in the context
of Jim Morrison’s call and at the project’s invite? There is a lot of skin involved, a
voyage within an alternative landscaping proposed, home-made exotica, a certain
buzzing, blurring-it-all sound …
PS: There are parts in this work that are more like personals portraits of Eva and me
and then there is a common going out and about. In my part I act in a very
corporeal way as I try to measure my distance from the Morrison (the Lizard King’s)
times and consider my middle-age imperfections (my Donkey-King alias), I try to
face all the impossible analogies. I am dressed as freak-Pamela Courson (Morrison’s
‘cosmic partner’ and muse), in wig, flowers and this mask full of teeth, and play with
Morrison’s signature gestures.
EG: What you said about the landscape of skin is quite important. It calls forth the
defining vision of the desert in The Doors’ world; a sense of erotic perversity and
shamanistic sway. The camera moves on our bodies like the snake slithers on the
body of the earth. We have shared with you our fascination with The Doors, back in
our adolescent days at the island of Ithaca where Panos and I grew up. We revisit it
here, away from nostalgia but within the acute sense of a question that concerns us
now, still, the way it did there and then: What can we do with who we are, with the
age and limitations that we have?
As for the droning sound you described, it comes from a ‘didgeridoo’, the traditional
aboriginal wind instrument that is played with vibrating lips and by the use of
circular breathing. It is the sound of dream-states and snake-move in aboriginal
myth-making.
PS: Where the dream state is a very real, living, inhabited place. An in-between
space but not a liminal one.
EG: Magic and shamanism create such spaces.
What you proposed with this exhibition was a way for us to reconsider mediation,
tele-portation, the event of transmission, the terms and conditions under which such
event becomes ritual. Think of our zoom talk that has its own set of practices, its
ways of entering and exiting, its scenography and rules of conduct.
NA: Well we all know how Morrison’s early encounter with the death of Native
Americans became his life’s formative event. How Aldous Huxley, William Blake,
Baudelaire, Rimbaud, The Beat poets, entheogens shaped his own sense of
wildness, his continuous invocation of new creatures and new myths. As we find
ourselves within communions set up through technology and the omnipresence of
the screen I wonder how we understand rituals of togetherness. Is there something
of the archaic still present? In other words which are today the conditions of a
movement, a transportation out of ourselves and into something else? How can we
be ‘sent’ by one another to one another until one and another do not signify

anymore? (It is Sam Cooke and Fred Moten’s exteriorization principle again). And
how is memory active, present in fabulation when it becomes all the more replaced
by digital repositories of information?
PS: I think that in the case of this specific commission, there was an invitation you
extended and to which we created a response. In the process, we had to measure
ourselves against the story and the times of The Doors, and we had to consider the
far side which is today’s various and totally restricting realities, pandemic-generated
laws set against bodies-coming-together, limits inferred by intersectional politics, all
that prohibits experimentation through and with bodies. In “The Snake” we test such
limitations, without being prudent or cautious, we play with cultural appropriation
and masquerade, we probe what is possibly offensive (almost everything) because
we feel that we have to take the risk involved and we want to experiment, we want
to borrow in respect and apply in wonder, with care, in honour of.
EG: In relation to the question of memory that you raised: if living memory is a
travelling boat and virtual memory is just one docking area, we both are part of a
generation that tends to be with its feet in both. We try to bridge the distance and
risk a fall.
PS: This sense of in-betweeness that we embrace may have to do with our current
age as well. Morrison belongs to the “27 Club”, a notional place of early death and
everlasting glory that we have passed. We claim a space in the middle of things,
ages, demands, expectations, stories that we cannot even describe or represent. We
are torn between its sides and often fantasize about an honourable compromise (to
settle and paint in silent perfection, as a version of Morandi @ Ithaca) but we
eventually do not give in.
NA: And what might be understood as psychedelic or of psychotropic effect today?
EG: For me it is performativity itself. Life’s whole performance. With no separate
stage for each function. In my daily schedule of a single mother, teacher, artist
everything can be a stage where rituals and roles are enacted. The play-ground that
I visit with my kid, as much as the stage where I film and rehearse a new work.
Performance is a powerful 3 rd dimension for me and in it the usual sense of time and
place is lost, identities are mixed; it is like these astral black holes of pure energy
that suck everything in. It is not a form of disassociation but a magic moment when
I suffer something, I am vulnerable, affected, I lose things, I fall in love.
PS: Mine is a somehow different, darker and more cerebral, more distant relation to
performativity. I think that the closer I may ever get to the ecstatic is through my
panic attacks. I observe the performative from a distance, I direct performances,
even the ones where I participate, by thinking at length on them, by planning and
being critical, through mimesis.
NA: Maybe this kind of cautious and even ominous intimacy that the mimetic
presupposes is another form of yielding with grace, in order to open up to the
(im)possibility of communication itself.

“I was inside. I was outside. Who was this ‘I’”, writes Michel Serres in “Τhe Five
Senses”. How are inside and outside folded into one another? Who is the ‘I’ and the
‘We’ that ceremonies claim?
PS: Even though I am very interested in the philosophical question of the fluid
‘subject’ there is always ‘me’ - a very steady and unmovable subject - that comes
forward, even if only to ask the question. This ‘I’, this vindictive subject, fights
against fluidity, in dying. The process and event of death constructs and separates
the subject, the resisting ‘I’. This is an anti-Epicurean view since for Epicure “If I am,
then death is not, if Death is, then I am not”,
EG: For me this ‘I’ was made clear and strong through motherhood, a time when I
was a strong subject at the throes of an irrational, instinctual love that divided my ‘I’
into another. As you know, beyond that, I am very suspicious of the ‘we’ that is so
easily thrown around. I guess I am all for sectarianism, Ι believe in the passion
involved in choices, when a ‘we’ arises out of a breaking need, an overwhelming
demand.
NA: It is maybe in this sense that the trap of ‘explaining differences away’ can
possibly be avoided.
PS: There is a quite hypocritical construction of a ‘we’ in arts and politics of every
ideological sides and it angers me a lot. I despise the patronizing involved.
There are several projects that profess “bottom up” processes and “horizontal
decision making”; institutions and initiatives which pretend that there are no power
relationships and determining hierarchies at play. I can now think, among many
others, of the project “Demokratie in Bewegung”, realized by “Omnibus fur direkte
demokratie” (“BUS for Direct Democracy”) that visited Athens some years ago.
It fed during the 80’s from Joseph Beuys’ expanded understanding of art and
through the participation of a self-pronounced ‘beloved student’, preached equality.
I was then a student at the Athens School of Fine Arts and witnessed the almost
military, strict hierarchy impended in their every action, the contrast with the
ceremonial commemoration of Beuys’s ideas. And all in the name of free pedagogy.
It shocked me and made me acutely aware of the streak of ambition in most
programs of social reformation.
NA: Last but not least: I wonder how you understand presence in this age of
mediated performativity and the advent of the era of the ‘phygital’. Your work has
long navigated all kinds of realms and actually made a point of how we now jump
from one to another via performative design, gaming, role-playing et.al.
PS: This is a very big discussion but I would like to stress that, for us, there is no
precedence given to lived experience over what may be the result of empathy,
thought and imagination. Within this understanding, the virtual is very much real,
the digital can leave scars, it affects us as any life event, it is not lesser but different.
The sense of touch, smell, bodily presence is irreplaceable but should not be
romanticised.

EG: I very recently had to transform what was originally conceived as a live
performance for Onassis Stegi into a digital form because of pandemic related
needs. This is quite a challenge and opens a whole new area of experimentation in
everything: the relationships involved and the outcome generated. How can we
survive this shift to the immaterial and what does it change in the rituals, the rules
and roles that we knew? It is a leap of faith that we have to take and there is
already a past in the virtual realm that offers some insight. Consider the dating
platforms and how they encouraged the free play of identities that leaked out into
the real world and met related political demands. There are possibilities of staging
new worlds and testing them as new ontologies via what we discussed as tele-
performativity. I think of cameras that can register what people do when they finish
making a tinder profile, when they shut down a you-tube streaming and so on.
PS: Another kind of disconnection and distancing that may have been considered
rude in life is here permitted, facilitated, becomes an almost automated ritual of
choice. Think how animals exist differently in the web, they are not feral, they are
surprisingly natural in that they come closer to us. I recently read that real lamas are
being rented to unsettle zoom meetings. The exotic is now intercepted in ways we
could not imagine. Accidents also happen and are quite evident as glitches and loss
of connection. All kind of uncanny things emerge.
NA: Exiting by the way we entered: What about the invitation to consider the quite
idiosyncratic ACG Art Collection?
PS: I considered it but opted for the overall context: “Is everybody in? The
ceremony is about to begin”.
EG: I am not sure yet how the collection will fall within our work. Probably in a non-
obvious way. For me collecting has to do with what has been used, objects that
have another secret story and may put to work for me as talismans It comes from
my maternal, islandic past of re-using and re-casting things to new roles.
PS & EG: “The Snake” will explore the sense of ominous intimacy that lurks behind
every invitation including the one by Morrison and by you for this project.

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