Colophon > Related Texts > Ritual as Activism, and Activism as Art. Text by Marina Fokidis

Ritual as Activism, and Activism as Art.

Text by Marina Fokidis, published in “She, an Introduction”. 
Published by Silvana Editoriale & Bonniers Kosnthall, 2015.



Ylva Ogland shows Snöfrid under the shadow of Athena
The Oracle said: the body is the shelter

Mirror Vodka
Alcohol is a deeper connection to the I
My Earthly Twin, Ylva Ogland
Am I real now
My Armour Bearer, Johan Hjerpe
Where is the entrance
My Interrogator, Marina Fokidis
Where is the art (Is there a need for a Kunsthalle in Athens?) My Keeper, Rodrigo Mallea Lira
Where is the Acropolis Stone
My Oracle
The stone is for connecting to all times
My Money Bearer, Angelo
Future past present
My Arch, Jean Bernier Marina Elidaes
And beyond that to the other side
My Copper Distillery
Mirror reality
My world is the other side of the mirror
Welcome to enter through this liquid
Kunsthalle Athena
Snöfrid Treriksröset 02092009

1. Preface, about a period not as BC (Before Crisis), as we saw it

It was the middle of summer, during the initial phase of the Greek crisis, and we were feeling stuck —almost immobilized—and discouraged by the prospect of a developing lack that was encroaching fast upon the area. A lack of any resources at all, those essential for the immediate future, at least how we had been imagining it. This was the reality of that time that broke up without any kind of warning. Or maybe there were some signs, I do not remember very well. It has been six years, which seems like a century in times of crisis. Regardless, there must have been the sort of signs that the pure of soul cannot decipher.

We were unprepared.

As we were experiencing this rapid inevitable change, with everything in ux, the space was losing its shape and transforming into nothingness, into a utopian place: a space for the impossible. It seemed like the beginning of a dif cult passage similar to the one Michel Serres describes in his book Temps des Crises [Times of Crises] (2009). Imagine a swimmer has to cross a large distance. The departure point is manageable, as the shore is still in view. Anywhere near the destination is conceivable, as the nish line is in sight. The most dif cult part of the swim is the very middle, where there is no sign of land whatsoever. Momentarily (no one knows for how long) the memory of the point of departure and the longing for the desired destination fade away. One has to learn how to balance and keep a oat within those dark waters. Perhaps within this situation, new pos- sibilities—some never even imagined before—can be uncovered.

Living the most recent years in an in nite point zero, in a state where we can see no end and no be- ginning, we were asked to re-inhabit this place, which hurled us violently away from our prior cer- tainties. The crucial point was (and still is) how to formulate a new perception of our lives and ac- tions: a new ontology. Perhaps Athens began, and still is, revealing itself as a crucial meeting point for artistic creation, a place between places, located at the crossroads of space, form and politics.

When Cartesian logic fails, the soil seems to become fertile ground for multiple meanings, inter- pretations and imaginative combinations of various possible future scenarios. Our calling was to open a new institution as a Post-Romantic means of resisting the current climate, in Greece in particular and Europe at large. The aim was to endure the harsh circumstances of everyday life as it was transforming, while not losing our dignity. We could not have asked for a better moment to do things differently, to see things differently and to believe in our chance to make a difference. We began creating this institution without any funds, without a building, without a program, but with multiple questions. And ever since then, which was towards the end of 2009, it has been a functioning institution.

2. Kunsthalle Athena asked: what is the role of contemporary art in shaping a democratic public space? (Is there a need for yet another institution?)

We considered art institutions to be a vital space for social interaction and exchange, while being constantly informed by the idiosyncrasies and transformation of ‘the polis,’ Athens in this case. In our imagination, Kunsthalle Athena was more a symbolic location than a physical one, yet it was time to grant it esh and bones. The urgency shaped by the prevail- ing dif culties, those raging within our daily lives, left no more room for imagination. The need for action was more pertinent than ever. We needed a space in which to co-exist, a place on a level different from that of the ever-arid social landscape developing around us. This meant—to borrow some of the ideas Stephen Duncompre discussed in his reader for Cultural Resistance—a “free space.” Ideologically speaking, this involved creating new meanings and notions of the future (a future that looked very dark in our case). On a material level, this meant a place to build networks, communities and new models of organization.

Just how to start up an art institution against all odds was the question at hand. We came across Ylva Ogland with Snöfrid, Rodrigo Mallea Lyra with the Oracle, and hints began emerging. In a beautiful dimly lit courtyard—which was to become the primary space for Kunsthalle Athena, of which we were still unaware at that point in time—Snöfrid and the Oracle appeared through our process of brewing illegal vodka in an old copper distillery. We met over the course of a few warm late summer evenings in this wrecked building, located in a peculiar section of downtown Athens, a place where an amalgam of transient and permanent residents, illegal immigrants and locals, hipsters, artists and junkies, prostitutes and families, China town diners and a number of trusted popular establishments and some newer restaurants, all come together to create an interesting yet baf ing mosaic. Pain and happiness, misery and hope, entertainment and martyrdom all pound the same pavements.
The distilling process took hours, if not days. The artist(s) demanded that those in question (the Kunsthalle Athena team, at the time) be present and participate in the distilling process for as long as it took. And although this appeared like an illogical endurance test initially, it came to make perfect sense as time went on. Conversations on concepts and ideas around vi- sual art and the institutions and non-institutional alliances it involves, about the location and neighborhood, about Athenians and Greece, about people and the world, about life in general, were often interrupted by practical instructions on how to re ne the alcohol and dispose of the poison that appears on the chemical compound in the early stages of the distillation process.
That was the process, the work, the art, and there could not be a better metaphor for the coexistence of reason and aberration. The illegal distilling of alcohol in a seemingly deserted courtyard surrounded by buildings housing a number of illegal business, illegal immigrants, and other subversive activity, became a part of our activism. A certain kind of paradox, which had a lot of bearing on the initial stage of establishing an art institute smack dab in the middle of it all.

The vodka distillation became the catalyst of rushed, super cial and toxic thoughts, and also granted us the time needed to nd answers. Or maybe for nding the questions that related to the answers we felt we already had. Visitors could drop by whenever they wished during this time, and they could stay and become involved in the act, if they so desired. Distillery became the vehicle and the stage (in the sense of a platform) for an open dialogue on issues that are not often discussed and if and when they are, the audience is too often not involved.

3. “The body is the shelter” (welcome to enter through this liquid, Kunsthalle Athena)

One of the purposes of Kunsthalle Athena, even in its immaterial stage, was to create a space for artists to become the prophets of a new era, a time yet to be witnessed. By prophets, however, we meant a positive appropriation of so-called “false prophets,” those clairvoyants and oracles as neg- atively characterized by the writer Lucien (speci cally in his essay “Alexander the false prophet”). We were intoxicated by the idea of the artist as a false prophet, an anti-hero able to open multiple doors, those other than the ones offered or imagined by the varying oligarchic religious and po- litical systems. We viewed the artist as a charlatan, an individual who could tame our collective demons and normalize them by nding balance, by uncovering the undiscovered ground between the conscious and subconscious mind. These artists were our long-lost pals, the ones we were searching for, the ones we hoped to reunite. And their work was the essential magic necessary to heal us of the wounds in icted by this absurd world.
Ylva Ogland is working on the verge of form, essence and image. She appears to have a prismatic comprehension of reality, and thus creates a body of work that is less a documen- tation than a subjective gesture or bold sketch of life. Everything originates in life. What is being spoken or not spoken and hidden, or what is being accepted or not accepted and controversial—all these opposing forces converge in her work. “Painting” and the “body” are equal mediums of expression. And it is not only Ogland herself but also a number of mythical characters, those in the form of a protecting shield, others residing in her tableaux, and others residing within her body. When the time comes, they emerge and meet the view- ers or, better still, the participants. Ogland’s work comes to fruition in the space between the bodies, between the objects and the viewers, between the sender and the receiver, and her work demands participation. Without viewers’ participation, her work might not reveal itself in its totality. Her experiences, as she often says, “serve as a ground where the very personal and subjective can become a re ection of any viewer’s experiences.”
In our case, Ogland became the mediator between the invisible and the visible, between spirit and matter. In the vein of the Greek tradition of Delphi, we asked the Oracle—one of Ogland’s paintings of a mirror that her family had owned for several generations—what we should do with Kunsthalle Athena, and the work unraveled. Divination, perceived as a systematic method, a ritual to provide an insight into a problem, was the process. The distil- lation and shared consumption of the illicit vodka, a certain kind of symposium (the literal translation of the Greek “symposium” is “drinking together”) perceived as the sharing of the “inner truth” we had previously achieved, was our means of announcing our institution. Ylva Ogland, along with Snöfrid and the Oracle, guided us through the organization of what previously seemed to be random, disjointed pieces, at least in the widely accepted sense of the world. Through her work, the staging of a process of distilling that was as imaginary as it was real, she managed to offer us a space for questioning and research. A forgotten space, unfortunately, within the recent art world. Subsequently, “drinking” became the celebra- tion of new knowledge for the future.
“Philosophy as the desire to attain wisdom,” Alain Joxe argues in his book L’Empire du chaos [Empire of Disorder] (2004), “continuously offers questions (inde nitely) than offer- ing answers (de nitely)... if we ask the good question and we put up a good ght, history will take the form we have suggested.” According to Plato’s Apology, Socrates’s role as the anarchist or activist within Athenian society started when his friend Chaerephon asked the Oracle of Delphi if anyone was wiser than Socrates. The Oracle responded that there was no man wiser than Socrates. In order to test the Oracle, Socrates began approaching and questioning men considered wise by the people of Athens, and concluded that while each man thought they knew a lot, in fact they knew very little. Socrates nally accepted the Or- acle’s paradoxical proclamation about himself as the wiser man, because he discovered that he alone was aware of his own ignorance. Be it fact or ction, Socrates’s confrontation with the Oracle is what prompted him to dedicate his life to the search of knowledge, serving as one of the founding events in the eld of philosophy as we know it. In this very tradition, Ogland revives the idea of ritual as a sense of activism towards the rational world, the very world that is becoming increasingly more decayed. Her art becomes everybody’s asset, an application eld for those who claim their right to creativity against all odds.
And we drink to that!

Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)

From The Flaw in Paganism
by Dorothy Parker