Parrhesia: courage / breath / speech

Multi-media installation by Eleni Kamma

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 about 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 of 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 economical 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 of practice 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 soundtrack. 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 a 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.

Text written by Katerina Gregos

Video 1
Duration: 08′ 52″

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′ 06″
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.

Elif Ünal , 22 years old, intern journalist and student
Barış Mumyakmaz, 30 years old, journalist
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 years old, musician and salesman
Alize Garip, 27 years old, events organizer

The work was produced with the support of the Mondriaan Fund, the Netherlands, and co-produced by the 5th Thessaloniki Biennale.