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Panos Kouros

Unsettled proximities in slow ground

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Unsettled proximities in slow ground

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[i] “(…) it is instead all manner of people, things, signs, and images drawn from all kinds of local cultures that are now leaving their places of origin and undertaking journeys around the world. (…) Cities are no longer waiting for the arrival of the tourist—they too are starting to join global circulation, to reproduce themselves on a world scale and to expand in all directions. As they do so, their movement and proliferation are happening at a much faster pace than the individual romantic tourist was ever capable of.” (Groys, 2008, 104).

[ii] For the notion of art documentation, see Groys 2002.

[iii] Panos Kouros. Bound for Tinos (curator Ch. Marinos), Cultural Foundation of Tinos, 2014.

[iv] Panos Kouros. Love for Beginnings is not Fascination for Origins (2014 -), Archaeological Dialogues History Museum of the University of Athens, 2015. Philosophical Objects (3rd Cycle). Laboratory of Research on Practical and Applied Philosophy, University of Aegean, 2017. Collaborating acting persons: Mary Antonopoulou, Vicky Karamousali, Christophoros Marinos, Lila Patrinelli.

[v] I borrow the idea of found person from MIT Mitropoulos: “A found-person can be defined as someone you enter into communication with for the first time, or someone whom you know already but your present communication is outside the imposed/ accepted/ chosen roles you have played in the past.” (1982, 465)

[vi] Panos Kouros, Kimon Skassis. Fouille du Ceramique - Jours de Silence, installation, performance, CAVS /MIT, 1988.

[vii] Panos Kouros (curator). Performative poetry actions at the Center for Advnaced Visual Studies, MIT, 1989-1993, in: Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, MIT Museum, Cambridge, Mass., 2018.

[viii] For the history of CAVS, see Goldring, Sebring, 2019.

[ix] See the conflicts around CAVS participation in the 10th São Paulo Biennial (1969).

[x] Panos Kouros. Excavation of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, CAVS/MIT, 1990.

[xi] Panos Kouros. The Laws of Hospitality - Living Currency, Annexes of the Fine Art School of Athens in Mykonos and Hydra, Un/Inhabited project, Out of the Box Intermedia, 2012.

[xii] Panos Kouros. Approximation Exercises for Three (in conversation with the archeaologist Mantha Zarmakoupi), Mykonos Biennale, 2013.

[xiii] Gregorios Pharmakis. Αpothecae [Containers and Findings], Istanbul, ΧΧΙΙ International Congress of Architecture and as independent production in the 9th Istanbul Biennial, 2005. See Pharmakis 2006.

[xiv] Panos Kouros. Holidays in Greece. Holidays in Greece, StudioVisits, Berlin (cancelled by the curator and produced indepedently). See Kouros, 2013, 218-225.

[xv] Panos Kouros, Antidoron, (in conversation with Mantha Zarmakoupi), Mykonos Biennale, 2021.

[xvi] See Borowski W., Turowski A.,“The Living Archives”, as discussed in Polit, 2009, Panos Kouros, Adopting the Archive of Contemporary Greek Art Institute. Microgeographies, at Storefront for Art and Architecture, NY, 2014, and Panos Kouros. Adopting, Performing Archives. Producing Archive Public(s), key-note lecture in: Archive in Translation. Skulptur Projekte Archive, LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, 2018.

Panos Kouros is an artist, an art theorist and

an educator based in Athens.

If places travel[i], some sites are more slow, they resist the powerful images and identities which are constructed by the accumulation of cultural events, monuments and ruins. I am interested in the possibilities of such speaking sites, when the delay in their reproduction in the framework of cultural actions and events is aligned with the organizing of situations of proximity with specific others. I will enact here one of the possible narrations from an archive of works that I realized in different times and situations. These works are not introduced as art documentation[ii] in the system of art, but acquire economic and symbolic value when they appear in archives that I constitute, or narrations of these archives. They are performed through small scale interpersonal encounters, unexpected scenaria and uses in places which are otherwise delivered to the public through the generic logic of archaeological management and contemporary art curating. A way of ‘public intimacy’ is attempted, countering the rigid socialities in such institutions, with unregulated exchanges and co-utterings, without the dramatic character of agonistic social practice which is common in contemporary art.


I will start with two works I organized in two places of archaeological and art tourism, in unsettling circumstances of body, place and weather. Toward Tinos[iii] and Love for Beginnings is not Fascination with Origins,[iv] were realized in 2014, the first in an exhibition of contemporary art in the Aegean island of Tinos, and the second in the archaeological site of Eutresis in Voiotia. The two works started independently, but were unexpectedly connected later on, when certain persons moved from the one to the other. The works developed scenaria of proximity between me and an unknown person. I call weak approximations these socialities which vanish at the end of the work. In the strongly regulated socialities of art exhibitions and archaeological tours, they urge on different experimental ways of relating, which incorporate the experience of the weather. The approximations occur in a stable frame (a car or by walking), as the attendants are called to move away from an art exhibition, or approach an archeaological place. In this stable space of proximity, certain catalytic objects, such as an archaeological photograph or a lyric poetry fragment, when associated to a prediction of, or anticipation for a meteorological phenomenon, create a different than the expected in such situations, resonance of one body-weather to the other. In both works, weather is not neutral, it is more than a meteorological phenomenon, as it “connects with the body in its ‘total climate’ of social, political and cultural existence” (Hamilton, Zettel and Neimanis, 2021, 239). I bring up the notion of body-weather in connection to the feminist figuration of “better weathering”, theorized by Hamilton, Zettel and Neimanis, as a response to the neoliberal resilient strategies of confronting climate change. Better weathering is enacted by experimental forms of sociality as a transformative infrastructure which reinforce difference and uneven vulnerabilities among strangers. It connects  Berlant’s notion of “stranger intimacy” with a concrete felt experience of the weather-world. For Berlant, such intimacy is “predicated on ‘being with’ rather than ‘belonging’- i.e. on a common situation, rather than a common identity.’” (242)


The work Toward Tinos has the same title as the exhibition I participated in, under the auspices of the Cultural Foundation of Tinos. The curatorial idea focused on a symbolic construction of strong place boundaries, through stable representations which reflected the common descent of the artists from Tinos. My work established a relation with the spectators through a prediction that “a cloud will stand on the top of Xomburgo mountain at the opening day of the exhibition.” I asked the visitors to take part as correspondents, by sending a response. The prediction was placed among the other representational works in the exhibition as a two page typographical sheet, which the visitors could take with them from a stack of copies. The prediction appeared in different forms, altering the standard exhibition model. Whereas it appears as a reproduction of work in the catalogue, it functions as a speech act. In the place of biographical note, the viewer learned about another prediction in the work of David Hammons, which I had at the same time introduced in my university course “Non existent Course”.  As an annotation to the prediction, I apposed a poetry fragment by Archilochos, a reference to the experience of a certain blue rainbow, as well to the rare meteorological phenomenon of the green ray, as we know it from the film of Eric Rhomer with the same title. Searching for the green ray, the heroine Delphine goes from place to place to overcome her fear for proximity. Whoever sees the green ray, according to the legend, her own thoughts will coincide with the thoughts of another person. In the poetry fragment, Archilochos addresses to his travel companion: “Look Glaucus” he says, pointing to the cloud on the top of the mountain, which the commentators identify with Xomburgo. The image is a subtle prothysteron: Archilochos points to the sign of the coming storm, while the two companions are already in it. Through the windows of the exhibition space Xomburgo is visible. Some spectators look out from the window to see if the prediction is fulfilled. Others took the page to read it in the beach. The work began after the exhibition, through correspondence with each respondent, and through meetings in other places, such as the homes of respondents. Thereafter, with the right weather, I drove with each correspondent to the archaeological site of Eutresis, crossing thus another work which was in progress. 


Eutresis is an open archaeological site on the side of a provincial road of Voiotia, with significant, but not visible, architectural findings. House I represents the first permanent habitation built by early Helladic people. As there was no program of presentation, the archaeological site fused with the rural landscape. Love for Beginnings is not Fascination for Origins (2014 -) began with an invitation to found persons, [v] or persons with whom I have a certain false sense of familiarity (déjà vu) to travel with me in Eutresis. Sharing time in the car is a different proximity, unreguled and unsettling. The two companions talk without looking at each other, sharing the same view towards the landscape. Today, there is no material trace of House I. One photograph was published in the Excavation of Eutresis in Boeotia (1931), by Hetty Goldman. Ι re-published the archaeological photograph, as part of the public call for the tours, in the local newspaper Times of Voiotia, in the section of small announcements for house renting, seeking work, etc. during the economic crisis in 2015. The new public life of the photograph began when the newspaper technician printed the photograph cropped, eliminating the landscape and keeping only the ruin visible. She thus removed the historical and ideological context of the ruin, as it had been carefully constructed in the photograph. 


As the archaeological site is not distinguished from agricultural land and not fenced off, the two travelers walked in an undefined field, without beginning and end. The tours were undertaken after snowfall, when the ground was covered with snow. As the relief of the ground was not visible, the companions did not have a sense of historicity, which in any archaeological site is felt by walking in irregular ground, among stratified findings. The two walkers tried the stability of the ground before each step. Hesitation is a pause in their movement. The instability of the ground obliged the walker to walk in front or behind her companion. The movement of the two companions made a new mnemonic trace. In Excavation of Kerameikos (1988)[vi], a scenario of excavation was proposed, to be undertaken by any visitor, by walking in an arbitrary zone which crossed the existing ancient roads and modern paths. Even today, there is no separation between the neutrally designed paths and the area of ruins, and visitors can walk in both. The interposed zone obliged the visitor to walk in an irregular ground with height differences, among ruins, stelae, mounds, vegetation, the river and provisional modern structures. Walking thus proceeds with great caution and pauses, in the same way as in the snow of Eutresis. To continue walking, the acting person or visitor has to stop, recede, balance, climb down, etc. She may stand balancing on an instable stone in the muddy banks of Iridanos river, descend on a wooden plank, left by workers, or use her whole body and  hands to climb down a ruin wall. These pauses designate the spots for a personal excavation, which produces its own findings, among the existing ones. The possibility of a public archaeology is proposed, based on weathered idiorrythmies of the body in the slow ground.


Let us see again the walking act of the two companions in the white ground of Eutresis, along with the newspaper publication of the ruin. In the photograph, a single row of stones is visible on the ground; without the landscape context, it forms the clear shape of a foundation, suggesting the thickness of a beginning, rather than the idea of continuation, or progress. Wittgenstein precisely formulates it: “I am not interested in constructing a building, so much as in having a perspicuous view of the foundations of possible buildings” (1980, 7). Vitruvius calls the outline of a building to be traced in the ground, “ichnographia”.  However, the draw of the plan of a building is a phantasy construction, the future building being a reduction of this construction. In the first Italian translation of Vitruvius (1521), Cesare Cesariano writes about ichnography as a laying out of the plan of the building on the ground, covered by mud or snow, by walking (Frascari, 1989, 127).  White paper is for Cesariano merely the analog of the snowy ground, on which a somatic process of demonstration is organized by the walker-architect. In the successive coverings of the ruin of House I in Eutresis, snow is one more occasional covering. Walking in the site of Eutresis is an act of phantasy. The walking body is an attuned with the other, weathered body. Walking is repeated with different companions, accumulating successive beginnings.


In the summer of 2013 I found a lost film which was part of my research for the ruinarchitecture projects[vii] I realized at the beginning of ‘90’s, as a fellow artist at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS)  at MIT. The film shows the changing landscapes, as two companions talk while driving towards the archaeological site of Eutresis. The sudden finding of the film two decades later was the occasion for Love for Beginnings is not Fascination for Origins. In the research process, I filmed ruins which approximate ordinary foundations. Their trace in the ground offer an embodied sense of re-direction of time. They are sensed as a suspended moment, “which gives time a thickness, without imposing a direction” (Pontalis, 2012, 64). But what happens when a ruin travels, when such a suspended moment is built with dry stones in the basement of a pioneering art research center at a turning point in its history? The ruinarchitecture works were installations and actions, involving built ruin-foundations in the basement of functional university buildings, such as the W11, where CAVS was located. Ruin-foundations were built by three or four layers of dry stone, while the top layer appeared as a light drawing. The works were not white cube installations, and opposed to the new media-specificity of the typical dark art-and-technology installations. The basement was used as maintenance and storage space by CAVS. The context of the ruin was the building infrastructure where the pionnering ideas of the techno-social environmental art movement of CAVS  took shape.[viii] Many of these, such as the social approach, and the use of multisensorial environments which incorporared the weather and natural processes, are becoming urgent again. With faith in humanistic transformation of techno-science through art, CAVS organized collaborative projects as interventions in the civic scale, many years before the relational turn in art. However, CAVS left out the political dimension of collaboration, and avoided to bring to the surface the conflicts which were part of its history and were related to war uses of science-technology, and the role of MIT as a cold war university.[ix] ruinarchitecture installations coincided with the military operations of the Gulf War, the first high technology, continuously tele-transmitted, war. The insertion of the suspended moment of the ruin in the Center, along with other manifestos and projects, such as the Excavation of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (1990),[x] stressed the antinomies in the history of the Center, and proposed a non-anthropological attitude for new relations among art, technology, and ruin.


The Laws of Hospitality  (2012)[xi] and Approximation Exercises for Three (2013)[xii] were part of an archive of works realized on the occasion of my participation to summer exhibitions in touristic destinations, among other, in the islands of Tinos, Mykonos, Delos and Hydra. Counter to the new geography of art tourism, and the emerging gentrification of remote places, the works proposed modes of encounter in the  infrastructures of institutions, such as the maintenance spaces of big international events (Apothecae[xiii]), the sleeping and eating rooms of art residency Annexes, the opening after-parties, ways of communication between curators and artists (Holidays in Greece[xiv]), or exhibition models (Tinos).The Laws of Hospitality  and Approximation Exercises for Three, were proposed in art events, taking place, the first in Delos and the second in Mykonos. The two places are constructed as cultural and touristic products, through strong national images and phantasies, related on the one hand to heritage and on the other to a cosmopolitan artistic and touristic mobility. The works connected the two places in different small scale modes of encounter among attendees in the events, taking place in the everyday spaces of sleeping, eating and partying. The three person acts had the potential for redistribution of proximities among attendees (artists, public) and the re-organization of social spaces of the art residency Annexes and the Biennale venues.


In 2021, Mykonos Biennale asked me to take part in the exhibition with an artwork inside a box, which would be carried in Delos,[xv] and ceremoniously opened in the ruins, among other artists’ boxes. Biennale’s theme was “1821”, coinciding with the commemoration of the Greek War of Independence. I put the box in a postal box, so that it would not stop in Delos, but continue its trip and be sent from Delos to Ms. Elena Stefanova in Bulgaria. I changed its name from Antidote to Antidoro. The box contained a present for Ms. Stefanova, who had returned in her homeland, in Bulgaria, after working for many years as housekeeper in the houses of archaeologists in Delos. I sent her my work Love for Beginnings is not Fascination for Origins to thank her for the invisible work she had done for so many years in such difficult conditions in Delos. The work in the box would be the beginning of a connection, a small monument to the future. However, the box never reached Delos, because of a tempest during the Biennale opening, which prevented the boats to leave from Mykonos. Because of the weather, the work remained in a transit state; it has no place, it does not belong to me, and it has not reach its addressee. It has no context for meaning. It is therefore “a trace of a living thought”,[xvi] not being able to settle in a representation. It  is a work- ruin, a ruin-work, which awaits the right weather for its future con-versations.

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