Synapses. Interview with Stefanos Tsivopoulos

Stefanos Tsivopoulos  Synapses, 2014  Curated by Matteo Lucchetti  Installation view  prometeogallery di Ida Pisani, Milan  Photo credit Bruno Bani’

Stefanos Tsivopoulos, who has represented Greece at the 55th Biennale in Venice in 2013 with a complex project on the value of money, crisis and possible alternative way of exchange, has been recently protagonist of the exhibition Synapses curated by Matteo Lucchetti at the Prometeogallery di Ida Pisani in Milano. Tsivopoulos’ work, mostly constituted by film-based investigations addressing themes of memory, realty and fiction, for the first time presents an entirely non filmic production, drawing the direction for new interrogations and forms.

Stefanos Tsivopoulos you have recently participated in a new exhibition at the Prometeogallery in Milan which is a new experimentation of your artistic research, your first entirely non-filmic production. Its title is Synapses and in the curatorial text written by Matteo Lucchetti we read about the importance of the ability to constantly create or establish new productive connections, in this case historical, economical and cultural. Synapses literary means “to connect” in the sense of communicate (between neurons and cells) but here you are not offering a linear connection between the chosen elements, you are rather presenting them to the viewer, who is individually supposed to activate his synapses and find the connections. It is an exercise of abstraction from the given reality, what do you think ?
The title of the exhibition Synapses is originated by my ongoing research on Synchronicity a concept about time and acausal events initiated by Carl G. Jung, which negates predetermined notions of causal events in what we call reality. Synapses originally was the title for the project with the seven performances in the public space of Milan, but we decided to use it as the title of the whole show. I’d like to start by saying a few things about these seven public actions. My aim was to (re)create a cognitive field in the public space, a sort of representation of the real, perhaps a simulation of what we call reality. The real contains all sorts of fields of knowledge, things we know, things we don’t know and things we may find difficult to consume mentally at once. However, we make connections, we connect under personal narratives, through images, landscapes, buildings, faces, stories, and histories and these connections or synapses are not linear, quite the contrary they follow peculiar brain patterns in which both the conscious and the unconscious are integral parts. My position is to reconstruct that pattern that you call abstraction, but I call it the real. In the case of Synapses – Milano this “pattern of the real” engages the sociopolitical, the historical and economic references of seven distinct public locations with a series of performances that somehow unlock a sub-narrative of the real. This sub-narrative uses parts of reality together with poetic appropriations of reality through the seven improvised actions. There is a dialogue between the actions in the public space and the works in the gallery specifically a series of photo – synthesis that show my research in Milano, combining both archival images of the city as well as my own photos.

One of the elements that compose the exhibition is given by four reproductions of voting booths that you named with specific places and years, for example (Ukraine 2014) and (USA 2008). One again, you are not offering a linear link between the artifacts and their titles but allegorically suggesting possible reasons and relations. This is a political investigation and wider a question on the writing (or not writing) of history, theme that you already approached with for example Amnesialand (2010) or Untitled (The Remake) (2007). Are you trying to stimulate the production of a different collective memory?
I’m interested in the withdrawal from history’s resolution and engage with the more speculative and imaginary narratives of history and politics. The series of Voting Booths (Ukraine 2014), (USA 2008), (Greece 2012), (Switzerland 2011) offer a wider, more personal or alternative reading if you want, on current political positions of freedom of speech, diversity and inequality, left and right, the local and the global. The work is taking as its starting point a very recognizable object that of the voting booth, making apparent a connection

Stefanos Tsivopoulos Synapses, 2014 Curated by Matteo Lucchetti Installation view prometeogallery di Ida Pisani, Milan Photo credit Bruno Bani’

Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Synapses, 2014. Curated by Matteo Lucchetti. Installation view prometeogallery di Ida Pisani, Milan. Photo credit Bruno Banì

Stefanos Tsivopoulos Synapses, 2014 Curated by Matteo Lucchetti Installation view prometeogallery di Ida Pisani, Milan Photo credit Bruno Bani’

Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Synapses, 2014. Curated by Matteo Lucchetti. Installation view prometeogallery di Ida Pisani, Milan. Photo credit Bruno Banì

Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Synapses, 2014. Curated by Matteo Lucchetti. Installation view prometeogallery di Ida Pisani, Milan. Photo credit Bruno Banì

Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Synapses, 2014. Curated by Matteo Lucchetti. Installation view prometeogallery di Ida Pisani, Milan. Photo credit Bruno Banì

Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Synapses, 2014. Curated by Matteo Lucchetti. Installation view prometeogallery di Ida Pisani, Milan. Photo credit Bruno Banì

Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Synapses, 2014. Curated by Matteo Lucchetti. Installation view prometeogallery di Ida Pisani, Milan. Photo credit Bruno Banì

between the political and the personal. On the one hand there is the micro-scale architecture, a construction that defines the smallest, personal, private space to exercise our fundamental right of voting, the quintessential act of freedom in democratic societies. On the other hand it underlines the implications that such power can generate on both a national and a global level and what are you doing with such power. Of course the collective memory is under investigation here, with its implication in forming history through this participatory process. While working on the booths, which are actual reconstructions of the original ones used in the respective countries, I realized how each design might be indicative of each country’s political and social character.

Talking about questions such as writing history or establishing an archive, and in relation to your filmic practice, the importance of found-footage or montage is obvious. According to Benjamin first and Didi-Humberman more recently, it seems that this attitude towards the visual, the montage which does not adhere to a chronological attitude, is a way to be political by preserving the matter of the past for the future. It is almost a utopian attitude, what is your opinion about that ?
It’s the equivalent to the discovery of archaeologies. Of course you discover something that is made 2000 years ago but the political-social-economic implications that such discoveries entail are huge. I would call them contemporary archaeologies and perhaps such archaeologies are more important than ever because of our capacity both social and technological to read and use them as projections for the understanding of our future. I will agree that such findings are beyond the modalities of time, they touch the past, the present and the future as they pertains case studies of human chronicles.

Let’s go back to Milan. One of the most interesting and important part of the exhibition was action. You have organized, with the support of Careof DOCVA and with the collaboration of Assessorato alla Cultura and Assessorato al Benessere e Tempo Libero of the Municipality of Milano, seven minimal and immaterial actions around the city. You worked a lot with the urban environment and the history of Milano searching in the Photographical Archive of the city ; how and why did you selected this specific places ? What is the relation with the political connections we have been talking so far ?
I think that every corner, street, square and building of a city is important because it is part of an interconnected system, part of a living organism. For me the essential element with Synapses is to activate a public awareness of the city as a medium of this complex eco-system in which the citizens are also part of. The city is somehow a generator and conservator of actions, stories, and histories that are interrelated. Looking more carefully into the historical and sociopolitical registrations through traces on the city’s surfaces I hoped to find stories that will be in an almost poetic dialogue with each performance but also the totality of Synapses. The selected locations reflect different facets of Milan, from the city’s iconic Duomo square to the economically constraint neighborhood of Piazza Gramsci and from the historically important Teatro Verdi to the economic hub of Piazza Gae Aulenti. Each location is activated with the performance and the other way around, to form a grander narrative that is not linear, neither predetermined. Quite the contrary my work here is to open up infinite possible readings, through a rhizomatic process that would precisely not form the clear perspective of a single narrative but a multitude of perspectives and infinite narratives. That is also in line with my intentions about the renegotiation with the historicity and politicization of the public domain.

Talking about these performances that took place both in private and public spaces in Milano we cannot avoid to mention the ‘Situationist’ dérives ; you have operated a sort of détournement in which the viewer is supposed to lose his previous relations of power with the surrounding environment and to reconstruct them anew. It is a performative action leading to re-establish new connections, new memories, new histories etc. What is your impression of the urban landscape of Milan in relation to its inhabitants ? How did the public react to the proposed situations ?
The project could also be developed in a film format using the seven locations as the seven sequences of a film. However this time I didn’t do that, as I wanted to explore a new artistic position investigating the relation between a work of contemporary art and the audience through a less programmatic, material path. The public reacted in many different ways, sometimes unpredictable, sometimes with apprehension and curiosity but the underlying feelings were that of surprise, critical thinking and occasionally emotional overwhelm. The economic and sociopolitical diversity in the different neighborhoods of Milano is very distinct. The city is somehow very imposing and I found it slightly difficult to work on such a big scale project but again it is the first time I present Synapses so I give the benefit of the doubt to Milano.

Referring to your previous work History Zero (2013), that you presented at the 55th Biennale in Venice in the Greek Pavilion, you treat a dramatic subject such as the economical crisis in a very delicate way, weaving three different stories of ‘value’. There is hope and a necessity to re-evaluate the contemporary. What is your posture and perspective towards the future ? How to “change the currency” (parakrattein to nomismata) according to the famous Cynic’s lesson ?
I do feel that we have been very cynical and not creative enough with our economic systems. Some say that deregulation, speculation, and high-risk economic strategies are highly creative practices for making money. The problem is that such strategies only aim for profit. When I say creative I mean that money is not necessarily a medium of profit, it could be also a medium for development, fight against poverty, social equality etc. The 2008 collapse of the markets is a milestone that in time will prove decisive in the way we change as societies and our dependence on money. It is almost impossible to form societies without currency. However, I do have to say that I find the current mega-currencies such as the dollar, the euro, pound etc. and generally the whole economic system as a broken enterprise. After History Zero I have enriched my knowledge and view on global economy and especially alternative economic models that are generated by local communities and that serves better their needs. An economy that is sustainable, and autonomous.

Upcoming projects …
I’m finalizing the publication of a photographic essay with previously unpublished media images from Greek public and private archives. The title of the book is Archive Crisis and the design is in collaboration with Metahaven. I’m already working on a second Synapses for a new city and of course the next film-project is slightly more ambitious as it’s going to be a feature film that deals with the current economic crisis.

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Giulia Bortoluzzi

graduated in contemporary philosophy/aesthetics, has been working in collaboration with various contemporary art galleries, theaters, private foundations, art centers in Italy and France. Is a regular art contributor for L’Officiel, editor assistant for TAR magazine, founder and editor for recto/verso and editor in chief for julietartmagazine.com

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