“The genuine does not exist”
New York based Greek artist Georgia Sagri talks about her participation in the Occupy Wall Street movement
Interview by Apostolos Vasilopoulos
All the turbulence in the streets while we were putting together the magazine, and the relentless political unrest in Greece, couldn’t leave us indifferent, so we have included in this issue some special reports on the physicalities of this ongoing tumult: the damage, violence, destruction and the clash of forces as seen on the streets.
We asked Greek artist Georgia Sagri, now living and working in New York, to comment on her personal experiences in the fields of collective protest and being actively present as an individual at times of civic crisis; firstly, through her significant participation in the OWS movement and secondly, through her work as an artist. Sagri has mainly worked through and on performance. Her last presentation at the Whitney Biennial (2012) included an extended installation and a “rehearsal” (her words) that disrupted all projections about and possible anticipations of her appearance there. Other notable examples are her performance outside the Polytechnic School of Athens in 1997, for the annual commemoration of the student protest against the military junta (where she stood silent, inside a glass cage and covered in bandages) and another presentation, in XYZ Outlet exhibition space in Metaksourgeio, Athens, where, as part of her performance, she promenaded into the area’s red light district, which was quite busy at the time, completely naked.
The way she attends and penetrates the street, how she undercuts expectations about the notions of spectatorship, the performing body, the stage, historicity, protest and the visual arts’ vocabulary, were all reasons for us to seek her out as a witness.
South: What was your experience of Occupy Wall Street, and how do you evaluate the overall movement?
Georgia Sagri: Right now I cannot evaluate my involvement because the movement keeps expanding and no one can predict what it will continue to contribute to the political and social scene. We are now faced with a series of constant changes. What I think will be the end of this movement is when certain individuals will identify themselves as members of OWS and try to appropriate its name, its function and its form. The special trait of this movement, which is linked to the ‘outrages’ of Syntagma Square, the uprising in Egypt and the demonstrations outside London, is a mistrust of political leaders and political representation and the desire to see the present economic system collapse. The only way is to come up with new concepts, terms and ways of relating to one another. Once we have fallen into the trap of using all concepts for reasons of convenience, we forget what it was that brought us together in the first place.
S: What is your experience of the Greek movement, if you have any?
G.S.: I have great respect for the way Greek society struggles against authoritarianism, against the dos and don’ts dictated by the forces of the economy and today’s pathetic political figures. What I’d like to see is people taking charge of their own lives, and I think that Greek society can turn this slogan into action.
S: How do you see your street actions (for instance, the one outside the Technical University) redefining the form and the content of public protests?
G.S.: When I did that, I did not designate it as solely a protest or solely an artistic action. I think what I always explore is the point, the moment at which the act is stronger than the form or the content. I am neither reformist nor reactionary, and I need none of the existing systems to define my actions. The ideologies that dictate modes of action make me nauseous. The concept of authority has collapsed. I am not afraid and I do not ask for permission. This may be the moment when I can talk and act and stand before history and developments on equal terms.
S: Do you think that conventional forms of protest (rallies, marches, demonstrations) are stereotyped and may thus detract from some of the dynamism of a large gathering? How can we go out in the streets in an effective and genuinely ‘dangerous’ way?
G.S.: The genuine does not exist. The ‘dangerous’ does not exist, either, if we consider that none of the actions in recent years aimed at overthrowing governments and revolution, with all the limitations and the historicity with which this term is charged. If we can forget the aim but recognise the need behind all these protests, then yes, we’ll see that the important thing here is to come into the socio-political realm as equals; to act side by side, to reflect upon the conditions and the structures that concern us more than ever before. The demand for life, solidarity and equality are the strongest motives. When these demands do not come from specific ideologies but from an autonomous and spontaneous search for something beyond the security of structures—authority, social identities, leaders— by people who are not after some vague vision but act in order to create ways, relationships and expressions here and now, then yes, we are on course to create yet another form, and we can be lots of other forms as well. There isn’t just a single way. We are everything, and we fight without limitations.
S: How can an artist go into this in a way that is productive in terms of expanding the contemporary artistic language as well as producing a radical political discourse?
G.S.: I imagine that when you are trying it means that you have already thought so much about circumstances that you can no longer remember why you are part of them. Personally, I think it’s more expedient to create the circumstances, to be an active member to such a degree that instead of thinking of some ideal ultimate aim you would just keep changing things carelessly, without fear. Producing a radical discourse is for those who want an audience. I don’t believe we can still think in dipoles such as sender/receiver, inside/outside, citizen/state, artwork/viewer.