A Tribute To The “Parthenon Bomber” Yorgos Vassiliou Makris artist, poet, writer (1923-1968)
by Marina Fokidis
In our efforts to reinvestigate the ‘South tradition’ on our own terms and to renegotiate the models we choose to follow, we have opened up a space here in which to present southern myths. Dark or popular, cult or mainstream, people or situations, texts or projects – these are all essential components of our tradition.
Inevitably, we’ve started this section with Yorgos V. Makris, the author of Proclamation No. 1, which advocates blowing up the Parthenon. On 18th of November 1944, just a month after the end of the German occupation of Greece, this Proclamation, signed by the UASA (Union of Aesthetic Saboteurs of Antiquities), became public. The chief of this ad hoc and artistically-driven organisation was the poet and writer Yorgos V. Makris. He was, at the time, an obscure personality known to the Athens ‘creative’ circle mainly through encounters and discussions at different homes and cafés in the centre of Athens, such as the Byzantium, a renowned meeting place for intellectual misfits. Suggesting the destruction of one of Greece’s most important and treasured historic sites seemed like a completely non-patriotic, immoral and transgressive gesture; however, it captured the interest of several marginal intellectuals who most probably found in it a refuge from the tyranny of history and the absolutism of various ideologies. It was neither a manifest nor a set of guidelines for a violent act, but more of an artistic/performative text signalling a desire for the liberation of sacred archetypes that could easily be – and were – abused so as to serve conflicting purposes and propagandas.
The Parthenon was the primary symbol for the reconstitution of Greece, suffering the effects of poverty and war, and a focus for national morale. It also symbolised the development of the tourism industry, while serving as a solid excuse for all the iniquities happening in its shadow. Makris and his team seemed to be against the void-like admiration and the emotionally sterile confrontation of an historic monument – while the political, social and aesthetic destruction of Athens could take place uninterrupted at its feet, but not seem to touch the Parthenon itself. This Proclamation was more of an urgent call for genuine action by the living, or even an accusation of society; it was not, in any sense, urging the actual destruction of the Parthenon.
We came across Makris for the first time not through a literary encyclopedia but through a book dedicated to youth culture that chronicles rock’n’roll in Greece from 1945 to 1990 by Manolis Daloukas. This book was published in 2006; since then, our research has led us to some of his friends, from whom we learned more stories and found out more about his scripts. We also came across rare writings about him. The late Leonidas Christakis, a key figure in the libertarian underground intellectual circle, wrote extensively about Makris, even if sometimes he manipulated events with his own projections of reality. It is strange to think that in a country like Greece, personalities like Yorgos V. Makris and many of his fellow artists, writers and poets never found their place in the official history. A peculiarly strong bond between politics and the intelligentsia left the people that did not identify clearly with a specific political ideology at the margins. Free spirits, anti-heroes, arts illusionists, independent beings and their acts were all seamlessly forgotten.
In that spirit, it is interesting to add that the proclamation by Makris, suggesting the destruction of the Parthenon, followed the heavily heroic gesture of Apostolos Santas and Manolis Glezos who took down the Nazi flag from the Parthenon on 31st of May 1941, during the German occupation of Greece. This act gave courage to Greeks to fight against the conqueror and as a consequence the two partners went to prison where they were tortured. However, Glezos went on to become an emblem of resistance in Greece and later redeemed his suffering through a long career in politics, first as the deputy and then as the president of the communist party EDA and also the socialist party PASOK when it came to power. Makris, in contrast, is discussed by relatively few people, but in the light of recent events, including destructive acts by angry youth and anarchists, maybe his oeuvre, if it becomes more popular, will serve as a good example for liberal young minds that cannot cope with the system – and thereby avoid many spectacular-looking, catastrophic gestures. Radical, big gestures are usually looking for an audience. Destructive fires such as the recent ones in Greece, for example, needed to be televised so as to have any kind of impact. This does not lead to concrete and fruitful change and development. The missing part is an imaginative distance. What makes the record of Greek ‘revolutionary’ gestures weak is that it neglects the role of culture and imagination within the society. Adopting an imaginative distance from an event can sometimes, perhaps, be more effective than any other gestural destruction, and thus artists of any kind can act as constructive agents of historical change.
After all, Makris and his friends were – as stated in one of his poems – the forerunners of chaos.
“We are the crazy dreamers of the earth, with the fiery heart and the frantic eyes… we are the forerunners of chaos.”
“He lived without home, without profession, without academic titles or rewards, without published record of his writings in a society submissive to the idea of property, power and illegitimate titles,” writes the poet E.H. Gonatas in the introductory note to the only book on the writings of George Makris, which was published long after his death, in 1986. During his life (1923-1968) Makris never tried to publish anything; he did though keep a large archive of diaries and letters, as well as a collection of poems and texts of his own. Following the Socratic method, he loved conversation and interaction. Many artists of the period considered him their mentor despite his young age. On 31st of January 1968 he jumped off the roof terrace of his apartment building. An anecdotal story says that when the porter – who saw him going upstairs – asked him if he needed anything he replied: “ No, no worries, I am coming down right away.” Makris was capable of holding on to his sardonic humor and his anti-heroic vibe until the very last moment of his life.
We are grateful to Manolis Daloukas, Alexis Christakis and Panos Koutrouboussis for lending us Makris’s archives and for providing information and help. We would also like to thank all the contributors to this section.
Proclamation No. 1
Sharing as we do the aesthetic and philosophical view of destruction and the mortality of the form of beings that are part of the context of life’s consummation;
Being determined to destroy the Parthenon with the ultimate aim of surrendering it to true eternity, i.e. the unconscious and latent potential of the automatic transmutation of matter which we misguidedly call a ‘loss’;
Detesting the temporal and historical entrenchment of the Acropolis as something unheard of and foreign to life;
Feeling that eternity in art is only really needed during its creation;
Understanding that while Phidias invested the work with a temporal andhistorical aspect, this is still insignificant in the context of eternitywhich, thanks to its powers of volition and its dynamism, knows no duration and one second is no different to three billion centuries since these are only meaningful to individuals and nobody cares about the number of these individuals;
Hating National Tourism and the nightmarish folklore literature around it;
Believing that we are committing an artistically superior act and convinced not only that all this false and laughable survival can’t be compared – even if it is found to be lacking – with a single minute of energetic action and pleasure but that it is actually artistically harmful in fostering amateur tourists and eunuchs.
To set as our aim the blowing up of ancient monuments and the promotion of propaganda against them.
Our first act of destruction shall be the blowing up of the Parthenon,which is literally suffocating us.
This proclamation only aims to provide some sense of our purpose. It is a missile that begins with a few targets to reach more, but only seeks to gain a few adherents.
Yorgos Vassiliou Makris
Chief Organiser, UASA (Union of Aesthetic Saboteurs of Antiquities) November 1944