The discussion happened at Ύλη[matter]HYLE in Athens a few weeks ago with the aim to create a collaborative text. When transcribing the text we realized that it can present itself as it is, and as a report from Athens. Ύλη[matter]HYLE (hyle.gr) is a semipublic and semipersonal space in the center of Athens that aims to bring together art, politics and sciences as if their coexistence is a new undisciplined field of thought, action and living, without knowing yet its name. Ύλη[matter]HYLE is not supported by any private institution, state organization or the municipality of the city of Athens. Ύλη[matter]HYLE is an independent organism of people, animals, machines and ideas.
— Spring 2017
– I am now staying in my mother’s house after 21 years being away from Athens, can you imagine?
– What is this like?
– Well, it’s quite good at the moment, although close, I do have a separate flat, at times it gets really weird because she is 71 years old and drinks daily, but I have to tell you I thought it would be a lot worse. I felt the urgency to reunite with her due to all of the changes that occurred, and to enter into communion with her before she passes of old age, so I can tell you that I have a very strong goal in many things over this cohabitation, I don’t perceive it like a problem per se, though I can think that through time passing there are clear familialist dangers in sight. Yet again it is very different, the return home after 20 years, than having stayed with your family all along, so it’s all about the meaning of the action that has its significance. Of course there is the danger that I might suddenly be confronted with all those shifts and changes that I’ve been through and I start…
– Questioning and…
– Yes to become angry with her, you see, things like that do happen. I start freaking out and all of the sudden I become so angry and then I am thinking: Why are you freaking out? Why are you suddenly so confused? And you know what… I realize that I still merit an approval from her for everyday events, like for example when I am getting dressed to go out and she opens the door and sees me, I really want her to approve of me/of my outfit/appearance. I am 41 years old and I left this home and this country at 17! Not even 20! And I returned at 41! Coming back is all too bizarre, can you understand me? I am feeling quite overwhelmed by the peculiarity at times. But you know, compared to all the rest that I have to face. Compared to the rest of the neighborhood that I have to face, which is all a fucking riot, since half of them are marginally civil while the rest are hostile and will not even talk to me… and even when I contemplate “get over it”… compared to all these, she is an ally to me, because she is so fond of her alcohol that most people in the neighborhood despise her or dislike her, similar as everybody hates me because I am a trans, so we have developed a common enemy, and a common idea; fuck them, we are going to fuck them all.
– A gang.
– Yes! And I wasn’t expecting that from a 71-year-old lady you know? That’s what I am talking about, it is a really complex equilibrium, on one hand there are instances that you have to deal with, long forgotten norms and restrictions but then there are other instances that fill you with tenderness and excitement about the multidimensional nature of solidarity. In the end willingly or not, I’m not looking back at my fears. I always turn towards the new in relation to the old, which is a whole different thing guys! I am another person in another space.
– And how is this after so many years?
– There are some points that are choking me and others that move me, like for example when I am admitting to myself that my whole fucking childhood space has changed. The places changed, the time changed, everything’s changed and this is interesting because it is as if I am revisiting my childhood, which is eventually an inescapable thing, but it is also as if I am returning in some form of grief. Or more as if I am currently in more immediate relation to a grief. Instead of simply thinking all of these things from afar, from England. This is a worthy preoccupation, it can become sad sometimes, but in general it is decent enough because it drives a strong change. Whereas it is also negative at times, it carries with it the fear of slipping back and starting to pay attention in things I should never pay attention to… Slipping back into fear and out again.
– What are you afraid of? For instance I’ve been traveling in and out from here for the past 3 years, and have been staying out of Greece for the past 10 years, I am mostly scared of not being able to be reinstated.
– Yet you may not be able to reinstate even if you are already integrated here.
– Yes, that is always the case.
– You can never be integrated in any way.
– Does this issue have to do with this city maybe? Athens leaves you always with the impression that you need somehow to be integrated. Athens demands from you to be integrated within.
– I think this city always asks from us an identity. Maybe we can say a social identity. (Just proposing), because everything right now is so fluid that the only thing that gives people a sense of stability is to acquire an identity and to actually believe and promote it; I am this specific person, this defines me, I will manage everything through it, I will live with it. Therefore, if you are here and yet you are also somewhere else, meaning that your identity remains unclear, you are a blurry idol for them (for the mass?), and that is exactly what you are receiving from them. This is also what happens to the people who live here but refuse to attend to a certain/solid identity.
– To the people that refuse to lean on a certain side or a specific identity. But again what constitutes an identity here is defined from many parameters; it is not made out of a mere, simple “identity.”
– I define identity as being both social and political for the purposes of this argument.
– For instance, in the U.S. identity constitutes what we consider individuality in the consumerist model. You need to buy it and construct it. Just that. Here (in Greece) identity is constructed out of many factors; and primarily from the family, the friends (social circle), it is also the political stand, the certain groups you are involved with and you cannot avoid it, even those who are saying that they don’t care about all this, they are ending up entangled/bounded to this system and they might become paradigms of paterfamilias, or if not they can become super-freaks.
– The parameters of your identification, your identity, in reality, are not dependent solely on you, simply because the way that you are going to be identified has to do with social narrations of each individual group, and amongst these narrations the dominant ones will prevail and will lead the way that all things will be perceived. The issue is that when you realize that, the view that I have an identity that I AM this or that, is always vulnerable to an outside, to an externality. So much so, that in reality, you are never really something outside your relationship with something else. In this sense, in its basest form I am something else in my relationship with you than I am in my relationship with my mother, a different being from the one when I buy rolling papers from the kiosk. And that difference is actually constitutive—at least at the level of performativity—on how you start to understand that you are this or that or not. Your value, my value depends on these social processes to such an extent that if, for example, the narrative around your becoming is pathological or problematic, even if one wants to escape the nexus of such a problematic meaning, then it sure as hell doesn’t have to do with simply whether one feels OK or not. In short, if everywhere I go people see either an immorality or a psychopathology then we could safely say that the problems that one faces, are again tied to this externality. Of course there is always the solution of establishing a stronger ego (in the general sense) to oppose all these problematic interpretations but in reality all this is a retreat again, an armor, a radical individualism of “I am what I am and fuck you very much.” Useful at times but as limited as it is limiting.
– The opposite should happen in reality.
– In reality there has to be an attack on this form that the ego takes. But to be honest guys, in the present socio-political climate it seems slightly impossible, people seem to be more interested in reproducing their underprivileged cages rather than experiencing a radical social change in forms of relationality. Not to mention that it also seems quite difficult due to the infantile investments that we seem to constantly entertain, which I for a start haven’t managed to address, I don’t know about you.
– What I wanted to say was that I passed a phase last winter where I realized that, OK for some people I exist in an age group between 13 and 17, for some a little older or younger. At this point it clicked to me and I realized it: I guess I have to be more conscious in relation to which ages I am categorized, but that it is also temporal, it is not just space, that it has to do with the temporality that someone perceives you, and that if you have enough love to embrace the temporality of another, then everything is fine… Because you can really perform that, because you were always 13, you can recall that 13 and perform it for the other.
– Ah! So good you have it! I have to constantly listen to “baaaabyyy” or “my babbyyyy” and to note here especially since I came out as trans! Hahaha I see me there and I am suddenly acting like a fucking baby, “mom what will we eat” and I am thinking “FUCK… 6 months ago I was researching in a university in another country and suddenly I am a baby again”… But the truth is I am entertained by it all and these familialist hang ups amuse me quite a lot, so I tend to say that coming back to Greece after 21 years in the UK, these are not the most dramatic problems I am facing.
– So, which are the most dramatic?
– The difficult is still the outside… the social arena. Because it is an arena. The everyday humiliations of “faggot,” “tranny fuck,” “we don’t serve people like you” or the best “get out now I have customers.” These are the really dramatic moments… and these are very bad and at times I don’t know how to ground them… For example I am leaving from somewhere and as soon as I enter public spaces or transport I have to listen to myriad attacks. At times these are quite manageable but at times I am thinking that this could go very bad indeed without any reason whatsoever. Just because someone got an idea in the bus for example that the Greek birth population problem is because… I am trans. Others are simply offended by looking at me, they are offended because I exist next to them and I see them getting wound up just because I am there, fidgeting and puffing and huffing, even making loud questions like, “What is this! What the fuck is this!” pointing at me… so that’s dramatic.
– He can’t manage it and he can’t process it with his head because in his mind it insults his intelligence.
– Yeah, but that is served back through an attack that at times is even physical, you understand. Some people want my physical disappearance from the public sphere, and they spare not a single thought whether something is happening on a symbolic level that fucks them up… OK the truth is that I don’t expect people in the everyday to have some sort of reflection or reflexivity around their understandings… haha…. Of course some process of bewilderment occupies other people in the everyday interaction I have with them, but most people seem cooler or act cooler about it. I mean they can’t categorize me exactly and they are concerned what to do with me but usually they own it unlike the ones I was describing that want me out of the picture. And who are these? The aggressive ones? Well I can’t help it and accuse me for whatever, to say that usually it is men and mostly, but certainly not only, around the age of 20 to 30… This is the group that I usually find myself in trouble with.
– I don’t know, the situation seems so rotten.
– So what do we do? Social reality in Greece then. What do you have to say about it? Athens possibly, because what do we know about the rest of Greece?
– A lot of things have changed since then.
– Since 20 years ago?
– Even since 2 years ago a lot has changed.
– I believe each one of us has something to say from our perspective here.
– Well as I said, my return after 20 years is actually making me exoticize a lot of things.
– 20 years with how many visits?
– I was coming for summer holidays and such. OK… but it’s not the same coming from the UK and going to the islands for some time and then leaving again, with living in Athens or working in Athens. In reality I had disinvested from Greece for so many years , and coming back to reinvest… and the first thing of course that I transverse are the same spaces and the same people that I am trying to transcend from and as such I try to mingle with a wider circle, you in a sense that… you know I don’t know you so well, so many years have passed, and we have parallel lives, but in which there is a different sort of potential from those to whom I have a closer proximity, simply because in the known proximity other subjects of mine are more difficult to surface.
– For me as trans, the crisis has brought upon a characteristic that some of the issues that I may deal with and which are mostly social, I don’t feel the easiness to discuss because they are considered secondary issues in comparison with the big bad wolf that the society here deals with in relation to the economic devastation that we are living, that it has neutralized all other spheres of critique that you can uphold simply because people have no money and everything is fucked up. You know in the manner of, “What do you want now with your trans issues in the middle of all this then? … to deal with trans, or what is this trans all the fuck about now then?”
– Yes, but the same happens with art, the same happens generally, so all this that we could say sustains the social sphere, is like we assume that it is not important because of the financial problems in short and the economocentrism. Most of the people I knew didn’t have much to lose and as such how did people that had very little to lose expect something to happen so that they will gain? It is profound that the economic rhetoric is the only one way we expect to understand the current reality. And this turns any kind of political or artistic potential impossible. I have the impression that this is partly done in order to deflect attention from what could be the central characteristic of this city.
– Which is what?
– It wasn’t one.
– It wasn’t one but they are many but there were…
– To what do you refer I mean? So what did Athens offer you that it doesn’t offer now and what does it offer you now that it didn’t offer then?
– I am of the impression that there is no desire for expressing things that do not have a subtitle, the didactic and the profound messages, you know I’m screaming in your face motherfucker, listen to me.
– Intensity, there is definitely intensity.
– Intensity but without actually a need for expression, just expression for the sake of expression because in order to have expression you need to allow for emotions to emerge, to appear and if you don’t have emotions how you can express?
– There are a lot of emotions.
– Yes, but are fear and panic bad advisors?
– People are very pressed, you see it on the street everywhere what is happening, and according to my opinion everything has been overwritten with that pressure, that this is the cause of misfortune. Humans always have this need for this single something to be blamed and they tend to overlook deepening in other things simply because they cannot look deeply, so all these other questions have been overtaken by the depression that is socially produced and that is prevalent to everybody. It is collective but people don’t want to deal with anything else because they can’t stand it. See for example in the theater , up until some years ago performances that were going well, dealt with deeper existential and social issues, more crucial ones whereas now people tend to go to variety shows to see some form of cheap comedy. And these are people that otherwise wouldn’t go but they run there due to a promise that “at least for these 2 hours I forget things, I can relax,” even if it is fast food theater, or perhaps precisely because of it. People don’t read books they watch TV series. People don’t want to problematize easily with something new, they don’t feel they have that “luxury.” They think that problematization over art is a luxury and they have zero time for it.
– To have a nice time because the situation is shit! But you can’t blame them for that.
– Oh no, I don’t blame them, I don’t blame them.
– No, I say that because sometimes I blame them for that. Sometimes I reach a point where I am like “MERCY” with foregoing all these questions, for example, about what is art and what is artistic production, and what it has to offer in understanding contemporary culture as irrelevant. Longing for an art as a form of investment in reality, I freak out with the complete disregard for what the arts have to offer in these days.
– But this always existed in Athens.
– This always existed in history.
– In the history of Athens certainly.
– But maybe we shouldn’t be consumed too by all this doom and gloom, because with the crisis a peculiar potential has been unearthed too. There are powers that have been unleashed that may not be as susceptible to the norms since a lot of the social norms have been suspended. Maybe these new norms that come into play in the social sphere are not that certain or dominant and that is precisely
their positive effect.
– Why, what were the norms then?
– Then as in the 1980s and 90s when we grew up? They were let’s have fun, fuck it all, petit bourgeois aspirations, get your kids to learn French and piano, a suspicion of social mobility with the promise that if I can make 2 today then I could make 10 in 5 years, a better car, a bigger house and so on and so on. Well, all these aspirations are over now so people reaching bottom feel an emptiness in what kind of goal they should pursue.
– That the ambition now is so different because there is no space to situate that ambition, people are in limbo, is that what you are saying?
– I personally am freaked out that at the moment that we speak there are two different exhibitions in the city with the theme of the 1980s, with a nostalgia for the social democracy of the PASOK era. People are in delirium, this started from the media and it is some form of cult nostalgia. “PASOK has given us this and that…” And people are reminiscent of these days like they were the ones we should look back to… And as such the pictures in one of these exhibitions were not the punks and the squats, they were again the PASOK, the feasts and the buzukia… This is what they represent now of this past, and they represent it as the lost, the lost time we should get. Without anyone mentioning that what happened then and where we are now are related… the cultural decadence was the debts and the rise of the culture of the Porsche Cayenne.
– Girls I agree with you, I agree with you 100% on this, in fact it is true 100%, I just want to add that this happens in the whole world these days. From Trump looking back in order to see how to move forward, to Brexit which is reminiscent of an old empire long lost but which the Brexitters hope to find again regardless of whether the globalized era we go through faces different configurations and problems… It doesn’t matter though I mean even if the conditions have changed none of these regressive movements want to see the future with anything but nostalgia from a national past. The French too, looking at the world through a heritage that materializes in the face of a great and terrible nationalist movement. The question has to be the same. Were these times that great really? And for whom?
– Certainly everyone has their own grand narratives, but that we have the 1980s is a little bit tragic, it is tragic that our own grand narrative is the 1980s. It
– Though to play devil’s advocate there were some good things that happened in the 1980s in Greece. Loads of money got redistributed to lower social strata or the position of women, for example, was a little bit better after all the years of extreme conservatism.
– So you say that there was more understanding for women’s issues?
– No I am not sure, it’s probably as you say with economic reasons behind it, but it happened.
– Also mass culture evolved.
– True, these were the times where mass culture also got a strong hold on the
population but the 1980s had some good side effects in people’s investments due to its influence. For example, I see our parents’ generation’s investment in us which was about a whole generation investing in another’s education with fervor. In reality, it was these investments that created the educational capital that Greek students thrived on even outside Greece. Because we are the generation that got provided with a lot more education than previous generations and definitely a greater relation with externality at least in relation to European borders. And that is where I say that the construct European Union managed at least in the 1990s to provide a melting pot where various youth cultures of Europe met in such numbers. So I just wanted to say that we should resist the absolute critique of the European project simply because the neoliberal agenda has thrived. We should not let Europe to their hands.
– No, I don’t see that it is a problem, we are just looking now at how that piece is reflected in terms of a picture in juxtaposition to the decadent parties of the 1980s. And to the fact that we don’t focus on what that was which created the present conditions. We don’t try to find it between the protests, and the conditions by which it sprung, we are trying to find it where we thought we existed? Which is where? In the decadence? If an art historian tries to find me inside the skyladiko, to find where I live now and what I do, then something has gone greatly wrong, historically something has not gone well with the schemes of reality. Somewhere they haven’t met. Because the people that produced something in this country, in this city, didn’t go and they don’t go to the skyladiko, guys.
– You mean on an art level?
– On an art level and on a cultural level. Art is not produced where money is made. The issue is that here what has happened is that because those that have money have fallen with their faces in art, thinking that just by having money you can “organize” art, just by paying and becoming a member—like you do in a social club—and that makes things empty when you simply try to organize without wanting to create, you don’t just need to organize it, you also need to know its convictions. And what are art’s convictions? One of them is to understand where it comes from, how it is produced, not how much money they needed for something to be produced, but what materials, the essence of making something is limited only to its cost and value, this is what has happened. Here in this city no one cares for what we call “historical recording.” Even when they talk about the 1980s they don’t show you those that did what they did, they show you the spaces where the parties were happening or the spaces of the exhibitions, they don’t show you the artists, they show you the spaces, the mayors, the social elites.
– There is a need to try to create a new narrative, a new collective consciousness because they see that the people are not productive. That Greece itself is not in a productive phase, and how Greece will get back into a productive phase, how the Greek himself will enter a productive phase so that he can offer to the common good? There has to be a new… a new narrative, a new collective consciousness which will be based on some nostalgic past, something that touched a chord in the past. Because at this moment if you try to pin the here and now… nobody wants to do it. Because nobody dares to touch on the here and now… half the people are “you better leave it” and the other half “I don’t want to say anything, I wanna die.” It is very cruel this process of having to recall something in order to “move” a human. I feel as if the people are stopped and they need a coin to restart again. And those that want to look at it differently, through the arts, through life, through the way they live, through the way they want to exist with others they need to have tremendous patience and faith, in direct contrast to the way life is organized in these dark times.
– Can I ask you something? What are the positive elements that the crisis have unearthed?
– There are positives.
– The anti-establishmentarian space with its good and its bad may have failed in its response, but it’s a lot bigger than it was 20 years ago.
– Yes, it’s bigger because a particular subject of the angry youth has expanded it—which always existed of course—but now it’s just that. It’s the hooligan, the macho guy, the homophobic, all in, because we are all angry so we break everything together, lacking in meaning and ideological stigma. These people never got into the collective processes of an assembly. This started after 2008 with the assignment of the social movements to Syriza. With most people assigning to Syriza the response to the crisis, suddenly social assemblies disintegrated, the movement of the Indignados weakened. And now we are seeing the result of this assignment. Social repression, evacuation of squats etc.
– It seems that the establishment Right has challenged them and Syriza’s response was to cave in to their demands and come to a resolution with more social repression. The same social repression that they criticized for the past 5 years now they gladly reproduce it. But I have to admit even if the DAT is recording, that even if in reality I had all the signs that were telling me how Syriza was made, how it started taking all the people down with it, how it was stopping social resistance, how it appropriated all the radical vocabulary of the Left only to neutralize it so that they could collect more votes from the center space like any other social democratic party and win the elections… Even then I believed in the referendum very much and in this faith I did place a dream.
– Hey! I believed it too, I came out with firecrackers on the road.
– So I am asking: Isn’t the disappointment a characteristic of the betrayal of the Greek referendum, of the turn that the government did in spite of its result? The situation that even us who are a bit on the edge of any political order, and privilege self-organization and autonomous actions, started believing that there could be some change, was quickly overturned with the U-turn that the government did in the referendum and it was precisely that moment that the collective depression reappeared! So the issue was not whether we had an economy in tatters, because the crisis existed since 2008 and its effects were very much evidenced even in 2010. So the people have already lost their money but what they haven’t lost was the hope that this could be overturned. It is not a coincidence that Syriza’s motto in winning the elections was “Hope is coming” and perhaps it was a bigger lie than Lenin’s “All power to the Soviets,” because of course we now know that as far as social change in Greece goes, nothing changed.
– I had gone out with flares and firecrackers, with the “No” that we voted for, I was completely crazy for it.
– I never believed it, I never believed it at all, I never believed in the idea that there should be a referendum, I thought that it was the worst thing that could happen to the country. I believed that it happened in order to neutralize the last healthy resisting part that has the opportunity to create something beyond what we call representative politics.
– You mean that Syriza appropriated it so much just in order to make it its own?
– Yes sure, but really they appropriated this space without really knowing it but even that could bring a small hope, a reaction, some change and of course this space with its bad and good has some reflexes.
– Which space?
– This outside, anti, anarchist, radical, anti-anti!! This milieu has some characteristics
and some reflexes that Syriza—and any Syriza—although at the beginning it purported that it knew them and that it will be able to appropriate them successfully, at the end it showed that it cannot! Because in reality it doesn’t have it in them to do it. It can’t practically speaking, even organize a social solidarity kitchen, it can’t do real solidarity, it can’t really reach down to the people and propel them to action. It tried to do that but it failed. It’s like we are sitting here pretending to be homeless people, and let’s say we go to Omonia Square to do the homeless. Regardless how long we stay there we are not homeless. Syriza did it like that and because they don’t know basic things, they can’t predict and that’s our only hope, that the drop which will overflow the glass will fall and then hell will break loose!
– Of course you are so right, because what they control is actually only in times of
normality. We have seen very clearly that when normality dissolves and the situation turns critical the government does not know how to control it, at least without getting into a full civil war scenario. The December 2008 riots for instance.
– At the same time it is all so terrible because what was being created in the squares from Egypt to the U.S. was that from one side you have the establishment and that means that the movements take a political form favored by the establishment, like what Syriza did, and in the U.S. there was critique that didn’t form a complete political agenda. The critique from the media, favored a lot of people that did political analysis. There was, and is in general, a critique that nothing really much happened with the Occupy movement in U.S., unlike in Greece for example where we have Syriza. And at these points I wonder: “What the fuck are you talking about? Why is Syriza more interesting than stepping back and reflecting, creating smaller and more organized efforts?” So, that at this time in the U.S. there is Trump, it means not only a winning of the right-wing agenda but also a reflection moment for what we could call the Left and I think that this is important and it means that something is lurking in a very big chunk of force, let’s call it global movement, this force demands time to appear. There is a need of distance so that you will know when to hit.
– There was this guy in the amphitheater during an assembly who used to say that he hoped the conservatives would get back to power so that we will know who we have to fight against. This is what we know, this is what we trust kind of thing, all these years against them. We are so confused that we want the old order again.
– Certainly I didn’t mean that.
– Yes, I know.
– Finally Syriza played the best game it could for the lenders like nobody else and without even knowing it. It managed to destroy it all—hope included—and the worst thing is that they didn’t even know it. Resting in the end in a damage
limitation scenario that proves futile.
– That’s why Chancellor Merkel is so happy with them.
– They used them to get the job done like a Trojan Horse. The whole liberal establishment that voted them had a need to say “fuck you” and whereas this time they supported Syriza, who knows who the next “fuck you” party is. Golden Dawn got voted in also because it had a “fuck you all” agenda too, let’s not forget.
– This government destroyed everything and has done the job of the elite without even knowing it.
– Guys, I am that low with the political situation that I even watch the TV news sometimes these days. (all laugh)
– Do you want something to drink? I am drinking water, you have something else?
– Yes, I have wine and champagne. It’s appropriated from documenta 14. (all laugh)
– I am going to get some cigarettes.