IS RETURN POSSIBLE?
The time that intervenes between question and answer is prolonged.
When referring to the return, we mean both a specific cognitive process but also the content of memory itself, the memories, their re-investment with meaning in the present. Their effect. Memories, the recollection of time-space, is an indissociable part of our self-awareness, the core of our personal history. Memory and our relationship to it, are an essential part of our identity. In many cases, however, the perception of the past, together with its future projections, may prove so frighteningly distorted and traumatic as to in essence deprive one of control of one’s own life and transform the subject into an object, an obstacle to the very self. It can annul the prospect of experience and reduce it to an automatization, a spasm.
The human creator is mainly a native of memory and, simultaneously, its user. One emerges /manifests considering memory as the process of reflection, the way to rethink, over and over. One manages and delivers ways of interpreting and reformulating space and time, thus perpetuating the present.
The mnemonic network is our origin, refuge and simultaneously our horizon (the things we reflect about ourselves – the things others reflect about us). The stories we narrate refer to our place of origin. We speak here of the homeland as the place of our destination, the place that may welcome us back. Our west. The westward passage. The west is a promise.
Memory is a reception. Every narrative mourns a loss.
The idea of a consistently distinct identity, structured around the concepts highlighted by the dialectic of contemporary state-national capitalism (language, common traditions, an ethnic community, a national economy and a geographic environment-boundary-law) requires continuous redefinition as it collapses. The accelerating developments which are construed as threats, render the ideology of the nation-state vulnerable and subvert the imaginary of cultural purity. These identities, whether based on nation, class, religion or desire, become more and more fragmentary since at every surplus of freedom and inventiveness that emerges, corresponds a surplus of uncertainty.
The return is via an impassable route.
So then, is return possible?
The return cannot take place without the definition of the place from which we have distanced ourselves.
I go away from where?/ when am I home?? are we strangers forevermore?
Odysseus, the hero of homecoming, a cosmopolitan, a bourjeois in search of an identity comes home from a brazen, when it’s all said and done, conquest. “When Odysseus was staying at Calypso’s he needed to be doubly awake.He needed to be vigilant not only so as to preserve Ithaca in his heart, but also so as not to lose the vision of his wanderings”. (Barbara Cassin, Nostalgia. So, then when is one at one’s place?, published in Greek by Melani, 2015, tr. by Sesil Igglesi Margelos p. 64.)
Flight, exile, uprooting, wandering. Memory, the homeland.
The projection of the identity of place, simultaneously marks the absence of that identity. (It is like the film frame projecting things long gone, people long since dead.) The gaze returns to meet with something entirely other to what it left there.
Recognition is not attained except as an imaginary automatism.
We cannot rely on the traces.
The third kind, Plato mentions, is the eternal chora (space) which is not corrupted but provides a resting place to all things that are born and which can be perceived only by means of a bastard reasoning without the use of the senses but only through belief.
The return is an impossibility. Under the weight of accumulations, mnemonic impressions belie one another in succession (at least are not confirmed) and while I am attempting to comprehend, the familiar place collapses. I regroup, I make peace with the unfamiliar and I continue, building on the ruins my trust in the new place which is foreign. I might get lost there, stop existing during a blinking of the eye, a deep breath or a sneeze.
The road to re-appropriation is noisy and dirty.
It is very often sadly desolate, but always fascinating. Piles of impressions create distractions, obstacles and narrow passages or render it inaccessible.
We are before the summer of 2016. We are living the escalation of the war, which the finance news bulletins, “international” organizations and statistics, are all attempting to camouflage. Naturally, reality will persist.
The idea of the homeland as a kind of knowledge, constructed within the bounds of a programmatic, artistic activity, is the marginal, the “false”, the obscure, the incomplete but maybe the most concise in terms of allowing us to inhabit it. A long-term conception, the daring synopsis that escapes time’s incessant becoming, an idiosyncratic memory, that is what the homeland is. For those who can still reflect and, naturally, dream, there is no “world that is being lost”, leaving behind the sickly-sweet smell of a corpse, “a new world of memories” produced by technological gadgets, and of nostalgia turning to indignation, but the country where things happen contemporaneously, the past is no souvenir, the real, the eventual is not an iron wall ruptured here and there by psychoanalytic “schools”, the pettiness of “disputation”, academic hypocrisy and its sanctions, but, on the contrary, a fundament on which the world is constituted in the direction of the invisible, the imagined and the playful. My homeland is the uncharted youth. My homeland that is neither determined nor won and which belongs to everyone that has lived and everyone who will live.
We were both born and raised in Nikea.
We realized this shortly after our first collaboration in November 2007, in the context of the artists’ group intothepill. One was born in Kokkinia, the historic center of the municipality, and the other in Neapolis, the most recent district whose rebuilding started in 1950 and culminated in the 80s. Our intensive preoccupation with urbanity and its history and, simultaneously, the exceedingly complex sociopolitical scene unfolding during the eight years of our collaboration, enlarged our focus of interest past the metropolitan center. At the same time, our discussions referring to the particular cultural aspects of the western suburbs, the frequent and often amusing ascertainment of the widespread use of a specific local idiom, led to the idea of a work around the memory field of the homeland and the basic question of the im/possibility of return.
In May 2015, we presented at the Platform Project of Art Athina, the installation 851 Athens-Nikea, where we treated Petrou Ralli st. as an axis connecting the suburbs with the capital, as a zone of transition/catharsis but also as a restart of motion-dependent perception, which focuses on the suspended time of that transition: the time that stirs subjective memory attempting to align it with the real place. Personal archives that connects us with the destination, paradoxical and rare memoranda, recordings and classifications of the complex human landscape, were some of the materials of the installation.
The present book completes the undertaking which started on December 15, 2015, when, returning to Nikea itself, we invited visual artists and writers to collaborate on creating an exhibition and a book, which would comprise a poetic investigation into the im/possibility of return, of memory, the homeland and loss.
In the exhibition took part 24 artists who, through their personal artistic machinations, through comparative juxtapositions of experience in a changing environment, investigated accrued belief systems, experiences and memories and uncovered versions of return, whether physical or cognitive. The exhibition took place from March 16 to April 4 in Nikea, at the Manos Loizos culture multiplex (the former Mechanical Cultivation) a historical industrial building, emblematic of the area which incorporates in its shell, one hundred years of history.
Detailed information about the exhibition and the works presented there may be found at nicesdv.wordpress.com. In the present volume, the same artists deliver a body of images, a new work, around the designated issues. An anthology of texts from sixteen writers is presented as well.
Kokkinia was founded in 1924 to receive the wave of refugees created by economic interests mixed with grand ideas and changeable conditions. The special agreement on the population exchange between Greece and Turkey took place in January 1923. It is the first township of modern Greece established exclusively for the reception of the Asia Minor refugees. The area’s settlement began in ’24 which is when the first residential blocs are built, where within a single year, 50,000 people are housed willy-nilly. Running water is connected in ’36 while the electricity network is put in place after the war by the “Power” company.
In the following years, Kokkinia remains a typical refugee settlement. Artisans, factory workers, small commercial businesses. The mixing of the wider area’s class profile with the cosmopolitanism and knowledge born by the middle class of Asia Minor are a trademark of the township and find expression in the cultural production of the wider area (Kaminia, Tambouria, Drapetsona, Keratsini) which deeply affected and is visible today in contemporary demotic art.
In the great war that ensues, the first generation of refugees are called upon to participate. Kokkinia with its strong resistance networks, is targeted by the Germans and their Greek and Italian collaborators. The cosmopolitan and class identity is transformed into nationalist sentiment. The place inadvertently throngs with patriots, collaborators, heroes, cowards, traitors, apologists of the “new order”, bloodshed and sacrifice… In this context, the event that marks the town is the infamous Kokkinia roadblock on 17 August ’44, where the greek police, the security forces of Pireas along with large contingents of the German Gestapo surround the town, execute on the spot over eighty men and arrest over eight thousand whom they take prisoners first to the camp of Chaidari where more are executed and from there, another three thousand are taken hostage to Germany, to guarantee the safe passage of Germans during their retreat and surrender.
After the end of the war, Nikea, as Kokkinia was renamed, is officially declared to be a site of martyrdom. As these lines are penned, it has perhaps the staunchest population of right wing nationalists and a great percentage of voters who subscribe to these views. What might initially appear paradoxical, is actually hardly surprising once we realize that the generations coming after the generation of refugees, adapted to a discourse hateful of difference, steeped in nationalist patriotism, with liberationist aspirations. This type of discourse dominated massively at every political rallying, over and against internationalism, alongside an effusive moralizing, the perversion of history and its unconditional annexation by the interests of party politics that have for years been putting up marble busts of heroes and monuments. This is an especially downgraded area of Athens. A downgrading that clearly reflects the dominant prejudices of modern Europe: economic development, production and progress, utilitarianist education, public health checks, survival, safety and competitiveness.
A densely populated township with dozens of national lottery centers and cement schools/prisons, multistory apartment buildings, shopping malls in between the inhabited ruins, abandoned construction sites, monuments, “public culture services” which by and large function as producers and distributors of a profit oriented, populist hybrid.
The locals gamble in between the jostling and ennui of the news bulletins, eagerly watch the greek football nationals and formula 1 races, wander in shopping malls and trade in cheap byproducts, are underemployed, are dreaming of exchanging the paternal home for an apartment building, are dreaming of a country house that is forever unfinished, pay their taxes, don’t pay, believe they are being plane sprayed with sleeping gas, are content with the municipal street cleaning services but grumble about “the migrants dirtying their city” and, with increasing frequency, they wear prayer beads and fly the greek flag on their balcony while others support “modernization” and “look for the responsible parties”.
Despite all that, there is always more, something, despite it all, the persistent wanderer will intuit even today, the multi-ethnic Smyrna, Pergamon, Aivali or Ephesus of the beginnings of the 20th century, in narratives mixed in with the Pireas of the craftsmen and the factory girls, the port, the vagrancy, the love, the dexterity, the quick-wittedness, the inner rebelliousness and the embedded adventure of migration and foreignness. One will hear the music, smell the cooking, if lucky, might even taste it, will see the embroidered lace at the windows, the mini gardens of pot plants outside the houses and in the courtyards that remain and persist, along with the grace of gesture in people’s movements and words and looks.