The artist George Drivas with his “Laboratory of Dilemmas”, an imposing peripatetic video installation, represented Greece in the 57th International Art Exhibition –La Biennale di Venezia- one of the most important institutions worldwide.
Chosen in June 2016 between 30 proposals made by an artistic committee appointed by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, this specific work addresses contemporary sociopolitical issues, provides a peripatetic audiovisual experience and at the same time provokes thoughts and poses moral dilemmas to its visitor.
Interview by George Alexandrakis
You’ve said that the inspiration for the “Laboratory of Dilemmas” came from Aeschylus’ theatre play, called “Iketides” (Suppliant Women) and from a documentary about an unfinished scientific experiment found in the Buenos Aires Cinema Museum in 2016. What is the connection between the two?
The “Suppliants” from Aeschylus’ tragedy flee Egypt and arrive in Argos, seeking asylum from the city’s king. The king is then faced with a dilemma. By helping them, he risks starting a war with the Egyptians, who will come to claim them. But if he doesn’t help them, he breaks the sacred laws which demand the protection of all suppliants, by leaving the women at the mercy of their pursuers.
The tragedy’s dilemmas are presented in the “Laboratory of Dilemmas” in view of a past scientific experiment led by a Greek professor and from excerpts of a documentary that reveals details of that experiment.
Based on facts recorded in the documentary, right at the last stage of the experiment a different cell team than the one researched emerged inexplicably. The new cells were equally resilient but vulnerable.
The Greek professor made a proposition to the research team to allow these new cells to organize themselves with the existing cell culture of the experiment, otherwise they would risk being extinct.
However, allowing such a thing could put the survival of the existing and successful cell culture to risk.
So, the dilemma was the following: should they leave the two cell populations to self-organize, hoping that through their interaction the new cells would survive and probably make the existing cell culture even better, or stop the organization, isolate and sentence the new cells to extinction, fearing that this compound would cause a dangerous alteration to the experiment?
I think the connection is obvious.
So, the emerging dilemma is purely existential?
Absolutely. If saving someone in danger could mean risking, altering or merely changing our life as we know it, would we dare save them? And based on what criteria would we make our decision?
Consequently, what do we consider foreign and unknown and to what extent and in which way do we accept it? At the end of the day, how do we react even to the “foreignness” of one side of our own self? How open are we, not just as societies but also as humans, to anything that goes past our entrenched knowledge and safety?
Why is it, you think, that people today don’t take a stance on issues regarding life itself? Do we lack modern-day Pelasgians who would provide all aspects of a dilemma as well as its price, in order to make people develop critical thinking and to be able to answer a crucial question?
It’s not a one-man responsibility to inspire, to define or to transmit a vision to the rest. Individuals are in an interactive relationship with society, where they are obviously both influenced. We are the peoples and the societies. And in each given period we have the Pelasgians that we deserve.
At the peripatetic installation, the viewer is provided with audiovisual data and can wander around this sculptural installation which, even though formed as a Labyrinth in terms of structure, has no asphyxiating function but is enriched with translucent and penetrating parts, so that the viewers have the choice to turn back or overlook a certain direction…
Yes. The point is to dare to enter the labyrinth, to enter any labyrinth of thought, concern and search of meaning. To not rest on our laurels and to never stop posing and answering questions.
There isn’t necessarily a correct version or a right direction. What we should always have, though, is the courage and perseverance to (re-)define our values.
Kastoriadis said something that I like, and I quote: “To think means to enter the labyrinth. It means to get lost within tunnels, to spin in the depths of a dead-end until that spinning opens inexplicably fordable cracks on the walls…”
In the projection room, the stars of the Laboratory don’t ultimately express whether they are going to choose the host and pay the price, but we hear different points of view…
Exactly. The work isn’t biased, it doesn’t favor one point of view against another nor tries to give the “right” answer. I was interested in posing the question-dilemma of the tragedy again and to reexamine it under a different light. So, any controversy stops before the final vote. The answer lies to the viewer, it is their turn to think what they would do if found in a similar position.
At the 57the Biennale in Venice, where our country was represented by your work only, the “Laboratory of Dilemmas” gathered about 500.000 visitors. What does an artist that represents his artistic existence but also his country of origin bring to the Biennale?
The Biennale is a global forum for ideas to meet. In a way, it’s an international conversation of creators. What I did was to bring a question of global interest to the Biennale, inspired by the ancient literature of the country where I was born in and which I represented. I suggested a conversation about our shared values and ideals. What could these be? What is the thing that could unite us? What kind of people do we want to be and in what kind of societies do we want to live?
EMST Temporary Exhibition Space, Ground Floor
up to 15.07.2018
Commissioner National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST),
Director: Katerina Koskina
Curator: Orestis Andreadakis
Special thanks to Kassiani Benou (Press & Communication for the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens)