Thanassis Moutsopoulos | art critic, assistant professor at TUC |
Interviewed by Nota Tsekoura & Mirto Xenaki
“What I have through, I think most people are living today. People that started with a different course in their studies, find themselves in different directions and finally are bared with the unpleasant or not so unpleasant situation of not knowing what they are, and having identity issues”.
We walked with Thanasis through downtown Athens, a European capital, where the economic crisis emerged suddenly, and is now trying to reconstruct itself. Walking by places full of history but also colored with personal and collective memories, we had a stroll that intrigues one to find traces of yesterday within tomorrow. We talked about the generations, art, society, identity and the choices in life throughout a route from Psiri to Exarcheia, and from there to Kolonaki.
Observing conversations between the seventies generation and the youth of today, one enjoys the fact that they often seem to ignore the generations between them and suddenly share similar ideas, dreams and reactions towards the establishment forces and socio-political situation. The social realities and relations between generations, often betray other time sequences between today, yesterday and tomorrow, making tomorrow seem like a direct continuation of yesterday.
- Do you feel that today we are reliving aspects of the seventies?
I have preoccupied myself quite a lot these last years, even saying it’ s an obsession of mine, with the so called generations of the sixties and seventies. I have even held some exhibitions related to the subject.
I’ll tell you something I experienced. I held an exhibition last summer that was related to the underground scene in seventies Athens. The people with the greatest acceptance of this exhibition were the youth. You had eighteen year olds, walking in and saying ‘wow, these are cool, these are similar with what I do’. It was touching both in the sence that these kids had no knowledge of this scene, as it was not documented somewhere, but also fun watching them meet the older folks. This would have not occurred at any other time. I think it happened now, because the atmosphere in Athens resembles a little that of the seventies. Ten years ago, I don’ t think this would be the case.
- Do you feel you are in the midst between generations? Having not lived either one, but touched both?
I never identified with my generation! I dont consider myself part of my generation, nor do I think as such. On the contrary, I find a lot in common with either youngsters or elders. I relate better with them. And why be characterised by one generation? While I do think that in some way we do bare characteristics of one generation, I feel these differences do not actually exist.
- Placing yourself in between, do you think that it was something from your childhood that affected you?
Obviously. In fact being a Freudian I am deeply convinced that it is formed (ones’ character) in a very young age, not that of a child, but even younger.
- Can you trace them?
I can trace some points that created some major obsessions in my life. I can’ t pinpoint something in my childhood that made me write the books I write, or hold the exhibitions I do, but I can think of certain specific points that did affect me. One must wonder what it is that make a person special. What sets me apart from most of the people I know, other than my work? I Think its my obsession with travel. I travel more that most people I know. So this characterizes me, but why? It is certainly something that started from my childhood, and I can trace back to where this obsession started.
Ones profession however is difficult to say if it is dictated at such an early age. Such would go against what I said earlier. I told myself what I wanted to do with my life when I was through my third degree. While not completely contradictional professions, I actually decided to go with what I am doing now, around my thirties. At that point I said, this is what I will do in life. Up until then, it was a little general, some art and some theory. Even tough it may now sound contradictionary, since we have been talking about childhood, and now I am saying that the composition of what you want to do, cannot be done at an early stage.
- In the end, are personal life and profession the same choices but with different ways?
The fact of the matter is, whether we are the same in our personal life and our profession. I have seen some great contradictions. For example, artists where their work is quite extreme, but their personal life is very low in profile. Perhaps it’ s that way, in order to balance things, as some claim.
With me the point is that the meaning of certainty is very unfamiliar. I envy people that have certainties. Perhaps because I don't, and we are always jealous of what we don't have. Personally I am certain of nothing.
Let me tell you what else I envy. Writers and poets because they have a freedom, no offices, employees, bibliography... they just sit down and write wherever and whenever they want.
- Can you mention some contact points of the seventies that we are seeing now?
Many say that December of 2008 was similar to that of May 1968 in Athens. I dont know if this is the case, but I keep hearing such. Also in music there seams to be a revival going on, towards the more hippie free culture. I see a widespread revolutionary mood in Athens that was not there in the eighties.
For Athens, it is said that its the street art capital of the world. It has the greatest coverage, you dont see a single space of wall not covered, without that meaning that it is all good or bad. Born in New York, street art does not have the presence it used too.
One explanation is that because in Athens no one controls you, one can do whatever he wants ,but then again there are generations of people that have devoted themselves to this, without having something to gain. Some even got into galleries, but those were the old ones. Today, they are much more savvy.
- Are galleries going through a crisis due to the economic situation, or are people looking for something else?
Obviously due to the economic situation. I dont think that people are consciously looking for something different. I have not seen any conscious denial, nor have we consciously turned the page. I would have loved to say that the crisis has given birth to a new art in Greece, but I can't.
- But could it?
Definitely! And we all expected it. We were saying that through crisis comes the best art, and I was feeling it in the atmosphere, but have yet to see it.
And this journey could not end differently, but with the words of our mutual favorite philosopher, Jean Baudrillard. “Postmodernity is the simultaneity of the destruction of earlier values and their reconstruction. It is renovation within ruination.”Cool Memories, ch. 4 (1987, trans. 1990).
We walked with Thanasis Moutsopoulos from Psiri to Exarcheia, and from there to Kolonaki. We stopped at the about: culture space, cheapart [context art gallery], a strange attractor [music store] and gallerie xippas.