Uncertain Visions: Crisis, Ambiguity, and Visual Culture in Greece
A woman photographing, with her mobile phone, the material landscape that followed a political demonstration against austerity measures in June 2011, near Syntagma Square. Images of debris, graffiti and destruction are often featured in various outlets as convenient metonyms of ‘the crisis’ and they fuel divergent cultural investments ranging from disdain for political instability to awe for protesting aesthetics. Though this picture is undercut by various levels of unknowability (e.g. what will her images do for viewers? What are these pictures for her?) it condenses a certain desire to ‘see’ and visualize ‘the crisis’ and hints at the ambiguity and unpredictable productivity of such photographs. The visualizing desire is central to commercial mechanisms and to many people’s aspirations and despite, its realist claims is often infused with uncertainty about what the crisis looks like. The density, ambiguity, impossibility and productivity of seeing, representing and visualizing the ‘Greek crisis’ are extensively considered by authors of this special issue. Photo by K. Kalantzis
“Introduction—Uncertain Visions: Crisis, Ambiguity, and Visual Culture in Greece,” by Konstantinos Kalantzis
- What are the possible roles of the visual in an inquiry into ‘the Greek crisis’? Give some examples of such an inquiry and describe how it may involve a sensory ethnography.
- What do we mean by sanguine approaches to the crisis? What kind of critical questions can we ask about anthropologists’ identification with suffering subjects?
- Note some problems and limitations that stem from using the term ‘crisis’ to describe contemporary Greek social practice.
On seeing as practice and metaphor – These pictures were taken during the early stages of what later became known as the ‘Indignant’ protests (compare to other demonstrations taking place during 2011 in Spain and elsewhere). They depict crowds of different social backgrounds, before the consolidation of political geographies that created a distinction between the more patriotic-nationalist and the more leftist assemblages (a distinction complicated anew with Greece’s post-2015 coalition government, comprised of a leftist and a rightist party united by anti-colonial; anti-austerity rhetoric). What interests me particularly about these pictures is that during the demonstrations the crowd kept looking around, following loud noises, to trace possible developments in the protest. In people’s anxious effort to see what was happening, one can grasp both the sensory landscape of Greek demonstrations, but also conjure a metaphor of a practice that most Greeks have been involved in; i.e. trying to sense and describe what it is that is happening with and to the country since 2010; their economies, relationships and spheres of daily life. This effort also concerns ethnographers, as the present phase has generated a significant corpus of work that this special issue engages. Photos by K. Kalantzis
“Chemtrails, Crisis, and Loss in an Interconnected World,” by Alexandra Bakalaki
- On the basis of the paper, what seem to be the challenges involved in internet research as opposed to participant observation?
- Why does the author explicitly refrain from categorizing the chemtrail narrative as a conspiracy theory?
- What are the ways in which middle class educated subjects who reject the chemtrail narrative stereotype those adhering to it? To what extent does this stereotyping draw on longstanding views on the merits of modernization?
- How does the chemtrail narrative relate to accounts that attribute the Greek economic crisis to the purposeful action of foreign agents?
“Proxy Brigands and Tourists: Visualizing the Greek-German Front in the Debt Crisis,” by Konstantinos Kalantzis
- What does the author mean by nativism? What does nativism do for people in Greece, today and how is Crete enrolled? Give some examples of Crete’s signification that indicate how it is cast as a nativist force.
- What role does the visual play in the constitution of nativism in Greece?
- How does the locals’ approach to tourists relate to wider national trends as regards the perception of Germany? Does photography reveal things that differ or confirm wider political dynamics?
- How does the study of material culture help us grasp the ambiguous complexity in locals’ relationships with Germans in Sfakia, Crete? Give some examples of discontinuity between verbal and material manifestations.
This image depicts the faded graffiti of a now-abandoned restaurant in highland Sfakia. It depicts a man in Cretan attire (the emblematic figure of ‘The Cretan’ as found in dozens of Greek registers) and features two signs addressed to German visitors, assuring them that the owner speaks their language. The maker of the graffiti, a shepherd proud of his ability to painting, acquired the relevant language skills by living in Germany as a guest worker. His trajectory is indicative of the asymmetries and power dynamics in early Greek tourism; i.e. an ex-worker sets up a business to serve people from the (powerful) industrial host country. Such dynamics are grasped by locals’ expressions of suspicion of tourism and its demands; dynamics that are simultaneously subverted if one looks at particular material spheres, where the presence of Germans is marked by affect and admittance into local sociality.
Dynamics of affect and exchange are captured in figure 6 showing B&W images of local men framed at a shop mostly addressed to tourists in the city of Chania. These images were originally taken by a German woman in the 1980s. As part of her ongoing engagement with locals she circulated and gifted these images to the families of the sitters. The nephew of one of these subjects decorated the walls of his shop with these pictures. They then come to serve both as familial objects, but also as emblems of Sfakian descent in an environment that markets Cretan-ness for consumption. The practice further underscores the Sfakian use of pictures sent by visitors as a means of representing and remembering family members. The practice is replete with asymmetries, given that it highlights how rural Greeks historically relied on (powerful) outsiders to photographically visualize themselves. At the same time, the transactions and the actual sites of display encapsulate moments of affect and warm exchange; as in the dozens of stories heard in Sfakia, where Germans and other Europeans visit local families after decades from their original visit and engage (often in tears) around those early pictures. Photos by K.Kalantzis
“The Metaphysics of the Greek Crisis”: Visual Art and Anthropology at the Crossroads,” by Eleana Yalouri
- Is ‘ambiguity’ a negative or risky tool to apply in anthropological research? Are there cases where it can be fruitfully applied, for example when dealing with unpredictability and uncertainty?
- Think of possible reasons why an anthropologist should, or should not, choose to collaborate with visual artists when studying ‘the Greek crisis’. In what sense could (or could not) art tools and methods enhance the ways of doing and writing anthropology?
- If for artists activism and intervention in their field of study and creation is often part and parcel of their method, to what extent do you think that anthropologists should adopt such active involvement in their own field.
“‘Crisis’ as Art: Young Artists Envisage Mutating Greece,” by Elpida Rikou and Io Chaviara
- Can you imagine an artwork as a partner in your research? If not, why? If yes, can you give an example? In both cases, what theoretical references would you choose?
- “Is contemporary Greek art capable of conveying the know-how of dealing with a crisis?” (p.49) At this particular historic conjuncture, would you like to “Learn from Athens” as the art project Documenta 14 proposes? What could be the arguments for and against such a project?
- “The images of the Greeks in crisis (…) how they become consumable commodities both inside and outside of the country” (p.55) What could be those images? Do they become “consumable commodities” and in what sense? Do you think that the artwork “T.E.O” achieved the artist’s goal?
“The ‘Greek Crisis’ through the Cinematic and Photographic Lens: From ‘Weirdness’ and Decay to Social Protest and Civic Responsibility,” by Erato Basea
Tino Sehgal’s exhibition in and around the space of the Roman Agora in 2014 was one example of how art can activate public spaces and contribute to a dialogue about public life and political participation in the present. This is the photograph I took on my way out that day. The photograph captures the African-American immigrant, who was enjoying the early October sunshine. If you are as careful as I was that day, you will notice that on the pavement, an anarchist tag reads, in Greek, “skou[pa] pantou” (‘sweeps everywhere’), alluding to (and criticizing) police round-up operations and mass arrests of illegal immigrants. A public art project, immigrants, police repression, and resistant graffiti are all visible in the textured city and in this photograph. Photo by E. Basea
- To coincide with the November issue of Artforum on art and politics, artforum.com released a video in which artists, including Carrie Mae Weems, Matthew Weinstein and Vitaly Komar, share their views on political art. Watch the video and discuss what renders art political, according to the artists interviewed.
- “The essence of politics is not plurality of opinions. It is the prescription of a possibility in rupture with what exists” (Alain Badiou, Metapolitics, 2006: 24). Can art create spheres of multiple political action and participation?
- This is a photo taken by the author in 2014, in downtown Athens. Describe the picture and its references to antiquity. Would you think that the graffiti resists official discourses about Greece’s ancient past? To reply to this question, you might want to consider ‘Greece | Gods, Myths, Heroes’ (2014), Andonis Theocharis Kioukas’s 12-minute tourism video funded by the Ministry of Tourism. Would you argue that the video portrays an image of the country to tourists that differs considerably from the urban cityscape that residents face daily? Photo by E. Basea.
You can find the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L0jzJTm9ug
“Crisis and Visual Critique,” by Christopher Pinney
- How does Azoulay’s work contribute to to an exploration of politics and the ‘crisis’?
- In what way did the actual practice of photography complicate Bourdieu’s theoretical and sociological model?
- Consider some elements of Benjamin’s approach to photography and explain how these might be useful in thinking about political subjectivity and the ‘crisis.’