Interview with Manolis Tsipos

‘Times of crisis shake and alert people.’

DasArts Contextual 2012 visits an occupied Greek theatre. What can art mean in times of crisis? To address this question, participant Manolis Tsipos proposed a DasArts visit to his homeland of Greece. In an occupied theatre in Athens, and a mountainside eco-village, DasArts students investigated alternative modes of production.

What was the background to the visit to Greece?

‘Every year, DasArts organizes the Contextual, a two-week collective learning program or situation, curated by the students themselves. My proposal was selected this year and it addressed the question: ‘what is the function of art in times of crisis?’ During the visit, we encountered two examples of experimentation that deal with same question: we visited an occupied theater in Athens, and an alternative eco-community in the mountains on the island of Evoia. In both cases, people were creating a new reality that wasn’t there before; an open potential.’

Do you have a personal connection to the theater in Athens?
‘I am a founding member of the Mavili collective and of The Institute for Live Arts Research in Greece, a platform which tries to combine art practice and academic theory on performing arts. In November 2011, the Mavili collective organized the ‘artistic occupation’ of the Embros Theater in the city center of Athens, a space that played an important role in Greek avant-garde theater in the eighties and nineties. It closed around 2006 and it hadn’t been used since.’

Why did the collective occupy the theater?
‘We wanted to create a new meeting space for the entire Athens art scene, focusing on contemporary performing arts. But the invitation was wider: to other social entities, such as the people living in the neighborhood of the theater, for example. We wanted to create a place where people could share their practices – be they artistic or not – give and receive feedback, discuss problems and share solutions.

What made you address the question of art in times of crisis?
‘The crisis does not only affect me personally. I have a political background, and I view the occupation of the Embros to be not just an artistic statement, but also a political one. I come from a specific generation that witnessed a real artistic boom in the performing arts in Greece. From 1996 until 2006, money entered the country as a result of the Olympic Games. The contemporary performing art scene flourished: a variety of experiments, new aesthetics, new spaces and new festivals appeared. Then came the crisis. Since then, the atmosphere in Athens has really changed. People are in despair, angry, frustrated; they see no alternatives, feel trapped. How do people reinvent their position in society? How do you react as an artist? What do you have to produce? Those are urgent new questions.’

What did the DasArts group do in Greece?
‘The Embros Theater staged a twelve day festival with residencies, performances, panels, discussions. The theme was ‘alternative modes of production’ – in terms of artistic production, social production, production of thought, discourse, imagination, possibilities and vision. We went there to both participate and engage in what was happening. We asked: what is needed here? What can we offer? In the theater, for instance, we cleared a space that the Mavili collective wanted to open up. In the eco-village, we became part of the labor of the people who were living there. It was another example of alternative modes of production, but outside the artistic context. And when we returned to Athens, we delivered a performance at the festival in which we attempted to address all the questions that had been raised during our experience in Greece.’

Did you gain an insight into the function of art in times of crisis?

‘Art is about producing possibilities that point towards a future. Times of crisis shake people and alert them. You feel you have to do something, somehow, in order to create the future you want. I am an artist so, for me, this is connected to creating art, but the people in the village chose a different path. I believe that the more connected you are to your own desires and personal needs, the more inventive you become. People imagined a theater space being opened up, and they made it happen. People wanted to start a self-sustainable community, and they did it. I believe that both groups are now in a better position. In the current situation, it means that you don’t feel so alone. It is empowering and creates a sense of belonging.’

Finally, what did you learn from this Contextual?
‘For me, personally, it was a rich experience. It gave me an insight into how to deal with vision; what you need to do in order to fulfill a vision. You need to be very specific and take practical steps; in order to execute your vision, you need to make things happen.’