Tzeni Argiriou update

Posted on September 26, 2016


What has happened since the last interview 2 years ago?

last interview here

One major change began in 2012 when I started working with Greek history archives: recent events like the civil war and Dekemvriana (December events ‘44) . (December events were riots and armed conflicts in Athens, which started on December 3rd 1944, between Greek National Liberation Front and the British and Government forces. It started with shootings during the demonstration of National Liberations Front against the governmental ultimatum for disarmament of all Greek partisan groups. The demonstration was held by the “Unknown Soldier Monument” in Syntagma square resulting in 33 dead and 148 wounded. Political solutions offered were banned from W. Churchill while the conflicts lasted for 33 days ending on the 6th January 1945. In collective memory these battles are recorded as the most violent ones in Athens since the foundation of the Independent Greek State in 1830.)

A friend gave to me these archive materials- photographs and press clippings from 1895-1975. It was a vast archive, covering major historical events plus the Junta: photographs of conflicts, wars and pivotal historical events but also of social gatherings, family celebrations, feasts, carnivals etc. Working on this material I created ‘Memoria Obscura’, using photographs from the city of Grevena only. The piece was presented with the occasion of 100th anniversary of Grevena’s liberation from the Turks/Ottoman Empire, in October 2012. ‘Memoria Obscura’ premiered there and has been presented at Kavala Municipal theatre, at Vyrsodepsio theatre- during IETM meeting Athens and at Dimitria Festival in Thessaloniki.


 The themes I dealt with were determined by the archives. The question was how to handle the photographic archive so that the images do not predominate, how to sustain the dialogue between the performer and the image materials historically, artistically and visually. Many questions emanated: How do younger generations connect with and relate to archival events? How are we influenced by our history? When I started looking into these archives, I realised I didn’t remember many of these events. I wondered whether we were taught this history at school. Maybe we did and I just don’t remember? What struck me was that these historic events were not too far back in time. I thought we are somehow influenced by these events, but we are not conscious their affect. How can we deal with crises (like the one we are going through now) if we have not studied and read about our history? How can we learn from our past? Can it help us think better when confronting corresponding events?

I started by conducting interviews of the people who were were in these photographs and still alive which lead me to the subject of memory. In these interviews I noticed that there were contradicting statements: what people actually remember, portrayal of other people, different versions of stories passed on. I became interested in how memory functions inquiring whether we actually remember only what we want to remember…

Many interesting themes emerged during this research, which I decided to extend into the next creation ‘Memorandum’. A word used a lot lately, as financial term synonymous to debt, while etymologically means ‘this that we should not forget’. A word confined to its economic terminology, as if the only thing not to forget is what we owe and how to pay it back.

‘Memorandum’, despite connections to current Greek affairs, is a piece created on the subject of memory and truth in its global sense. It is not limited to local references, but also to pivotal historic events if the last 30 years (bombings, Arabic spring etc.)

‘Memorandum’ is a co-production with organisations and artists from abroad, Marseille, Dusseldorf, Portugal (Monte Mori, Lisbon) and Athens. I looked into the other cities’ archives too. I collaborated with a dramaturge, who helped me a lot with the scientific research on how memory works: this incorporates the collection of autobiographical events and past personal experiences (episodic memory), the conscious recollection of factual information (semantic memory) and the habitual and every day tasks often residing below the level of conscious awareness (procedural memory). The action on stage represents these three types of memory. It was the first time that I worked so closely with a dramaturge.


I found out that any event can trigger a memory: movement, visual, sound, smell (for instance a woman peeled an orange which triggered a memory from WWII during the occupation). I decided to work with all the senses. An installation was created in the space with support pipes. This construction created sound (had chords attached), had projection surfaces hang on to it: the set became an memory instrument. The audience participated in the remembering process, through a scene in which we ask the spectators questions about themselves and their memories.

The collaboration with fine artist Vasilis Gerodimos began from the very first rehearsal. He was developing the installation, as the choreography was being created. He didn’t create something as a response to a rehearsal he saw, but we all started working together from scratch.

During our research, an interesting material which emerged, was the use of shadow. This started already in ‘Memoria Obscura’- the projector light beam creates a shadow of the performer, which was used as an element of the work. In ‘Memorandum’ I developed the use of shadow, so that it became independent to the performer. I filmed the performers’ shadows and projected them. The shadow became autonomous, like one more ‘performer’ of independent movement material and dramaturgical development in the work. The performer’s shadow would be moving when the performer was still or performing different movements to the performers moves. It was as if the shadow could express more than the actual performer’s body seen live. ‘Memorandum’ was presented at Marseille, Dusseldorf and at the Athens Festival.


I wish to further develop my work with archives. I am interested in how archives can become part of an artistic or choreographic work and how to connect a choreographic work with historical and political content. Is it possible for a choreographic work to review history? Surely, there is not one truth. Can an artistic/choreographic work review or reconsider recent history?

During these past years, part of my research for ‘Memorandum’ was working with non-professional dancers: volunteers, amateurs or spectators. This took place in Naxos, Marseille and Kavala. I was working on the ‘questions to the audience’ scene – I looked for ways to immediately place the spectator in a process of remembering and how to incorporate this scene in the work. The experience of working with amateurs really changed how I see my work. Similarly to my experience of working with non professionals in community projects we run with Syndesmos Chorou.

I have recently started working on ideas concerning different media/ installations, working more like a (fine) artist, not as a choreographer primarily addressing the body. At the same time I wish to exclude the other media from works with the body. I may revisit past choreography works without the media I originally used. It is a desire to go back into working in the studio, working on a clear format of body-based work without the technical difficulties and complexities. After working for 10 years with media, I feel I now can go back to working purely with the body. I can appreciate it differently now- the body as a live archive, a vehicle of its own history.

As an artist, I want to find how the works we make- of personal, social and artistic value- live for longer. I am addressing the continuity issue- it is devastating for artists to create works which are only presented 2-3 times. I am not sure I will find a way to do this, but I know for sure that I cannot sustain creating and putting all this work and effort into pieces presented so little. If promoting my work in living longer within the market system fails, I am thinking of working on how to archive artists’ works (something I have been interested in for a long time, already).

I was also part of ‘Χ-Apartments’- organised and produced by Onassis Cultural Foundation- a project in which artists created 10 minute pieces for apartments in the centre of Athens. I was allocated the oldest, uninhabited and abandoned building. I engaged with research of the history of the building and its inhabitants, re-entering the subject of memory. I worked on elements from the architectural plans, testimonials from neighbours and a poetic viewpoint of imagining what happened there, what kind of life would exist there today.


So, these past years I found a way to manage visual archives for stage works, devised a technique (used in both works) projecting large images in space. Within the projector’s shaft of light in the space, you raise smaller surfaces which reveal fractions of the photograph projected (only a face, a hand, a body). You never see the whole image, but only parts of it on different surfaces. It is like revealing pieces of a puzzle just like the pieces of memory one needs to reassemble in order to understand what actually happened.

I also became a mother of a little girl, which changed my life totally. One cannot separate/isolate personal life from artistic life, as they are both affected by this great event, maybe this is why I chose to mention this last.


Do you consider your work Greek?

 I believe that in my being there is a lot of Greek-ness. I have travelled a lot and lived abroad so other areas in me have opened up as well. I find that once you lived (and survived) abroad as a foreigner, you gain a sense of power and strength. Moreover you experience different perspectives and all this is recorded in you. I am a Greek woman and I maintain the Greek elements in me ( at least the ones I subjectively consider Greek). I would be very happy if one would identify my work as Greek work upon seeing it, especially if the work is not traditional or relating only to a Greek audience. I would like my work to be considered Greek since it comes from a maker who lives this country and its relative context. I believe that if artists only expressed generic things without being specific and personal (defining specific points of view or relating context) then art would be ordinary and boring.


Is there a Greek dance scene, do you recognise specific characteristics?

 I don’ t follow closely what is happening in the dance scene, at the moment. Before becoming a mother, I would see as many shows as I could fit in my schedule. I see very few works now, hence I don’t feel I can accurately respond to this question.

I believe that Greek dancers have something very strong in their presence. When I see shows abroad, my eyes would always fall onto the Greek dancer and their body in the group, I can somehow identify them. They are strong both in technique and in performance. Regarding choreography and the works we make, I don’t know if there is something in common or something identifiable.

There is greek dance scene, of course and we sense an increasingly intense need for it lately. Even if it hasn’t made a mark yet, it soon will: this is our common element for now. We are not all making political art, as is sometimes regarded. The socio-political context influences all makers, as anything one creates is bound to be somehow related to how one lives.


Thank you.