Eva Kekou interviews the Greek artist George Drivas, this year’s protagonist of the Greek Pavilion at the 57th Biennale di Venezia (2017) with Laboratory of Dilemmas, an installation consisting of video narratives based on Aeschylus’ play, Iketides, which poses the ethical dilemma of saving a stranger or maintaining what is known. The theme was transposed to contemporary debates raised by progress in scientific research. George Drivas is also one of the exhibiting artists at Documenta14 in Kassel with Empirical Data and in Rome with his exhibition “Uncinematic”, a selection of his narrative video installations realized from 2005 to 2014, curated by Daphne Vitali.
Eva Kekou: Can you start our conversation by talking about your aesthetic preferences and your sources of inspiration?
George Drivas: My personal aesthetic preferences and references, or influences, are clearly the cinema. Either as single or multi screen installation, my work questions the limits, the essence, and, of course, the potential of the cinematic medium per se. Dealing with the narrative and filmic form of each work, I go through different changing phases of deconstruction. The final version is often fragmented. I am not interested to tell a complete story. I want to tell a slice of a story, maybe just a chapter of it. I enjoy cutting the narration, breaking the moving image form, stopping and freezing for a while, insert constant pauses and brakes. In the end, each of my works gets its shape from the elements that are missing, it gets its meaning from what it doesn’t say, from what it doesn’t show. My work challenges the linear thinking, the cause-and-effect approach, the beginning-middle-end kind of storytelling. Its full meaning asks for the participation of the spectator; in a way, it asks for an activation of the spectator’s own creativity. After the end of my works the spectator eventually reflects about how we think and understand, how we perceive our worldview or our common sense, or simply how we ultimately and sometimes desperately exist.
I always get my inspiration from real events and true stories which then I transfer in a fictional context. My works often use authentic elements whatever these might be, in locations, script or dialogues and at the same time they aim to bring, in all these realistic ingredients a far less realistic feeling. My characters might look distant, drained from emotions and relatively un-natural. Sometimes they don’t even feel human. They are trying to exist, to react, to develop.
I insist giving my work a universal character, an importance beyond any specific time and society. For that purpose, all period-specific “details” are often eliminated. The costumes, the props, even the casting itself are in a way, neutral and timeless. Most of the locations, appear in relative isolation from their environment, not necessarily “betraying” their origin. In that sense the bond to any specific place and time is loosen and its story becomes more of a symbol or parable, a paradigm for cases and stories that are and will always be somehow lost in an unknown place and time while simultaneously, for better or worst, they feel strangely familiar.
Can you tell us a bit more about the new work you produced for the Greek Pavillon currently on view at the Venice Biennale in Italy?
The work is called Laboratory of Dilemmas and it is a narrative sound and video installation – based on Aeschylus’ theatre play Iketides (Suppliant Women), which poses a dilemma between saving the Foreigner and maintaining the safety of the Native. The work deals with the anguish, puzzlement, and confusion of individuals and social groups when called upon to address similar issues. Laboratory of Dilemmas focuses on the play’s main question through the excerpts of a lost unfinished documentary about an old biology experiment.
This experiment was never completed for unknown reasons, however found parts of the documentary reveal, details of its stages, as well as the hopes of the Greek professor who envisioned it, the dilemma he faced and the disagreements with his co-researchers.
The story is presented piecemeal through multiple video and sound sources inside a Labyrinth. It is very well received so far and is constantly considered to be one of the best pavilions in Biennale by different reviews.
Can we talk about your work currently on show at Documenta 14 in Kassel?
In Documenta 14 in Kassel, in Fridericianum I present an older work of mine called Empirical Data. It is a black and white video, based on the experience of the –nowadays well known in Greece – actor of Georgian origin David Maltese as an immigrant, and his trajectory from entering in Greece to taking up acting, an event that eventually led to his professional recognition and subsequent “integration” into the Greek society. The main part is played by him.
You are also currently having a solo show in Rome at the Galleria Nazionale. Can you tell us more about the featured works?
In my Solo Show called “Uncinematic” that I present in Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome, (22 June – 24 September 2017) I screen a series of films and a 3-channel installation, all made in the decade between 2005-2014. These are works that have been made in New York, Berlin, Athens and Tbilisi and characterize my ongoing research in the field of moving image art. They show my working method from the time that I used only b/w foto stills, till today that my work evolved by incorporating, color, dialogues and moving image. They deal with environmental issues, politics, strange love affairs and/or just lonely man in big cities. “Uncinematic” is a profound look at a big part of my entire body of work. It is presented in two floors of the museum, totalling to seven different projections. I am happy and excited to present it for the first time in a single show in Rome.
«Laboratory of Dilemmas», Greek Pavilion, Biennale di Venezia, Italy, 13 May – 26 November 2017
«Uncinematic», Solo Show, Galeria Nazionale, Rome, Italy, 21 June – 24 September 2017
«Empirical Data»,”ANTIDORON – The EMST Collection”, Fridericianum, Documenta 14, Kassel, Germany, 10 June – 17 September 2017
images: (cover 1) George Drivas, «Case Study», 2007, 2008, still from video, © George Drivas (2) George Drivas, «Sequence Error», 2011, still from video, © George Drivas (3) George Drivas, «Betatest», 2006, still from video, © George Drivas (4 – 5) George Drivas, «Laboratory of Dilemmas», 2017, still from video, © George Drivas (6) George Drivas, Empirical Data, 2009 (7) George Drivas, Kepler, 2014, still from video, © George Drivas