Roots or Routes?
Opening Speech for the exhibition „Hellas Artbox“, 24th of January 2018, Urban Spree Berlin Gernot Wolfram, writer and professor for media and arts management Berlin
Guten Abend, Good evening and Kalispera!
My name is Gernot Wolfram and I live as a writer and academic here in Berlin.
I`m not an expert for Greece and Greek culture. No worries – you won`t hear long interpretations from my side about the works of this exhibition. What I can offer, are just some personal observations.
Thank you very much – Sandra von Ruffin, Asteris Kutulas and Ina Kutulas, for inviting me to give a little speech for the opening of this impressive exhibition.
Sandra, you and your colleagues curated the exhibition with the eyes of an artist, with the joy of someone who is not only interested (and actively involved) in film and theatre but also in other aesthetical areas. You don`t have the attitude to represent something, instead you really invite and inspire people to make new discoveries in the fields of the Arts.
First of all, I want to express my gratitude for the work of the outstanding exhibition artists from Germany and Greece – and perhaps from somewhere in between – which we can see here tonight. Most of the artists are also here and join the opening. A warm welcome to:
Christos Bouronikos, Dionisis Kavallieratos, Alexander Di Vasos, Dimitris Tzamouranis, Diamantis Sotiropoulos, Kostas Stamoulis, Filipos Kavakas, The Krank, Abetz & Drescher, Achilleas Gatsopoulos, Lia Kazakou, Sifis Lykakis and Luisa Evers
Sandra knows that I`m not a friend of labels like “Greek Festival” or “Spanisch Music”, “German Humor” or of all the other Country-Name-Festivals we have in Berlin. Because I believe that a word which describes the origin from a country can not embrace the whole personality of human beings, and also not their creativity, their special gifts. There is always something limiting in these names.
Who is then a Greek artist? Someone being born in the country, speaking the language, having the passport, following certain traditions?
What is with someone from Ghana, being married to a Greek wife or husband, painting in Athens, dreaming of Berlin, using in his pictures words by Konstantinos Kavafis? How “greek” is such an artist?
More and more kids are born in Greece, having parents from two different countries. More and more migrants come and influence the country. Expats bringing also new ides to their hometowns, especially through the permanent digital exchange.
So, do we see in this exhibition “Greek Art”? Hopefully not! Probably we see much more of what the word greek could ever embrace…Traces of influences, ideas, experiences which take their power from a lot of sources. We see long long streets people have to go to express these things which only can be expressed by the arts.
I hope that we`ll have in the near future festivals which find new names for this complexity.
Therefore I`m believing in what the German-Japanese cultural scientist Arata Takeda suggests when he reflects about cultural identities. He suggests to play a bit with the English words roots and routes.
The first word touches your background, the roots of your life. Your family, your hometown, your language. The other word – routes in the meaning of ways – touches the ways you walked so far, the experiences you made, the friends you have, the ideas you follow on the streets you go.
In that sense one can be seen as Greek artist who is at the same time someone else, determined by a lot of transcultural layers of different cultures.
The artwork in this exhibition is in my eyes a collection of routes, of trembling paths and ways, gorgeous ones and cruel ones…
In almost every sculpture, picture and video installation in these rooms you can feel traces of the hard changes the people of Greece had to face in the last years.
This exhibition is like the face of the woman (`Barbora`) by Diamantis Sotiripoulos over there – it looks at you everywhere you go. But with eyes which have questions…
Perhaps this is a hidden motif of this exhibition: the spectator is observed. Not like in a dictatorship. The eyes are not spying on you. The eyes you can find here need someone who can understand the things they have seen, so far…look in this context also in the eyes of the Syrian kids, photographed by Luisa Evers, in an ugly industrial port in Greece.
Last summer a friend of mine in Kalamata said: “I hate this whole art shit. The art guys have at least time and money to draw pictures and mourn about the crisis. The ‘masterpiece’ of my life: I went back to my Mom and live in her house again `cause I can`t even afford to live in an own apartment.”
The Greek crisis is not only an economical one. It shows all the ugly and beautiful faces of modern Europe: new fascism, hate, fear, despair, but also the power to survive, to create new transcultural ideas of cooperation and also a special strength of the arts: to stay independent.
My Kalamata friend discovered very lately that the little coffee house where he goes every day to meet friends, is the result of an artistic project.
To be political as an artist, doesn`t mean automatically to protest against something – but perhaps to defend spaces of freedom and phantasy.
Sandra von Ruffin and her colleagues chose not statements about the crisis. They digged deeper. When you observe the faces of the people on the pictures of Abetz&Drescher, for example, you can find something very relaxed – faces and facial expressions, seeming to be much smarter and more interesting as the faces we see every day on our TV screens. The Abetz&Drescher guys remind me of the famous songlines by David Bowie in his Berlin song “Heroes”:
Oh we can be heroes, just for one day/
We can be us, just for one day/(…)
And the shame was on the other side
Or look into the faces of the people on the black and white photographs by Kostas Stamoulis. For example this one where old men sit in a tavern, a bit angry, a bit smiling, looking up to an invisible TV screen, holding the cigarettes between thumb and pointing finger.
You can read on their faces that they don`t believe a single word of the things they hear. And this is a treasure. Here you can understand why being-sceptical is an artistic value.
I liked from the beginning the title of this festival “Hellas Filmbox” – so many associations come immediately to your mind. A box – that can be a gift, a hidden treasure, an archive of information, a black box with secrets, something where a lot of thigs find their place to co-exist…
To combine a film festival with an art exhibition is a smart step. Because since the time of the brother Lumière we know that a movie is nothing else as a collection of single pictures, of moments of a special time. And sometimes, when you stop a film, you discover not only a break but also moments of beauty – when things stand still.
Therefore I like the English word “standstill” – in German it is the opposite combination: “Stillstand”.
In the English version you see better the fact that something stopped – only for a moment.
You, the spectators and visitors of the exhibition and the festival, you are able to turn the “standstills” of the pictures and sculptures in these rooms in something moving…
Let me finish my thought about way, routes and artistic identities with a short Yiddish story from Poland.
There is a little boy running like crazy through the woods. An older man stopps him and says: “Why are you running like crazy through the woods?” – “I`m searching God”, replies the boy. “Ah”, says the man. “But isn`t God everywhere the same?” – “Yes, but I`m not everywhere the same.”
I hope you can make this experience as well in the fascinating “woods” of this exhibition. Thank you kai Efcharisto
 Vgl. Arata Takeda. Wir sind wie Baumstämme im Schnee. Ein Plädoyer für eine transkulturelle Erziehung. Waxmann 2012
 comp Gernot Wolfram: Der leuchtende Augenblick. Über Menschen und Orte des Lesens. Hentrich&Hentrich 2013