The Snake
Eva Giannakopoulou & Panos Sklavenitis

Introduced through a conversation between artists Eva Giannakopoulou & Panos Sklavenitis and curator Nadja Argyropoulou

Nadja Argyropoulou: We are having a zoom-talk, within quarantine ‘number many’, as you are still working on this new video and as a snowstorm, dramatically named “Medea”, is upon us. What do you think is the matter here? The drama, the virus, the viral, the uncontrollable infection (of any kind) experienced via rituals of care, law enforcement protocols and the like. I would like us to enter the question of ceremonies through your work, old and recent as it persistently engages with them.

Panos Sklavenitis: As for ‘Medea’, we know that patriarchy is doing the naming and everyday state-terrorism is setting the drama. No surprise there.

Eva Giannakopoulou: There is a contradiction here, in all of this, in performativity itself that is very important. The kind of performativity that refers to the domestic, the house, the private way you live, and the kind that concerns public space and the way we may ‘infect’ it with our presence. This new work registers our move to the public space at whatever risk. Breaking and entering with our camera to a cemetery, a public garden, a temple of some kind…we are considering our options but we are determined to go ahead. The ‘outside’ becomes an imperative now that we are deprived from it. When everything is about ‘inside’, we need to reclaim the ‘outside’. The question of naming typhoons after women somehow relates to this dramatized tension, this falsely constructed divide. Western thought described the shaman’s public inward-turn as wildness, pathology, hysteria, a mostly female sickness in need of treatment. For me this ‘hysteria’ has always been a weapon, a state of power that confounds and successfully confronts those who are trying to impose their ways on me.

PS: I may add here that even a male shaman within certain cultural contexts needs to act stupid, be ‘disturbed’, salós, or batalós as we call them in Ithaca. Men can also be hysterical subjects, be in panic attacks.

NA: I am thinking as you speak of Maya Deren’s ritualistic form of cinema. Because if ritual is indeed an art – in that it seeks the realisation of its purpose through exercise of form- and all art derives from ritual, we can trace a long lineage of artistic actions that seek to revitalize the ‘carnival spirit’ by mimicking and repeating archaic roots of ritual in ambivalent, even dark and grotesque versions of derangement of the senses. What you described Eva as your ‘successful’ appropriation of hysteria-as-pathology and stereotype, is I believe a very effective contemporary ritual of defiance, reclaiming and recasting. 

PS: And I have to clarify that this happens quite naturally, with no difficulty. Because we are already within this stereotype or maybe there is in us something that corresponds to it.

NA: In the words of Fred Moten, we are always, already in the thing that we call for and that calls us and the call is always a call to disorder. I think that precise but unregulated wildness, an ambivalence of almost gravitational power, is at the core of your work where questions and answers are not separated but enact the one in the other. How is this present in your new work titled “The Snake”, made in the context of Jim Morrison’s call and at the project’s invite? There is a lot of skin involved, a voyage within an alternative landscaping proposed, home-made exotica, a certain buzzing, blurring-it-all sound …

PS: There are parts in this work that are more like personals portraits of Eva and me and then there is a common going out and about. In my part I act in a very corporeal way as I try to measure my distance from the Morrison (the Lizard King’s) times and consider my middle-age imperfections (my Donkey-King alias), I try to face all the impossible analogies. I am dressed as freak-Pamela Courson (Morrison’s ‘cosmic partner’ and muse), in wig, flowers and this mask full of teeth, and play with Morrison’s signature gestures.

EG: What you said about the landscape of skin is quite important. It calls forth the defining vision of the desert in The Doors’ world; a sense of erotic perversity and shamanistic sway. The camera moves on our bodies like the snake slithers on the body of the earth. We have shared with you our fascination with The Doors, back in our adolescent days at the island of Ithaca where Panos and I grew up. We revisit it here, away from nostalgia but within the acute sense of a question that concerns us now, still, the way it did there and then: What can we do with who we are, with the age and limitations that we have?
As for the droning sound you described, it comes from a ‘didgeridoo’, the traditional aboriginal wind instrument that is played with vibrating lips and by the use of circular breathing. It is the sound of dream-states and snake-move in aboriginal myth-making.

PS: Where the dream state is a very real, living, inhabited place. An in-between space but not a liminal one.

EG: Magic and shamanism create such spaces.
What you proposed with this exhibition was a way for us to reconsider mediation, tele-portation, the event of transmission, the terms and conditions under which such event becomes ritual. Think of our zoom talk that has its own set of practices, its ways of entering and exiting, its scenography and rules of conduct.

NA: Well we all know how Morrison’s early encounter with the death of Native Americans became his life’s formative event. How Aldous Huxley, William Blake, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, The Beat poets, entheogens shaped his own sense of wildness, his continuous invocation of new creatures and new myths. As we find ourselves within communions set up through technology and the omnipresence of the screen I wonder how we understand rituals of togetherness. Is there something of the archaic still present? In other words which are today the conditions of a movement, a transportation out of ourselves and into something else? How can we be ‘sent’ by one another to one another until one and another do not signify anymore? (It is Sam Cooke and Fred Moten’s exteriorization principle again). And how is memory active, present in fabulation when it becomes all the more replaced by digital repositories of information?

PS: I think that in the case of this specific commission, there was an invitation you extended and to which we created a response. In the process, we had to measure ourselves against the story and the times of The Doors, and we had to consider the far side which is today’s various and totally restricting realities, pandemic-generated laws set against bodies-coming-together, limits inferred by intersectional politics, all that prohibits experimentation through and with bodies. In “The Snake” we test such limitations, without being prudent or cautious, we play with cultural appropriation and masquerade, we probe what is possibly offensive (almost everything) because we feel that we have to take the risk involved and we want to experiment, we want to borrow in respect and apply in wonder, with care, in honour of.

EG: In relation to the question of memory that you raised: if living memory is a travelling boat and virtual memory is just one docking area, we both are part of a generation that tends to be with its feet in both. We try to bridge the distance and risk a fall.

PS: This sense of in-betweeness that we embrace may have to do with our current age as well. Morrison belongs to the “27 Club”, a notional place of early death and everlasting glory that we have passed. We claim a space in the middle of things, ages, demands, expectations, stories that we cannot even describe or represent. We are torn between its sides and often fantasize about an honourable compromise (to settle and paint in silent perfection, as a version of Morandi @ Ithaca) but we eventually do not give in.

NA: And what might be understood as psychedelic or of psychotropic effect today?

EG: For me it is performativity itself. Life’s whole performance. With no separate stage for each function. In my daily schedule of a single mother, teacher, artist everything can be a stage where rituals and roles are enacted. The play-ground that I visit with my kid, as much as the stage where I film and rehearse a new work. Performance is a powerful 3rd dimension for me and in it the usual sense of time and place is lost, identities are mixed; it is like these astral black holes of pure energy that suck everything in. It is not a form of disassociation but a magic moment when I suffer something, I am vulnerable, affected, I lose things, I fall in love.

PS: Mine is a somehow different, darker and more cerebral, more distant relation to performativity. I think that the closer I may ever get to the ecstatic is through my panic attacks. I observe the performative from a distance, I direct performances, even the ones where I participate, by thinking at length on them, by planning and being critical, through mimesis.

NA: Maybe this kind of cautious and even ominous intimacy that the mimetic presupposes is another form of yielding with grace, in order to open up to the (im)possibility of communication itself.
“I was inside. I was outside. Who was this ‘I’”, writes Michel Serres in “Τhe Five Senses”. How are inside and outside folded into one another? Who is the ‘I’ and the ‘We’ that ceremonies claim?

PS: Even though I am very interested in the philosophical question of the fluid ‘subject’ there is always ‘me’ – a very steady and unmovable subject – that comes forward, even if only to ask the question. This ‘I’, this vindictive subject, fights against fluidity, in dying. The process and event of death constructs and separates the subject, the resisting ‘I’. This is an anti-Epicurean view since for Epicure “If I am, then death is not, if Death is, then I am not”,   

EG: For me this ‘I’ was made clear and strong through motherhood, a time when I was a strong subject at the throes of an irrational, instinctual love that divided my ‘I’ into another. As you know, beyond that, I am very suspicious of the ‘we’ that is so easily thrown around. I guess I am all for sectarianism, Ι believe in the passion involved in choices, when a ‘we’ arises out of a breaking need, an overwhelming demand.

NA: It is maybe in this sense that the trap of ‘explaining differences away’ can possibly be avoided.

PS: There is a quite hypocritical construction of a ‘we’ in arts and politics of every ideological sides and it angers me a lot. I despise the patronizing involved.
There are several projects that profess “bottom up” processes and “horizontal decision making”; institutions and initiatives which pretend that there are no power relationships and determining hierarchies at play. I can now think, among many others, of the project “Demokratie in Bewegung”, realized by “Omnibus fur direkte demokratie” (“BUS for Direct Democracy”) that visited Athens some years ago.
It fed during the 80’s from Joseph Beuys’ expanded understanding of art and through the participation of a self-pronounced ‘beloved student’, preached equality.
I was then a student at the Athens School of Fine Arts and witnessed the almost military, strict hierarchy impended in their every action, the contrast with the ceremonial commemoration of Beuys’s ideas. And all in the name of free pedagogy. It shocked me and made me acutely aware of the streak of ambition in most programs of social reformation.

NA: Last but not least: I wonder how you understand presence in this age of mediated performativity and the advent of the era of the ‘phygital’. Your work has long navigated all kinds of realms and actually made a point of how we now jump from one to another via performative design, gaming, role-playing

PS: This is a very big discussion but I would like to stress that, for us, there is no precedence given to lived experience over what may be the result of empathy, thought and imagination. Within this understanding, the virtual is very much real, the digital can leave scars, it affects us as any life event, it is not lesser but different. The sense of touch, smell, bodily presence is irreplaceable but should not be romanticised.

EG: I very recently had to transform what was originally conceived as a live performance for Onassis Stegi into a digital form because of pandemic related needs. This is quite a challenge and opens a whole new area of experimentation in everything: the relationships involved and the outcome generated. How can we survive this shift to the immaterial and what does it change in the rituals, the rules and roles that we knew? It is a leap of faith that we have to take and there is already a past in the virtual realm that offers some insight. Consider the dating platforms and how they encouraged the free play of identities that leaked out into the real world and met related political demands. There are possibilities of staging new worlds and testing them as new ontologies via what we discussed as tele-performativity. I think of cameras that can register what people do when they finish making a tinder profile, when they shut down a you-tube streaming and so on.

PS: Another kind of disconnection and distancing that may have been considered rude in life is here permitted, facilitated, becomes an almost automated ritual of choice. Think how animals exist differently in the web, they are not feral, they are surprisingly natural in that they come closer to us. I recently read that real lamas are being rented to unsettle zoom meetings. The exotic is now intercepted in ways we could not imagine. Accidents also happen and are quite evident as glitches and loss of connection. All kind of uncanny things emerge.

NA:  Exiting by the way we entered: What about the invitation to consider the quite idiosyncratic ACG Art Collection?

PS: I considered it but opted for the overall context: “Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin”.

EG: I am not sure yet how the collection will fall within our work. Probably in a non-obvious way. For me collecting has to do with what has been used, objects that have another secret story and may put to work for me as talismans It comes from my maternal, islandic past of re-using and re-casting things to new roles.

PS & EG: “The Snake” will explore the sense of ominous intimacy that lurks behind every invitation including the one by Morrison and by you for this project.


2021, HD video, sound, 7 min
Camera, video and sound editing: Eva Giannakopoulou, Panos Sklavenitis
Musicians: Spyros Karamitsos, Solis Barki

Work commissioned by curator Nadja Argyropoulou for the project: “Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin”