Going to Greece with Alfred Sohn-Rethel in the pocket. An artistic exploration of crisis and normality.

Review for Dawn of the Greeks:

A video installation by Anja Kirschner and David Panos. On view in the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein.

In the Chausseestraße 128/129 in Berlin, currently two and a half thousand years of crisis of mankind is running  in the loop. What connects the bodies of the naked slaves who mine the silver for the ancient coins, with those people who are dressed in flashy colors and do their bumpy ride with motorcycles for fun on the invisible remains of the mine today? Anja Kirschner and David Panos mix as a video collage the situation of the 5th century BC with images of present-day Greece. They set out to search for the origins of the split between sensuality and abstraction. And as a result the dulled adventure and the voiceless work are closer than the historical distance suggests. The work of art works because it’s in the format of the video, it provides a sensuous experience illustrating the theory. The work of art does not function as a documentary, it remains art. It wants us to take a seat on the little bench  next to a small pile of rocks, in front of the large frame from basic geometric shapes on which  the big screen is mounted, and then:

From the towers of mine it goes to the museum, there are the tools of the slaves, a debate about the tools of the historian ensues, then motorcycles and archaeologists taking turns with an expressionist dance of slaves, hit by hit, dance, museum,dance, coins, rocks, scientists. And always it’s about the silver coins. The money in its early form, is as tangible as the abstract gesticulating bodies of the slaves, together they are the artistic access to this past. An archetype of exchange and work, of cold abstraction in cold metal: “die Bedingungen wachsen heran” (the conditions are building up) as Sohn-Rethel once wrote about the economy of Hellenism. And he described how a further growing to production-capitalism as a system was prevented by the Roman expansion and by the big migrations. It was not before the 16th Century that exchange and work and the thinking associated with it prevailed.

The abstract gestures and means of exchange have a counterpart in the pure geometrical shapes, which are found in the video and also in the big installation. The basic thesis of the film is, that the development of philosophical abstract thought is connected to the developing money exchange. The philosophers on the side of owners of money and slave owners, and on the other side the people in the mines, who process stones without theory and mathematics. More clear than in this video the separation could not have been set in scene: the geometrical shapes building up, accompanied by electronic sounds and standing in contrast to the meager work and life in the mines, with the according realist soundscape. From money which is exchanged for slaves that are forced to work, money working as capital developed and workers who work for money. Money as a purpose, money as a media, here the formation of abstract thought finds its equivalent.

Carrying the theory of Sohn-Rethel with them, the artists went to Greece in 2010 to work about the crisis. The Greece of today appears in the film as visitors of a numismatic museum and in their debate about the tools of the slaves in comparison to the tools of a historian. Historians also speak, about the history of the mine and its relevance for the power of ancient Athens. And the normality of the mine is juxtaposed to  the normality of the modern city, both obviously human-made structures. In rotation with the daily life of the ancient workers we see the current greeks working on themselves, doing their make-up, cooking, a hit as the milk carton falls on the ground. Hit by hit it goes, through the city, through the museum, it intertwines. In a play of voicelessness and speaking, which is no play, but a precise artistic illustration of the theses of Kirschner and Panos, respectively Sohn-Rethel. With this representation of normalities, the collage of such distant times, the artistic organisation and setting in scene, not only of this material but also of the space around the screen, Kirschner and Panos have suceeded in filming the crisis. Especially in Berlin, in the oh-so-crisis-free north, the visit of this artistic installation is strongly recommended to all those, who do not start to worry about the normality when it’s in crisis, but who are interested in the crisis as normality.

The video  is on loop until the 27th January. It ends with a two-day workshop and lecture program, including the artists aswell as the curators Kerstin Stakemeier and Sophie Goltz, and numerous guest, including Michael Heinrich, Dimitra Kotouza and others. For details see nbk.org.

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