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Karagiozis Project Nov 2015
Transcript of Karagiozis Project Nov 2015
Hallway of photos
An exhibition of photographs came next, in a hall again created by the use of fabric as well as by a rectangle of grey-blue paint on the wall. The photos, taken by Ms Ranpura, were abstract images of an actual Karagiozis show played by Mr Konstas. They helped morph the preconceptions that many Greeks carry that Karagiozis is a form of entertainment for children. The use of abstraction and high-quality photo prints connected a more contemporary aesthetic with the folk puppet form, preparing people to see the puppet show in the next section of the gallery with different eyes.
The painted rectangle on the wall was a wayfinding technique to help people hold onto the feeling of the photos as they entered the theater space.
The third section of the gallery had changing functions: as a workshop, a reception area, a lecture hall, and a performance space. Fourteen people, Greek and American, worked on the project, and for the first six days of the exhibition this section of the space functioned as a workshop, with tables covered with books, sketches, tools, and puppets; papers tacked onto the walls; ladders and fishing line and drills and hammers and paint. Alex Maganiotis, an artist trained as an architect, led the design and hanging of the fabric partitions. Aphrodite Moulatsiotis, trained as an interior designer, designed and fabricated the frames for the monitors and the hanging of the photo prints, with help from Greek video artist, Petros Chytiris. Sally Heard, a British artist, helped decide the layout of the objects on the voting table. Debra Papadinoff, our bilingual fixer / dragoman, manned the snack table on the days Erato Tzavara was filming interviews; Ms Tzavara did video, photo, and some graphic design on the project. Mr Konstas (lifelong professional Karagiozis player), Ms Ranpura (lead artist, from the US, who has long worked with puppets), and Paul Hertneky (a non-fiction writer who has worked in Greece) discussed the concept and plot of the new show. Esther Morales, who works for the White House in Washington, D.C., trained the team on how to lead a caucus. Yalena Kleidara, one of TAF gallery’s curators, helped with translation during the performances, and Alexia Alexiou, a Greek puppeteer, assisted Mr Konstas. Peter Maravelis, bilingual Greek-American and events curator of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, was the Galehaut that helped formed some of the initial connections. Ms Ranpura’s first two weeks in Greece were spent finding and assembling this team. Everyone on the team did many things, as the whole concept was coming into being during the time in the space. The exhibition was, in part, about showing the making of a cross-cultural show.
For the opening night talk, on November 16, 2015, the space was turned into a stage, with chairs for an audience and a sound system. Leftheris Xanthopoulos, a Greek television icon since his days hosting the cultural program Paraskhnio (translated as “Backstage”), had a dialogue with Mr Konstas about the relevance of Karagiozis today. There was a lively exchange with the audience.
For the final performances on the 20th and 21st of November, the space oriented itself around the Karagiozis screen.
Diogenes, the dog philosopher
Mr Konstas and Ms Ranpura began warily discussing the possibility of making a new performance upon Ms Ranpura’s arrival in Athens about a month before setting up in the gallery. Mr Konstas performs almost daily at his own theater in the Plaka neighborhood (the only theater dedicated to Karagiozis left in Athens). Ms Ranpura attended several of his shows, and the two met and talked and talked and drank and ate for many hours over the course of a few weeks. They were able to establish enough trust and enough capacity for dialogue over language barriers that they committed to trying to invent something new together. Mr Hertneky joined them when they moved into the gallery. Some decisions started to emerge.
Karagiozis as a character, Mr Konstas said, is derived from Aristophanes’ comedic characters and from the philosophic inheritance of the famed Cynic, Diogenes. Diogenes called himself a dog, finding dogs more honest than men. One exhausted night . . .
Each person who entered the gallery was asked to move a bead on an abacus to the right, to count themselves in. A grey-blue fabric ~ reminiscent of the curtains used in Greek polling places ~ created a hall that opened into a room for voting. In that room, there was a table with six objects that evoked sentiment and nostalgia, addressing the fact that Karagiosis is often connected with childhood, a time of safety and, too, of fantasy. The objects were: a used pair of high heel shoes, that someone’s mother might have worn to a party; an old car motor, that someone’s dad might have worked on in one of the old family cars; a cigarette case, reminding us of a glamor that is now complicated; a shaving mirror on a silver stand, to prompt us to search for ourselves in the things on the table; a ceramic dog, reminiscent of the family pet or of the curio cabinet in the living room; and a live caged bird, again, from a time when this kind of beauty was simpler.
JOURNEY THROUGH THE SPACE
The three parts of the installation constituted a sequence: a polling place, an exhibition of photographs, and a performance space. The design of the space guided visitors through different ways that we, as citizens, make choices within democratic structures.
WHAT IS IT?
The Karagiozis Project was a three-part installation developed at TAF gallery in Monastiraki, central Athens. It began as a research project supported by a Jerome Foundation Travel & Study grant. In order to support the research, which inquired about new uses for traditional Greek shadow puppetry, the conversation between Janaki Ranpura, the main American artist, and Tasos Konstas, the main Greek shadow player, turned into a performance embedded in an interactive installation.
In a certain way, it was Mr Konstas’ central question that was where the most emotional energy lay: Is Karagiozis relevant? He has devoted his life to the form. He wants to know if people care. The Karagiozis Project did not resolve this question. Mr Konstas and Ms Ranpura being able to understand each other, being able to pose the question together, revealed that its painfulness is recognizable and significant. How do we honor the past and gain from its surprising intelligence while cultivating adventurousness and moving forward in a nimble, agile way? Mr Konstas’ question about Karagiozis touches a big, raw vein in thinking about how to be a culture-maker ~ in other words, how to be human.
And with regards to a central tenet of this project: that theater can help us think in a complex way about how to behave as citizens ~ the team making this project and its audience shared a struggle to make decisions even while questioning who they were, where they fit as individuals, as a group, as a country, as a global union. And that ability to share struggle brings some empathy and some validation. It gives some strength to persist in asking questions, even when hasty answers seem more gratifying.
THE KARAGIOZIS PROJECT
Athens, Greece ~ Nov 2015
The Karagiozis Project on TAF’s website:
Jerome Foundation Travel & Study grant:
(photos of TAF gallery and journey through the exhibition space by Erato Tzavara, Nov 2015)
Link to Janaki's travel blog, so artistic partners could follow her thoughts prior to the time in the gallery: http://votingforshadows.tumblr.com/
PRESENTATION SUPPORT from Yalena, Iphigenia, and Christina at TAF
gallery, and from the Jerome Foundation.
The white and black stones recalled an ancient Greek method of casting a vote with an “ostrakon." Citizens would use either an uncolored or a black pottery shard to vote on whether someone should be punished with ostracism ~ getting ejected from the city-state. Fifth-century BC Athenians practiced direct democracy: a simple majority would win.
Also in the polling place of The Karagiozis Project was a video of people telling stories about personal encounters with Karagiozis theater. This room was assembled with the goal of grounding people in their personal experiences, drawing attention to the emotional content of our lives that guides our choice-making as citizens.
Most of the objects were found at the incredible flea market in the Schistos area ...
Also on the wall was a framed video monitor hung in portrait-style showing many people saying different, often contradictory and surprising things about Karagiozis theater. This was another technique to destabilize the idea that the form was for children. It showed the meanings as complex and, therefore, relevant to adults trying to make choices today. Over 11-days, we collected 27 interviews and edited them into a 3-minute video that looped during the exhibition. (The storytelling video in the polling place room was also edited from these interviews; it was a 10-minute loop.)
Ms Ranpura was having dinner at an outside table at Cafe Ivis, in the Psirri neighborhood where she was living, when an enormous dog sat down at her table. He was so large that, even without a chair, he came nearly to her head height. The dog was pleasant company, and the team incorporated this polite and insistent character into the show. The dog helped work around some language problems: Karagiozis is an improvisational, language-based form of theater. Mr Konstas performs only in Greek. By incorporating a non-speaking dog, Mr Hertneky and Ms Ranpura could quasi-follow what was going on.
The dog even got his own small monument in the space: a ceramic dog on top of a pedestal, casting its shadow onto the window shade.
The performance began by carrying the voting table into the performance space. Audience members counted how many white stones were in the jars for three of the objects: the motor, the birdcage, and the shoes. Whichever object gets the most stones, the audience learns, will affect the course of the show.
In the first half of the show, Karagiozis is living in a cardboard box. He and his wife Aglaia discuss how they should advise their children, who are homeless and are trying to decide where to go. A dog comes to Karagiozis with the objects voted on by the audience: shoes, so Karagiozis thinks, Ah, the dog has come from a country where everyone wears shoes! I will send my children there! The dog comes with an open birdcage, and Karagiozis thinks, Oh, the people are free to speak in this country! I will send my children there! The dog arrives with a motor, and Karagiozis thinks, Oh, this is a place where there are jobs! I will send my children there! He and his wife discuss the options, and they choose to tell their children to go to the place where the object voted on by the audience comes from. Then, as they discuss, they realize there is another option. Actually, should the children leave, or stay in Greece?
At this point, the lights go up and the audience is asked to discuss this question. Ms Morales leads them through understanding how a caucus works: it is an archaic American voting system in which you literally use your feet to vote. The audience goes to the side they believe in, getting up and moving to a different part of the space. Then there is a timed window ~ 45 seconds in the case of our show ~ when one group can try and convince the other group to switch sides. The time pressure creates scrambling and yelling, then when the timer finishes, the bodies in each group are counted. The audience returns to its seats to see how the result of their vote affects Karagiozis, Aglaia, and their children.
We chose this question ~ Shall we advise the children to stay or leave? ~ for the second of the two performances. In the first show, there was a different question, which had a surprising result.
For the first show, the three objects were associated with distinct values. The shoes were associated with prosperity, the birdcage was associated with freedom, and the motor stood for security. When it came time to caucus, 100% of the audience went to the part of the room that supported freedom. Even Mr Xanthopolous, our cultural sage and who was part of the audience that night, was surprised. After speaking with Greek people about it, it seems that the idea of prosperity is largely associated with the wealth that caused the debt that now plagues the country, and security is linked with surveillance. One man in the audience said, “It’s our motto: freedom or death.” That motto came out of Greek resistance to Ottoman rule; ironically, that is also how Karagiozis theater developed, as a way for Greek people to see themselves championed in a downtrodden everyman whose wily humor got him out of oppressive situations caused by the Pasha, who was a powerful Turk.
The project concept came about because it is possible to imagine the Greeks of today, like in the 19th c. under Turkish rule, oppressed by the rules of the IMF and the lending structures of the European Union. Mr Maravelis and I started thinking about how to use Karagiosis puppetry to talk about these events in 2012, after the massive bailout, Greece's austerity agreements with the EU, and the violent protests that resulted. However, through conversation the night of that first performance in Athens, it seemed a much less abstract and urgent issue centered on the question, Shall the children of Greece leave or stay? Several young people in the gallery said their parents wanted them to go, to find better lives elsewhere, and they were torn, because they didn’t want to leave their homes. This question mattered, and it worked dramatically and metaphorically better than asking people to consider abstract values, so we tried it. And in the second show, when it came time to caucus, the audience was evenly split.
For the final beat of the performance, the children get the last word: they say, "Thank you; we will decide for ourselves."
The Karagiozis Project was covered in Lifo, a major cultural magazine (http://www.lifo.gr/print/foni_laou/81983), had two radio interviews, and an advertisement in the poetry magazine of Nanos Valaoritis, and the support of Mr Xanthopoulos. It drew an audience of more than 100 people.
Thank you for your interest.
at TAF gallery
in Monastiraki, Athens, Greece
Participants were asked to place a white stone in the jar near the object to cast a vote to keep it, or a black stone to get rid of it. The language used was “Nai,” or yes, to keep; “Oxi,” or no, to discard. Oxi and nai are part of Greece’s current lexicon of democracy ~ the referendum in July 2015 on whether to pay Greek’s debts to the IMF — in other words, whether to continue austerity — had only “oxi” and “nai” as the choices. The words have become politicized.
The two videos edited from the nearly thirty recorded interviews talking about Karagiozis today as well as a condensed edit of a Paraskhnio show about shadow puppetry to which Mr Xanthapoulos gave us the rights will serve as the basis for a reprise of the project in the US. It would be a meaningful project to present in the 2016 election year. With all the different forms of choice-making the project models, it would make a great participatory "Get Out the Vote" effort.
The relationship between Tasos Konstas and Janaki Ranpura was the main point of this phase of the Karagiozis Project. It opened doors into new ways of thinking about traditional forms for both artists. Ms Ranpura, the lead artist, saw how newly contextualizing a traditional form could be a powerful strategy in helping people understand cultures that are not theirs. Karagiozis, a traditional form of shadow puppetry with its origins in the political conditions of 19th c. Greece, speaks to a common cultural understanding amongst its people. In some ways, it is shorthand for a national character. Working with Ms Ranpura, Mr Konstas saw that Karagiozis has the possibility to move into different spheres ~ a gallery instead of a children's theater ~ and be presented as a reinvigorated form, able to speak to new kinds of audiences by using some of the techniques of avant-garde participatory performance.
Ms Ranpura and Mr Konstas think that playing onstage with an easily accessible form — that of puppetry, and a form like Karagiozis that is rooted in a national character, could be a very useful way to get Americans to think into some of the other ways of being that people in different countries have. Even our playful forms of theater seek this useful end goal. Cross-cultural performance also lets natives know what preconceptions foreigners have about them. Part of this mutual show-and-tell occurred for the audience who came to TAF Gallery in Athens for this project; partly it occurred by assembling a cross-cultural team struggling together to understand each other and make the work.
Ms Ranpura is thinking about taking this method, of investigating traditional puppetry with native puppeteers for the goal of creating new cross-cultural work, to Turkey, to Egypt, to places that lie in the heat band of countries about which Americans have unsympathetic preconceptions.
~ START HERE ~
click on the video
for a 5-min
summary of the project