New York, Mar. 2012 - “Quite recently I realized that in NY I learn more of how to maintain a sense of togetherness with friends and colleagues and not to become a selfish vampire which is so easy in a metropolis like NY,” says 2012 Whitney Biennial artist Georgia Sagri. The question of urban life, particularly here in New York seemed an urgent context for our conversation. Born in Athens, Sagri has resided in New York for the past six years. In the back and forth that led to our conversation, Sagri mentioned her involvement in recent Occupy efforts. After an interesting first performance, it’s become clear that Sagri’s practice is intrinsically intertwined to the pressing spatial and economic questions of our moment.
“The point here is not how to occupy the center during the event,” she goes on to say in the same interview, “there is no center to be occupied, but how in the moment of the event you won’t end up speaking someone else’s scripts or becoming the tool for another’s strategy.” Sagri’s radical conceptual understanding of her practice is electric: you can feel when she speaks, and her ever-so-perfect Greek accent only helps the cause. Sagri’s work fluxes between performance and installation, drawing from dance, video, sculpture, among many other forms, but one things remains constant: an insistent critical attention to the economic, spatial, and political questions of our digitalized, globalized world.
We sat down on an unseasonably warm spring afternoon in Brooklyn, New York.
Georgia Sagri at the Whitney Biennial; Photo by Rozalia Jovanovic for GalleristNY.
Hannah Daly : You’re taking part in the occupation at Union Square?
Georgia Sagri: Everybody is taking part. I couldn’t go to Saturday’s march, and then I learn all these horrific things happened. I didn't participated in the march, but then on Sunday I was at Union Square. We all try to participate as much as we can.
HD: Did you participate before in Zucotti park at all?
GS: Oh yeah. Basically from the beginning of this whole thing, I’m part of it. I’m part of it, you know?
HD: Like you said before, we all are.
GS: Yeah, I do as much as I can. The difficult is that I’m not a citizen in this country. It’s much more sensitive to participate in political struggles in a country that you are not a citizen. A lot call this the American spring but this is not only the American Spring. The reason that I participate is exactly because this is an international struggle. Especially since the economic crisis and since my country is under economic dictatorship.
HD: That’s a good way to put it.
GS: Yes - it’s an economic dictatorship because our president right now is put on us from the IMF and the corporations to lead the country and to lead the country in favor of the economic regimes. I am very sensitive of what’s happening and with the understanding that this society, the American society, its culture and its history, is based on capitalism. And if this society, is able to articulate and doubt towards capitalism I think that will be the break in for the whole world. I do think we are very much in the beginning - that this is just a small crack.
HD: I feel like this naturally leads into talking about the biennial piece.
GS: Ah yes.
HD: I was rewatching an interview you did earlier today, and talking about work and the nature of work, and that’s obviously at the heart of what you do.
GS: Yes, that’s the question...I think that’s exactly where the conversation starts, but also it comes out of this discussion I had with this philosopher Mustapha Khayati, and also it's based on the current organizing for the May 1st and the general strike in New York. The point is that this is not really illustrating or proposing ways of either work, or no work. It’s, first of all, making a space for people to have discussions upon the theme. Which is a huge theme here - this society is very much based on work. It’s a working-class society basically. And all the big revolutions happen on the issue of work.
Installation shot of Sagri's work for Whitney Biennial 2012; Courtesy of the artist
HD: You said “make a space” which I think is key; that’s what that work does, provide a space, provide a platform, the moment for people to interact. And, I guess, the question of space, also, is something.
GS: Well, I don’t like the word platform. I try to avoid it as much as possible. That’s the beauty of what is happening with this Occupy movement. It’s basically saying that, we don’t wait for someone to give us space we are taking it.
HD: Take it?
GS: We take it. It is already ours. I’m trying as much as possible to not make an invitation like I’m giving space to someone. But I have this space, I have this environment, and I’m trying as much as possible to make links or to make connections with other spaces, with people, ideas, issues, and just... be there, the way anyone else is there. Not as the artist providing, but more trying to figure out and try to understand and learn, as a viewer as well. I don’t like at all this idea of the performer as the master figure, which was very much articulated during the 70s. I am not interested in this idea of the virtuoso. I’m not trying to provide participation to the viewer but I’m trying to find my participation in the space. And to try to understand what I am giving, or what I am taking. With the installation also, I’m trying to impose not some kind of action, but to propose different types of layers of action, or ways of doing things. And some of what's happening in the performance is ways of doing, fragments of doing, in the space. Also, how those actions, how those are connected so much, for example, with the doing of history, or the doing when we want something to change.
HD: What do you mean?
GS: That this is the only way for me, just to try things, and let them be there, just be there, you know, and if something else comes out of it; I can use, for example, some texts from the conversations, and I can put them in the performance as a script.
HD: I’m sure that this has been a learning experience--to have a piece in the biennial. To return to the installation at the Whitney, one of the things I like about it is all of the different elements, that are kind of like props waiting to be picked up. Your work in general is performance in some ways, but then also these very, like, compact sculptural moments. How does that fit together in your practice? In this piece it seems like it’s all one continuum.
Installation shot of Sagri's work for Whitney Biennial 2012; Courtesy of the artist
GS: Yes it is. I think that’s something that we can give a credit to the curators. They did a studio visit to me and were extremely open for what they expect from me. Because I was travelling, and I really kind of was able to talk about the piece and work with them on the ideas, but on the other hand nothing was made yet. In the beginning I refused to do anything, and with the help of some peers, like Shabd Simon Alexander and JoJo Li and other really good friends we worked together with the clothes, and we worked with the setting, and also the vinyl. The vinyl operates as a desktop, but also a desk top or a backdrop, where all these elements are coming together and become like they are in a flat space.
HD: The desktop - you’ve done other work to play with that as well.
GS: Yeah very much, I am interested in this idea, but also in its political sense, what I suggest here is that what we learn through interacting on the internet, is mostly that there’s no such thing as copyright.
GS: There’s no such thing anymore as property. The idea of copy and paste, the repetition of copying and pasting, this move, is not representation anymore, which means that you are repeating but you own every move. It’s not representing something, it’s presenting. What I do in the piece is more like copy-pasting. I re-use, I use, based on my physique, or my voice, of how I am articulating. This also means this idea of commonality - which is based on the idea that everything is available - the point is the shift we make to start understanding physical space in the same terms as the digital space. It’s a little bit the same as you find an image on the internet, and you say ok: I download it, I take it, I’m going to put it on my desktop, I’m going to use it, and then I’m going to make a copy on a CD, and then I will give it to someone, I will send it via email, I re-post it on facebook. It’s thinking of everything as information. But this is the material sense of a system that’s very much in the beginning, it comes out of these ideas of sharing, and the exchange you have on the internet, the networks, the relationships that you create, which is very hybrid; and then, you see these interactions are changing our relation to the physical world and the relation to each other. Maybe that’s the point that we can really think through those ideas and that’s where my work starts. I'm also doing this, purposefully, for example, using images of other artists to make my work; I’m calling them toys, I’m basically playing all the time .
HD: For example?
GS: What’s happening with the clothes in the piece at the Whitney Biennial. They are entitled as Georgia By Shabd, using the trademark of the clothing company of my friend Shabd to call upon the sharing of Georgia By Shabd. It’s not about re-affirming the company, but basically ripping off of the idea of the company to talk about the sharing and the commonality .
HD: The community?
GS: I am not sure if that's the community. Maybe it is a coming community. The point is that here, if you don’t play with the terms you are also not able to break them apart. If you are not able to break them apart, you are not able to say, ok, you know, you have this brand, but it’s not about the brand. It’s about how those clothes were made, the clothing is the point and that which we’re doing when we are coming together. The important thing is what we do together and not the brand. This is exactly how I feel about the OWS as a brand. I am not interested to support any brand or protect any name, or work for it. I am interested in how we become a force together as a number of people in the space, in the square, on the streets and we change the conditions of our lives by coming together.
Μοντέλο της Αντιγόνης performance, 2011; Courtesy of Georgia Sagri and Real Fine Arts.
HD: Yes, and I feel like what you were saying earlier about how to, kind of, resituate the artist as a performer, as an authority, this is the same kind of sentiment?
GS: It’s not about making anyone an authority, it’s about making yourself a point of departure for situations to occur, a link. Think of yourself as a satellite. I refuse to organize anyone for anything. We need to satellite ourselves: to speak with our friends, to connect, as much as possible, with as many people, and also connect with issues and break them apart, to articulate them in a different way. It’s also important in language. For me it’s humiliating to speak about issues right now, really important socio-political issues: issues of education, issues of health, issues of poverty the way that someone would talk in the 30's. It is impossible. We need to find our words. We need to find the language that will make us break the particular structures, apparatuses that restrain us. It is about doing, and it’s about how, it's not about what, and who. I don’t understand the idea of organizing. I don’t understand the idea of the NGO, the specific demand and the frames. I hate to be called an artist, exactly as I hate to be named a citizen. I am sick of the agreements, the negotiations. I don’t understand these people that they think that they know better than the others. I don’t understand, also, the idea of the political figure, which is, by the way, absolutely ripped off. I’m also coming from a country, which is absolutely disappointed and disbelieving in the idea of the political figure.
HD: You said earlier, you’ve been traveling a lot lately, you’ve been in New York for six years, but were born and raised in Athens, and you went back recently? What was that like? Do you travel back and forth often?
GS: I travel often there, yes. What is happening right now, the society has been trying everything to say that we cannot tolerate. First of all the political system the way it is. We cannot tolerate the economic system and especially an economic system that doesn’t come from the particular country, but is imposed on it. Like the regulations right now, they’re imposed on the country. Greece right now is the example, and is the place where we can look at it and understand what is happening all over the world, and not say this is their issue. No - this is not their issue, this is everyone’s issue.
HD: As you said when we started, we’re all a part of it already.
GS: Yeah, so that’s what I’m thinking when I go to Greece. I’m just looking at the situation of course with the emotional connection because it's where I come from, but also try to see what are the links internationally. So that I can think how I can help, how I can raise my voice to say you know this needs to stop. This needs to be understood differently. There cannot be only one way. I know that I’m living under a political and economic regime. That’s it. I think we’ve also fallen into these patterns, into these patterns of reactionary-ism because we are not able yet to do without asking. We just need to do. I don’t think that we need to anymore ask for power, anything. We just need to empower ourselves to do.
ArtSlant would like to thank Georgia Sagri for her assistance in making this interview possible.