On Quotidian Radicality of Care
Theo Prodromidis talks about various modes of organizing around solidarity, the importance of art(ists) in nonformal education, and links between care and citizenship.
FOTO: Pinelopi Gerasimou
Theo Prodromidis is a visual artist and director based in Athens. He's also active as an educator in various nonformal programs. As a part of WHW Akademija's program To care for another, radical politics of care, he will hold an online lecture and workshop dedicated to practices of solidarity, pedagogy, and citizenship. We seized the opportunity to talk to Prodromidis about the perspectives of community organizing within the cultural sector (in Greece and beyond), his experience with the solidarity education, and various intersections of care and art.
KP: Topics of solidarity and care in the artistic context have been extremely pressing recently, in the midst of a current crisis, while the future of formal networks of support seems so widely uncertain. Your lecture will expand on your experience as an artist and activist in Athens, where the crisis in the artistic field has been more permanent. What are the biggest challenges the artistic production has been facing in Greece during the past decade, and how did the artistic community respond to them?
Answering this question with just a couple of days until we are allowed to "exit" the confinement measures towards a media-supported tourist-friendly "new normality", as the current government likes to call it, there has been a surge of online discussions and debates in regards to the artist and cultural worker’s rights in Greece. Two groups have formed in social media in the last weeks. The first one is formed by visual artists, curators, and performers with 800 members. The second one is assembled mostly by actors, theatre and cinema workers. In four days it has gathered more than 7000 members, thus showing the dynamic of a sector with a production of more than 2000 shows a year. These groups were formed as a response to what is collectively agreed to be a nonexistent cultural policy for many years, which is heightened by the widely felt observation of a total lack of welfare for artists in this current crisis. As we expect it to extend well in the coming season(s), a decade of financial hardship will continue to unfold in a never stopping crisis.
The cultural sector is facing a complex negotiation that includes Greece’s continuing financial crisis and the ongoing re-organization of cultural public space for the benefit and towards the domination by new institutions, founded and introduced while the financial crisis was unfolding. However these last days, it feels like the cultural sector is coming together and mobilizing under the current situation, with many desires and needs to envision the moment of return to physical space in order to create on equal terms and to move away from online exhibitions, lessons, performances that seem necessary for this moment but really do act as a consolation. I personally propose to reflect upon equality and justice at this moment of the heavily digitized everyday life and prepare for more complexity in our common struggles.
KP: You are a volunteer at the Open school for immigrants of Piraeus, which is a part of Solidarity Schools Network. Could you tell us more about solidarity initiatives organizing around education in Greece and your experience with the model?
I have been a volunteer at the school only for the last 4 years so my experience is just starting to be more in-depth even though the bonds felt immediate. It is exactly this strength in the coming together that has made solidarity initiatives very important in Greece, much before the well-published crisis. Initiatives of solidarity action have been organized for the last 20 years in many aspects of greek society, much before the promised “miracle” of the 2004 Olympics. The Open School for Immigrants of Piraeus was formed in a small office in 2005 and in 2006 took the legal form of an association, whose ultimate goal is the educational, social and political empowerment of immigrants and refugees, living in Greece, thus years before what is perceived as a big surge in migration. Solidarity initiatives tend to have this gift of insight in respect to preparing for what becomes apparent later on.
This year the school has more than 600 registered students from 43 nationalities and 34 volunteers running 43 classes, ranging from teaching 14 different languages to human rights, theatre, and dance. Our extended community over the last 15 years is larger than a dozen thousand people and our operations and governance is horizontal and includes both volunteers and students. On a more national level, the Solidarity Schools Network, which now counts 13 members initiatives from all over Greece, brings together these self-organized learning communities that formed on the basis of covering social needs as well as to resist Greece’s gross inequalities. By advocating democracy, social empowerment, and collectivity over individualism and political inertia, the Network’s wants to transform public education, rather than replace it. It is exactly this model that fascinates me, both as an artist and a citizen. That is the transformation of what we already experience, even though it is as problematic as the way the states currently treat education.
KP: How does your educational practice intersect with your artistic practice, and how do you see the importance of art(ists) in non-formal educational models like the one at Piraeus school?
I can’t really find a way to answer this, as this intersection seems to be constantly shifting, in the sense that I don’t delineate this relationship. I am also not sure if this relationship is really easy to observe. However, it has led me to completely change the way of what being together means for me and how and why to collaborate. In simpler terms, I have met more people and I want to co-exist and potentially do things together that can be shown in an art context. Many artists have volunteered and collaborated with the school over the years, and this is a great thing for all of us. What is important is that we grow together in a common way to belong and to share. Finally, I think that it is exactly the non-formal and autonomous model that should grow as a more meaningful way of operating and organizing, and hopefully, these experiences will be even more present in all aspects of everyday life.
KP: Drawing from your experience with collectively organizing around solidarity about education, how do you see the role and importance of educational practices of care within the artistic context?
I think that what you describe practices of care is really the way we are patient and understanding to each other when we are trying to operate collectively and horizontally. Of course, this is not easy and all of us have many difficult experiences in falling out with people we work closely and trying to share visions of better days ahead. If there is one thing that happens in participatory and collective efforts is the enhanced ability to forgive due to the plurality of individuals involved. I am not sure how much forgiving can be asserted in such a diverse field of singularities that constitutes the art context, however, I believe that these experiences can contribute towards a temporal catharsis, a possible purgation of pity and fear through and from art.
KP: Besides solidarity and pedagogy, another important category your practice addresses is citizenship. How do you see the relation of care and citizenship, and how do they intertwine with art and culture?
I feel I just referred to a possible answer to this question above, when talking about a process toward catharsis, returning to a certain understanding of care in treating each other. A simple approach towards citizenship would be that it is assigned to an individual by the larger group where this individual operates in, in order to care for the group and for the group to care for the individual. In a way, care and citizenship share a similar method, struggling to find an efficient process of constantly giving up and taking back one’s self, to better relate with another.
Whenever I am trying to reflect upon this dynamic in regards to art, I always return to this passage from Bertolt Brecht’s The Messingkauf Dialogues, an incomplete theoretical work which he attempted to write during the Second World War, that formed the basis for a work I did some time ago. Towards the end of what remains today of this text, the Dramaturg replies to the Philosopher, when the latter proposes art as a way of mastering reality:
“There's really no longer anything surprising in the fact that art was almost ruined at first by applying itself to a new business, that of destroying men's preconceptions about their life together in society. Nowadays we can see that this happened because art tackled that new business without abandoning one of its preconceptions about itself. Its entire apparatus was designed for the business of making men accept their fate. The apparatus was ruined when the part of man's fate in art’s productions was suddenly taken by man himself. In short, it wanted to promote the new business while remaining the old art. Accordingly, it did everything hesitantly, half-heartedly, egoistically and with a bad conscience. But nothing suits art less than this.
Only by giving itself up, did it win itself back again."