The Temporary Academy of Arts on Waste/d:
Spectralizing ‘a space of appearance’
24 May 2021
Elpida Karaba art theorist, curator
The Temporary Academy of Arts (PAT) is a mobile academy of arts and at the same time an art project of experimental education that adopts mechanisms from various systems of knowledge and art practices for the production and transmission of artistic programs (www.temporaryacademy.org). PAT is a para-institution engaged with a range of activities involved in different levels of institutional affiliations, de-instituing and instituting. These procedures refer to the creation of small conditions that do not describe what reality is but ask what we want reality to become, they refer to the ability of society as well as the confirmation of this ability to challenge the institutions but at the same time to change them. The process of instituing is a praxis of telling and bringing into existence (λέγειν και τεύχειν), to use Cornelius Castoriadis’ words, which occurs with the emergence of a new meaning each time, a new way for society to live, to perform itself as structured in a competitive rather than symmetrical way.
Waste/d, the current research project of PAT, The Temporary Academy of Arts, started from a conversation among the members of PAT (Despina Zefkili, Yota Ioannidou, Vangelis Vlahos and myself) in a cafe in Athens in the summer of 2019. We somehow started talking about “Dark Matter,” where Gregory Sholette wonders what if we could imagine an art world unable to exclude the practices and practitioners it secretly depends upon; all of the forms that play an essential role in the symbolic economy of art. Collectively, what if we would be unable to exclude the amateur and the failed artist who represent a vast flat field upon which a privileged few stand out in relief? This, as Sholette was saying, does not refer to the lighting of the dark matter, as this is another way of the power to play the game. It is, rather, about those who self-consciously choose to work beyond the territory of the mainstream art world for reasons of social, economic, and political stance. In a sense, these artists, curators, theoreticians have learned to embrace their own structural redundancy, they have, somehow, chosen to be ‘dark matter.’ This provoked a dialogue on our positioning and status as cultural workers, artists, curators, and writers. Although one could tell our work is in many ways wasted, since it neither corresponds to a financially sustainable practice nor is it part of the mainstream global art canon, we do not feel it is wasted. To open a dialogue with the leading art institutions and global art scenes does not seem important anymore, like it seemed for some of us back in the early 2000s, as we do not find their focus relevant to our practice and thinking. This does not mean that, in terms of cultural policy and management, the leading private and state institutions of Greece could not do more in facilitating the presence of local artists in the centres with which they have a dialogue and that the strategies of these institutions are not problematic on many levels (e.g. their emphasis on importing big international names, instead of exporting local artists, and on building networks of questionable value, instead of collaborations which would ensure measurable results in terms of visibility and financial support for the local artists and art workers). These thoughts and declarations were put together in a small publication which we collectively wrote during the first lockdown and published in early summer 2020, from which our project on Waste/d somehow emerged. 
Waste/d started as a call to define new aspects of waste/d subjects and matter, from the precarious art workers’ bodies and the new wasted subjects produced by the pandemic to the abject and the socially, politically, sexually excluded; subjects, that is, who find themselves in ‘conditions of exception,’ usually related to sophisticated methods of ‘cleaning’(from toxic global politics to state and police methods to clean the city of Athens from refugee squats and anarchists to ensure public order). But Waste/d also set out to address waste/d stories to be told from our side, something to which PAT has been dedicated from the beginning. Greece, and especially the city of Athens, has been identified with an exotic view of a southern experiment of creative sustainability in times of crisis. A new south was reinvented based on power relations and stereotypes that repetitively re-localize and re-regionalize the world and subjects. In these narratives, Athens is balancing on its bipolar identity between economic catastrophe, refugee asphyxiation and exemplary creative energy. In another small publication of PAT and through a series of “Soft Power Lectures” (a derive, a detournement of a strategy drawn from diplomacy, much applied in the Cold War) we addressed this romanticized idea of creative Athens. In our publication “Freedom”, which accompanied our short movie under the same title, we wrote:
“The years between 2013 to 2017 was a period of creative inflation connected with ideas about flexibility, creativity, positive informality, entrepreneurism, that were promising a different kind of freedom. A new kind of freedom that would produce subjects and articulations that would be resistant and resilient, that could find solutions of exodus to the strict capitalist global condition. However, what has been the typical romanticized perception of artistic work connected to ideas about freedom and autonomy, without the conventions of the 8-hour workday, has been appropriated and repositioned, so that the precarious conditions also present in artistic labour became the blueprint for the globalised working conditions at large. So, we ask ourselves, is this new model of work any better or resistant? [...] We have been working in the cultural field for years but we are still not professionals. Through working on flexible, short term, precarious conditions, collaborating with private institutions, the academy, setting up networks based on friendship or acquaintances, we have indeed developed a certain set of skills in addition to our educational capital. These skills, however, are scattered, not recognised officially as professional experience since most of the time, as mentioned above, we don’t have contracts, we are not part of a long-term employment and we are excluded from social benefits. This makes us consumable human capital in the labour market, a condition that we constantly reproduce throughout our practice. [...] We are in many ways exposed, as in the situation described above. In such circumstances we have always to restate issues that are considered self evident and to often perform the killjoy. Nothing is self-evident or common sense.”
In this spirit, Waste/d raises questions on the role of art as a praxis which can create the symbolic as well as the actual and activist space for such existential and ethical dilemmas. PAT’s experiment is looking for spaces where new and unexpected modes of living, socializing, making art, activating affect and powers can be proposed, discussed, thought and tried out.
In this particular time for Greece, Waste/d seems to be connected to many issues that occupy the public debate: from the #metoo movement, to the targeting of public universities as dangerous dens of crime, the escalation of demonstrations in the middle of the pandemic lockdown to support the hunger strike of Dimitris Koufontinas, a prominent figure of the now disbanded organisation “17 November”, to the agreement of Hellas Gold with the Greek government based on a contract that many consider colonial and environmentally disastrous. Although the intention of the project Waste/d had a broader scope than responding to issues that are in the public eye, it seems that the momentum is haunting the project. The aforementioned events or developments are not our direct target, but these are becoming central phenomena of our times and this is what really concerns us.
Waste/d is a webbed organism, a durational artwork of situated knowledges. We extend our invitation to different collaborators in order to create a waste/d rhizome of their stories, methodologies, art, voices, writings, and, in Donna Haraway’s words, kin. Waste/d stands as a floating signifier and we would like our collaborators to contribute to shape it and construct it to be our nodal point of articulating.
As with all of PAT’s projects, and as part of its methodology, Waste/d is a research project creating alliances among practitioners from different localities, as well as art and scientific fields taking various forms (books, lectures, interviews, seminars, performances, live events, exhibitions, translation of seminal texts, an index of new terms). Waste/d involves research and production of new theory and artistic projects and can host events in different institutions, galleries and academies around the world, or in printed or digital environments. We work collectively and look for synergies. The material produced can be seen as renewed works of art, tools of enforcement, tools to demythologise what is irrelevant to us. A commitment to demythologizing has nothing to do with a local, national, xenophobic de-centralization. It has to do with seeing ourselves clearly and not as an act of secession from the rest of the world, but in relation to ourselves and to other selves with whom we share the world. The waste/d material gathered and produced throughout our research will stand as an archive (barring the commencement, the power and the poesis, as Derrida has shown us in Archive Fever); as one can see, we return again and again to certain tools that have become our methodology and apparatuses. It will become an archive that will rely on the encounter and enmeshment of motives and motivation, willfulness, desires, and aspirations that can at first be temporary (as the temporary academy of arts is), unstable, or shared by a small number of people, but can eventually be enacted as a novel aesthetic form and technique.
We gather material referring to moments of recent Greek history, as for example the liberalization of the local production and health system, the cleansing operations of a neo-liberal state, the dismantling of an armed militant group. These are small moments in global history but interconnected in the big image of the globalised economical and biotechnological condition; they are attached to the ‘phenomena’ that determine our historical moment. In the waste/d material gathered, there are also descriptions of works of art produced by Greek artists, connected to moments of recent Greek history in diverse ways. We want these moments of Greek history and Greek art (history) to be known, not as enmeshed in a circuit of capital flow, but as integral parts of a radical nexus of art-theory-education. Thus, the work of the artist Natasha Biza tells the strange story of a collection of luxury items that arrived in Athens in 1949 during the post-WWII period and during the Civil War as part of the Marshall Plan Aid. The work of Vangelis Vlahos investigates the paths of diverse and reverse cartographies, the turnovers of geopolitical gamings as they were expressed, for example, in Greece’s relations to the Middle East in the 1980s. These works, among other things, refer to the politics of ‘side looks’.
Waste/d is our ‘side look’ and our ‘out of source’ investment. And we ask ourselves what is our own geography of the South, not the new South constructed one-sidedly from the dominant western discourse, but the one we understand and we identify with, the one we want to belong to, or the one we belong to without realizing it. Ours is an attempt to mesh political moments with cultural and counter-cultural crossroads. One cannot be naive when mapping up one’s own or collective routes, straight, diverse or perverse. All the above have limits, the same way that our thoughts on an anti-WASTE front have limits; but, if it is not too late for reform, let us consider updating our tools and sharpening our equipment, working against the power configurations that determine whose stories count. What we would like to bring forth, drawing from the thought of Athena Athanasiou, is that Waste/d itself can undertake an important conceptual and political reconfiguration when dissident acts of defending and politicizing waste/d subjects and matters are at stake. It could become a kind of theorizing that would take us beyond the abstract and universal generality of waste/d and would have us challenge the overriding power differentials that determine the structural experience of being waste/d. Perhaps these tactics prefigure and spectralize a ‘space of appearance’, unexpectedly turning it into a site of collective potentiality for alternative imagining and enacting (art) stories.
And as feminism has taught us, what counts is the ongoing effort to create new spaces of discourse, to rewrite cultural narratives, and to define the terms of another perspective — a view from ‘elsewhere.’ In the words of Teresa de Lauretis, this ‘elsewhere’ is not some mythic distant past or some utopian future history: it is the elsewhere of discourse here and now’.
1 I owe my title and idea to the text of Athena Athanasiou “Spectral Publics and Antifascist Eventualities: Athena Athanasiou interviewed by Alkisti Efthymiou,” translated for the book Feminist Theories, Aesthetic Practices and Global Technologies (eds. E. Karaba and I. Lykourioti) to be published by the Centre of New Media and Feminist Public Practices and University of Thessaly Press, funded by the Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation (HFRI) and the General Secretariat for Research and Technology (GSRT), under grant agreement No 2284/5758, held and supported by the University of Thessaly, Department of Architecture.
2 Part of Waste/d research is supported by the Ministry of Culture and Sports.
3 Derived from Athanasiou, ibid.
4 Teresa De Lauretis unfolds this in ‘Technologies of the Gender’, which is translated for the book Feminist Theories, Aesthetic Practices and Global Technologies (eds. E. Karaba and I. Lykourioti), see note above.
Elpida Karaba is an art theorist and independent curator. She is working at the crossroad of contemporary art, critical theory and emergent political manifestations in the public realm. She is visiting lecturer at the School of Fine Arts, Athens. She is also head of research at the Centre of New Media and Feminist Public Practices (www.centrefeministmedia.arch.uth.gr/).