No walls – just Ruins taking over Mexico City
In the era of Trump, Ruins Magazine is putting on an art show in Mexico.
When Christos Petritzis first told me that he wanted to name his then-soon-to-be-released publication “Ruins” I was a bit sceptical. “Ruins, really? That’s got quite a negative connotation to it, no? Is that really something you want to emphasise?” But it’s exactly this “bygone cultural optimism” that Christos wanted to attack. The Culture, Criticism and Curation graduate from CSM started his first publication at the age of 17 while still living with his parents in Athens. But fast-forward five years and the name for his new publication doesn’t just refer to Greece’s ancient ruins or the state of the country in crisis – it reflects Christos’ unwillingness to follow narratives of constructed optimism that don’t relate to reality. The world is in ruins in many ways – and the world is built on ruins in many ways. And keeping in mind what is happening today – the recent destruction of Palmyra, all the talk of building walls – the word takes on yet another meaning. I sat down with Christos to talk to him about Brexit and Trump, Ruins and Greece, and the exhibition he’s curating in Mexico City.
Could you tell me about the art show you are curating in the context of Ruins, ‘Thank You for Believing in Me’?
So, Thank You for Believing in Me is a continuation of the concept of Ruins in the format of an art exhibition. All of the works we have commissioned are video-based and they are quite disparate in terms of aesthetic and technique, but they all have in common the fact that they are directly political. Guillermo (the co-curator) and I asked artists, musicians and designers to work with video and urged them to experiment, even though they might have never made such work before. The show is on in Mexico City in parallel with the Material Art Fair, one of Latin America’s biggest art fairs, and I think the location is of high symbolic relevance right now, in the era of walls and the mainstream demonisation of all non-white races. The brief for all the participating artists was to reflect on the present political moment and inject it into their work, be it Trump or Brexit or debt—the end of the world as we once knew it.
Who is participating in the show?
There is a total of 17 artists exhibiting work. Some of the films I am excited about are by Eva Giannakopoulou, who has filmed herself by a beach in Greece and at a pro-Greece protest in Berlin in which Germans were marching, as well as a piece created by Debora Delmar Corp. who recently participated in the latest edition of the Berlin Biennale. DeSe Escobar also has a piece entitled Salamat Glam, which reflects on the aftermath of the recent US presidential election in New York, and the ensuing protests.
“WHEN YOU OBSERVE THINGS FROM A DISTANCE, AS MOST PEOPLE IN LONDON DO, IT’S HARD TO BECOME INVOLVED, ESPECIALLY SINCE NO ONE WANTS YOU TO BECOME INVOLVED. YOU ARE NOT MEANT TO REFLECT AND ANALYSE ANYTHING, YOU ARE ONLY MEANT TO SCROLL THROUGH VARIOUS FEEDS AND OCCASIONALLY DOUBLE-TAP.”
How did you decide what sort of narrative you wanted the first issue of Ruins magazine to have when it was published early last year?
This first issue was based around themes of austerity, debt, recession, euphoria, crisis, Greece, and so on. I think the theme came together naturally, because that’s what I was interested in at the time. To be more specific: I wasn’t simply looking at these events in the news cycle, I was shaken first-hand and shocked by them each time I visited my family in Greece. When you observe things from a distance, as most people in London do, it’s hard to become involved, especially since no one wants you to become involved. You are not meant to reflect and analyse anything, you are only meant to scroll through various feeds and occasionally double-tap. Identity these days is so contrived and strategized that it really makes me yawn. People don’t understand that when you live in a place like Greece, which is so heavily affected by the wrongdoings of international capitalists, life is singularly different and weird. You could really see things change as a consequence of extreme austerity and cuts, everyone is depressed because what lies ahead is a future without prospects. Things are changing here in London too, but in a more covert way, I think.
Greece is the epicentre of this recessional era, but it is important for people to understand that what happened in Greece will soon happen in their countries too. I feel like it is the one place where all the instabilities of our global capitalism system were revealed, exposed, and of course it affects people on a personal level. It is not a joke. I don’t think, for example, that hosting the next installment of the Documenta art fair in Athens and calling it ‘Learning from Athens’ is sensible. It is SO condescending to the general Greek population! There is nothing to learn from Athens or from exploiting people’s misery – if you want to learn, you should go there and learn without needing an international art fair to show you the way. Enough with the neo-colonial exploitation of the Greek crisis. A big chunk of Greek people don’t have money at all, or jobs, or access to healthcare or education, while most of Greece’s beaches are in the process of getting privatised and sold off to foreign investors to pay back the Greek debt, although everyone knows the debt is impossible to pay back.
What was the SHOWstudio video you launched the first issue of Ruins with about?
It was a collage of videos shot on my phone, about the urgency that defines our time. I just hope our anti-neoliberal discourses circulate widely and inspire more magazines and artists to do the same, i.e. critique the system from which they emerge. I needed a way to state that it cannot be business-as-usual for fashion or art or whatever when nothing is currently in place, when so many people are displaced, or when police murders are at a record high, when people’s livelihood is so intensely attacked.
“WHAT MOST PEOPLE IN FASHION DO IS REFERENCE THE PAST, REFERENCE THE 90S, THE MILLENNIUM AESTHETICS OF MARKET EUPHORIA AND BYGONE CULTURAL OPTIMISM – AND IN THE PROCESS THEY JUST CREATE STUPID VISUALS THAT LACK CONTEXT AND DEPTH, EXECUTED WITH NO PURPOSE OTHER THAN SOCIAL VISIBILITY AND PROFIT.”
Have you seen the changes in Greece happen quite drastically over the last few years?
Before the debt skyrocketed, Greece was just a regular EU country, and all the dominant narratives were about progress and modernisation. That bubble of cheap credit, as we all know, burst in the late 2000s. So towards the end of the last decade you could see that culture of excess rapidly shifting – from a country that was like Germany, the belief in social mobility just collapsed. Governments were overthrown, then the Syriza [a left-wing political party in Greece, ed.] government was elected to put an end to austerity – they failed in 2015, even after a referendum. For the first time you could see history happening, you know? Before it was this constant stability. Now we can see that this period of euphoria was engineered, which is why it bombed. And culturally, it wasn’t actual stability, it was more like immobility, stagnancy, a post-ideological bubble, constant Europeanisation and ‘development’ – the things we grew up with: the idea that the world will keep getting better, that there will be less poverty as time goes by. Now we are living the exact opposite, the totally unique experience that everything people had fought for in terms of social justice and equality will disappear in our lifetime.
When you think of how fashion exists in a capitalist system, and how the whole fashion system needs capitalism too to sustain itself, what do you think of that in the context of Ruins and what you’re trying to say?
There is currently an abundance of images, which add nothing to the conversation. What most people in fashion do is reference the past, reference the 90s, the millennium aesthetics of market euphoria and bygone cultural optimism – and in the process they just create stupid visuals that lack context and depth, executed with no purpose other than social visibility and profit. In Ruins, I have attempted to talk about the world as we are actually living it, and all the unsettling changes that are occurring. I realise that narrows my audience down to people who care about such issues, but I don’t really care.
What did you think of Brexit and the #remain campaign? And people like Wolfgang Tillmans who were so vehemently campaigning in favour of the EU?
To any Greek person, this campaign is laughable because the EU is obviously viewed as an evil corporation there. I just think it’s funny that people who are never politically active or ever voice a political opinion, save for implicit positions like the all-white casting in their fashion photos, come out of the woodworks to defend the EU. The EU is an institution that does not deserve to be defended, I think that has been quite well documented in light of recent events. Where was Wolfgang Tillmans when the refugee shelters on the Greek border were being attacked by EU police forces or when Syrian refugees were refused asylum and got deported back to Turkey? Or last summer, when the EU, led by Germany, cut Greek pensions in half so that Greece can eventually repay its lenders. I mean, I saw no posters or t-shirts about that. That said, the world post-Brexit is even scarier than before, so I don’t even know what to say at this point. I don’t have any answers!
Thank You for Believing in Me is on show at Edificio Humboldt, Mexico City, 9-12 February, 2017. More information and updates: http://thankyouforbelievinginme.com and http://instagram.com/ruinsmagazine