In the frame of 2023 Eleusis European Capital of Culture, the group exhibition Mystery 151 A Rave Down Below features the participation of acclaimed artists from Greece and from around the world, showcasing a series of new productions, curated by Panos Giannikopoulos and Angeliki Tzortzakaki. With them, AWC delves into the historical and ritual roots of the exhibition, and its vital connection with the constantly changing landscape of Eleusis and Greece.
Firstly, can you reveal the mystery behind the title of the exhibition program and how it came about in the context of Eleusis 2023 Cultural Capital?
Panos Giannikopoulos: The title A Rave Down Below for the exhibition program weaves through the mythology and contemporary history of the city of Elefsina and its Mysteries, placing dance center stage as a sacred ritual and as a method for exploring concepts including death and loss, but also transcendence and political disruption.
The title is rooted in the story of Persephone, her descent to Hades, and ascent to the earth's surface, which symbolizes the cycle of life and death. At the same time, the story finds parallels with contemporary dance subcultures. It playfully connects the archaeological and mythological past to Elefsina's rave scene and the use of abandoned former industrial buildings such as the one in which the show is presented.
In A Rave Down Below, durational dance emerges as a powerful vehicle for expression, serving as a climax, a sacred ritual, and a lens through which to examine the complexities of the human experience. The exhibition delves into the multifaceted nature of ecstatic dance as a therapeutic and transformative practice connecting the collective movement of the body with the notion of political movements. It explores dance in states of crisis, presenting it as a source of pleasure that displaces social exhaustion, offering an escape and a counteraction to the challenges of contemporary existence.
Eleusis 2023 Capital of Culture’s conceptual axis cuts across the questions of social and cultural environments, and labor to highlight their interconnectedness. How does the exhibition program Mystery 151 A Rave Down Below engage in dialogue with these aspects?
Angeliki Tzortzakaki: Elefsina is a small town 21 kilometers away from the center of Athens. Its history is almost intimidating: its legacy of the ancient women-led Eleusinian Mysteries is immense. Very little is known about them, due to their secrecy being a condition for participation. There is also a lack of documentation. In the last 150 years, Elefsina has witnessed major industrialization, with its population going from a few hundred people to almost 30.000 today. Alongside this growth, one can anticipate an unprecedented ecological impact resulting from an accumulation of fossil fuel activity including shipyards, oil refineries, cement and ammunition factories that all have affected the health and prosperity of its inhabitants. The refugees and the migrant workers’ movement have constituted the city’s workforce, with the working unions being significant in their efforts. Linda Hogan wrote in Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World that what happens to the people and what happens to the land is the same thing. This we can see also in this case. There is more on the complex contemporary history of its ancient heritage in the documentary “Mourning Rock” (Αγέλαστος Πέτρα) by Filippos Koutsaftis (2000). In this setting, Eleusis 2023 Cultural Capital was born, presenting within a three-year program more than 176 productions of a cultural and pedagogical nature.
A Rave Down Below opened during the final months of this production, attempting to loop back to the durational rituals of the city from thousands of years ago. The belief in cyclical time and the constant transition between life and death found resonance within the curatorial concept that Panos Giannikopoulos - in conversation with director Zoi Moutsokou - outlined, stemming from a longer research project about the transformative power of bodies being in trance. More concretely, a direct historical thread intertwined with political and social fabrics to form an additional element, that of the rave parties that took place in Elefsina during the 90s and early 2000s, often in the now-restored warehouses of the oil mill factory, where the exhibition is currently taking place. That has been an important connection with the local history, thinking also of the horizons that such parties created and the communities that they enabled during their active years.
A Rave Down Below wants to create a trans-temporal bridge between celebrations of the seasons, the soil, and of grief and return, and between life and death. At the same time, it also marks a commitment to sharing a space, in this case, spaces that transform into potential dancefloors, to host and enable bodily synchronizations driven by something like geological forces.
Historically, Greece has represented the quintessence of Western contemporary culture. However, this narrative elides Hellenic cultural branching toward non-Western traditions. Can you share a sense of how Mystery 151 A Rave Down Below will offer a platform for Greek citizens to re-appropriate their narratives?
AT: Since the constitution of the contemporary Greek (nation)state, major attempts have been made to create an aesthetic, linguistic, and cultural identity that mirrors the Neo-Classicist fantasy that reflects North/Western European desires and narratives. Certainly, the peoples and languages that have been living within the contemporary Greek borders are not a monolith, and citizenship is, unfortunately, not a given for some; not then, and not now.
Maybe what can be more concretely said is that there is often a vacuum of many centuries when thinking of connecting parts of different Greek histories and communities, which makes this kind of narrative re-appropriation an ambitious but important task.
I do hope it can still take place, but it will do so slowly and mostly outside of institutional frameworks, but it will still be limited to very specific communities, especially in the face of the continuous rise of the right wing, as we are witnessing in Greece and more broadly in Europe. The aim here is not to indulge so much in examining Greek history, but to bring attention to ways of organizing, coordinating, and attuning ways of being together in a cyclical form of time all while navigating spaces of opacity, such as seen in the Mysteries then, and the raves 30 years ago (and, partially, now).
Although an imported cultural/social practice, the raves brought forward a different aspect of social cohesion of a contemporary Greek subculture. This was intentionally a departure point of the exhibition. To consider the Mysteries as a rave, or the rave as a Mystery, has enabled a parallel: drawing upon unspoken codes, matters of accessibility, and political resistance to the increasingly transparent, surveilled, and controlled social organization, and more, specifically, nightlife.
The Western culture and its omnipresent extractivism have corrupted the sociogenic power of rituals and spirituality relegating them to the realm of the “primitive” and archaic. What do bodies reveal about this idea, when they are brought together by a cultural platform such as Mystery 151 A Rave Down Below?
AT:: The durational aspect of the raving body has been a starting point around which the exhibition and performance program was thought through. Crucial in understanding its state of trance, a raving body is a thermometer of sorts, not only for the rave itself but, also, for its surrounding social mechanisms. This is addressed in the publication that accompanies the exhibition. For example, Mckenzie Wark's “Rave as Practice”, part of her recently published book Raving, was translated for the first time into Greek and is a precious work of auto theory and contextualization that situates her writing as a contemporary experience in the Brooklyn basements of from 2019.
Alongside that, Leandros Kyriakopoulos’ “Somatic Enactments of Psychedelic (Bio)Sociality”, a fragment of his book, Phantasmagoria of the Uncanny: Nomadism and Aesthetics in the Psychedelic Rave, offers an entry point to thinking about the carnival body and its oscillating representation, and policing between excess, waste, and unproductivity. It looks (and dances) at psychedelic festivals in rural landscapes over the past decade. I think there is a lot that can be explored about what each one of us means by the word “rave”, and how the respective bodies inhabit, or even access these spaces. Different perspectives and contexts are brought together under the same cover - alongside a curatorial essay by Panos Giannikopoulos and an embodied response by me. At the same time, in the performance program of the opening night, Odete narrated trans historiography of the Castrati figures as sonic agents in the course of (European) Baroque history, and Nkisi explored inner cosmological awareness of sound mechanics, and the role of music in transmitting stories of creation.
I believe that a transtemporal thread across the exhibition, performance program, and catalog, was able to connect historically and geographically distinct rituals around the sonic (collective), body and assert its necessity for secrecy, opacity, and self-protection.
Finally, we have seen the obsession of cultural institutions with the club and underground culture and its notional “generative abyss”. Who should we dance together with to deconstruct the performative stage of institutions to create a more sustainable, redistributed, and social counter-reaction?
PG: In the ever-evolving landscape of contemporary art, a significant shift has indeed emerged, challenging the traditional confines of cultural institutions. The spotlight now turns to the often overlooked, yet profoundly influential realms of club and underground culture. This movement prompts us to question the existing structures and dynamics within the art world and reminds us that club and underground music cultures originated outside of its conventional boundaries. In the way that we work we kind of conceptualize it as a virus, infiltrating established structures with the potential to induce transformative changes in their operation.
While acknowledging the possibility of cooptation, this exhibition is a deliberate endeavor to cause disruption and to bend the rules. The pulsating beats, bodily expression, and fluid boundaries of these subcultures serve as a well-spring of inspiration; even if sometimes it is presented in a depoliticized context.
Our focus was on grounding the exhibition, contemplating the political implications of raving from the 90s to today, reinterpreting myths through a contemporary lens, and collaborating with the people who lived and worked in the area where the show was presented - usually overlooked, but in this instance, integral to our narrative.
When considering with whom we shall dance to manifest social transformation, the answer lies in forging unexpected alliances, dancing with odds, and embracing the trouble. Attacking hierarchical structures and collectively creating space for less privileged bodies in seemingly impossible areas seems crucial. Dismantling the barriers separating art from its audience is more essential than ever; fostering inclusivity where the echoes of underground cultures resonate, not as mere resoundings, but as integral components of the artistic conversation. The overarching goal is to cultivate a social counter-reaction against the exclusive nature of traditional institutions, guided by an ethos of ecological responsibility, ethical practices, and community engagement. By redistributing power, amplifying diverse voices, and redefining the parameters of artistic expression, we still have this - some can call it naïve - hope that a more dynamic and resilient cultural ecosystem can be forged. It's a dance towards equilibrium, where the collective beats of creativity synchronize with the heartbeat of the community.
Mystery 151 A Rave Down Below is on show until 28.01.2024 at the Old Olive Mill, Kanellopoulou 1, Elefsina.
Panos Giannikopoulos is an Art Historian and Curator based in Athens. He currently coordinates the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Artist Fellowship Program, and he is the curator for the Greek Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale (2024).
Angeliki Tzortzakaki works as a writer, curator, program coordinator, and tutor mostly in Amsterdam and Athens. Her practice materializes in multiple formats, and, overall, looks at narratives that wish to break the nature-culture binary.
- IMAGE CREDITS
Cover: Odete, Mystery 151 A Rave Down Below; credits Pinelopi Gerasimou.
fig. 1: Wu Tsang, Mystery 151 A Rave Down Below, exhibition Eleusis 2023. Credits John Kouskoutis.
fig. 2: Captain Stavros, Mystery 151 A Rave Down Below; credits Pinelopi Gerasimou.
fig. 3: Lito Kattou, Mystery 151 A Rave Down Below, exhibition Eleusis 2023. Credits John Kouskoutis.
fig. 4: Wu Tsang, We hold were study; Mystery 151 A Rave Down Below. Credits John Kouskoutis.
fig. 5: Greek Visions, Mystery 151 A Rave Down Below; exhibition Eleusis 2023. Credits John Kouskoutis.