In the name of the strongest ideology of modernity, that of “economic growth”, alleged guarantor of equality and justice, contemporary economies struggle to generate wealth and desire, powerful, “magic” machines producing goods and services, promising wealth distribution, rise of living standards and well-being. Spectacular as much as tragic hero of this story, the neoliberal homo oeconomicus has mutated: from accomplice and participant to a process of trafficking and exchange, even with different kinds of stakes, he has been transformed into a skillful and highly specialized production machine, into “human capital”. The contemporary economic man is the producer and consumer of his own satisfaction, an entrepreneur of his own self as Foucault so aptly observed in his archeology of biopolitics. If such a new condition may seem emancipatory, its undeniable consequence is a new form of angst: we live on the borders of an existential anguish faced with the possibility of losing our ability to produce, as well as with the eventual fault of our economy to produce abundance, surplus, the famous accursed share (La Part Maudite) as named by Georges Bataille in his homonymous book. This anxiety, this fear and desperate search for a solution, are in themselves conditions of unfreedom, confusing the very request for freedom with obligations related to anything other but the pursuit of freedom. In the schizoid and paradoxical reality we are experiencing here today, the homo oeconomicus, the culture and very existence of whom draws and has always drawn his driving force by the consuming of this accursed share, has come to refuse both the sacrifice of this share on the altar of a growth that excludes him, and its waste for his own pleasure. The accursed share of an agonizing society lies hidden in its bowels, buried like an exquisite corpse. A corpse amongst corpses. The impressive governance apparatus that has now substituted civil society, has managed not only to substitute the festive, competitive or playful wastefulness with consumption or frustration, but also to transform into spectacle the very image of the destruction of life, the exemption and the exclusion presented as non-avoidable “collateral damage” in the midst of a period of deregulation and crisis.
Dimitris Halatsis’s new solo exhibition directly relates to the functioning of this apparatus, as well as to its symptoms*, which the artist observes through the “abstracted” gaze of a peculiar wandering (trash)picker. A series of found objects coexist in the space with drawings, paintings and sculptures, a video work and one photograph. The correlations are clearly articulated, each work shifts the gaze and widens the call to resist or deregulate the dispositivo, demonstrating the complexity of its biopolitical mechanism. If the seven scavenger hooks recall an image of “misery” stereotypically related to unemployment and the economic crisis, their apposition on the wall (as archived items) activates an archaeological reconsideration of the meaning of the “tool” today, and of its potential for detournement in the field of what Giorgio Agamben has called “bare life.”
The figure of the homo sacer that has concerned the Italian philosopher, that is the person who the community or the official law decides not to prosecute and punish in the usual ways, but whose life it devalues, excluding him from civil society, haunts the exhibition. The sight of the burned carcass that was washed up ashore during a period of fires, apart from being an image of horror and ecological disaster, is an image of bare life, not at all unrelated, rather relative, to that of the worker eaten by worms. When the State declares itself in a state of emergency, of exception –of “crisis”–, what it does in fact is nothing else than legitimize its sovereignty, its power to choose in the most violent and implemented way, who will be a citizen and who an outcast, who will be the consumer and who the scavenger.
Similar issues arise from the cemented honeycomb frames which Dimitris places on the floor, referring to the practice of cementing bombed Palestinian houses by the Israelis. An obvious allegory of community, the honeycomb, destroyed using the most eminently modern urban material, introduces in the space profoundly problematic distinctions, like the one between nature and culture, the organic and the social, science and politics, as symbols of progress are connected with practices that suppress all chances of reconstruction and development in a devastated community. The photo from the historical NATO conference (of 1952, the year that Greece was integrated into the international organization) with a beef’s stomach actually hung on it, as well as the drawings of monstrous hybrid creatures, merging man and beast, the flower pot with the gallows or the dead lizard’s tail dancing, intensify the presence of the organic and the animalistic as human equivalents, while the erased face of the hanged workers raises issues of identity loss and desubjectification. The social body appears – though totally absent – as a headless and impersonal massive productive force that feeds the “stomach,” the intelligence and the creativity of the government apparatus.
As for waste and luxury (that in neoliberal societies have of course acquired negative connotations, related to the injustice and perversion of the very concept of wealth), amateurism and the ornamental have been historic enemies of austerity and utilitarianism, as well as of modernist readings of art history. Dimitris Halatsis’s rosette, outworn and painted with markers, stands like a melancholic monument of an erstwhile (middle)class prosperity fantasy, a broken down romantic crest in a world governed by abstract, ‘pure’ lines and shapes. The presence of a – doubly – redundant object, painted with the naivité and amateurism of a child, shifts the perspective once again, producing a reflection on the artistic (dys)function itself. Similarly, while staring at the blank plastic “paper” exposed in the outworn china cabinet, concerns such as the museumification of knowledge and memory, or our relationship to history, come to mind, setting up new correlations and affinities with “things”.
Central piece of the exhibition is a pump which the artist has connected to three vessels filled with red wine. Acting out a gesture of ultimate profanation Dimitris pours some hundred liters of wine down the drain, symbolically interrupting with his action the almighty dispositivo that regulates, controls and determines our actions and behaviors, the very flux of life. The wine, symbol of celebration and gathering, insobriety and sociability, is provocatively wasted by the artist, a tribute to bare life and to those ghosts that roam among us.
Vanessa Theodoropoulou is an art historian and curator.
* Deriving from the Greek symptoma [syn (plus) + piptein (to fall)], “symptoms” could also be those who have fallen, the dead.