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How ViZ Laboratory for Visual Culture is transforming what we call post digital

By Foteini Vergidou.

In 2018, the City of Athens initiated a project, titled This is Athens – Polis, which aimed at reviving closed and abandoned shops in the city centre by calling the creative communities of the city to support and embrace the initiative.

The ViZ Laboratory for Visual Culture, a three-month old lab for digital and post-digital culture, turned the emblematic Bar Guru Bar of Theatre Square into a hub for studying and exploring the visual phenomena of digital culture, including the role of images, digital identities, online selves, new machine learning & intelligence technologies, expanded gaming culture and new virtual economies.

ferocious urbanites Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze
Video-installation with the work 'The Invisible Hand of my Father' by Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze

In addition, ViZ aims to bring together the production of visual culture, the national art scene with the international community of contemporary art and art education with the public, by organizing workshops for students, lectures, artists’ talks, exhibitions, and other public events on a daily basis.

Kostis Stafylakis, artist, art theorist, curator and artistic director of ViZ Laboratory for Visual Culture met us for an in-depth introduction on this new kid in town.

FU: What exactly is ViZ Laboratory for Visual Culture and what was the underlying motivation behind its creation?

KS: ViZ Laboratory for Visual Culture is a cultural apparatus designed to enhance engagement with the phenomena of contemporary visual culture. The project is an initiative of Laboratories 11 & 12 of the Athens School of Fine Arts, led by professors Vassilis Vlastaras and Poka-Yio, with the support of the Onassis Foundation. ViZ operates in the framework of ADDMA’s (Athens Development and Destination Management Agency) This is Athens - Polis and ROCK (Regeneration and Optimisation of Cultural heritage in Creative and Knowledge cities). Katerina Gkoutziouli and Sophia Handaka, curators and cultural consultants at ADDMA, approached the two studios, and the latter came up with this idea.

Ferocious Urbanites, Christos Zafeiris
'Law Enforcement Artist', action by Christos Fousekis, photo by Christos Zafeiris

ViZ is hosted at the former Bar Guru Bar, a landmark of late 90s-early 00s Athenian nightlife. Servicing the expanded, experimental methodologies of these newly-instituted academic studios at the Athens School of Fine Arts, and also reflecting the spirit behind the creation of the Onassis Visual Culture program by Poka-Yio and Marina Troupi, ViZ sets out to designate a new educational experience that challenges waterproof discriminations between cultural education, urban life, the everyday, and the public domain.

“Here, both the students of the Athens School of Fine Arts and the public will participate in a systematic negotiation of ideas, dilemmas and cultural practices associated with the digital and post-digital phenomena.” – Kostis Stafylakis, artistic director of ViZ.

FU: The program of ViZ Laboratory has been very active since the lab’s opening with exhibitions and artist’s talks. Can you provide some insight into the process of researching and selecting what to show next?

KS: ViZ began operating in late October 2019. It has already hosted a significant number of artist talks, public lectures, seminars, and workshops on diverse themes, ranging from the history of culture jamming, art activism and hacktivist methodologies, to propaganda and organizational art, feminist strategies of vision, technological ‘hyperstitions’, digital demons and more.

Ferocious urbanites, Kostis Stafylakis
Seminar on the legacies of tactical media and art activism with Kostis Stafylakis

The top floor hosts a rotating program with works by international artists. We’ve presented ‘The Invisible Hand of my Father’, an elegy on immigrant labor by Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze. We now screen a series of works by the ingenious Fuyuhiko Takata, while the legendary Mexican artist Rocio Boliver was hosted to perform Primigenia IV, the last part in a round of breathtaking bodily acts.

Ferocious Urbanites, Christos Zafeiris
Photo from the video-installation with works by Fuyuhiko Takata, photo by Christos Zafeiris

The ground floor hosts workshops, seminars, parties, and performances. Both local and international cultural practitioners such as AnnaMaria Pinaka, Lucie Tuma, Jonas Staal, Dasha Loyko, Sofia Apostolidou, George Moraitis, Rahel Gloria of The Agency, and more, have already provided workshops on immersive theatre, experimental storytelling, and avant-garde sound, to name a few of our topics.

The middle floor of our premises operates as a project space for the students of the Athens School of Fine Arts. We present small, curated shows with chosen projects specializing on the impulses of the (post)digital landscape. The senior student Kevin Mucollari exhibited a series of bemusing 3D animations, depicting sexualized mimicries of objects and body-parts. Our current show collects a number of works dealing with strategies of masquerade hatching out of the ‘meatspace’ between online and offline selves.

Ferocious Urbanites, Christos Zafeiris
Photo from the video-installation of the work 'My body as a paradox of praxis' by Markella Ksilogiannopoulou, photo by Christos Zafeiris

As we speak (19.12.19), we welcome curator and author Daphne Dragona for a lecture on art practices using VR and AI to address the ongoing commodification of systems of personal assistance and care. In the near future we will be focusing on redefinitions of public space in the age of computational megastructures, gaming culture, and cultures of the self in affective capitalism.

“We are cultivating an interest in the social and political effects of technological immersion by keeping a close eye on its applications in the expanded creative industry.” – Kostis Stafylakis, artistic director of ViZ

For the fall 2020, ViZ will welcome a range of artists, researchers, theorists working on the intersection between visual culture and digital humanities.

FU: Is there an emerging digital and post digital scene in Athens that we should keep an eye on?

KS: The vibrant character of the Athenian art scene has been effectively advertised by a good number of international institutions. What is less acknowledged is that the recent international focus on the Greek art scene has been a byproduct of the discourse on the financial crisis, thus an intellectual construction: An institutional precipitation to produce a radical narrative through the, slightly disfiguring, lens of a new philhellenism.

This philhellenist gaze contributed to a nostalgic, BoHo, depiction of the Athenian city quarters while obscuring the actual loci of social reproduction: The vast, digital dystopia of Greek social media and its influence on politics, the shady echo chambers of Greek digital and visual culture.

Ferocious Urbanites, Savvas Tsimouris
'Chameleon', action by Savvas Tsimouris, photo by Christos Zafeiris

I’ve used the term ‘Greek post-digital predicament’ to describe a subaltern local wave of artistic post-digitality that flourished in the recent years as an antidote to the sleek surface of commercial post-internet art. An updated focus on Athenian “post-digitality” would account for the dystopian experience of local online life: The proliferation of small reactionary media outlets since 2007 (blogs, TV panels, online amateur journalism), the recycling of compelling national narratives by conservative mainstream media, the calls for security, normality, and order, and so on.

A Greek digital media artist would have to navigate through the algorithmic dominion of reactionary hate to configure empowering positions, hijacking marginal and often “dirtier” channels of communication. This happened during the 2011-2014 era, prior to the rampage of Trumpism and Brexit in the US and England, and prior to the ‘post-truth’ debate. Small groups of Greek artists began reflecting on the dark phenomena in “local” digital culture, such as the viral reproduction of conspiracy theories by digital outlets. As an artist myself, I participated in the emergence of a small artistic genre of post-digital mimicry, offering eery, crafty alterations of influential mythologies. I participated in the making of the recent editions of the Athens Biennale to investigate the role of post-digital masquerade and semblance in local and global zones of conflict.

Ferocious Urbanites, Stathis Chalkias
'Safety Last', action by Stathis Chalkias, photo by Christos Zafeiris

I’m currently fascinated by the way younger, Gen Z, Greek art students experiment with puzzling manifestations of the current conundrum, avoiding easy emancipation, distance, and dis-identification.

In a recent students’ show we organized at ViZ, titled ‘That shit is amazing’, the young student Christos Fousekis impersonated the Law Enforcement Artist.

Ferocious Urbanites, Christos Fousekis