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“Thoughts on culture and Europe” series: Exclusive interview with Dimitris Papaioannou

Dimitris Papaioannou


Does art have a subversive dimension? If so, in what way?

Art takes aromas and stimuli from everyday life to shed light on its hidden side. The artist should listen carefully for and highlight aspects of existence which insist on remaining concealed. This is not exactly subversive. However, it does create new possibilities for us to face life. Eventually, we must consider what art is. Even if I wanted to, I could not provide a definition of art, but I understand inside myself the difference between a pop song and music by Richard Strauss.

Should art aspire to have an impact in society?

Such an aspiration has nothing to do with art. Whether a work of art has an impact or not is something that advertisers strive for. Advertisers perceive and treat art as a mass consumer product. Artists are interested in communication. What is of concern to them is whether the language they speak is contemporary and therefore listened to.

Are you concerned by the need to make your work for the 2004 Olympic Games ceremonies widely accepted?

I consider it a responsibility. I am not adopting the role of artist as the person responsible for the Games ceremonies. I shall not be expressing myself personally through them. I will be using my artistic intuition to plan two splendid ceremonies for everyone.

The nature of the event dictates the objective. The Olympic Games are returning to their birthplace. The ceremonies must therefore be an allegory of Greece. We have to find a perspective which will help us illuminate the history of Greece and of the Olympic Games. If we manage to create something deeply rooted in Greece, then this will be able to communicate with the entire world.

You have said that the ceremonies will be a team effort.

The opening and closing ceremonies will be conducted solely with volunteers. We need 10,000 volunteers and are asking for their help. They simply need to have enthusiasm and a basically good relationship with their body. They will join in our effort by devoting some of their time and a lot of their warmth. In the end, we will all share the joy.

Does that mean professional dancers are excluded?

On the contrary, we need and want everyone. Actors and athletes alike. All within the context of volunteerism.

Participating in the ceremony will be a tremendous experience, not only because they will be taking part in a great event, but because they will also experience what is going on behind the scenes and during the rehearsals. The preparations for the ceremonies will be their most creative part. Each person will bring his or her own energy and unite it with the energy of the others.

Our goal is to treat the volunteers as a large group rather than a mass. Greek civilisation was never characterised by the concept of mass. We want to regard the volunteers as a total of unique personalities.

Did you give up painting because the lack of movement restricted you?

Continuing to occupy myself with an art form that is confined to museum and galleries did not appeal to me. I wanted to establish closer communication with the public, to try and create something direct and popular. In the final analysis, I wanted to practise an art form through which I could intervene in the present. This is why I have also designed comics, a form of expression which is direct. You can buy them at a news-stand and they appeal to everyone. Dance too has the same potential for communication. Dance also suited me personally; it helped me discover my body and lead a more physical life.

Is the way you perceive modern dance radically differentiated from ballet?

Ballet ceased to belong to the present since the time of the industrial revolution; it is a language of the past. Nevertheless, I like to watch ballet; it relaxes me. I watch it with a nostalgic disposition, but I would not be able to express anything based on this language.

The issues that concern modern dance are dynamic in nature, they are evolving. For example, the transformations which the human body undergoes due to genetics. Dance has created a language so contemporary that it can come face-to-face with these changes.

There is a theory according to which art has endeavoured through the ages to speak about just four or five things and constantly finds new ways to approach them. This may in fact be what dance does – it finds new ways to speak and intervene in affairs.

Does dance help you to balance or transcend your body?

With dance, you discover the potential that your body is hiding. Of course I do not mean the aesthetics of the body, making it beautiful. The body is not some attractive garment that we wear. Dance helps you perceive the body’s inner life and lead you to a form of being in which the body is not at such a great distance from the mind or spirit.

Do you feel you are participating in efforts to create a European cultural identity?

I am fascinated by the great European tradition. I perceive the European identity as free cooperation among the people in order to create something greater. Perhaps the most important thing in this entire process is not to exclude voices. If Europe has something to offer civilisation, it is pluralism.

Is there a danger that a European identity could lead to new demarcation lines, to a new divide between East and West? Does it conceal traps?

I don’t think that Eastern influences are excluded from European civilisation, quite the contrary. The West has the great talent to take in outside elements in a superficial way and use them to bring about its renewal, to create something new. Naturally, there are risks involved with a European identity, it couldn’t be any other way. Should we seek security and absolute tranquillity, only to eventually become isolated? The road to anything creative always entails risk.

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