De academie als mythisch landschap
Yorgos Maraziotis’ artistic research Mythical Truths stems from his necessity to look into the school model as a pedagogical and cultural ecosystem where his vision of sculpture and archiving can strengthen its social diversity.
Yorgos Maraziotis’ artistiek onderzoek Mythical Truths komt voort uit zijn noodzaak om het schoolmodel te bekijken als een pedagogisch en cultureel ecosysteem waarbinnen zijn visie op beeldhouwen en archiveren de sociale diversiteit kan versterken.
But the elders who call them wise,
better are not, as I think,
from the insignificant ones.
Euripides. Trojan Women
The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp is an arts institution with a history of 360 years. It is one of the first art academies in the world, a state-funded school, and an ecosystem that hundreds of scholars trust for their future each year. In the Academy, students from more than fifty countries come together in dialogue and learn to make art and to think about art. They engage in self-criticism, in ethical and aesthetic understanding, and they become active thinkers and practitioners. I have tasted the school’s collective liturgy in 2017 when I first entered its doors as a master’s student. Six years later, I am attempting a more profound understanding of its pedagogical, architectural, and sociological bearings through the year-long research I have completed.
Mythical Truths stands critically against the agile art educational patterns of today, stimulates reflection on “living together”, and wishes to enforce the social identity of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Through different art practices such as social sculpture, archiving, and institutional critique, the research addresses the following questions: What are the forces that shape the contemporary identity of the school and to what extent does its community’s discourse participate in it? How do personal truths and fictions co-shape its reality? How can an archive of everyday narratives, when activated through different art mediums, become a mechanism that privileges institutional pluralism and inspires change? Finally, is memory a notion fixed in time or can it constantly be reformed?
Using language and the body as my primary mediums and having strollology,1 the science of walking, as my main inspiration point, between September and December 2022, I instigated a series of walking meetings among myself and a large selection of the Academy’s work force – students, professors, models, technicians, researchers, administrative personnel, security guards, and others, were invited to narrate their personal stories while exploring together the premises of the institution. Via internal and external courses around the buildings, space was created for the recall of events that have taken place but also for others that are simply a figment of their imagination. Thirty-eight individuals trusted me with their oral stories on the Academy. Rather than focusing on the experiences of past members of the school or exploring the successful careers of its famous alumni, I chose to consult a cross-section of individuals who are active in the institution today. Mythical Truths believes that the word of a member of the cleaning personnel has the same weight, in the institution’s formation, as the word of the director of the school. Or that the experience of a drawing model influences the school’s didactic processes as much as the knowledge of a teacher does.
I approached the participants of my research through personal writing or sometimes by entering their working spaces uninvited. I aimed for spontaneity and an informal dialogue. Regarding the context of the conversations, nothing was prepared in advance and there were no fixed prerequisites. While executing the walking meetings I recorded the participants’ stories through my mobile phone with the aim of turning them into an archive. More specifically, I gathered all the recorded material, transcribed them, and then I followed an artistically subjective long process of editing. Indeed, my priority was to create a capacity which documents the ephemerality of spoken language and allows for “mistakes” and surprises. Through the editing process I mentioned in advance, I intended to endow autonomous and literate aspects to the archive so that it would become an intriguing field for debate even for readers who are not necessarily related to the school. That is why a great deal of attention was devoted to which stories appear and how they are entwined with each other. Removing all the unnecessary data, adding rhythm to the procession of the words through an almost cinematic editing of the quotes, and by having the historic space of the Academy as my guide, I created a portrait of the institution the same way a painter or a sculptor would do. Except in my case, and this is one of the facets that the project stresses, I chose language as my main creative means.
Among the many stories with which the participants of my project trusted me, a few of them were communicated spatially through traditional art media; neon and metal sculptures, printed matter and sound projections were presented in the premises of the main campus of the Academy between April and July 2023. By retaining the language in space, I attempt to contradict the human ephemerality and prove that memory is a process not fixed in the past but active in the present.2 The now in-situ text-based artworks ask the viewers to position themselves within the historical context of the institution and engage with its cultural, architectural, and educational forces. The stories intervene in the actual space (and time) of the people that work at, study at, or visit the Academy, creating a polyphonic lexicon where the personal blurs together with the collective and memory is constantly reformed. These new dialogical sculptures call attention to areas of the school that usually go unnoticed, highlight what is already there but not open to somatic experience, and introduce this new site-specific “language architecture” that surprises, educates and becomes a field for reflection.
While choosing which stories should be transformed into matter, my main aim was to be as open in their interpretation as possible. In regard to space, after a thoughtful consideration of the school’s campuses, I decided to position my artworks in a way that would invite the viewers to explore them and sense their architecture. Furthermore, I desired to reveal the social realm of the space through the political aspect of many of the quotes and add up to the tension that sometimes is generated in landscapes that have more than one function. Let us not forget that the Academy, apart from its educational role, also has a cultural, historical, and political value; and some of its areas – like the garden, the library, or the Temple, function as protected semi-public spaces that are visited by international audiences every day. Finally, one of the most important criteria for how the artworks were communicated in space, was to be arbitrary but in the most delicate way. That is why, for example, two quotes were installed inside the school’s elevator which hundreds of people use every day. Or the sound re-enactments3 were activated within the school’s library where one is used to continuous silence and inner quest.
Mythical Truths questions the notion of truth as the act of “non-forgetting”4 and as an agent of reality. Generating time and space for individuals to narrate their experiences about the Academy brings their word out of the darkness, out of the everyday neglect. My methodology relied neither on historical data nor on statistics but trusted the empirical and experiential attributes of the participants’ thinking, the fragility, subjectivity, and ephemerality of their memories. During the one-on-one walking meetings, not knowing whether the stories that were narrated to me were true, I was given the opportunity to focus on the language and the story-telling. And to surround myself with a landscape full of different versions of reality. After all, our understanding of the world consists, among others, of a diverse constellation of personal beliefs, facts, fictions, and myths. Indeed, myths play an important role in imagining the real, as truth does. The artworks that graced the Academy during my exhibition and the archive that is now available to the public document the different realities of the participants and stress the belief that everything can be true through its phenomenological qualities. No matter how the audience attempts to read my media, language becomes the protagonist and proves the impossibility of grasping a collective reality. Hence, the Academy turns into a multiple landscape that exists in the memories of its people reforming its presence continuously, thus becoming more of an idea rather than an edifice.
The artistic outcomes of Mythical Truths highlight the school as a challenging communal institution that functions between public and semi-public frameworks. Topics that span social and political understanding, labour roles and identities, managerial decisions, race and class dichotomies blend with art teaching, art thinking, processes of personal evaluation, and everyday joys and disputes, proving the Academy to be not only a mirror of our society, but a “society” in itself. Indeed, the written archive becomes a field of debate and analytical reasoning, and due to the pluralism and diversity of the word of the many people that constitute it, it grows into a scenery of the public realm. Finally, as a portrait of the school in the 21st century, it tempts us to rethink the practices that the Royal Academy of Fine Arts follows in order to educate younger generations, to challenge its working staff, and to accord a social and broad ideal to the world.
(1984, GR) holds an MA degree in Fine Arts from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. His practice spans sculpture, installation art, and archiving; and questions contemporary habitation and human relations. His work has been exhibited in group and solo shows internationally.
- Kiss, Daniel and Simon Kretz. Relational Theories of Urban Form. Birkhauser, 2021. ↩
- It is my belief that once we revisit our past, by any means or in any context, we reform it through the knowledge we have in present time. ↩
- Selected stories from the written archive were passed on to my musician colleagues with the task to find people who are not related to the Academy and re-enact the stories. ↩
- The Greek word for truth is αλήθεια, which means non-forgetting. ↩