Loan, 15 minutes 35 seconds, 2006, DV/PAL
My Greek journey began with research: information on companies that went bankrupt in the late Eighties and Nineties; ghost factories, depressed areas, abandoned villages and places of no possible interest to tourists.
I was looking for the sites and the sights that would give me free rein to redefine the concepts of development and of disaster, and to define a personal mapping of regions that contradict the unreal image projected by the media, folklore documentaries, tourist guides and advertising.
Within the context of the work, the urban environment was the real world; leaving it behind, I was entering a zone of uncertainty and obscurity.
In this ‘other’ world, which often verged on the bizarre, the depressed, the scary, the impoverished, the futile and the forgotten served as catalysts to reveal a virtually unexpected, transcendental dimension to their reality.
I often felt that the places themselves were summoning me; little coincidences, conversations with inhabitants in every area, my constant research that led me naturally and almost self-evidently from one place to another during the journey.
I formed an immediate link with these places in an almost psychometric way. I would sink into their silence and assimilate the alien and the unknown from the little things I found there, attempting to unlock secrets, to see beyond the visible, to reinvent their histories.
The enormous IZOLA plant that exuded such a powerful sense of teeming with the ghosts of an invisible union; Mantoudi, an entire industrial village abandoned with locked rooms and packed up files; the huge, ruined flower greenhouse at Aktio which now houses an ecosystem all of its own; the imposing Radion hotel in Kammena Vourla; the Pomak villages that seem to belong to another era in Greek history; the Pineio dam; the area around Ptolemaida; the fields deliberately torched on the Evros border, and a host of other sites revivified memories and provided me with valuable material for tales of broken dreams from the past that pose open and timely questions for the future.
Commentary by Konstantine Matsoukas
The wider context of the video- and installation-work of Lina Theodorou are the concerns of what has been variously called the 'post-modern condition' or the 'fin-de-siecle' disorder: how do we survive the collapse of conventions and categories which have long been the support of Western artistic and discursive practices? More specifically, in Theodorou's case, how does art comment on conditions and events without precedent? What response is possible other than speechlessness (whether that of apathy or of paranoia)?
Theodorou's work treads on the thin borderline between social critique and the abjection endemic in modern subjectivity.
Thus, for example, her 1999 digital piece "The Test", is a visual construct that presents the viewer with a series of indecipherable multiple choices; together, they might stand as an indictment of the cerebral skills valued in digital culture. In the videos 'Hippodrome'(1999) and 'Wonderpark' (2002) she enters into situations that appear ominous and threatening, offering oblique commentary commenting through her status as participant observer. Elsewhere, she mimics the clipped narrative of media reportage to represent as fact possibilities that strain moral credibility, as in 'The Right Arm of the World'(2001-02) and 'Fleshpack'(2003).
In all events, each of her works is articulated along one or another of a series of negations: the unsayable, the abject, the unseemly.
The enigmatic 'LOAN' is no exception, as it, too, is a journey through places that bear the imprint of negation in many forms: defunct, expendable, derelict, superceded, discontinued...
In the kind of reversal which Theodorou favors, 'LOAN' depicts various locales in clips of short duration which, through the advertising format, might have signified tourist destinations. Yet, the exact opposite is the case.
Theodorou's factories, distilleries, airport terminals and hotels signify financial impasse and bungled deals. Similarly, her abandoned country village and burning woodland, signify places stamped with an expiry date. Empty shells still standing and eerie interiors scavenged by rust, the elements and random acts of defacement. The decay is as ruthless as the economic interests that necessitated it.
Still, 'LOAN' is no requiem dwelling on irretrievable loss, and it is also far too oblique to qualify as a documentary.
Instead, the camera is used as a kind of divining rod, a psychometric device for the sense of failed potential (whether for leisure or productivity) that is so condensed in such places as to become palpably haunting.
'LOAN' is the terse poetic testimony of an eye-witness who, once again, mediates in favor of the margin - the suspended, shapeless 'place' from which, or about which, it seems as if nothing meaningful can be said.
As the disquieting aura of these non-places accumulates, it is then strategically reinforced with the insertion among the rest of the clips of the ominous 'RIDDLE'; here the element of the uncanny is made fully explicit.
With similar intent, what scant evidence there is in the clips of 'normal life', (of play, of passion) is shown merely as stilted reminder (a red dress glimpsed in a gutted greenhouse) or anomaly (kid goats fleeing in alarm from some unseen danger).
The minimal soundtrack, too, (off-key whistling, the crackling of fire and distant thunder...) serves to act as counterpoint to the possibility of ease, assurance, meaningfulness or grace.
Is it possible that the 'good life' is actually incidental, an invention or, worse still, something of a delusional state?
"What if we are actually in reverse motion", Theodorou seems to prompt us to ask, "and there is no real safety to be found in abundance or productivity or success?"
(Konstantinos Matsoukas is an Athens based book writer and art critic)
2006, The Grand Promenade, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens.
2007, 53th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, Germany.
2007, Loan, Zlatno Oko gallery, Balkan Art 2007, Novi Sad, Serbia.
2007, Istanbul international architecture and urban films festival, Goethe institut, Istanbul.