Oral testimony of a Dromokaiteio patient to Maria Fafaliou
“Biopolitics describes the way in which, from the 18th century onwards, attempts were made to rationalize the problems posed to intergovernmental practice by the phenomena that characterized a set of living things, constituted in a population: health, hygiene, fertility, longevity, races… ”
Michel Foucault, “The Birth of Biopolitics”
(Greek translation by V. Patsogiannis, Plethron ed., p. 289)
Power in modernity is gradually but steadily shifting its dominance from repression to universal preventive control. Foucault was right! The game of politics is played on our bodies. Politics becomes biopolitics.
The term “biopolitics” is introduced in 1976 by the French historical philosopher to describe the techniques of managing and regulating the life and death of human populations by modern power.
Every form of power “desires” a part of us, seeks to define our habits, to control our postures and movements, how our body should function as a desiring mechanism and what our sexual identity should be, what we do with our reproduction, with our fetuses, with our children, when and how we die, how and to what extent we are “allowed” to grieve our losses, how to use medication to manage our emotions, and how to manage our mental well-being or intolerance. Even man’s relationship with microbes, beyond the typically unquestioned medical part, actually turns into biopolitics.
Deifying the value of an imaginary normality that is duly enforced by any means and which now emerges as the most defining function of power in our world, state, science, family and convinced individuals conspire to deliver, or even allow the delivery of, a universal tracking and observing every move and every allusion, in a never-ending, insatiable and merciless control of everyone’s daily life. It is a process of alienation, of voluntary assignment of rights, through which citizens are imperceptibly transformed into subjects who do not even hesitate to use violence to enforce the compliance of restless bodies and minds and willing obedience to a “metaphysical” type of necessity.
Every form of power dreams of and aims at docile bodies, obedient to the Law, even better incorporated into the Law and its proclaimed, beyond all control, value. Bodies that cannot even question the slightest thing and live in fear of it – while at the same time ready and willing, in their turn, not only to impose it on others, but to enjoy their own submission to the fear of the Law. Thus, the Law becomes equivalent to the fear of death.
The dystopian experience of global quarantine at the mercy of covid 19 has come to confirm the entry into the post-human era, firstly of confinement and absolute control (where we already are) and, secondly, of the “necessity” of integration into the world of the internet and artificial intelligence.
The new data comes from brain science and neurotechnology applications that feed into the now dominant neuro-politics. Bringing Michel Foucault’s thinking to our times, one can perceive and argue that today’s biopolitical power is primarily aimed at controlling the human brain and selectively regulating or deregulating its mental functions. This is the new condition of the age. This is the new operating framework of the system.
Neuromedical practices are already able to intervene in the deeper structure of a patient’s brain to improve their state of health. The question is whether it would be equally permissible, socially-politically-ethically, to resort to this type of surgery on people with a healthy brain, that is, not for therapeutic purposes but, for example, to modify our brain performance. Could the eugenics of Plato’s State or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World become a reality? And who decides on such a scientifically possible development of things?
Biopolitics and Homo Sacer
The Nazi political scientist and constitutionalist Carl Schmitt aptly argued that “the sovereign is whoever decides on the state of exception.” This key position serves as a starting point and as a tool for Giorgio Agamben to be able to analyze biopower in modernity. In his famous book “Homo Sacer, sovereign power and bare life” (published by Scripta, translated by P. Chiamura), the Italian philosopher deepens and at the same time specializes the pioneering ideas of Michel Foucault regarding the new biopolitical strategies.
As Agaben writes, “in modern biopolitics, the sovereign is the one who decides on the value or non-value of life as such, that is, on whether life as such has or does not have value”. Whenever they refer to human “life”, both Agaben and Foucault mean the biological and at the same time the political existence of every human existence.
Contrary to what Aristotle argued, today it is no longer possible to separate the political “life” from the simple biological “life” of people. And precisely for this reason, recent biotechnological and biomedical developments have such dramatic consequences on people’s lives. The attempt to reduce, through new technologies, the political dimension of our life to biology degrades our life to “bare life”. Life under the rule of fear and completely deprived of rights. To be more precise, life with the illusion of rights, the validity of which is lifted when the one in power decides to impose a “state of exception” in the form and duration of normality, as Agaben shows.
In this sense, confinements in our time are multiple and unfold in various ways, sometimes visibly, sometimes imperceptibly. Structures, mechanisms and places of recreation, education, discipline, adaptation, reception, healing, deterrence, punishment and exclusion make up the respective social palimpsest with schools, barracks, concentration camps, asylums, prisons, hospitals, workplaces, sports and entertainment. That is, they form Cities and define Behaviors. If the function of the prevention-surveillance-punishment scheme is served in modernity by the Panopticon, the visible surveillance building of confinement, in the post-modernity we now live in, satellites and search engines are enough to turn the entire Earth into a place of prevention-surveillance – punishment.
If the above is paralleled with a permanent and ongoing war, at the center of this war is the Body – precisely because it feels, desires and thinks. The body says the architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa “remembers who I am and where I am in the world. My body is truly the navel of the world. But not in the sense of a point of view in the central perspective, but as a place of reference, memory, imagination and integration”. The grand function of all meaningful art, according to the Finnish theorist, is to allow us to experience ourselves as complete physical and spiritual beings, and he concludes nicely as a philosopher of life with the thought that “in the experience of art a curious exchange takes place. I lend my emotions and associations to the space, and the space lends me its atmosphere, which carries away and frees my perceptions and thoughts.” (Youhani Palasmaa, The eyes of the skin, p.16, PEK).
Wanderers and Hosts. Why in Dromokaiteio?
This dynamic exchange of emotions, associations and atmosphere described by Palasmaa explains – among other parameters of course which we will see later – the “invasion” of the project “Confinements” in P.H.A. Dromokaiteio, a place of confinement after certainty and healing with a question mark – like all psychiatric hospitals, a place with difficult memories, dark experiences and, above all, with human pain that grows from the roots of existence. If Heidegger is right then we are all “visitors to life”, a phrase that George Steiner translates as “we are thrown into life”. (George Steiner, A Long Saturday, p. 33, Doma ed.)
No one has chosen their place of birth or the historical time they came into life, their disability or their perfect health. We are wanderers and guests, two states of freedom contre-temps in the conditions of symbolic and real confinements invented by modernity for the sake of protecting ourselves and others or, better, for the sake of protecting the orderly nature of the market. After all, in order for it to function smoothly, it needs confined/disciplined people – hunters of profit and other daydreams that it cultivates systematically and persuasively.
The great concern of modernity was and remains with undiminished intensity the protection of the healthy potential from the sick and unruly. Confinement industries are children of liberal societies and, until recently, also children of “existing socialisms.” A psychiatric hospital is the real space of confinement and at the same time the symbolic space that productively welcomes the counterpart of freedom or, better, liberation. It is suitable for the due confrontational dialogue because it is a borderline space for man, whether he is sick or healthy. As such, it is a productive space since it tests the limits of man, regardless of the condition and situation he finds himself in.
The Look or Which Look ?
It has always done it but in our time art does it more often, more effectively, for a longer duration and intensity. Contemporary art judges, confronts, even exercises polemics in abstract power and its specific mechanisms, in dominant institutions, in economic systems, in ideological barriers and above all in dominant stereotypes – and it does so systematically. It causes friction and rifts in the public discourse about the public space, its independence from the market or even its distinct nature, about the private and the possibility of entrenching it behind the veil of human rights. What is certain is that today’s art actively participates in the public debate on all the conflicting issues of the time: the politics of genders, the politics of memory, the politics of identities, the politics of human flows and the politics of their surveillance, control and repression.
Conversely, art enters the defense of rights, the conflict over exclusions and the debate over the value and scope of the Confinement of immigrants, refugees and all kinds of excluded people without work, without papers, without health… Art cultivates and constitutes a critical gaze which, depending on its intensity and subversiveness, is fought or praised by systemic institutions, public opinion or the media. In relation to this parameter, at least two logics collide in the public debate about the quality and character, the targeting and ultimately the politics of art’s gaze on all kinds of marginalized, excluded, non-normative.
The example of Documenta 14 that cast its gaze on the Athens of the crisis “to learn” from it and the criticisms of crypto-colonial politics that it had provoked have not yet been forgotten, (whether one agrees with this criticism or not). Similar discussions and criticisms are formulated when contemporary art colonizes with its body and gaze spaces of exclusion such as prisons and spaces of confinement such as mental hospitals. There is always the question of use, manner, aim and purpose. The dilemma of using the particular space as a shell “nice” and suitable for the fascination of the viewer’s gaze or as a field of conflict and unrest, which aims to break the social contract and deconstruct the assimilative power of the dominant discourse of the Economy, will enter always with tension. And what’s worse is that no one is ever sure of the effectiveness of the claimed rupture. Art’s power to subvert is bleakly questionable and probably cannot produce anything outside of itself. However, the practices of art “contribute to the formation of a new landscape of the visible, the spoken and the possible. They are forging other forms of the ‘common mind’, forms of a martial ‘common mind’, against the consensus”, as Jacques Rancière writes in his “Hands-on Spectator” and that is not a little or, better, that is the point!
The Spaces of " Confinements"
Suitable spaces for hosting and conducting the project were requested from the Dromokaiteio Hospital, on Iera Odos, on the road to Elefsina – and were granted for this purpose by decision of the Board of Directors of the Institution : Agios Isidoros, Daftsio and the old Printing Office. Three buildings of historical and symbolic importance. First two were abandoned for decades and are now being opened for the “Confinements” project, while the old printing house is the only one that has been renovated and is used as a museum, with the machines of the old printing house and the digits that exist in its place.
The wing of Agios Isidoros is a long rectangular building of two floors, from 1892, where the “anxious” and rather tired patients were confined, with small cells, with skylights and bars, on either side of a narrow corridor, with a restaurant area, where those who ate were judged by the patients as competent and functional, which is located on the ground floor and communicates with a small, narrow, almost suffocating, courtyard fenced with a high wall.
Daftsio is a building from 1932: large, high-ceilinged, eclectic style, with spacious rooms and windows with bars that slide and open according to the occasion and time. It has its own courtyard which, however, reached up to the outer wall-enclosure of the hospital and where the wealthiest patients were treated, whose families could pay the high hospital fees required for this ward. It is even said that the most advanced treatment methods were applied to the patients of Daftsio, with the use of psychoanalysis, music (there was also a piano in the room) and art.
The three buildings form an obtuse triangle, with the Printing Office at the top and the two buildings at the two corners of the base, facilitating a route from Daftsio to the Printing Office and finally to Agios Isidoros. The starting point and point of reference for the idea and implementation of the “Confinements” project was for us the rich and extremely important audio file that resulted from the interviews and oral testimonies collected by Maria Fafaliou from inmates/patients of Dromokaiteio, doctors of the hospital , nursing staff, relatives of patients and others involved, in the context of her research work. This archive was the material for her book “Iera Odos 343. Testimonies from Dromokaiteio”, (Alexandria Publications).
We are interested in the archive of testimonies but also in highlighting the history and importance of P.H.A. Dromokaiteio as the first psychiatric hospital in Greece, built from the beginning for this purpose and based on the French standards which were then considered the newest in the area, since, as we said, the French enlightenment, apart from the other good things, was also the father of asylums. Of course, we are also interested in the study and recording of contemporary art’s reflection on the issues of various confinements, real and symbolic, that strongly permeates individualized life as well as the social reality of our time. Finally, we are interested in exploring concepts that function as opposing dipoles such as illness/health, realities/imaginary landscapes, truth/false, inside/outside, confinement/freedom.
The forty-eight artists of the project participate with works that are dialectic, collide and, in any case, respond to the space and the semantic axis of the exhibition, works from the entire spectrum of the visual and not only the vocabulary of contemporary art: sculptures and installations, videos, sound constructions, painting, photography and performative actions.
In parallel with the visual part, 5 Seminars are organized with the participation of approximately seventy academics, researchers and writers who investigate the above issues through the scientific fields that we consider critical for the content and thematics of the project, such as those of psychoanalysis, philosophy, history, literature and political theory. It is perhaps the first time that such a broad Public Program has been organized that unfolds alongside the art exhibition, with the aim of thoroughly investigating the project’s subject matter through the osmosis of Contemporary Art, Science and Theory.
Works and Words
Chloe Akrithakis creates three escape fantasies with three photographs.
Dimitris Alithinos comments sharply on the violent dissolution of the human condition.
Dimitris Antonitsis visualizes the rustling of the end of a body.
Katerina Apostolidou paints patriarchal violence on the “restless” female body and the impossibility of escape.
Ileana Arnaoutou paints the twin sleep-death as the existential limits of confinement.
Kostis Velonis builds a triple confinement through the timelessness of modernism.
Babis Venetopoulos talks about loneliness/isolation in the years of digital confinement.
Antonis Volanakis sews a kimono from patches of alaza, a healing garment ready to treat a sick body.
Poka Yio and fifteen members of ASKT’s LAB 12 attempt to turn their dark, inner experiences into works.
Vangelis Gokas “reproduces” graffiti from an underground prison wall in palazzo ducale Venezia and turns his protagonist upside down.
Thomas Diotis talks about alienation and the voluntary return of everyone to their “golden” cage.
Markos Evlogenimos narrates the “fall” of man with a comic punk aesthetic.
Mary Zygouri reproduces the noise of writing with an old typewriter, amid a pandemonium of hundreds of poultry ready for slaughter.
Captain is guided by the legendary sailor/poet Cavavadias to cope with involuntary residency on Dromokaiteio and illustrates his confinement with 141 drawings.
Nikomachi Karakostanoglou dives into the bowels of her own existence to wonder about madness and creation.
Haris Kontosfyris traps his sculptural raging Andreas in a finite artificial paradise, a manufactured illusion.
Nikos Koliopoulos constructs a mattress of medicine boxes consumed by the citizen of the Earth in the 21st century with the naturalness of food and makes a mural of written side effects.
Kalliopi Lemou portrays the mentally and physically wounded man, creating a hybrid body supported in vain on crutches.
Maria Loizidou poses the question of whether a record of designs can be coordinated with social history and public culture, clothing a confinement cell with them.
Maria Louizou films a performance with a piano-embroidery floating on the wall like the continental song heard with icy heartbreak.
Natalia Manda crafts an ode to writing/thinking by making small and large totemic compositions with iron and clay that converse with the heavy machines of old printing.
Maro Michalakakou makes from clay, velvet, light and iron a snapshot of two lovers who are separated by the railings of Dromokaiteio and she met by chance during one of her visits.
Vassilis Bakalis sets up the wildest fixation scene with humble materials. Carved beasts flying on an iron bed and videos of distorted faces singing at the altar of confusion and violence.
Mania Benisi captures with her lens the moment when the cracks are born in the underground of Iera Odos, injured by modern technology.
Vally Nomidou wonders if a cell can be turned into a place of perseverance and creation and makes the bust of a paper angel, which will never fly… Papadimitriou’s Angel shows how poetry should be read, that is, how the mind escapes and the soul from any bars, real or symbolic.
With her installation, Anna Papaeti connects the concepts of audibility and control, creating a connecting link between those who “hear voices” and social control in the name of what is healthy and what is pathological.
Ilias Papailiakis attempts to represent the horse and to negotiate the idea of the structured other discourse within the discourse.
Nina Papakonstantinou makes the meaning of writing inaccessible and questions the possibility of communication.
Artemis Potamianou builds the settlement of female confinement by the “protective” patriarchy. Panos Profitis creates three male figures in an imaginary universe and searches for the relationships between phobias and dreams, consciousness and the subconscious.
Penelope Petsini and Nikos Panagiotopoulos try to capture the human condition in the inhuman space of the Leros psychiatric confinement.
Dimitris Redoumis conveys the stereotypes of the lowly, the fragile, the sensitive, the unstable in terms of the material he uses, that is, paper, which he processes in the manner of cloth to construct different textures and compose other narratives.
Marios Spiliopoulos pays tribute to his “restless” friends, crazy poets, and followers of utopia and anti-psychiatry, surrealism and rebellion.
Giorgos Tserionis makes from perishable materials, unfired clay, unstable and fluid bodies with cracks, dangerous risks and difficult balances.
Eleni Tzirtzilaki constructs an experiential work, a confinement room with drawings and embroideries, poems and moving images.
Kostas Tsolis sets up a special ready-made behind the eye of the heavy wooden door of a cell, enclosing wild nature and stopping time.
Sokratis Fatouros hangs like a banner an asphalt cloth where he spreads the gestural design, imprint or outline of the human figure in its most simple, primitive and archetypal form.
Alexis Fidetzis makes a political comment about the changeability of a place like the castle of Akronafplia, which from being a place of confinement and exile for the dissidents of the Metaxas regime is evolving into a stone structure that is suffocated by the thorns of the prickly pear, the barbed wire of nature.
Dimitris Halatsis investigates psychiatric hospitals and penitentiaries, as places of confinements and treatment that “produce” law, psychiatrists, guards, and other professionals but also the “necessary” industry of analgesics and drugs, while reproducing a specific ideology.
Despina Charitonidis makes a small gesture of great density by making a dangerous spiky “jewelry”, for a worn wall, ready to pierce any skin or sensitive surface.
Kostas Christopoulos constructs from the humblest materials the model of a refugee settlement that historically trapped thousands of accumulated bodies within its walls and small surface area.
Dionysis Christofilogiannis makes hand-made and laborious sculptures from old frames – a reference to the space and time of human illness, suffering, and mourning.
Performances and installations
Filippos Vassiliou with Agapi Zarda in the sound processing, engages in an intense battle of body and spirit. He turns his gaze towards himself. He creates a replica of his head on a monumental scale. It enters into it and integrates itself and moves it in such a way that it functions as a body.
Stathis Grapsas and Alexandros Voutsinas perform a live rehearsal of a text written by Voutsinas during his years of confinement in the psychiatric hospital of Korydallos prison.
Yannis Mitrou creates an installation of white tiles which extends across the space creating an autonomous spatiality. The physicality of the installation interacts with the physical presence of the viewer both during his movement on them and with the demarcation caused in relation to the rest of the existing space, structuring a performativity.
Savvas Stroumbos directs Elli English and Anna Marka-Bonichel, based on the iconic text “To end the slaughter of the body” written by the radical psychoanalyst and philosopher Felix Guattari in 1973.
Philippos Tsitsopoulos indulges in a series of actions, installations and video projections, in two adjoining rooms in Agios Isidoros of Dromokaiteio and has the opportunity to re-examine Hamlet “as a lake in heat, a furrow full of all that we are unable to mention without trembling”…