essays / catalogue excerpts
Laboratory of Dilemmas
57th International Art Exhibition
La Biennale di Venezia
With contributions by: Katerina Koskina, George Drivas/ Orestis Andreadakis, Evgenia Giannouri, Petros Babasikas, Nikos Panayotopoulos, Daphne Vitali, Christian Hadjiminas.
Published by the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST)
Laboratory conditions as a seebed of dilemmas
[Art Historian, Director EMST ]
On Forking Paths
[Lecturer at the Univercity of Patras, department of Architecture]
Laboratory of critical “analogism”:
The real under the microscope of contemporary art
[Senior Lecturer Department of Film and Audiovisual Studies University of Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle]
The obscurantism of the Lights
[Professor of Sociology, University of Athens]
In Search of a Narrative:
Between Stillness and the Moving Image.
A Survey of George Drivas’s Filmic Work.
[Art Historian, Curator. National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST)]
Laboratory conditions as a seebed of dilemmas
Katerina Koskina [Art Historian, Director EMST ]
For years George Drivas has been focusing his artistic research on the relationship between photography, cinema and text, constantly experimenting and evolving his own personal style. The raw material of his works consists of black-and-white photos, moving pictures, sound and text in the form of captions. Led by a profound need to understand the world and guided by a deep-seated unease for the perplexities of human relationships and the categorization of human beings according to social stereotypes, he chose to employ the inherently hybrid medium of digital video in order to create cinematic narratives that oscillate between reality, fiction and performance. As such, he configured his own artistic idiom, in the form of narrative cinematic installations, which are conceptually complex and aesthetically minimal.
Historically, video art dissociated itself from cinema by adopting established practices from other art-forms (e.g. photography, performance or even painting); however, innovative and traditional methods have merged in recent decades, as boundaries expanded and new media converged, to the extent that terms such as “film” and “video” are now used interchangeably to designate the same digital medium. Thus, contemporary video artists consistently use cinematographic techniques, both in producing (scenography, direction, script/narration, montage etc.) and in exhibiting their works (large projection screens, dark rooms etc.). This “new cinematic aesthetic in video” has been described by Chrissie Iles as follows: “In form and content, video is now mimicking the qualities that had always pertained exclusively to film. The use of the word video as a defining term for a particular area of contemporary art no longer appears to be either necessary or relevant”.
George Drivas’s films are defined by structural rigor, minimal scenography and take a distance from the banalities of everyday life as they put forward an idealistic approach to issues of diachronic significance pertaining to mankind. Their themes reflect the artist’s sincere concern with superficial communication, isolation, fear and with people’s spontaneous or directed decisions in response to new or old yet timely dilemmas. In deliberately abstract spaces, George Drivas reinstates questions that preoccupy humanity ever since the birth of society and, by maintaining a balance between history and fiction, he demands our involvement. Their atmosphere bear a resemblance to film noir and documentary, impregnated with a sense of scientific objectivity but also mystery, due to an ambiguity regarding the space and time in which their story unfolds. What they all share in common is a neutral approach to their subject-matter, as the shots seem to have been filmed by a detached observer whose exclusive aim is to disclose the essence of the dilemma, thus replacing the colorful sentimentality of everyday life with laboratory observation conditions. The music and the text – personal, fictional or classic – are of decisive importance for the development of the plot and the spectator’s involvement.
George Drivas’s protagonists, through their confined action, their simplistic and impersonal behavior, acquire properties of a linguistic code. One could liken them to black notes on a musical score, letters printed by a typewriter on a white sheet, the black and white pawns in a game of chess. Detached, emotionally disengaged, they look like puppets in laboratory conditions, in a dystopian and out-of-time setting, observing and being observed, as they are confronted with issues of critical and vital importance.
The viewer is simultaneously a spectator/ surveyor, since this is a visual art piece, but also an active participant, as he is confronted with one or more questions and dilemmas, without being able to ignore the verisimilitude of cinematic reality nor dismiss his own existential subjectivity, urging him to become emotionally engaged. Under quasi-laboratory conditions and in undefined time, lacking any indication that could simplify or historically contextualize their dilemma, they are called to reflect upon it, according to their own experiences and perceptions. The more restrained, strange and detached the film characters appear, the more difficult it is for the spectators to identify with them. At the same time, as the latter realize that it is impossible to proceed without invoking their subjective moral criteria, their dilemma grows even further, since they cannot be certain that the whole truth has been revealed to them nor whether this narrative is entirely fictional. However, in a situation simulating life itself, these dilemmas activate our psychical and mental introspective mechanisms, seeking for an answer.
 Chrissie Iles, “Issues in the New Cinematic Aesthetic
in Video”, in Saving the Image: Art after Film, T. Leighton and P. Buchler (eds.), (CCA: Glasgow 2003) 140.
On Forking Paths
Petros Babasikas [Lecturer at the Univercity of Patras, department of Architecture]
A fork is a dichotomy; a choice of alternatives; a dilemma. It implies movement in a given direction; a path with a beginning and an end; the likelihood of other forks before or after it. A fork exists in space as much as we do, and in time inasmuch as we cross it. More than choice, it necessitates decision, an act of no return, first seen then manifested by ‘taking’ a path. It is thus a key place and moment in a story, visible in its design, a problem and solution perceived by audience and protagonists alike, because in its split they connect, as do story time and real time. Present in many different media, the fork breaches fiction with reality.
Jorge Luis Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths is a protean artifact containing multiple (yet not endless) events in its story: “an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe [where] … all possible outcomes occur, each one the point of departure of other forkings.” This artifact is simultaneously a novel, a labyrinth, and none of the above; also, an ivory piece of furniture, a garden, and the short story where all these possibilities are narrated. To unlock the garden’s multiple yet finite narratives, the reader must jump from chapter to chapter or walk its paths in different sequences. Borges’ characters sense our presence as we piece together theirs, in “a swarming sensation” where “the humid garden that surrounds the house [is] infinitely saturated with invisible persons.” In the variations of a plot, the premise of the documentary, the individual arcs of a great event, we confront the biases of History and media, which are neither linear nor wholesome.
The three distinct spaces presenting the respective acts of George Drivas’ “Laboratory of Dilemmas” write their forking paths much like Borges’ artifacts. A walkway of screens, a labyrinth and a projection room, they piece together an open-ended narrative. They contain fragments saved from the ruins of human knowledge: original documentary footage of a lost scientific experiment, a reenactment of a council’s deliberations, and audio from experimental proceedings. These stories-within-stories are based on excerpts from Aeschylus’ Suppliants, a piece of the lost Danaid Tetralogy, tracing its missing, tragic conclusion. Their history is decidedly not linear, containing simultaneous, multiple yet finite events. Their tone and visual style are scientific. They give homage to another master of forks, loops and suspense, whose labyrinths swarm with groomed, sinister, thespian, technological ghosts, and whose cold-blooded frames are classical compositions: Stanley Kubrick.
In this assemblage of walkway, labyrinth and projection, the visitor often connects with and occasionally inhabits the characters’ decisions. Much like in a garden, a carpet or a labyrinth, the characters’ dilemmas are visible in the installation’s plan: we occupy both their position and that of the weaver of their plot. We move from chapter to chapter, discovering the story’s gaps and missing pieces, switching the viewpoints of the visitor, scientist, artist, king or council. The sequence ends inconclusively, in an endless loop. The final space projects us from the story of Aeschylus’ Suppliants to History-in-the-making. In its visible nodes, inhabited problems and manifest non-solutions, Drivas’ “Laboratory of Dilemmas” blurs fiction with reality.
An experiment is imminent.
 OED, in Perla Sasson-Henry, Borges 2.0: From Text to Virtual Worlds, New York, 2007: Peter Lang, p. 29.
 Jorge Luis Borges, trans. Donald Yates, The Garden of Forking Paths, Ficciones, New York, 1962: Grove Press, p. 47.
 Borges’ world is a bookish one, containing kind monsters, archetypal spaces and mercurial annotations. His stories are fragments saved from the inscrutable ruins of human knowledge. His heroes inhabit labyrinths, libraries, encyclopedias and stories within stories, constantly tapping at the surface of reality and occasionally breaching it.
 Borges, op. cit., p. 50.
 The hypertextual project of Borges is a continuation of Adolfo Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel, and also of the precisely mapped cross-references of Joyce’s Ulysses. The same project of challenging reality and linear history is picked up, twenty years later, by Julio Cortázar in Hopscotch, a novel that can be read in different chapter sequences.
Laboratory of critical “analogism”: The real under the microscope of contemporary art
Evgenia Giannouri [Senior Lecturer Department of Film and Audiovisual Studies University of Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle]
George Drivas’ audiovisual installation Laboratory of Dilemmas (the official Greek participation in the 57th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, 2017) investigates the limits of science and art; truth and lie; the faithful reproduction of the real and its narrative reconstruction. The installation is based on Aeschylus’ tragedy Suppliant Women: to avoid marrying their first cousins, the Suppliant Women leave Egypt for Argos where they seek asylum from the king of the city. If he helps them, he risks altering the national, social and religious character of the city, in addition to provoking war with the Egyptians. If he does not help them, he will be violating the tacit laws of hospitality as well as the principles of humanity and the rule of law. George Drivas’ installation attempts to shift this quandary: “What if the Suppliant Women were not humans but an infinitesimal organism in the universe threatened with extinction? What if the people of Argos were a scientific community asked whether or not to allow the organism to be placed in the safe environment of the laboratory? How would science answer the question posed by the tragedy?”
The shift of the initial dilemma from the sphere of the socio-political to that of the cosmological dealing with the relationship between science and ethics is the foundation upon which rests the narrative structure of the installation. The transfer from one to the other is justified by the reflective relationship that arises between them. George Drivas creates a symmetrical “analogon” of the dilemma facing the society of Argos: embrace the “foreign” or maintain the “domestic”? A symmetrical “analogon” which transposes the qualitative features of the question raised by Aeschylus, aiming ultimately to outline the current situation of the world and issues related to the changes brought to the international geopolitical landscape.
The installation combines three time-space units (dimensions):
1.Central Europe, 1960: A scientific experiment is being conducted in order to find a treatment for hepatitis. The laboratory research is headed by a Greek professor of cytology in a laboratory set up by him in the form of a maze.
2.Buenos Aires, 2016: Unedited footage of a documentary film about this experiment is discovered in the Buenos Aires cinémathèque.
3.Here, today (space and time undetermined): based on the notes left by the filmmaker of the documentary (whose name remains unknown), the viewer watches a cinematic reenactment of the last meeting held by the scientists.
The installation reproduces this triadic division. It is conceived and staged on the basis of a similar tripartite stratification. It includes an Upper Level, a Lower Level-Maze and a Closed Room. In all these three parts, screens and speakers present original or reenacted material from the documentary which was discovered in Argentina.
George Drivas mingles consciously the narrative tracks with the different time-space units. The outcome is a complex narrative and architectural structure using models such as the labyrinth and the superposition of strata (historical times, information, etc.) in order to present a revised version of the ancient dilemma of the Suppliant Women while at the same time comment on the world we live in today. The stratification and the repeated reconstruction of the “known” into the “different” help us perceive how things that seem disconnected are indeed connected; furthermore, how they manage to interact in the fractured, fragmented continuum which makes up contemporary reality. “Layering” and the “labyrinth” stand for thought models, a kind of polyscopic vision and cohesive perception of pluralities, capable of enhancing the proportional relationship which governs things and experiences. I will return to the concept of proportionality and more specifically to that of “analogism” a little later.
At this point I would like to pay greater attention to the very essence of the dilemma. This marks the shift from the rhetoric of Aeschylus to that of George Drivas. It is at the same time the common reference point which constitutes and connects the two stories together. This dilemma is also what urges the viewers to relate what is happening in both stories to the historical now. The viewers are invited to activate their experiences as citizens of a world scarred by what Edward Said calls “the rift forced between man and his homeland”. To the dilemma and confusion that make up the content of the narratives, George Drivas adds an additional variable – that of form. The uncertainty regarding what we see and hear determines our experience as viewers. Are we witnessing actual facts or rather their representation? Are we confronted with mere fiction? Where is the border line between the document and its simulation? What is the coefficient of authenticity of each stage of the story as well as of the installation? How is the deception carried out, if deception exists? Within such a context of confusion, the viewer is continuously led to interrogate what is seen and heard. He/she is led to question the nature of the cinematic or literary genre with which the audiovisual material is associated; to be more precise, the spectrum of genres activated by the installation, namely from documentary film to science fiction and from mere fiction to experimental film. Eventually, the way in which the project chooses to freely navigate through different genres and their respective morphological features (documentary, fiction, science fiction) renders the border between them permeable and the very requirement for identification and classification, totally obsolete.
 The text and the information have been drawn from material kindly provided by the artist.
 The information has been drawn from material kindly provided by the artist.
 See Edward W. Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass. 2008, p. 137.
The obscurantism of the Lights
Nikos Panayotopoulos [Professor of Sociology, University of Athens]
Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the cunning to spread the truth among such persons.
Foreigner, immigrant, refugee... There has been much commotion over these forms of social existence; a commotion which cloaks a guilty, deafening silence. It is exactly this silence that is being broken by George Drivas’s work, thus allowing us, through the formal searching it effects, to disclose a major repressed aspect of European culture.
Indeed, from the Laboratory of Dilemmas – from this Kafkaesque universe in which the life and death of the foreign body is perilously determined by a power capable of being absolute – there emerges a profound question addressing the false universalism of the West or, in Pierre Bourdieu’s words, the “imperialism of the universal” (of which Europe has been the quintessential incarnation): isn’t this “irrationalism”, as the refugee issue is often depicted nowadays, partly the “product” of our own rationalism; a rationalism which is imperialist, despotic and conquering or compromising, protective and repressive, depending on the place and time?
In fact, the perplexity, inadequacy, violence and contradictions that characterize today’s processes of understanding and managing this “product” betray the fact that, in certain cases, universalism was and is nothing more than a form of nationalism, which invokes the universal (human rights etc.) in order to impose itself and disregard any resistance as a return to obscurantist violence.
The structural collective hypocrisy of concurrent discourses on the Foreigner and the simple reversal of causes and effects often lead us to “blame the victims”, by imputing to their “nature” the responsibility for the hardships they endure. As such, today’s dominant abstract universalism, through which we manage the status and future of the Foreigner, contributes to the legitimization of the established order, reinforces the existing distribution of powers and privileges, and fails to identify the Foreigner’s distinctive properties as the result of a collective and individual history marked by a relationship of domination between states.
.Bertolt Brecht, Galileo, trans. Charles Laughton (New York: Grove Press, 1966), 131.
. Pierre Bourdieu, Acts of Resistance Against the Tyranny of the Market, trans. Richard Nice (New York: The New York Press 1998), 19.
In Search of a Narrative:
Between Stillness and the Moving Image.
A Survey of George Drivas’s Filmic Work
Daphne Vitali [Art Historian, Curator. National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST)]
The still and moving image have been among the paramount concerns of film theorists since its earliest inception. Films are born and evolve out of photography. As noted by the film theorist Ziegfried Kracauer, “[a film] is intrinsically photographic in spite of any other technical properties that it may possess, while the truly cinematic film is the one that remains truest to its photographic nature.”
Relying on the aesthetics of the still image and often using freeze-frames, rather than continuous motion, George Drivas’s filming is grounded on stillness, whereas in most of his works he uses a technique of rhythmically alternating image sequences. As the artist points out: "The still image is the building block for the moving image, and that’s precisely how I use it. I evoke motion without feeling obliged to reproduce it. I only use photography as a slice of a film, a film frame."
As has often been argued, unlike the cinematic "presence" of the moving image, the still photographic image refers to something recorded, which belongs to the past. "On one side, there is movement, the present, presence; on the other, immobility, the past, a certain absent," notes Raymond Belour. However, Laura Mulvey and Raymond Belour have observed that it is the still image that offers room for reflection, and that stillness within the moving image engenders a "pensive spectator." Looking at George Drivas’s film work, we could argue that the spectator is invited to assume such a role, of observing the film’s still frames, pondering on them, thus providing the completion of the artwork. In the artist’s words: "The viewer is invited to fill in the missing frames of the film unfolding before their eyes. The use of this absence, the abstraction and ‘emptiness’ created by using a frame, rather than a constantly moving image, is precisely what provides the space and time required for the viewer to project their own thoughts on to the story unfolding before their eyes.” On the other hand, still images cannot by themselves constitute narratives; yet, they can be regarded as excerpts of a narrative. Moreover, as highlighted by the new-media curator Christine Van Ash, the story unfolds in moving image. It is no coincidence that, seeking to emphasise plot and narrative in his most recent works, Drivas turns to motion.
Attempting a survey of Drivas’s body of films, we might argue that his investigation for some fifteen years now involves experimentation on the moving, or non-narrative, image and a quest for an abstract language as regards both narrative and form. In his earlier short films, the plot is of secondary importance, and the events consist of brief episodes unfolding at a steady pace.
The sequence of photographic images combined with the electronic sonic textures enhance the rhythmic quality, while his black and white footage is most evocative. In his later works, as the plot gains in importance, the image acquires both motion and colour, first introduced in Sequence Error, in 2011. In his latest work, with which Drivas represents Greece at the 57th Venice Biennale, the narrative is subtly layered and – as will be shown in detail below – different stories, mythologies and realities intertwine.
 David Campany (ed.), The Cinematic. Documents of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel and MIT Press, London/Cambridge 2007, p. 115.
 Raymond Bellour, “The Pensive Spectator” (1984), in D. Campany (ed.), The Cinematic. Documents of Contemporary Art, ibid., p. 119.
 Laura Mulvey, Death 24x a Second. Stillness and the Moving Image, Reaktion Books, London 2006, p. 181–196.
Mail in progress
ORESTIS: Dear George, it’s been almost two years since we first discussed Aeschylus’s Suppliants Women. I remember everything from that conversation, on a spring day of 2015 in Athens; everything but the world surrounding us. I feel as if the world was different back then. In fact, I always feel as such. “Yesterday’s world” seems to be completely different from “today’s world”. Since we’re in the last week of our preparation, I decided to write you this email, to reflect on everything we did in the last couple of years and put them in some order. And yet, this is exactly what I wanted to avoid: order. Disorder suits me better.During these years, the Suppliant Women put us through many trials – “trials of disorder” as I like to call them, since they compelled us to disrupt our stream of certainty.
It was as if we suddenly found ourselves in a minefield of ideas, but instead of choosing of the safe way out, we decided to move right into it. What I’m meaning to say is that the “Laboratory of Dilemmas” took us out of our comfort zone; both of us, but mostly you. It forced you to revisit all your past works, find links between them and discover their heretic affinities.
You’re right, Orestis. Almost subconsciously, I began to redefine my work, by adding and subtracting pieces. Only now I come to realize to what extent the “Laboratory of Dilemmas” is actually in dialogue with my previous works. Simultaneously, it created a set of complete new conditions which led me to utilize media and practices that I purposely refused to incorporate in my past works – e.g. a construction or multiple monitor screens.
Even drawing inspiration from an ancient text is something quite new to me. Just like the suppliant women in Aeschylus’s tragedy, I more or less purposely exposed myself to a quite alien territory, which was in a sense familiar and yet untrodden. Unlike the Danaids, however, I don’t know exactly what was hunting me.
The suppliant women fled Egypt in an attempt to escape a forced marriage to their cousins and asked King Pelasgus for his protection.
When the fifty daughters of Danaus fled to Argos, Greece, crying with “pain on their tender face”, they appeal first and foremost to Zeus – the “guard of suppliants”. In a sense, they’re lucky, for at least they had this god to appeal to back then. But who protects the “foreigner”, him or her who is “different”, not only the immigrant or the refugee, but anyone who embodies the deadlocks of foreignness, today?
The “foreigner” has always been a most perilous figure for social cohesion; it was he who put under question the instituted normality, the official narrative of the state, the illusion of the bounded self.
Today, however, the “foreigner” returns as a real threat.
GEORGE: Indeed, the “foreigner” today is designated as a threat, or at least as an issue of social concern, and becomes the scapegoat for all the woes of the Western world. Sadly, in an age lacking grand narratives and common aspirations, the peoples of different nations are united in their retrenchment against the “foreigner”. Widespread socio-political instability has revitalized reactionary and overly simplistic doctrines and practices, such religious fundamentalism, nationalism, xenophobia and homophobia. Boarders, walls, prisons, controls and terrorist acts bring to mind long forgotten ages of fanaticism and isolation, when things were rigid, remote and completely demarcated. We’re witnessing the advent of a neo-medieval era of prohibitions, omnipresent fear for the “other” and self-confinement. Anything “foreign” is absolutely dangerous.
This is why Aeschylus defense of the Danaids is distressingly timely. Already in the tragedy’s first episode, the “foreigners” unfold their genealogical tree to King Pelasgus. “Argives we claim to be by birth”, they assert and demonstrate, through a recourse to mythology, that they are descendants of an Argive priestess and lover of Zeus, Io.
As such, Aeschylus attempts to formulate a universal cosmogony and conceptualize a “common homeland”, in which the “foreign” and the “intimate” are in fact identical.
For Aeschylus, the daughters of Danaus don’t “invade” a city which is foreign to them, because they actually “return” to their city of origin; they return to their past to claim their future. “Journeys to relive your past? … Journeys to recover your future?” was Great Khan’s question to Marco Polo in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. And Marco’s answer was: “Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have”. This “elsewhere”, this “negative mirror”, is also the setting of the tragedy experienced by the “foreigner” today.
GEORGE: Not just by the refugee, who obviously doesn’t travel by choice, but by every “foreigner” who’s forced to violently relocate his or her existence, to make a compulsory “correction” which appears inevitable and, in my opinion, can never replace what was lost, the Being-that-was. I think what Aeschylus suggests, addressing perhaps the most crucial and anthropocentric dimension of this phenomenon, is that the “foreign” can be our fellow. In this sense, we’re all connected to each other – an assertion of humanism on the part of the author.
ORESTIS: We encounter this exact humanism again, centuries later, in Alexandros Papadiamantis’s remarkable short-story The Decadent Dervish. The author recounts the story of another “suppliant”, a homeless Muslim musician meandering through the streets of Athens in 1896. Although he’s obviously not an asylum seeker, he’s wandering anonymously and eventually proves his affinity to the locals, through his dignity and especially through his music.
GEORGE: Indeed, the “foreign” is part of the “intimate” and, as such, it cannot but be accepted. To quote a character from the “Laboratory of Dillema’s” final scene: “Since the foreign is intimate, it wouldn’t make much sense to reject it”. This is where the dilemma for the King of Argos lies. Even though it’s dangerous for his city to grant asylum to the suppliant women, he cannot but accept them. Anything else would run against the principles of society and the gods’ imperatives.
ORESTIS: The divinely protected tradition of hospitality is of enormous significance here, since Aeschylus’s engagement with religious matters is evident in all his works. And it’s truly disturbing that some of the most intolerant views today are being voiced by priests or political parties who claim to be Christian. A simple reference to the Great and Holy Friday Orthodox Troparion would suffice to demolish their xenophobic argumentation. Accordingly, Joseph approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body by saying the following words: “Give me this foreigner, who from his youth hath wandered like a foreigner. Give me this foreigner, whom his kinsmen killed in hatred like a foreigner … Give me this foreigner who knoweth how to take in the poor and foreigners … Give me this foreigner that I may bury him in a tomb, who being a foreigner hath no place whereon to lay his head”.
In my opinion, it’s a dilemma between a crude realism and a higher morality, between a technocratic understanding of society and a grander vision, a new beginning – which, I think, is missing today.
Are there common moral principles in contemporary societies? What do we believe in? These are the fundamental questions raised in the “Laboratory of Dilemmas”. As such, the dilemma in Aeschylus’s tragedy is now reframed in a totally different context. It doesn’t concern only the fate of the foreigner, but also the way in which we may manage our very own reality. The work asks: “If we were to imagine and design the way in which our world will operate in the future, what would our criteria be?” Besides accepting or rejecting the “new cells”, the issue of disagreement between the laboratory’s researchers regards the basis upon which they shall reach their final decision.
Of course, there are more connections with the Suppliant Women: lost fragments, a man who faces a similar dilemma, his decision to ask his associates, thus resembling the King of Argos who asked his people for a final verdict… and all these take place somewhere in the past, during a mythical event; just like in Aeschylus’s work.
Actually, the “Laboratory of Dilemmas” refers to two mythical events: a scientific experiment that was carried out during the 60s and a lost documentary which recorded the laboratory’s proceeding. Both events articulate a whole mythology, at the core of which are the dilemmas present in the mythology of The Suppliant Women.
As such, the “Laboratory of Dilemmas” becomes a complementary and yet self-contained mythology – a palimpsest in a sense.
Yes, the “Laboratory of Dilemmas” is a work that refers to another work – a documentary of a scientific experiment ¬– which, in turn, refers to another work: the experiment itself. In a peculiar “live adaptation” of the Suppliant Women, the researchers of the experiment and the protagonists in Aeschylus’s work were confronted with the same dilemmas.
In this context, different levels of concepts and interpretation succeed one another to make evident a diachronic complexity and composition. It’s as if the work draws a connection between the age of Aeschylus and the world today, claiming that some issues will always remain relevant to the human race.
Hence, we’re dealing with the reenactment of a lost “work”. If this wasn’t the case, then perhaps we wouldn’t need to reenact it today in order to prove its existence. As John Berger suggested in a different context: “Painting is, first, an affirmation of the visible which surrounds us and which continually appears and disappears. Without the disappearing, there would perhaps be no impulse to paint […]” 
However, this particular reenactment seems to raise another issue: that of cinematic narration.
Gilles Deleuze explored the ways in which cinema can “convey multiple and contradictory sheets of time” 
I think that representing these “sheets of time” is central to the “Laboratory of Dilemma’s” structure. For Deleuze, realism is no longer a “mimetic analogical adequation between a sign and referent”, as is the case in the superficially “realistic” video excerpts projected in the Greek pavilion – which, in this sense, “don’t represent the real, but restore it”.
Deleuze also wrote about the “instinct of lived duration” and the “unstable frame” which allows time to flow through its boundaries, in the same way it flows through the installation’s six video frames and five audio excerpts. I believe that these frames and excerpts could be seen as a single frame with “time breaches”. Thus, beginning with “movement-image” and the rational montage of commercial cinema, moving to “time-image” which is based on discontinuity, “faux raccords” and fragmentary narration, we now reach a third type of montage which develops as we walk.
Yes, the “Laboratory of Dilemmas” is a park of audio-visual experiences; it is a movie that unfolds in front of the spectator, not as a series of successive moving pictures, but as a sequence of different narrative materials, fragments and approaches, that are being discovered by the audience through a peripatetic act.
First, the spectators watch a mediated and partially directed audio-visual material of an experiment through the excerpts of a documentary that was filmed in the laboratory; next, they listen to a number of original and unedited audio excerpts which are crucial for the narrative’s development; finally, they partake in an adaptation, a dramatized reenactment of a story. Therefore, this particular narrative experience demands an active stance on the part of audience.
The “Laboratory of Dilemmas” takes places in its entirety within a labyrinth. But what exactly is a labyrinth? I was impressed by the way in which you incorporated in your work Panagis Lekatsas’ theory from the The Labyrinth: Origins and Evolution of a Form of Poetic Mythology – which I gave you on one of our first meetings. In this study, the author suggests that the labyrinth in Knossos Palace “was not a prison made of endless looping corridors leading to dead-ends” but perhaps a “labyrinth dance” – a ritualistic dance which “reenacted the wandering” of Theseus and his comrades” within the maze.
Lekatsas, the founder of Greek social anthropology, refers back to Homer and Plutarch, to the tragic and folk poetry, and studies painting on antique Greek vases and coins, concludes that “Knossos’ labyrinth was in reality a dancefloor designed as a maze, so as to direct the movement of a similar dance”.
Likewise, the labyrinth in the “Laboratory of Dilemmas” is not a simply a decorative element but a whole “dance process”; a form of wandering within a cinematic projection and map for overcoming its narrative deadlocks the obstacles.
Exactly. The reason I’m using a labyrinth is not to disorient the audience, but to guide them. In this case, “getting lost” in a maze of narratives and information is the necessary condition for the spectators to reach the exit, which can serve as a catharsis, in the sense that it may offer a clearer perspective. Moreover, the Professor’s laboratory in the documentary is also a labyrinth; he designed his lab as such, because he believes that a maze stimulates our willingness to transgress our limits.
In the Greek pavilion, the spectator and the story’s protagonist share the same agony. We have to get lost in its data, we have to expose ourselves, in order to find a solution and become wiser, in the words of the protagonist. The labyrinth is a challenge we have to undertake, it is the time and energy we have to invest, the work we must do, as individuals and as societies.
ORESTIS: The final scene screened in the Screening Room – a reenactment of the debate between the laboratory’s scientists – is left unfinished. We never find out what their final decision was. Did they accept to include the new cells in the culture? In Aeschylus’s Suppliant Women we know that the Argive people decided in favor of the Danaids. What do think the decision of the scientists would have been? Positive or negative?
The ending of the final scene in the Laboratory of Dilemmas follows the contrast between what we or, at least, I wish and what actually happens. Given the rise of nationalism in Europe, the conservative turn in the USA and the first exit of a member-country from the European Union, I’m afraid that the scientists today would have decided against the protection of the new cells. Sadly, such views seem to prevail globally these days.
In the Suppliant Women, the King of Argos faces a dilemma between being “realistic” or following a deeper moral imperative; eventually he chooses the latter.
But what is our social morality today? In what society do we want to live in and what sacrifices does it take to create it? Where do we want to be in twenty years from now?
Perhaps, through art, we may begin to discuss these questions.
Let’s put down the alternatives and articulate a new vision.
We can easily change the ending of a film; unfortunately, it’s less easy to change our future.