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Greek artist’s Michalis Argyrou interactive ice installation and Rafika Chawishe’s long durational performance explores identity themes of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land

PERFORMANCE: Chawishe replaces the figure trapped in the ice with a live, naked human body, searching for meaning through multifold transformations and exploring the ever-changing nature of politics, society, and identity inspired by figures in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. While digging through the soil and icy remains, Chawishe unmasks false stereotypes and patterns humans use as a cloak to conceal fears conform to societal norms. Chawishe enacts the roles people portray in a lifetime through colorful costumes and makeup, only to discover the only one that matters is the true self. Preoccupied with ideas about transformation and ridicule, she tests the audience’s acceptance of the incongruous and unfamiliar to the limit.

Undercurrent and Greece in USA present Wasteland, a performance-based interactive installation by visual artist Michalis Argyrou and performance artist Rafika Chawishe.

The art installation and participatory event begins 2022 with a powerful piece to launch Greece in USA’s new program Greece NOW, focusing on Greek artists who experiment with the politics of “nowness” and reflect upon the ubiquity and social ramifications of “nowness” in the digital age.

Wasteland echoes themes from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land on the 100th anniversary of one of the most iconic poems of the 20th century. The poem examines the decline of outdated certainties that held society together and what occurs when they break. There is no turning back, only transformation of those broken cultural fragments into something new.

The audience is invited to explore the latent meanings of Eliot’s writings by experiencing the transitions and transformative life of a human figure encapsulated in a 3.5-ton ice installation created by Michalis Argyrou. The viewers are invited to participate by lighting a candle and placing it inside the holes of the sculpture. Then, as it melts, the ice figure is transformed, and the artistic vision of a collective reawakening is revealed.

As the new identity of the melted figure emerges, actress and performance artist Rafika Chawishe enacts notions of transition for eight hours in an intensive, long-form durational performance that symbolizes the human trapped inside the ice capsule. The piece alludes to Eliot’s out-of-court settlement against the Canadian professor John Peter who argued that the “Waste Land” is an elegy dedicated to his beloved deceased Jean Verdenal.

The participatory installation Wasteland challenges notions of what is being wasted, calls attention to the temporal inertia and urges for renewal and regeneration. The figure’s entrapment in the interactive installation by Michalis Argyrou alludes to our collective “wastelands” and the mundane.

My friend, blood shaking in my heart/ The awful daring of a moment’s surrender/ Which an age of prudence can never retreat/ By this and this only we have existed/ A secret which is not to be found in our obituaries/ Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider/ Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor/ In our empty rooms–Excerpt from What the Thunder Said from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.

Interactive Installation: Michalis Argyrou
Long-durational Performance: Rafika Chawishe
Curation: Dr. Sozita Goudouna for GREECE in USA
Coordination: Vangelis Zacharatos

For all press-related inquiries please contact publicist Cindy Sibilsky
Photo credit: Lingfei Ren
Download Press Release HERE

Wasteland is the inaugural project of the new program Greece NOW by the non-profit organization Greece in USA. Greece NOW showcases Greek artists who explore themes of “nowness” in their oeuvre, how it relates to social ramifications in the digital age, and how “nowness” relates to “newness” of aesthetic forms, modes of production, discourse, performance, technology, ecology, economy, and politics. The selected artists of Greece NOW utilize their artistic practice to envision new social actions, forms of community and imagine new worlds to overcome global concerns.

Michalis Argyrou (born 1968) is a visual artist, creative director and set designer. He received a scholarship to study at the National School of Fine Arts in Athens, graduating with honors. He holds degrees from the Open Photography Studio, Focus and the Royal College of Art in London. Michalis is the founder of the event production company “Sambo Events” and the Architectural office “Create New Ideas Architects.” He has participated in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally and has curated and designed performances, exhibitions and cultural events, and design projects. From 2006-2008 he was the General Director of the international art fair of Athens, “Art Athina.” In 2009 Michalis founded the Art and Culture Center, Beton 7, a venue for new ideas and trends in contemporary art and culture. In 2011 he founded Beton7artradio, “We Speak Art,” a radio station covering art and culture issues, highlighting recent creation nationally and internationally. Michalis has also been Greece’s director of the Art Film Festival, Hellas Filmbox Berlin. The Art Film Festival was created by a collective of activists in 2015, aiming to break the media bashing against Greece and introduce the Greek visual arts and cinema scene to the German audience. He is also the co-director of the Platforms Project International Independent Art Exhibition that presented platforms and artists’ collectives from over 26 countries with more than 2,400 artists from the five continents from 2013-2017 and opened a productive dialogue on culture and art. . He has also been the deputy director of Athens Biennale from 2016 to 2019. And recently, in 2020 he is the co-founder of the Metaphor Athens Creative Hub Art Space in Athens.

Rafika Chawishe is an award-winning actress, performer, and theater maker whose works critically examine memory, trauma, gender, racism and post-colonialism. She uses various formats to express herself, ranging from theater, multimedia and spoken text to scenic reading and performance (performing knowledge). Rafika combines academic and lyrical narrative, and as a dynamic children’s rights activist, she has worked extensively with unaccompanied refugee minors at the first reception center in Lesvos, Greece. In 2014 she created together with Antonis Volanakis a daydreaming platform for refugee, local and international artists, titled THE BLIND PLATFORM. Her works have been presented in Athens, Oslo, Berlin, New York, Mexico City and Puerto Rico. She has collaborated with prominent theatres and organizations, including the National Theatre of Oslo, the International Ibsen Festival, the Herbtsalon Festival (Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin), the National Theatre of Greece, the Greek National Opera, the Greek Museum of Contemporary Art. She has been awarded the Ibsen scholarship by the Ibsen Awards and has received a Grant from Neon Foundation. She is a member of the Lincoln Theatre Director’s Lab 2019 and the Young Curator’s Academy of the Maxim Gorki Theatre.

This project is made possible under the auspices and financial support of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports, with support from GREECE in USA, Undercurrent, Metaphor Athens, Lab for Arts and Daydreams.

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