Art films go on display in festive northern port

Film as a tool of expression, not just for cinematographers but also for visual artists, is a subject that this year’s Thessaloniki Film Festival draws attention to. Two separate exhibitions have been organized to that effect: One of them shows the film and videos that artist Leda Papaconstantinou produced as documentation of the performances she staged from the 1960s through the 1980s. The other exhibition is on the work of the British, New-York based Eve Sussman (and produced in collaboration with the Rufus Corporation). This is the first worldwide premiere of «The Rape of the Sabine Women,» Sussman’s most recent work, a «video musical» which re-enacts the story behind Jacques-Louis David’s famous late 18th century painting. The exhibition is curated by Katerina Koskina and is held in collaboration with the Center of Contemporary Art of Thessaloniki, the 47th Film Festival and the J.F. Costopoulos Foundation. The exhibition on Papaconstantinou coincides with a large exhibition of her work currently at the Benaki Museum. A pioneer of visual art performances and body art in Greece, Papaconstantinou has used her own body and self-image to address genre issues, identity as well as broader social and political matters. In the Thessaloniki exhibition, a large installation designed at the 15th century monument of the Bey Hamam Turkish baths provides the setting for the screening of her films and videos, many of them being shown for the first time. The Benaki exhibition includes objects used by the artist during her performances as well as photographs of her performances. The Sussman exhibition Besides «The Rape of the Sabine Women,» the Eve Sussman show also includes «89 Seconds at Alcazar» a film based on Diego Velazquez’s 17th century painting «Las Meninas.» Based on the naturalism of cinema verite, Sussman uses a whole cast of actors (she established the Rufus Corporation, a team of dancers, actors, artists and musicians) and conducts detailed research into the costumes and decor depicted in each painting as well as the historical time frame in which the works were painted in order to reproduce the scenes depicted in each painting. The film «89 Seconds at Alcazar» shows the royal couple and the rest of the painting’s protagonists move around the room as they prepare to sit for for the portrait. In «89 Seconds at Alcazar,» stillness and slow movement suggest psychological tension. In «The Rape of the Sabine Women,» the action is more dramatic. Interestingly, much of the filming was done in Greece, mainly on Hydra and in Athens. Actress Themis Bazaka and singer Savina Yannatou are among the cast. (The J.F Costopoulos Foundation partially funded the making of the film.) The Leda Papaconstantinou show runs from tomorrow to December 3. Info at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art: 2310.240.002. (The Benaki Museum show at the Pireos branch runs to November 19.) The premiere of Sussman’s films will be held at the Olympion hall on Sunday from 1-3 p.m. For info: Center of Contemporary Art of Thessaloniki: tel 2310.546.683 or Locations in Greece provide Sussman’s setting «The Rape of the Sabine Women» is based on Roman myth, yet Sussman says that the themes it represents, such as «desire, longing and aggression, are ubiquitous.» This is one of the reasons she believed filming could be done in places other than present-day Italy. The landscape of Greece seemed the most appropriate for the effect she wanted for her film: «The landscape in Italy struck me as too bucolic for the piece that we wanted to make. I had spent time in Rome and Istanbul. Athens sits squarely in between. I thought it would be interesting to go to a place where I had no background or personal history,» Sussman told Kathimerini English Edition. An interesting aspect of Sussman’s film is that it adapts the myth to the 1960s. «When we decided to shoot the piece in Greece, and began to scout locations, our Athens-based producer Yiannis Savvidis pointed out that, because Greece is so mired in the ancient sites, the modernist architecture of Greece is often ignored by the rest of the world. This got us thinking about updating the myth to the 1960s partially because of the wealth of modern architecture,» Sussman notes. A private home on Hydra which was designed by Nikos Valsamakis in the 60s is an example of the »modernist architecture» that Sussman wished to use as a setting. Greek music was also incorporated into the piece. «The composer Jonathan Bepler, in collaboration with musicians on the project, incorporated bouzoukis, baglamas and djouras into the score as well as the cadence and rhythm of the Greek language, almost as instrumentation,» Sussman said. Much of Sussman’s work explores the borders between reality and fiction, the real and the artificial. «A lot of the work of the Rufus Corporation actors over the last years has been about honing this concept and researching what it means to be ‘in and out’ of character. My work has evolved from installations using S8 film, surveillance video and filming materials, such as mirrors, water or projections. Those devices are about empowering and accentuating the gaze of the observer. «Much of the work originates with a fascination for simple gestures and casual expressions and an interest in how narrative is implied and constructed in the mind of the viewer,» Sussman explained. In her work, elements of improvisation blend with influences from nouvelle vague cinema. «Much of what I do with the company is take note of the performer’s interactions within the narrative and document where reality and fiction overlap and collide,» Sussman said.

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