Katerina Gregos is a curator, writer, lecturer and member of this year’s International Short Film Jury. Before starting to select this year’s winning short films, she was able to give us insight into her personal connection to our meta topic, talks about her focus and the relation of art and curation.
Carlotta Löffelholz: Meta topic of Berlinale Shorts 2016 is ‚Arrival‘. You are from Greece, live in Belgium, work all over the world. The German word for home means more than the actual place; it is rather a concept of arriving, being rooted, feeling secure.What does home mean to you? How would you relate to this concept, especially in times like these?
Katerina Gregos: Home is one of those concepts that is both personal and political. In the first place home is where one feels comfortable, content, secure, at ease, in one’s element, and sheltered. In the political sense, I understand home as a place, a topos, where one can be free, have one’s rights guaranteed, be free from persecution and fear, have opportunities, and see the possibility of a horizon, in the metaphorical sense. Given what is happening right now with the dramatic refugee crisis in Europe, this latter issue has become even more critical. In Greece, for example, the fact that the debt crisis has engendered a humanitarian crisis, and the fact that more than 50% of young people are unemployed means a complete lack of horizon, of opportunities, of a future. Home then, in this case, begins to take on a hostile and antagonistic character. As far as I am concerned, home also has to do with emotional roots, human ties. And in that sense, one can feel at home in more than one location. In my case, Greece is home, but so is Belgium. I also feel at home in London, where I have lived for more than 10 years. So one can feel that one has more than one home, though the primary home is perhaps that place which fulfills most of ones aspirations. The idea of home is also connected with social but also economic conditions. It is a truism that people who have migrated, like myself are never entirely at home in their own country, nor where they have chosen to migrate to.
CL: What is your personal arrival? Constant movement or safe haven?
KG: Both. One always acts as a counterbalance to the other.
CL: As a curator you choose a focus, your former projects often connected art and politics. Your exhibitions take a view, and this is also what we are looking for in our films. Even though this is probably a huge question: How does art reflect on politics? How can art influence politics?
KG: As a curator whose practice focuses on exhibitions of a socio-political slant, I find it difficult to see art as something that is not connected to society and its problematics, as well as the times we are living in. I think of the artistic practice (in the wider sense) as one of the last bastions of free expression in a world that is becoming increasingly susceptible to control, surveillance, political correctness, conservatism, consensual opinions, and self-censorship. In that sense art has an enormous role to play. The most interesting ways that art reflects on politics is where it encourages critical thinking, uncovers issues that are swept under the carpet, challenges hegemonies of different sorts, raises awareness of marginalized narratives and engages in a correctional methodology of the writing of history; the latter is more-often-than-not propagated in the forms of master narratives that suit state, corporate, financial or media structures. Personally, I am interested in artists who are able to process these issues in a way that transcends the literal re-presentation of reality as we know it, but instead does so through artistic forms of mediation, interpretation, translation, and projection which harness the imagination, poetics, and open up new ways of understanding complex questions. Very often I am asked whether art can change the world. This is a very sweeping question and I would be hard pressed to say that it does. However, what art does is challenge givens and change the way we think about the world. And in that sense it is an indispensable soft power.
Curation cannot exist without art.
CL: Eventhough the Berlinale Shorts films are rated individually, our curator Maike Mia Höhne thinks of the short film programme as “one body of work”. What do you think of the relation of the individual piece of art and the curation process as a form of art itself?
KG: We should not confuse art with curating and vice versa. Though curating can be creative, I do not consider it art, but rather a form of mediation, elucidation, interpretation. Art comes first and foremost before curating. We should not forget that, especially at a time where the role of the curator has sometimes become too authorial and at times even overshadow that’s of the artist. Curation cannot exist without art.
CL: How do you bring the focus from your work onto evaluating short films? What role does the medium play? How do you access different art forms?
KG: Art today is an expanded field of artistic and creative activities, ranging from drawing, painting and sculpting to performance, photography, film and video, as well as to the more conceptual forms. Art and its influences filter through to most aspects of society, from graphic design to product development, from fashion and design to television, advertising and movies. Art, in fact, has an all-encompassing influence on society, be it in form or content. For me it is all interconnected and I use my expertise in cross-referencing between different art forms, and the issues I have worked with, as well as my experience in curating the moving image, in in order to evaluate what I see.
CL: In a former interview you said „Working with artists is what fuels my own sense of creativity” – could you call film festivals and art fairs a pool of inspiration – or is this idea too optimistic and one-sided? Or just briefly, what do these big events mean for the public?
KG: Yes, all these are pools of inspiration and creativity since artistic praxis lies at their root. Film festivals and the like in general attract large audiences and a wide interest, largely because they speak a language the public can identify with: that of the moving image, which has been so ingrained in our culture for decades. It is hard to say what the individual visitor will think of events like this, or what they take home with them, but the increasing public interest in this kind of manifestations gives evidence to the hypothesis that art and film (or culture in general) has something valuable to offer that cannot be easily found elsewhere.