Eleni Kamma
In Brussels, at the Maison Grégoire, “Found in Translation, Chapter P”

Colette Dubois

What do architects talk about? What songs do choirs in small Swedish towns sing? Can a music stave double up as a parrot’s cage? Is a camera that slowly sweeps spaces looking for something? And what is the connection between all these elements? In the installation “P like Politics, P like Parrots”, artist Eleni Kamma (b. Athens 1973, lives in Brussels and Maastricht) associates two videos, a sound installation, and drawings, all of which form an ensemble while also allowing each element to conserve its own force.

Eleni Kamma’s work is characterized by the association of elements that belong to culture in the broad sense of the term – with, at times, some of them belonging to a specific culture – and which thus carry a certain number of assumptions. They may also be of the order of text, image, or the world of domestic objects. By extracting them from their context, Kamma affords them poetic force; by associating them, she opens vistas for creating stories. In this respect, her work is akin to the film montage of Dziga Vertov or Jean-Luc Godard, creating interstices in which the essential lies. They deconstruct preconceived ideas and challenge visitor/spectator passivity.

In the first video, “Malin and Tor: two architects in conversation”, two architects firstly discuss the crisis of contemporary architecture, lamenting its propensity for the spectacular. Their exchange then segues into the popularity of choir-going in Swedish society. They see the choir as an exemplary space for the individual and collective expression of new social relationships. As their dialogue progresses, the camera slowly explores an exhibition space as an exhibition is being set up, without worrying what is filmed: silhouettes bustle about their work, a wall occupies the whole frame, a window casts a ray of light in the distance, and so on. The disjunction of the image and the sound is flagrant as their muffled conversation grows distant from the construction sounds that we can see, without knowing what it is going to be.

Like a response to the two architect’s mention of choirs, the second video, “P like Politics”, plunges us into a choir rehearsal. On screen, the same slow exploration of this space gives us a glimpse of a more “inhabited” space: light-coloured wooden furniture and floors. From the light hubbub, a song, or rather the rhythmic scansion of a text emerges. ‘Paper, Rock, Scissors’; the repeated recitative of the words gives the tone. The following succession of words all start with “P” – president, progress, policy, etc. – and all come from a 2003 G.W. Bush speech. Here too, the disjunction is manifest between the expectations that the architects projected onto the choir and the words that the choir members string together. Between the two, parrots painted on music sheets reflect, more than they illustrate, a Persian tale that we can listen to. Serving as a link between the two videos, they are also a metaphor and a questioning of the notion of freedom that is at the heart of the questions raised by the installation: that of a living together in our space and time.

“P like Politics, P like Parrots” goes perfectly with the Maison Grégoire. The installation is set up on the ground floor of this minimalist architectural space, a private place that is made public for the duration of its exhibitions, a place that we circle through, thereby echoing the panoramic movements of the two films. The translation contained in Eleni Kamma’s work is thus echoed in the visitor’s movements.

[H ART 18.10.2012]