(LONDON) Art Night London, as the largest free contemporary art festival in the UK, is about to give us a bold, classic in times and yet very present exhibition featuring the work of British artist Georgina Hill in collaboration with composer Mark Springer and singer Emmanuel Papadopoulos on June 22nd.
Interview by Callikrati Vuyuk
DRECK: “Sacred Bands”, what is it about?
Georgina: Sacred Bands is a video/opera performance about the greatest army in the ancient world, comprised of 150 pairs of male lovers, as reported by Plutarch. One of the lovers is killed and it challenges the unity of the group. The work incudes: a video essay, text, recorded, and live opera and considers notions of war and love.
DRECK: “Masculinity” in the modern western culture has been quite a controversial issue. It often veils oppression, domination and on the other hand it is sometimes perceived as a privilege, or even, if I may say, an “erotic deity”. How is “masculinity” perceived in “Sacred Bands” and by you personally, as an artist?
Georgina: In Sacred Bands, there is a non-binary concept of masculinity; non-moral, yet with the potential space to think about various versions and histories of what masculinity is. In the first instance, when I heard about the story of the Sacred Band of Thebes from Plutarch, which the librettist David Flusfeder had woven into a new opera with composer Mark Springer, I was struck by the appealing notion of the radically powerful force of love – and, in this case, queer love. They were the strongest army in the ancient world, made of 150 pairs of male lovers.
One might argue this love was coerced into something domineering, which is true, however, I believe the concept in itself, of a male-to-male love that compels great loyalty, community, vulnerability, and so forth, is a potentially very progressive notion that I wanted to draw out in the work.
At the same time, I still wanted to make a work that critiques war and violence and systems of patriarchy. In this case, a type of toxic masculinity is invoked and shown as a catastrophic force. The leaders, who are not the foot soldiers – you see in the majority of war footage – evidence a barbarism, which is enacted by another man’s or woman’s hands; the same in industrialised capitalism: the soldiers/the workers are not the instigators of the violence that is so pernicious, but pawns in a bigger game being played elsewhere.
I started working with a lot of archive footage of wars from the last century around the world. And while the documentation was largely intended to promote the army being depicted, an implicit – perhaps unintentional – consequence is a feeling of great solidarity and love between the, mainly male, soldiers. This was and still is very striking to me. It feels like watching thousands of love stories. And for me, this is a type of behaviour, non-binary, that is absolutely necessary.
As an artist, I perceive masculinity in multifarious ways. I would not choose to go back in time, despite the perplexing moment the world feels in now, environmentally, politically, economically etc. To go back would be to confront an even less progressed society in terms of gender, racial, sexual, cultural, and social rights. Masculinity is to me perhaps an outdated term. My father writing a poem is not good masculinity, just thoughtful humanity. Strength, curiosity, care, and love is female and male and non-gendered.
DRECK: What are the elements this project consists of?
Georgina: Last year, director of Castello di Potentino, Charlotte Horton asked me to make a two-screen projection for a new opera, Army of Lovers, to be shown at this very thoughtful cultural institution in Italy. Mark Springer is the composer and David Flusfeder the librettist; they created the musical piece for the first time last year. The opera was performed with three special singers last August, with my film projected simultaneously on the castle walls: mixing old and new artistic forms and connecting the ancient story to current politics.
I wanted to do something for Art Night again this year, as I had made a sound installation in 2018, about the largest flower market in the UK that had recently been demolished and the effect of turbo capitalism.
I decided I would like to work with the opera and rework/deconstruct it to become a new iteration. So I started making a musical arrangement of 6 new instrumental works by Mark Springer, and also the opera recorded in the summer. I started to break the text apart, too, to become like a poem and see how it could re-form.
I like the idea of containing within a work, the memory of its history. So the performance, which will be shown in London, contains parts of the recorded singers who first sang the opera in Italy. And it has two live opera singers in the installation, as if ghosts from the archive or from the news documentation we read and see of warfare. I wanted to connect the screen image of war, in my essay film, with the physical body, re-bodying the abstract reportage that proliferates until it anaesthetises its effect.
Emmanuel Papadopoulos, who will sing in the performance, is a baritone who studies at UdK in Berlin, where I have been attending for 4 years. It has been wonderful to collaborate on telling this story with him – it feels like we are a mini-band of soldiers trying to do something meaningful and caring. And the tenor is Alexander Gebhard, studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, with whom there is also a wonderful team building: arranging rehearsal rooms, talking about what it means, what to wear etc.
DRECK: Emmanuel, as an opera singer, participating in a project off the stage of the opera, is “Sacred Bands” a new experience for you?
Emmanuel: In fact, there is a huge world outside the vibrant but complex sector of the opera scene that has been prodigiously revealed to me during my sojourn in Paris, where I got the golden opportunity to perform at the opening of the exhibition Paris International. London calling, Georgina Hill invites me to be part of her latest project for ArtNight. In ‘Sacred Bands’, she points out various matters of our times, or matters that actually have always been of an issue. Masculinity, patriarchal violence, institutional homoeroticism, glory, and death are some of the notions that are embodied in this project. These notions have urged me to experiment and discover what my body and my voice are capable of. You know, I have always considered the human body a canvas which I tend to use in order to bring an intense physical and emotional proximity to my artistic work. Being part of such an intriguing art project alongside stunning artists is a fruitful experience and a great source of inspiration.
“Sacred Bands” will be running from 11pm until 3am with each performance running every 30 minutes.
Screen 2, Everyman King’s Cross 14-18 Handyside St, Kings Cross, London N1C 4DN, UK