An Account

It took three days to set up the installation of the multimodal project Karaoke Poetry Bar inside the project space 417, in the center of Athens, in the area of Metaxourgeion. That was of course only the tip of the iceberg. Six months of continuous hard work have preceded it. This is how much time it took to make all the preparation acts, the organization of the production, the communication with the participants, the completion of the video works, the collection of all the material for the catalog. Thirty four artists and eighteen contemporary Greek poets were invited to participate with a video work or by submitting three poems each. Everybody who was involved has worked, offering their time, but also a lot of the equipment and other material for the installation. Projectors, monitors, computers, sound systems, lights, even the wine, the chairs and tables were lent by friends or participants or rented at special rates. That is how an extremely complicated and expensive project was made possible.
Very important was the concession of the project space 417 with the support of the first Athens Biennial (Karaoke Poetry bar was presented as part of it) and the production of the catalog by Michalis Paparounis and Futura editions.
In the spacious loft, we set up the video installation which consisted of six monitors side by side in a double row (three and three). In each of them one could see the videos of the visual artists (in groups of 5-6) with recitation of poems written by Greek poets of the 20th century, in public spaces around Athens. Visitors could watch the videos individually, with head phones.
In the main area with the old machinery, with its impressive tall windows, we set up the main installation of the Karaoke Poetry Bar: A proper bar with bench, chairs and tables and in the background in front of the windows, the stage with two big monitors on the floor playing the karaoke poetry bar spots especially designed by Lina Theodorou. On the stage, a wooden podium hosting the screen where the poems of the contemporary greek poets appeared numerically. On the left of the console were situated the two indefatigable architects of the project Yiannis Isidorou and Yiannis Grigoriadis, handling the sound systems, the microphones and the screening of the poems. Finally in the basement a big video projection where all 34 videos were screened in a loop. There were benches for the public and an inspirational atmosphere.
And we arrive at the opening day. On each table there is the yellow-cover catalog with the 56 poems numbered. The audience can go through it, choose a poem they like, announce the number and get up on the stage to recite it, reading the poem from the screen. Continuous arrival of people. Until 21.00 o’clock, they go up and down between the loft and the basement and watch the videos. Many are impressed, surprised, moved by the diversity of the works. At nine o’clock the performance begins. All the tables are full, there are about 150 people in the bar and about 300 will have visited the space by the end of the evening. Most of the participant poets and visual artists are here among them and will be here again and again the following days helping and supporting us with their presence.
We are all very nervous. Three actors, friends (who are here besides their rehearsals and busy programs) play the roles of animators. After an introductory act with lots of noise and humor, they will be around to coordinate the reciting, pass the microphone, encourage and tease people for the rest of the evening. Some seconds of silence. Who will be the first?
A young man shouts a number and gets up on the stage, takes the microphone, unleashes his long hair and starts reciting. Applauds and whistling, the atmosphere is explosive. One after the other without a pause, people we don’t know come up on stage to recite poems by poets they probably never heard of, choosing poems from the catalogue. The poets can not believe it, none of us can believe it. It is something unprecedented for us: to hear — our poems with the rhythm, the breathing, the interpretation, even the mistakes of a spontaneous reciting, The participation is addictive. Non stop for two hours. They dare to improvise, recite in duos or trios. We hear — the same poem in different versions —. People smoke, drink, talk. But nevertheless, poetry is heard. There is joy, respect, enthusiasm and emotion.
We still have six days ahead of us. We don’t know how it will continue, we are still worrying about the interaction with the audience. But still to our surprise and growing enthusiasm, it is happening, every day. And every day is different. From early in the evening, people come and watch the videos and discuss, drink wine we offer them and wait to participate in the live reciting, the game of poetry Karaoke we have staged. The project is spread by word of mouth, it becomes a city secret happening. In the middle of the week the atmosphere is more quiet and almost mystic and more noisy and crowded during the weekend. On the last day we have an open stage, we read poems off the catalogue, the visual artists recite (most of the times by heart) the poems they used in their videos from poets we all love, T. Livaditis, N. Engonopoulos, N. Karouzos, E. Gonatas. E. Vakalo……….
In the visitor’s book, people write over and over how they don’t want it to end, that they want it to happen again. And the desire to happen again is still alive. To not end. But we have to ask now: what is it, that you wish does not end?
Karaoke Poetry Bar was-is- something more or other than the atmosphere I tried (and I am sure failed), to describe. It is an overall work of art. Karaoke Poetry bar (the installation) was a well planned and perfectly executed trap. The work was not the videos, or the poems, although it could not happen without them. The artists and poets who were involved in it in different ways and who acted in relation to it, but also the spectators-players who came to that pseudo-bar, watched the videos, talked about them, red and finally recited alone on stage under the lights, they were the work.
The work happened because we asked: how does contemporary art function?
How can contemporary art create the possibility of interaction?
How can we as artists create a certain interpolation in our environment which is hostile? How can we cast out what is imposed on us, as matter of fact?
Is there any chance for institutionalized art of our days to create experience?
And furthermore, how is it possible, if at all, for a work to be active, to —- rupture — our habits, to sabotage the safety we have as passive spectators?
What was the role of its self- sustaining character? We tried through it to conduct a research on the relationships and dynamics that develop between artists in a collective project.
How can different artistic practices develop a dialogue?
Is it possible that there would be a karaoke bar somewhere, where instead of pop songs you could hear poems?
The work happened so that we could answer :Yes it is!
And why poetry then?

Because we asked: What can a poem do?
And answered: Nothing
The poem does not have exchange value, is not a therapy, it is not a pill, or an answer. It is the opposite. The poem is always the question. It represents a risk spiritual and physical necessary for real life. Without the risk- the poem, we are left only with predefined movements.
Karaoke Poetry Bar says: don’t stop asking questions, which means works and poems, and so in that way it will never end.
We wish for Karaoke Poetry Bar to travel in different languages opening over and over channels of communication, with no final goal, through art and poetry, subverting some standard practices, bringing— to light things we usually pass by or regard as impossible.

A small annex for the poetry section of the work
Several issues and points of dialogue still remain open after this common experience between the poets and so I will try to place them here with the wish to continue activities and communication:
The free circulation of writing without shame or arrogance, with boldness, self knowledge but also some (or a lot of ) audacity.
The research of the different ways the poetic experience can happen besides — solitary reading.

The emancipation of the poets regarding their identity, the creation of networks between them and the developing of dialogue and fertile debates.
The agreement that texts are more important than the names signing them (inside the Karaoke poetry bar, the poets were present and their poems being read, but no one knew them, nor did any lights fall on them. No applause, or bows to the public).
The thought that reciting is interpretation and appropriation of the poem. The person who recites becomes poet.

Finally, that we prefer shame, mistakes, even ridicule, than the freezing of phony seriousness which only ends up in misery and devaluation of poetry as a living art form…….(and this can go on…………)
for intothepill
Katerina Iliopoulou


Monday 12th of November to Sunday 18th, at 417
[keramikou 53]
open 17:30 - 11:oo
live karaoke performance 20:30

OPEN 17:30-23:00