Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Between Boston and New York

I'm trying to decide whether to go see Jonathan Richman at the First Unitarian Church on March 1. Browsing the web, I came upon this great little article by Keith Gessen, "The Bostonians", in the The Guardian (May 3, 2008). This is perfect reading for Punk Archaeology, thematizing the tension between Boston and New York and the conflicts of leaving the former for the latter. Keith Gessen is great, a founder of n+1. Gessen does a close readings of Richman classics (like Roadrunner), seeing the journey from provincial Boston to Warhol's factory and the Velvet Underground. For Gessen, everyone leaves Boston for New York, but who really wants New York?. Richman: "I don't want just a girl / to fool around with . . . I don't want a cocaine-sniffing triumph / in the bar."

I must confess, I don't know much about Boston's punk history, but I will never forget the night that the Lyres played in West Philadelphia (Human Barbecue, 1987?). Most recently, the token band of South Boston has been the Dropkick Murphys who are fantastic, of course, but a little overused in commercial contexts. They are definitely new generation, more akin to Green Day and packaging.

Michael Patrick MacDonald's Easter Rising (2006) is the punk memoir of Boston. In an interview by MacDonald when the book came out, I remember him saying how "punk saved his life." MacDonald grew up in the projects of the South Boston, his family was ravaged by Irish gang violence. Punk became his salvation. Although I wouldn't be able to write Boston's punk topography, I'm enjoying the occasional snippets. And I'm indebted to friend Paul Di Mattio for his Massachusetts musical insights (Boston v. Western Mass., etc.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Boy George Icon

I keep arguing that Byzantine material culture continues to be relevant in contemporary aesthetics. It only takes a bit of scratching to find Byzantium lurking in the vestiges of subculture. I'm intrigued, for instance, by how many members of the New Wave and Punk scene collect Byzantine art. Last week, I blogged on Rock in Athens '85, one of the most important early festivals for New Wave. Culture Club was the keynote performer and I urged readers to listen to Boy George's comments during that hot July performance.

I believe that Rock in Athens '85 generated Boy George's interest in Greek culture because the same year, he bought an 18th-century Byzantine icon from a gallery in London. Last week, Boy George returned the icon to Cyprus after learning that it had been illegally looted in 1974. The icon was made at the Herakleidos Monastery near Nicosia. For the full story see, Patrick Dewhurst, "Singer Boy George Returns Icon that He's Had for 26 Years," Cyprus Mail (Jan. 20, 2011).

The process of identification is a priceless tale of ecclesiastical postmodernism and a rare instance of television archaeology. Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis, pictured with Boy George above, is the representative of the Cypriot Church at the EU in Brussels. Porfyrios, who is presumably a fan, was watching an interview of Boy George on Dutch TV, when he identified the icon hanging in the waning rock star's living room. "On left side of fireplace at his house during the interview we located in Boy George’s living room an icon of the Jesus Christ Pantokrator," said Porfyrios. "Afterwards we researched the story with expert accounts, and we found it stems from Cyprus, specifically from the church of St Charalambous in the occupied village of New Chorio Kithrea."

In summary, a British artists is invited by the socialist Ministry of Culture to perform at radical rock festival in Greece. When he returns to London, he buys an icon from an irresponsible gallery. He hangs icon in his living room in Hampstead. Twenty-six years later, the artist gives interview on Dutch TV. A Cypriot diplomat-bishop in Brussels catches the icon on his TV screen and recognizes it. Bishop researches icon's provenance and determines that it was stolen. Artist returns the icon to Orthodox church nearest his town. Even more surreal than the photo above is the photo released by the London Daily News during the ceremony of the icon's return, see here.

For those of you that don't know Boy George, he had a bit of a problem with the law in 2009 and served a 15-month prison sentence, see here for biography. No mention is made of Boy George's lifestyle in any of the official interactions with the Orthodox church.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

1930s: Building American Modernity

This semester, I'm teaching a 300-level seminar on 1930s America. In the last few years, I've been doing a lot of 1930s architectural historiography and I have realized the pivotal role this decade played in American culture. I've also began to appreciate what a tremendous impact Pennsylvania architects, artists, and intellectuals have made on the 30s. The seminar has seven students, most of whom I have taught before. They are all super smart and I look forward to work with them. I feel committed to the organic idea of seminars, where readings and research can change according to the direction that the conversation takes. I also feel committed to primary research on the physical fabric of Lancaster (like the Eshelman & Sons grain elevators that Demuth painted in "My Egypt," left). Although I am sure lots of things will change in action, the basic seminar structure is as follows:


Franklin & Marshall College, ART 375, Spring 2011, Professor Kostis Kourelis


Although America was a pioneer in modernization, it was not until the late 1920s and 1930s that the country forged a unique American Modernism. Despite the hardships of the Great Depression, the Thirties produced the first golden age of American design from soaring skyscrapers and streamlined industrial products to Hollywood’s opulent fantasies and the New Deal’s sober public works. The Thirties were tortured by contradictions and competing visions of the future leading to a complicated decade of “grotesque” cultural expressions. Radicals and traditionalists, communists and capitalists, regionalists and internationalists confronted each other in the public sphere of architecture and urbanism and collectively developed the basics of American design. We will track the turbulent debates and the spectacular projects that emerged between the Great Crash and Pearl Harbor with a slight bias towards Pennsylvania’s contribution in the works of Paul Cret, George Howe, Charles Klauder, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn, Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima, Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler and Horace Pippin.

I. To introduce students the history of architecture and design during the American 1930s. This will be accomplished through readings and lectures and will be tested with two quizzes.
II. To cultivate a critical way of seeing and feeling. This will be practices in the classroom through attentive analysis, reflective writing, and the introduction multiple media like literature, music and film.
III. To train students how to do original research in a workshop setting. This task will be accomplished through one small biographical presentation and through a more serious group project focusing on the arts and architecture of F&M and Lancaster.
IV. The class was conceived in the spirit of collaboration. Judging on the personal interests of the students, this syllabus is subject to change. As the semester progresses, we will concentrate on the ideas that organically develop through our conversation and will pursue them freely.


The seminar is divided into three major units. In Part I, we will focus on the development of the American avant-garde in order to understand the wider experimental setting of the 1930s. We hope to comprehend the introduction of new cultural tropes and their assimilation in the American scene. Part I will be accompanied by two fieldtrips and a quiz.

Part II will focus on the three most important architects, who contributed to the creation of Modernism, Le Corbusier, Mies, and Wright. We will also turn our attention to a distinctly American version of Modernism (or according to some scholars, Traditionalism), Art Deco. Part II will be competed by a quiz.

In Part III, we turn our attention to the architects and artists who shaped the intellectual climate of Pennsylvania. Each student will be assigned one important personage and will complete a book review of their artistic contributions. Specific readings will be assigned by instructor. At this point, we will begin synthesizing the questions raised in Parts I & II and will inquire on their relevance to Pennsylvania. We will also read a primary document from 1932, the catalog of “International Style,” an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that ushered modernism into America. The student research reports will be graded on both coherence and thoroughness.

Finally, in Part IV, the entire class will begin a group project (professor Kourelis included). We will turn the city of Lancaster and Franklin & Marshall College into a temporary laboratory. Using resources at Special Collections, we will collectively tackle two major 1930s buildings on campus, Shadek-Fackenthal Library and Keiper Hall. They were both designed by Philadelphia architect William Lee, who made his name through spectacular movie theaters. Louis Kahn worked in his office. Each student will develop one particular angle of research that he/she will present during the last week of class. The final presentation will form the core of a final paper that will be turned in at the beginning of finals.


Week 1
Jan 24 Marcel Duchamp [Corn, 43-89]
Jan 26 Joseph Stella [Corn, 135-190]
Jan 30 TRIP TO DC: National Portrait Gallery

Week 2
Jan 31 Charles Demuth [Corn, 193-237]
Feb 2 Historical Overture [Brendon, 3-78]
Feb 5 TRIP TO NYC: Whitney Museum, Chrysler Building, RCA Building

Week 3
Feb 7 Georgia O’Keefe [Corn, 239-291]
Feb 9 Charles Sheeler [Corn, 293-337]


Week 4
Feb 14 Le Corbusier [Blake, 3-64]
Feb 16 Le Corbusier [Blake, 65-111]

Week 5
Feb 21 Mies van der Rohe [Blake, 167-215]
Feb 23 Mies van der Rohe [Blake, 216-254]

Week 6
Feb 28 Frank Lloyd Wright [Blake, 287-341]
Mar 2 Frank Lloyd Wright [Blake, 342-402]
Week 7
Mar 7 Art Deco [Brendon, 79-101]
Mar 9 Preservation & Traditionalism [Brendon, 257-280]
Quiz Part II

Spring Break


Week 8
Mar 21 Paul Cret [Hitchcock , 33-49]
Mar 23 Charles Klauder [Hitchcock , 50-68]]

Week 9
Mar 28 George Howe [Hitchcock , 69-80]
Mar 30 Louis Kahn [Hitchcock , 81-100]

Week 10
Apr 4 Wharton Esherick
Apr 6 The World’s Fair [Cogdell]


Week 11
Apr 11 Lancaster
Apr 13 Franklin & Marshall College [Griffith]

Week 12
Apr 18 Archives
Apr 20 Workshop

Week 13
Apr 25 Final Reports
Apr 27 Final Reports


Blake, Peter. 1996. Master Builders: Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright, New York.

Brendon, Piers. 2000. Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s, London.

Cogdell, Christina. 2003. “Products or Bodies? Streamline Design and Eugenics as Applied Biology,” Design Issues, 19:1 (Winter), pp. 36-53

Corn, Wanda. 2001. The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, Berkeley.

Griffith, Sally F. 2010. Liberalizing the Mind: Two Centuries of Liberal Education at Franklin & Marshall College, University Park. PDF

Russel-Hitchcock, Henry and Philip Johnson. 1932. The International Style, New York.

Williams, William Carlos. 1991. The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. 1: 1909-1939, New York.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Destination: Greek Underground

While most journalists focus on the economic problems of Greece, Charly Wilder has been consistently exploring the Greek landscape of hipness. She's a free lance writer for the New York Times and contributes In Transit: A Guide to Intelligent Travel. About a year ago, Wilder featured the capital's indie scene, "The Indie Music Pillars of Athens," (NYT, Nov. 22, 2009). With the turn of the New Year, the Times Travel Section published a list of the 41 best places to travel in 2011. Wilder contributed Thessaloniki, as no. 38, see The 41 Places to Go in 2011," (NYT, Jan. 7, 2011). Salonicans, don't be offended that Kosovo beat you by two spots. Wilder's report focuses on the arts, architecture, and design scene of Thessaloniki and introduces American audiences (myself included) to Dynamo Project Space (video introduction here) and the urban prankster network Sfina. Thanks for the coverage. I quote Wilder's piece below:

38. Salonika, Greece: Out of the country’s economic woes, a new wave of artists. It may come as cold comfort to the Greeks, but the country’s financial woes have made it prime territory for bargain-hunting tourists. The coastal city of Salonika, often overlooked by tourists in favor of Athens, has been gaining momentum for the last several years with its prolific cultural scene. Now, with British Airways adding a direct route from London and a new mayor pushing forward a spate of major cultural and tourism initiatives, Salonika is hotter than ever. The newest wave of culture makers in the laid-back city include the nonprofit Dynamo Project Space, which gives a platform to up-and-coming local artists, architects and designers, and Sfina, a self-appointed “urban prankster network” that instigates flash mob-style events in public spaces. Since it opened last summer, the eco-conscious design firm 157173 has garnered attention for its offbeat minimalist lamps, mobiles and other design objects that are equal parts Bauhaus and Joan Miró. -CHARLY WILDER

Kitchen Skyline

This is what the skyline of our kitchen bookcase looks like. It has been recently populated by my new Sirius satellite radio and all its messy appendages (antenna, plug, wires). Thanks to Santa for a new subscription to Sirius radio, which I had given up when we stopped the long-distance marriage and the commutes from rural places that lacked NPR. Having grown up in the age of radio, I get no satisfaction from internet alternatives like web radio or Pandora. For me the radio DJ's role has been more than a corporate playlist or a statistical formula. As a kid, I used to hide the radio under my pillow and steal some nightly moments of story-telling. When I was growing up, the radio DJ was an arbiter of taste and a transmitter of intelligence. DJ'ing at the college station was a true aspiration. For our Generation X, the small niche of alternative radio defined a self-invented cultural aristocracy whose membership defied class and other contingencies.

One of the skills that made DJ'ing a craft was assembling thematic unity across genres. Making smart and unexpected links runs against today's paradigm of market niches. Although one has to pay for it by monthly subscription, satellite radio still offers antiquated intelligence. Imagine listening to a radio show by Bob Dylan, where he chooses a string of songs based on a theme of choice (like water, or war). Sirius makes such an experience possible every week.

Although I listen to a lot of NPR, BBC, and CBC, most of the time I listen to music. My favorite channel right now is SIRIUS XM U, the indie rock station (it used to be called Underground). This week, for instance, Colin Meloy and John Moen of the Decemberists will take over the station, preview their unreleased new album, and spin their favorite songs. Many of the station's regular hosts are a new breed of blogger DJ like Brooklyn Vegan and Gorilla vs. Bear. Another station that I regularly listen to is First Wave for the sheer nostalgia of classic 80s New Wave. I also like Underground Garage produced and hosted by Little Steven (of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and the Sopranos). The station features some famous personalities like Kid Leo (a legend in the Cleveland music scene), Handsome Dick Manitoba (lead singer of classic 70s NYC punk band The Dictators), and Ko Melina (current garage scene in Detroit).

I'm also a huge fan of Classic Radio, a station that replays radio drama from the 40s and 50s. Where else can one listen to series like The Shadow, Dragnet, Philco Radio Time, or Lux Radio. And a day does not pass when I don't also tune into the channel devoted to Forties Swing. You might have guessed, my tastes are rather scattered (or eclectic if you want to spin them positively).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rock in Athens 85'

On July 26-27, 1985, the ancient stadium of Athens hosted an interesting happening organized by the newly formed General Secretariat of Youth (Γενική Γραμματεία Νέας Γενιάς) and the French Ministry of Culture. Rock in Athens 85' was a two day New Wave rock festival, which was quite cutting edge for its time. Although major bands like the Rolling Stones had performed in the ancient stadium before (Apr. 17 1967), Rock in Athens was the first rock festival to ever take place in Greece. A New Wave festival at Kalimarmaro in 1985? How radical is that? But it makes little sense considering the lack of a following for New Wave in Greece at this time. A Heavy Metal festival would make sense, rising naturally from Greece's Hard Rock tradition. I can't be certain about my observations, since I wasn't present, but as a committed follower of New Wave, I was struck by the shortage of punks in the summers that I would visit Greece. My cousins, who followed music closely, would confirm these observations. I was a New Wave Greek-American looking for a scene in Greece. Sure, there was the punk band Panx Romana from 1977, singing "You Greeks! you are worms, and the Acropolis doesn't belong to you/Έλληνα είσαι σκουλίκι και η Ακρόπολη δε σου ανοίκει." And there were also anarchists squatting in Athens (less institutionalized and violent as they are today). And there was the store REMEMBER 77, on Adrianou 77 in Plaka (founded 1978), where I bought my first Creepers in 1991.

What makes Rock in Athens 85' peculiar is its sponsors. The festival was conceived by the Greek and French Ministries of Culture. It was a state event televised on national TV and hence totally different from festivals like Woodstock, Live Aid, Coachella, or the extremely successful Rockwave in Athens. Melina Merkouri, then Minister of Culture, was present. Priceless footage shows the grand Merkouri meeting the wild Nina Hagen (and her clean-cut mother) backstage. The General Secretariat of Youth was formed in 1982, soon after Andreas Papandreou's Socialist government won elections and tried to liberalize cultural policy that had been dominated by the conservative right and its family-tradition-religion priorities. Quoting the current website, the Secretariat's task was (and still is) "shaping, monitoring and coordinating the government policy for youth and its connection with society and social entities. In this way, Greece was harmonised with the european and international practice of high-level, self-sustained and integral government services aiming to public youth policies." We must also remember that, only two weeks earlier in the summer of 1985, Live Aid took place in London and Philadelphia. But this was a private venture, organized for famine relief in Ethiopia by Bob Geldof. Live Aid was the first concert to be televised in a global scale through satellite. As the interview with Boy George reveals, Culture Club did have a fan base already in Greece. But it seems that there was not enough of a fan base for each of the bands to appear individually. The festival garnered each group's small fan base into a guaranteed (and cheap) event. We must also consider that Rock in Athens 85' was not exclusively targeted to Greeks. Hoards of vacationing European and American youth attended. After all, Greeks flee Athens for the countryside in July and August.

Whatever the motivations of the concert may have been, it seems to have taken a great risk. As a result it did begin shaping cultural attitudes at least in so far as New Wave's popularity boomed. Nevertheless, the conflict between audience and performers, the awkwardness of the ancient stadium, the July heat are all evident in the videos. The performers included Culture Club, Depeche Mode, Stranglers, Nina Hagen, the Cure, Talk Talk, Telephone and a surprise guest star, the Clash (or at least the remnants of the Clash--Mick Jones and Nicky Headon had already left, and the Clash disbanded in 1986). According to eye-witness accounts, fights broke out between the police and fans outside the stadium. Italian tourists were somehow involved.

If anyone wants to watch the televised festival (ERT2), you can find it almost in its entirety (minus the Clash performance) on Youtube. Extremely interesting are the backstage interviews below. To see the Melina-Nina encounter, go to Part 3. In the spirit of Punk Archaeology, Youtube allows me to investigate an event that took place in the ancient Panathenaic stadium that was reconstructed for the first Olympics of 1896. The footage is source material for an ephemeral moment. The videos not only transport us to a different era of Greek cultural policy, but they offer evidence for an almost surreal confrontation between a primarily Anglo-American (and German) youth movement and a resisting Mediterranean. Just watch the accumulation of sweat on Boy George's face as the night progresses. Although I haven't studied the videos in great length, they also reveal tensions in a cultural dialogue. Note for example homosexual tensions between Boy George and the audience. I hope that the readers of this posting interested in the history of the Greek 1980s will offer closer reading and insights.

Interviews Part I

Interviews Part II

Interviews Part III

For those that want to watch the concert in its entirety, the following links will direct you to individual band performances:

July 26:
Telephone 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Culture Club 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

July 27:
The Stranglers 11, 12, 13, 14, 15
Talk Talk 15, 16, 17, 18
The Cure 18, 19, 20, 21

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Greek Landscape and Literature 1880s-1930s

One often plays imaginary worlds. I know that the notion of fantasy and doctorate dissertation usually occupy mutually exclusive realms, but for many of us for whom the dissertation has receded into the chambers of the distant past, the process of a PhD can be sufficiently romanticized. Recently, I've been thinking that in an ideal world, I would love to be starting a new PhD, embarking on that exciting decade that is typically the archaeological thesis. Surrounded by a community of idealistic novices but still attached to the womb of wise advisors, graduate school is pretty damn great. With the new year, I asked myself, "what would be an ideal world dissertation topic," and this one topic keeps coming up as my top choice: Landscape Archaeology and Literary Landscapes of Greece: 1880-1940. In this imaginary new dissertation, I would basically read all major Greek poetry, novels, and short stories from the 1880s to the 1930s and analyze the representation of the Greek landscape in all its particularities and idealizations. I would then take that information and compare it with the real landscape to the extent that surface survey and social history allows us to reconstruct it. In so many ways, it would be an attempt to write Raymond Williams' The Country and the City (1973) from the Modern Greek perspective. Williams' study, which essentially spearheaded a whole tradition of peasant studies and Marxist literary criticism, is a book that I keep returning to over and over again.

One of the reasons that makes this dissertation a fantasy is the fact that I am not trained in literary criticism, but I know a bit more about landscape archaeology. My ideal committee for such a dissertation would match a literary and an archaeological mentor. Once again, in an ideal world the literary supervisor would be Artemis Leontis, Gregory Jusdanis, Roderick Beaton, or Dimitris Tziovas, while the field survey supervisor would be Timothy Gregory, Michael Given, Jack Davis, Cyprian Broodbank, Jim Wright, or Bill Caraher.

In an imaginary thesis proposal, I would stress that between the 1880s and the 1930s Generations of Greek writers, incredible attention is placed on the Greek landscape, contemporary institutions and folklore. Some preliminary work by literary historians have already been laid. In 1992, Journal of Modern Greek Studies devoted an entire issue on the relationship between place and time in Modern Greek literature. What many scholars have noted that Greek nationalism of "The Great Idea" necessitated the conflation of historical time with geographical space. Archaeological monuments, sites and landscapes were central to this project as spatial entities with intense chronological auras. The time/space conflation is nothing more than the German late-18th-century tradition of German Romanticism and a concept of emotive history articulated by Herder, Goethe and others. The romantic conception of the Greek landscape was both imaginary but also grounded on lived experiences. Greek writers used the landscape as a laboratory. In just half a century, they constructed a landscape that has become so pervasive in the mindset of modern Greece, that people have assumed it as natural, rather than an ideo-cultural construct.

You might have guessed that one of the reasons I'm reading Vizyenos is to identify the beginnings of this imaginary new dissertation. As far as I can tell, the project must begin with the 1880s Generation, with Realism, and particularly with Papadiamantis, Vizyenos, and Palamas. I have sporadically read these authors, especially to reconstruct the imaginaire of the contemporary archaeologists like Anastasios Orlandos (see DO paper). But I have never systematically read them with an eye for the landscape. One question at stake would be the degree to which various authors dwell in the real landscape or in a subjective landscape. Christopher Robinson has noted a dialectic between real and subjective in Modern Greek poetry. Realism takes over in the 1880s but it is foiled by modernists who shift attention to subjective interiors, such as Cavafy and Karyotakes. The Karyotakes tradition was criticized as anti-national, for taking the reader out of the landscape and shutting him inside his Athenian bedroom. Robinson observes that the Generation of the 1930s continues the landscape stylization of the 1880s with a dose of subjectivity from Cavafy and Karyotakes. See, Christopher Robinson, "Greece and the Poetry of Place, 1880-1945,” Journal of Mediterranean Studies 2 (1993), pp. 183-195.

The starting point for an analysis of place would have to be Peter Mackridge's essay in the same volume, "The Textualiation of Place in Greek Fiction, 1883-1903,” Journal of Mediterranean Studies 2 (1993), pp. 148-168. It would be supplemented by Michalis Chryssanthopoulos, “Anticipating Modernism: Constructing a Genre, a Past, and a Place,” In Greek Modernism and Beyond: Essays in Honor of Peter Bien, ed. Dimitris Tziovas, (New York, 1997) pp. 61-76. The study of Vizyenos would start from Chryssanthopoulos, Γεώργιος Βιζυηνός. Μεταξύ φαντασίας και μνήμνς (Athens, 1994).

The specificity of place mattered greatly in the 1880s. On the pages of Estia, the literary magazine that pushed the Realist generation, Nikolaos Polites would criticize authors for incorrect topographical references. In other words, the literary author would become a scientific geographer. Panagiotes Moullas gives examples in his 1980 edition of Vizyenos collected short stories (p. λθ'-μ'). The author of "Shadows of the Past" loosely refers to a bay and a cave in the beach of Kalamos. Nikos Polites raises the following criticism in Estia 362, suppl. (Dec. 4, 1883). "The author commits a geographical error ... inexcusable for a Greek writer who has the responsibility of knowing his country well." In another instance, the author of "Chrysoula" refers to a village by the name Kastania. Polites writes, "the author is careless. Although many villages have the name Kastania, none of them is on the sea... at least as far as I know."

In addition to a birth of topographically-specific literature, the 1880s saw the beginnings of scientific topography. Historians would leave the comfort of their libraries and search the Greek countryside for toponyms and monumental specificity. Societies of "nature-lovers" (φυσιολάτρες) and hikers (ορειβάτες) were formed in urban centers. The Greek middle-class infiltrated the folkloric countryside for entertainment and poetic inspiration. Foundational studies of historical geography coincided with the rise of poetic geography. Stephanos Dragoumes, Χρονικό του Μορέως. Τοπονυμικά – τοπογραφικά – ιστορικά (Athens, 1921) , a topographical analysis on the medieval Chronicle of the Morea, is a good example. While starting my real dissertation back in 1998, I was lucky enough to be Gennadios Library fellow and browse through the collections. The Gennadios has an incredible collection of a genre of Greek tavelogues from the late 19th century that have not been studied very well. Most traveler literature has focused on foreign travelers instead of Greek travelers in Greece. The latter had an obvious cultural and linguistic advantage that make their publications that much more valuable. Some of my favorites are Chrestos P. Koryllos, Πεζοπορία από Πατρών εις Τρίπολιν επάνοδος εις Πάτρας διά Ναυπλίου και Κορίνθου (Patras, 1890) and the following year a work written with his brother Theochares Koryllos, Πεζοπορία από Πατρών εις Καλαμάς (Athens, 1891). When I first encountered these texts, I was tapping them for particular information about the topography of the Northwestern Peloponnese. I haven't revisited them since and I would love to study them as a genre. The tradition of amateur topographical history begins with the romantic 1880s but continues to this day. Doing fieldwork through the Peloponnese, the Morea Project met dozens of typically retired local historians and collected their self-published pamphlets. I remember that my own father's greatest ambition was to write a local history of his village as a retirement project.

Before leaving this fantasy of a future dissertation, I want to mention another type of primary text, which I encountered while working with Nikolas Bakirtzis at Saint John Prodromos Monastery in Serres. Factual description is coupled with romantic stylization in yet another genre that is neither literature nor historical research. When conducting a landscape field survey of Prodromos' hinterland, we studied a wonderful Proskynetarion written by the monastery's abbot Christophoros. The Greek Proskynetarion was published in Leipzig in 1904. It offers a realistic account of the monastery, which begins with a description of its natural setting and extra-mural life, "Χωρογραφία της Ιεράς Μονής." The document is wonderful in its employment of romantic idealism and a flowery language to describe place with scientific specificity. The photograph above is from the beautiful natural setting of Prodromos (by Matthew J. Milliner). We presented the landscape study at the last Modern Greek Greek Association conference in Vancouver, see here. See official project website for description, here. It is with great sadness that I heard from Nikolas that the south wing of the monastery burned down on Dec. 13, see here.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Church as Hospice: Vizyenos

Thinking about buried fetuses in the floors of Byzantine houses has lead me to reconsider notions of architecture defined by functionalism, or the tight association between human activities and spatial definition. Specialized functions in domestic architecture, for instance, are the product of the middle class. Rooms did not receive dedicated uses until the late 18th and 19th centuries. Modern architectural education, from the Beaux Arts to the Bauhaus, assumes functional integrity; it's no surprise that modern architectural history is a typological discipline.

To put it another way, pre-bourgeois architecture was multivalent in respect to function. Turning our consideration from the Byzantine house to the Byzantine church, we find gray areas of usage. We may, for instance, ask the question "did the house ever function as a church" or "did the church ever function as a house"? I will not answer these questions now but will simply mention one social practice from the late 19th century that domesticated the space of the church.

The case study comes from a short story by Georgios Vizyenos, "My Mother's Sin" ("Το αμάρτημα της μητρός μου") published in 1883. Vizyenos's short stories are of critical importance as heralding a new realist era in Greek literature. Before Vizyenos, Greek literature was like, all literature of its time, universalist in nature. It was not till the 1880s that a realist ethos emerged (influenced by Zola, etc.) focusing on a real rather than an imaginary Greece. For the first time, Greek writers turned their attention to contemporary (rather than historical) Greece and sought to document the ethos of its rural reality. The genre was called "ethography," a term which Roderick Beaton translates as "folkloric realism."

In "My Mother's Sin," Vizyenos tells the story of a family from his home town, Vize in Thrace. The story begins with a very sick child, Annio, whose disease consumes a family's life and resources. For 19th-century folk society, sickness was natural under two conditions concluding either to death or to health. A prolonged state of sickness was unnatural. The last resort for any such predicament was a supernatural diagnosis. Once all other remedies failed (in producing health or death), the body of the diseased was brought into the church, assuming that the prolonged disease. The supernatural cure required that the sick individual sleep for 40 days in the church, where the battles of good and evil could resolve their conflict. In the church, the typically incapacitated body would be attended by the family, who naturally moved into the building, too. Vizyenos description of this practice is fascinating, taken from the point of view of a younger brother. During the night, the ecclesiastical interior would animate the young boy's fantasies. During the day, with nothing to do in the building, the young boy would take up daily chores like cleaning the floors. On Sunday services, the body would continue to lie in front of the altar and the family would try to position it under the reading of the gospel for maximum effect.

In the story, residence at the church ends prematurely. Since no development occurred in the sick girl's health, the priest urged the family to return to their home before the completion of the 40 days. If the sick person actually lost the battle and died in the church, the holy area would be spoiled. It was to the priest's best interest, therefore, to have the diseased die in their own home. This sounds like some modern hospital trying to maintain its mortality statistics by suggesting hospice care. We also detect some slight irony in Vizyenos treatment of ecclesiastical authority.

Although it dramatizes 19th-century social practices, Vizyenos story sheds some light to older Byzantine customs. Before the ultimate diagnosis of moving into the church, the mother of the sick child takes some intermediary steps of bringing the body to the church via the garments that it touches. She takes garments of the sick girl to church and ties them to the building, a practice testified in Byzantine texts. In the Life of Theophano, for example, Theophano’s father removes a belt that was hanging from a column in the Church of the Theotokos Bassou in Constantinople and ties it around the belly of his wife, Anna, who was having a difficult labor. This gives us license to imagine all kinds of domestic fragments covering the body of the Byzantine church. The male space of churches was typically feminized by fabric rituals that involve dressing and undressing the architecture.

Vizyenos story holds one additional point of interest. The town of Vize contains Byzantine architecture of consequence, most notably the Hagia Sophia. This is clearly not the church of Annio's hospice, since it had been already converted into a mosque. Incidentally, Hagia Sophia has been the subject of recent architectural study by Franz Alto Bauer (Basel) and Holger Klein (Columbia), see here. Unfortunately, the project became too complex for Bauer and Klein to maintain long-term. On a literary note, Vizyenos' short stories exploit two Byzantine narrative modes, antithesis and ekphrasis. For this analysis, see Margaret Alexiou, “Writing against Silence: Antithesis and Ekphrasis in the Prose Fiction of Georgios Vizyenos,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 47 (1993) pp. 263-286

Vizyenos short story is available in English, see My Mother's Sins and Other Stories by Georgios Vizyenos, trans. William F. Wyatt (Hanover, 1988). For the original Greek version, see Γ. Μ. Βιζυηνός, Νεολληνικά Διηγήματα, ed. P. Mellas (Athens, 1980). I quote the animated and uncanny experiences in the church from the childhood memories of the sick girl's brother.

Ενθυμούμαι ακόμη οποίαν εντύπωσιν έκαμεν επί της παιδικής μου φαντασίας η πρώτη εν τη εκκλησία διανυκτέρευσις. Το αμυδρόν φως των εμπρόσθεν του εικονοστάσιου λύχνων, μόλις εξαρκούν να φωτίζη αυτό και τας προ αυτού βαθμίδας, καθίστα το περί ημάς σκότος έτι υποπτότερον και φοβερώτερον, παρά εάν ήμεθα όλως διόλου τα σκοτεινά. Οσάκις το φλογίδιον μιας κανδύλας έτρεμε, μοι εφαίνετο, πως ο Άγιος επί της απέναντι εικόνος ήρχιζε να ζωντανεύη, και εσάλευε, προσπαθών ν΄αποσπαθή από τας σανίδας, και καταβή επί του εδάφους, με τα φαρδυά και κόκκινα φορέματα, με τον στέφανον περί την κεφαλήν, και μετ τους ατενείς οφθαλμούς επί το ωχρού και απαθούς προσώπου του. Οσάκις πάλιν ο ψυχρός άνεμος εσύριζε δια των υψηλών παραθύρων, σείων θορυβωδώς τας μικράς αυτών υέλους, ενόμιζον, ότι οι περί την εκκλησίαν νεκροί ανερριχώντο τους τοίχους και προσεπαθούν να εισδύωσοιν εις αυτήν. Και τρέμων εκ φρίκης, έβλεπον ενίοτε αντικρύ μου ένα σκελετόν, όστις ήπλωνε να θερμάνει τας ασάρκους του χείρας επί του "μαγκαλίου", το οποίον έκαιε προ ημών. Και όμως δεν ετόλμων να δηλώσω ουδέ παραμικρότεραν ανησυχίαν. Διότι ηγάπων την αδελφήν μου, και εθεώρουν μεγάλην προτίμησιν να είμαι διαρκώς πλησίον της και πλησίον της μητρός μου, ήτις χωρίς άλλο θα με απέστελλεν εις τον οίκον, ευθύς ως ήθελεν υποπτευθεί ότι φοβούμαι.

Vizyenos, Νεοελληνικά διηγήματα, ed. P. Mellas (Athens, 1980), pp. 8-9.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Neo-Byzantine Detroit 1955

In the last few days, I've been thinking of a permanent blog series that might highlights the irruptions of Byzantine material culture in popular American consciousness. One such moment dates to 1955. Reading through the biography of Greek artist Spyros Vasileiou, I learned that the Detroit Institute of Arts curated an exhibition on Neo-Byzantine art in 1955, which included Vasileiou. The artist was in residence in Detroit, as he also executed the iconographic cycle of Saints Constantine and Helen, a newly completed Greek Orthodox church. For a masterful dramatization of Detroit's Greek-American community during this time, see Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex (2002).

Like many exhibits, the 1955 show at the DIA has passed into oblivion. I personally find it amazing that Paul Cret's Beaux Arts museum once housed modern Greek Neo-Byzantine art. These Greeks, moreover, momentarily coexisted with Diego Rivera's controversial Ford murals (1932-33). This is an important juxtaposition considering the impact that Byzantine art had on Rivera during his 1920 trip to Italy. Through serendipity, a Greek Generation of the 30s shared the same roof with the Mexican Generation of the 30s. The roof itself was designed by the founder of the Philadelphia School of Architecture, Paul Cret, who will get a lot of airwaves in my 1930s seminar this semester, as will the tensions of the Rivera court.

I blogged on Spyros Vasileiou last December, when Sotheby's sold his Patesion Street (1930) for $330,000. I started thinking about Vasileiou again because the Benaki Museum will host a retrospective of Vasileiou's set designs in 2011 (see details). It is important to note that Vasileiou started his painting career decorating Saint Dionysios in Kolonaki, a building designed by the patriarch of Byzantine architecture Anastasios Orlandos. His iconography won him the Benaki Prize in 1930. Above, you see one of Vasileiou's drawings from the 1930 competition. For more information on Vasileiou, visit his museum housed in his own home. I don't know much about the Vasileiou estate, but I hope they were not the ones selling Patesion Street in 2009 out of financial hardship.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Rural Modernism

Thanks to Marisa Midori, whose comment on my last posting led me to her blog Good Good that contains what might be already my favorite video of 2011. The video is taken from some unknown 1960s television performance. Googling inquiries have led to no leads as to the identity of the dancers or the TV show. It's the choreography of Dave Brubeck's 1961 hit "Unsquare Dancing."

The video represents an interesting 1920s/30s American tradition that tapped conservative agrarian rural life for radical cosmopolitan hipness. Consider, for instance, the paintings of Charles Sheeler that were inspired by vernacular architecture, my absolute favorite being "American Interior" (1934) at the Yale Art Gallery:

The greatest manifestation of this propensity is, of course, Martha Graham's choreography of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring from 1944, with minimalist sets designed by Isamu Noguchi. Appalachian Spring is the subject of Studio 360s American Icons, see here for podcast.

And since, we are on the subject of rural modernism, one of the first books on my 2011 reading list is R. Tripp Evans' new biography Grant Wood: A Life. The creator of the iconic American Gothic (1930) at the Chicago Art Institute seems to have engaged in journeys of homo-eroticism that his conservative fans would never approve. See NYT review here. I'm glad that Grant Wood's Arnold Comes of Age (1930) is included in the National Portrait Gallery's exhibit, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which I'll be visiting with my students at the end of the month.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

All Over Coffee

It's nice to start 2011 with new heroes. Wandering through a Main Line Border's on New Year's Day, running after Kalliope's toddler meanderings, we passed the Graphic Novel section. Usually inundated with teenage boys (DC Comics) or teenage girls (Manga), Graphic Novels was pretty tame on New Year's Day. Someone had left unshelved a little graphic work that caught my short attention. Its author is my first discovery of 2011, an artist by the name of Paul Madonna. Starting in February 2004, the San Francisco Gate began publishing a weekly feature called "All Over Coffee." Paul Madonna drew architectural scenes from San Francisco's urban landscape and coupled them with texts inspired by conversations he overheard in the city's cafes. The drawings in pen and ink-wash are fabulously precise. They immediately reminded me of a similar drawing project by another graphic hero, Ben Leech, and his documentation of Lancaster. SF Gate continues to print the All Coffee Series. Today's installation for instance, is the following (click here for proper citation)

Madonna, "All Over Coffee" series was published in a book form in 2006 by City Lights, and it was this version that leaped into my attention on a lazy New Year's afternoon. Madonna's juxtapositions of personal narrative and architectural setting are provocative and have been praised by masters of narration like Dave Eggars. You can read more about Madonna and his projects in his official website here.

The fans of archaeology, urban geography and graffiti, will also appreciate Madonna's illustrations in a collaboration with Delfin Vigil, Nikko Concrete Commando. It's a true story of Vigil's search for the San Francisco tagger Nikko. The blur reads, "Sometime in the 1960s, a San Francisco kid began etching his name, NIKKO, in the sidewalks of his North Beach neighborhood. NIKKO went on to leave his mark nearly 1,000 times in the sidewalks of San Francisco. This is the true story of how, 40 years later, another San Francisco kid tracked NIKKO down by using the clues that are still in the ground today." Check it out.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States