South as a State of Mind issue 1

Page 46

MAC: My Family at ‘Middle South’ by Miltos Manetas

The emergence of a ‛Middle South’, means that ‛feeling like a southerner’ is not an obligation and a default anymore, but a viable option.

I was born and grew up in Greece: that definitely makes me a the art world. It was the early days of digital, and in Los Angeles southerner. I started looking for new friends, other orphans, who were – like In those days, phones were analogue and while my mother myself – under the existential spell of computing. was working at the central phone station as a phone operator, That’s how the Electronic Orphanage in LA’s Chinatown was my father was repairing the electric circuits in the same building. born, and that’s how the art movement Neen was initiated. But the Outside that building and all over Greece old ladies in black were art world started expanding west, and so I left Los Angeles to difeverywhere, orbiting like human satellites around our life from its fuse Neen through the world. beginning until its end. Ten years later – for reasons that I will not mention here – I beApart from a few politicians, no Greek would bother about came lost. At that point, I had been compulsively travelling all over whether he was a ‘European’ and had no need to prove it either. the world for two years. I would bounce from the deserts of IsThere was a single book on the history of Greek modern art, but rael to the forests of the Amazon and from the huge metropolis of you could go and find Tsarouchis in his garden in Marousi and South America to the forgotten towns of the Middle East. Having look at him while he was developed the technique of painting. Google cars ‘Invisible Painting’ – a very would not take pictures for personal and simple way to their maps: it was a totally keep doing my art while I PC universe (PreComputwas travelling – I was roamers and PreContemporary ing shamelessly until I met art) and I remember myCatalina. Immediately our self in it, excited, bored and genes started talking to each happy. other so loudly that we deThe new Greece, the cided to coproduce a baby. one that I left in 1985 and I should also mention that I see now happenthat at this point I had starting on YouTube (every ed to want to become a local episode, crisis and struggle again. regularly published), is The instruction that my filled with computers, netdear friend and master, Malworks and contemporary colm McLaren (1946-2010), art. This is definitely a new had given me before his South, populated by MAC death had finally, inescapMiltos Manetas, Alpha Manetas, 2011 (Man After Computers/ ably, sunk in. “You need to photograph, 30 x 40 cm, Courtesy of the artist Man After Contemporary find your private place Milart). But is Greece today tos,” Malcolm had kept reand, for that matter, is any peating at breakfast, in the European country – or part of that country – ‘South’ at all? They restaurant of the hotel where we were staying for his last show at are and they are not: in the same way that the countries of the the Baltic Museum of Art in Newcastle, UK. Middle East are not exactly ‘East’. We are confronted with a new “You desperately need to do this for yourself, and then we’ll all situation: the ‘Middle South’. come and find you there. For the sake of your sanity and your art, In this Middle South, ‘feeling like a southerner’ is not an obstop moving around. You’ve seen it all by now, and anyway it’s all ligation and a default anymore but an option. Obligations and the same out there, there isn’t anything waiting for you or for anydefaults terrify me and I’ve always felt the need to live outside one else for that matter. Slow down and start feeling again what an Greece; it was also a way to escape from my family. The concept of artist needs the most – and that is boredom.” family – an important pillar of southerness – is related to the conAt the time I didn’t take him seriously. After all, Malcolm was a cept of South by a number of preconceptions: “Southerners have citizen of the no-place himself, but his insistence was on a par with in their DNA some special interest in having kids and making that of a British Victorian old lady and he wouldn’t stop schooling families.” “Southerners make a successful family only when they me until I finally promised him that I would pick a place and that find their ‘other half.’” “Southerners are addicted to their family soon I’d be able to welcome him and his girlfriend there. “Good, home” and “for southerners family means work and responsibilyou’ll bring us to see your new paintings at a studio that will not be ity.” Those preconceptions are so strong that I always believed in some industrial city like London or New York but somewhere them – and that making babies wasn’t my cup of tea – right until I that you really love,” said Malcolm and his eyes filled with somemet Catalina in Bogota, Colombia. thing I had never seen in them before and unfortunately I would Not only didn’t I want a family, but I actually enjoyed been an never see again. orphan. Having moved again, this time from the far north of New It was with this promise at the back of my mind that when in York to the extreme west of Los Angeles, I tried and I succeeded January 2011 the tube of a pregnancy test we bought from a pharin distancing myself even from that second happy family of mine: macy in Leticia, Amazon, turned purple (positive) and Catalina


Miltos Manetas Alpha and the Bird That Brought Her, 2011 photograph, 30 x 40 cm, Courtesy of the artist

asked me “where will we live?” I didn’t hesitate to answer, “Rome”. The reason that I picked Rome, instead of Los Angeles or Nairobi, was because Enzo Cucchi had recently told me that “Rome is not one city but many, at least seven, one over the other, all still very active”. Always amazed by parallel worlds I went there, but after spending only a month in the city I discovered that there is something else that makes Rome special as well and that is the concept of ‘Middle South’. Indeed, for centuries now Rome has been the border between South and North and I suspect that the city actually owes at least a part of its riches to the job it does dividing the two. The energetic wave of the South is carefully channeled to crash over the unforgiving walls of the Vatican and its Pope. The ridiculous emptiness of the Coliseum, the talent for prostitution of the various Italian governments and, most of all, the dead body of Cinecittà are making Rome the place where the energetic South is obliged to recognise itself in an ugly portrait fabricated in the North and to feel inadequate. So when it comes to us, having decided to ‘start up’ our daughter there, we felt like making something of a statement. Indeed, we called her Alpha, which as a symbol and term is used to refer to or describe the first or most significant occurrence of something.

Looking at Alpha coming to light at The Fatebenefratelli, a very peculiar hospital located in the middle of the Tevere River, I was overwhelmed by the realisation of how little of a ‘baby’ Alpha had in her. We are used to thinking of babies as ‘step one’ of a process that – if done well – will bring the newborn creature to our level. Impatiently waiting for the baby to send us back the familiar echo of our own voice, we disregard what this creature is already letting us know from day one. We should watch carefully instead and try to see beyond their lovely faces, hear beyond their misleading crying. Like a painter who is executing an impressionist drawing, we should be looking at the forms and not at the details. I tried and this is what I discovered: Alpha ‘speaks’ by her presence. That little, unstable body that’s so NOT similar to any body that doesn’t belong to a baby is her manifesto. Maybe the craze for parents to take pictures of their babies in a nice and sympathetic way is also an attempt to cover their babies’ real talk? So, in my pictures I try to reinvent family photography. I am doing that by projecting the pictures that I take of Alpha onto the room where I photographed her or onto some other place. Then I rephotograph them. Decontextualising the picture in this way helps me to think of the three of us not just as a family but also as MAC (Miltos/Alpha/Catalina): a network.