CONSTELLATION: September - Giorgos Kimoulis
- Author: Olympiti Olympiada Maria
- Published on: 25/09/2016
George Kimoulis: Acting is not a product of hypocrisy
Translation: Nikos Stamatoulakis
For the first “Constellations” interview we chose George Kimoulis, who was born in September.
George Kimoulis is brilliant, always active, servant and master of the art of theatre, eloquent, sharp and profound in substance. He has a way of placing his audience –from a distance– in its place with wide-open eyes, ears, mind and heart. And all that so you can understand that theatre is a study. This is also what he does in person. In every interview, in every conversation. He puts you in your place. He makes you think.
We met on a Friday evening. Right outside his house. Him, me and Patroklos. Always a gentleman, he opened the door for us, we got in the elevator and in our short trip upwards, towards the upper floor of an apartment building, I was thinking that I was mainly interested in his thoughts on age, on today and tomorrow. On the importance of culture. On ideas. And so, we began. We sailed towards higher meaning. Together with the timeless George Kimoulis.
Could you describe today’s modern Greeks? What is their relationship to culture?
Modern Greeks are in a risky territory. On the one hand, they take for granted that any cultural activity is immediately known to people abroad due to the country’s past, and on the other hand they feel a kind of exclusion as people on the “outside” have been questioning, ever since Fallmerayer, their relation to ancient Greek culture. This questioning or doubting has almost penetrated their “DNA of thought”, even though they will still get angry if someone questions in person this connection.
Is it my idea or are they taking a big risk?
They are and they don’t care about it. And this risk also entails the indifference modern Greeks show for their own country. But let’s focus on culture for a bit. For many years now, most people don’t care for the likelihood of modern Greek culture being extroverted. And this is because aside from the Fallmerayerian syndrome which forces them to say every once in a while, “who are we to talk, when almost everyone doubts our identity”, a sense of provincial defeatism prevails in them. The infamous excuse, that the Greek language is not one spoken by many people, something which creates a communication problem, as they say, leads them to an attitude of introversion. This excuse is, in my opinion, convenient for modern Greeks who like being occupied with their microcosm and not the macrocosm. And thus, little by little, they shrink and stop at the admiration and recriminations of other artists in our country. And still I have not seen any political intentions from any government to change this mentality. They may talk about political extroversion, but in reality, they are not doing anything.
So we are in a state of “Akrasia”, as Aristotle describes it?
I believe we are in a state of “post-akrasia”. “Akrasia” means “I know what I want and what I should do, but I don’t it”. The thing is, I believe that at this point, modern Greeks neither know nor want to know what they should do. And this is the state I’m describing with the neologism “post-akrasia”. We see Greece as a vessel, if you will, of tourism and because of that we a priori believe that tourists who will be visiting Greece will be able to see products of modern Greek culture along with ancient monuments. Thus, we make idiotic attempts like “pseudo-advertising” modern cultural products on tourist brochures or adding subtitles or surtitles to various spectacles. Thinking that this is the right thing to do. However, we forget that tourists visit Greece to swim in the ocean, taste the sun and visit a couple of monuments. And this is what they would do in other countries as well, in Avignon, in Edinburgh and in any other country which have not shown any interest in their own extroversion. Tourists in a foreign country will opt to see the work of those artists that they already know from their home country! Together with their work, these artists have actually travelled there. In short, extroversion takes precedence over modern Greek culture. We are responsible for taking our culture to them and we cannot just expect tourists or passersby to visit Greece for its modern cultural attractions. Unfortunately, this is not something people can easily understand. And especially Ministers for Culture. And this happens because the Ministry of Culture has always been the incumbent government’s “sidekick”. Some years ago, in the times of the “odd funding”, it was also the “cafeteria” of some Prime Ministers. Unfortunately, for the Ministers for Culture, this Ministry was always occupied with some artists fighting over their cultural products, next to some archaeologists fighting over their findings. Fortunately, the Central Archaeological Council, which is almost a state within a state, is responsible for the latter and so the Minister is at ease, as there is no need for his involvement. That is how things are unfortunately. It’s a shame, but this is the truth.
What do you think of the state’s attitude towards culture and art in the last 20 years?
Over the last 20 years, I think we have seen some kind of an effort. First we have Thanos Mikroutsikos’ effort. For me he was the only Minister for Culture with a vision and I am referring to the whole effort, not only the “network of cities” he attempted to organize. You could see a vision beneath that. And this is something rare for a Minister for Culture. Second, we have Pavlos Geroulanos’ attempt to organize the Ministry of Culture according to an organization chart which, just imagine(!), is applicable even today, as we speak. Everything that follows is surrounded by thick fog.
To which figure would you liken modern Greeks to?
It can only be one, given the circumstances. And that is Sisyphus. The attitude of modern Greeks is “Sisyphian”. Or rather it should be. One more time from the beginning, that is. Take the upward slope once more. Exactly that!
How are politics and theatre related?
First of all, politicians should have a more serious understanding of our language and should understand that acting is not a product of hypocrisy. They should stop using stupid expressions which connect “acting” to “lying”. “Acting” is a derivative of the Greek verb “apokrinomai” which means “to reply by performing” or “to perform by replying”. In short, it is how every person should think and act like. It has nothing to do with lies, but everything to do with the truth. And the truth is nothing more than that which should not slip into oblivion. Therefore, they should respect this form of art and not just show up for the photographs with some actors. But this requires a different kind of culture and a different kind of a moral code. It requires politicians to know that they are intellectuals with ideas. That they have a vision for the society and its citizens. And this vision is first and foremost, for all people to see the life of politicians like a work of art. And not to just see them as simple administrators – accountants of the economic landscape of this country.
Is theatre a tool of self-awareness?
Self-awareness? Indeed… This is what I used to believe. You know…some of the most beautiful lyrics I have heard are Dionisis Savopoulos’ “If you dive into yourself, it won’t be yourself you’ll find there, but everyone else, old and young”. So this “dive into myself”, this self-awareness as you say, the famous submersion in our self, in hopes of finding out something about us, is not real. We end up finding everyone else there. Dead and alive. This is why I said “used to believe”. It is not inside of us that we find our self, but on the outside. In the way other people look at you, and the sum of who you are, you see it in the sum of the looks other people give you, something which ends two seconds before you leave this life. But then there is nothing you can do with this kind of knowledge. What you may be able to achieve through theatre is, in an attempt to go back to the same roles you portrayed some years ago, to see fragments of your transformations – since you never change, you remain forever the same. The same in your transformations. Something else you may learn through theatre is that any role or any character does not really exist. A role is nothing more than a mediator which, according to your strengths –because everything depends on your strengths– allows you to conjure every behavior mask you have inside of you. Because inside them everyone has every mask they identify in their external world. And therefore, the etymology we know that “mimesis” derives from the Sanskrit “magia” which means “fraud” is, in my opinion, false. I am leaning more towards the etymology Hesychius gives, according to which “mimesis” derives from the ancient Greek verb “memniso”, which is like something is ordering your memories and from the dark pits of your mind you bring them up to the light.
Do you embrace roles as partners in your life?
As I said, there are no such things as roles. I have the power –when I have it– to conjure these masks, some of which I may hate, on stage. I used to tell colleagues: “Yes, I understand that Greeks have not experienced the Renaissance or Romanticism and this has obviously been a problem. But please, stop acting like you are Lancelot on his horse, the nice and heroic knight. Your characters are not only the best of the best, some of them are the bottom of the barrel”. And these last ones are the most poetic of them all when it comes to human behavior. But it takes guts to portray these on stage. To show how truly evil you can be, how jealous you can be, to show your vile nature. Not to forgive it, not to give it a heroic status, not to embellish it, but because that too –our second nature– has some poetic value. It is a part of human life after all. You know, throughout our lives we end up using only five or six behavior masks. The ones that have been forced on us, the ones we have been taught to use, or the ones we think will make us appear likeable. Theatre then, allows us to use all these masks for a very simple ultimate goal, to show the complexity and versatility of human beings.
Do reviews help an artist?
Professional reviews don’t· since they are not aware of what their main role should be, reviews are not only unhelpful, but they demolish and shatter a form of art which by nature is stillborn. Reviewers are basically the future historians of a stillborn form of art. This is what they exist for and their work is very important but the fools waste their time in stupid games of the market. “It’s good, go watch it”, “It’s not that good, don’t go”.
Do you read reviews?
There are some reviewers who follow some courtesy rules. They are like someone who will hold your hand in difficult times, even though they do not have it as hard as you. And this is a move of affection, something you need. Because when you expose yourself in such a raw way, you need this kind of affection. Many people ask about talent and whether it actually exists. I believe that talent as they perceive it, does not really exist…
It is all about work and nothing else. Work and devotion. And accepting the idea of solitude. Not loneliness, solitude. Being alone by choice, that is. In order to be able to observe life while at the same time taking part in it as well. Without mediators and without having many people around you, who basically pull you near them to have you all for themselves. In my opinion, “talent” retains the ancient Greek meaning of “currency” but it is not what you are being paid with. It is what you pay, for having the arrogance to expose your soul to the market. Something which almost no one does. And then they tell you “so you are arrogant enough to do this? You’ll pay for it!”. And this payment is what they call “talent”. It is that simple. Everything else is hard work and research.
Have you witnessed people progressing after years of hard work? Following this recipe?
Of course. Some of the best work comes from people who are either consciously or unconsciously alone.
Is theatre a study?
Exclusively. It is a spiritual labor from start to finish. Acting gained its epistemic status between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. Up until then there was only a handful of texts on acting. Diderot, Graig, Appia. Only a handful. The one who attempted to bring acting towards a more epistemic way of thinking was Stanislavski. Consequently, everything we have on this level and this field –that of the art and science of acting– is newborn. A little more than a century old.
Is theatre topical or contemporary?
Contemporary. But some plays should also be topical. Aristophanes for example should also be topical as he was also topical in his time. He referred to specific people by name. It is up to us then to find the correspondences. Because if stripped of this topical comic element, his work loses half its value. Despite the fact that many people mock Aristophanes’ comedies. Plays which include commentary on the politics of the time that is. In fact, comedy borrowed elements from that commentary – both regarding its structure and its topical character. Aristophanes is like if Embirikos decided to write a political comedy using the language of “Megas Anatolikos”. Foul-mouthed, rogue, free of any pseudo-protestant fear of words.
What constitutes a happy person?
I would be able to answer this question if I believed in happiness and sadness, but I do not believe in either one. I believe that people are not born to be happy or sad. They are born to live their lives. If someone goes to extremes to find happiness, he is in danger of living a life more sad than happy. And this is because he does not actually live. A happy person is one who lives his life. Who is not afraid of sadness, nor does he chase happiness.
Do you live your life?
I will not answer that.
How does a father experience life?
There are those who are ready to become parents and those who are not. If you are ready, then your whole life changes. You are ready to learn what “to love” means, you are ready to learn that it actually means “to owe”. This is something you cannot learn in a relationship. Even if you pretend that affection has turned into love. A child carries a need which is quite fundamental: that of the weak. While in a relationship a different kind of process comes first: you have used your strengths to charm someone so that maybe they will embrace your weaknesses in the future. With children, that’s out of the question. By nature, children are weaker than you are and require your attention. They require even the power you do not have. And you owe it to them. Not to charm them, but to be there on their side, whenever they turn to you. This constant debt is the love only children can offer.
Are you a hopeful person?
By nature. I believe that only those who have experienced hopefulness, have the right to be hopeful.
How do you see time? And “birthdays”?
I was born in 1956. What a 60 year old sees in front of him is shorter than what he sees behind him. Therefore, birthdays feel like they are someone else’s. No one likes old age when they are experiencing it themselves. Old age brings about problems. Physical problems. For me, the biggest problem is time and how I perceive it now. Because of the sluggishness that starts to appear. When your body is slow in climbing up the stairs and does not do so with the same speed it used to, this sluggishness starts affecting your way of thinking as well. And for someone who unfortunately has not used his hands as much as his mind to create something, it is like his whole being gets emasculated. Therefore, birthdays as a date or as a period of celebrations are not something that make me particularly cheerful.
Thank you very much for this conversation.