I am born and grown up in Greece: that definitely makes me a Southerner. Those days, phones were analogue and while my mother was working at the central phone station connecting phone calls as a phone operator, my father was repairing the electric circuits at the same building. Outside that building and all over Greece, old ladies in black were everywhere, orbiting like human satellites around our life from its beginning until its end. Apart from a few politicians, no Greek would bother if he is a European and had no need to prove it either. There was a single book on the History of Modern Art, but you could go find Tsarouchis at his garden in Marousi and look at him while he was painting. Google cars would not take pictures for their maps: it was a totally PC universe (PreComputers and PreContemporary art) and I remember myself in it, excited, bored and happy.
The new Greece, the one that I left in 1985 and that I see now happening in YouTube (every episode, crises and struggle regularly published), is filled with computers, networks and contemporary art. This is definitely a new south, populated by MAC (Man After Computers/ Man After Contemporary art). But is Greece today and for that matter, is any European country-or part of that country-“south” at all? They are and they are not: in the same way that the countries of the Middle East are not exactly “East”, we are confronted with a new situation: the “Middle South”.
In this Middle South, "feeling Southerner" is not an obligation and a default anymore but an option. Obligations and defaults terrify me and if I always felt the need to live outside Greece, it was also because in that way I could escape from my Family. The concept of Family- an important pillar of Southerness- is related to the concept of South by a number of preconceptions. “Southerners have in their DNA some special interest for having kids and making families”. “Southerners make a successful family only when they find their “other half”. “Southerners are addicted to their family home“ and “ For Southerners family means work and responsibility”. Those preconceptions are so strong, that I always believed them right and I until I met Catalina in Bogota, Colombia, making babies wasn’t my cup of tea.
Not only I didn’t want a family, but I enjoyed been an orphan. Having moved again, this time from the Far North of New York to the extreme West of Los Angeles, I tried and I succeed to distance myself even from that second happy family of mine: the ArtWorld. It was the early days of Digital and in Los Angeles; I start looking for new friends, other orphans, who were -like myself-under the existential spell of computing. That's how the ElectronicOrphanage in LA's Chinatown was born and that's how the art movement Neen was initiated. But the ArtWorld start expanding west, and so I left Los Angeles to diffuse Neen to the World.
10 years later-for reasons that I will not mention here I found myself lost. At that point, I was compulsively traveling all over the world for two years already. I would bounce from the deserts of Israel to the forests of the Amazon and from the huge metropolis of South America, to the forgotten towns of the Middle East. Having developed the technique of “Invisible Painting”-a very personal and simple manner to keep doing my art while I was traveling I was going around shamelessly until I met Catalina and immediately our genes start talking to each other so loudly that we decide to co-produce a baby.
I should also mention, that at this point, I had start desiring to become a local again. The instruction that my dear friend and Master, Malcolm McLaren (1946-2010), had left in me before his death, had completed finally its inescapable process. "You need to find your private place Miltos", Malcolm kept repeating at breakfast, in the restaurant of the hotel where we were staying for his last show at the Baltic Museum of Art in Newcastle, UK. "We desperately need to do this for yourself and then we’ll all come and find you there. For the sake of your sanity and of your art, stop going around, you’ve seen it all by now, and anyway it’s all the same out there, there isn't anything waiting for you or for anyone else for that matter. Slow down and start feeling again what an artist needs the most and that is boredom".
I wasn't taking him seriously, after all, he was a citizen of the no-place himself, but Malcolm's insistence was that of a Victorian British old lady and he wouldn't stop schooling me until I finally promised to him that I would pick a place and soon I would be able to receive him and his girlfriend there. "Good, you’ll bring us to see your new paintings at a studio that will not be in some industrial city like London or New York but somewhere that you really love" said Malcolm and his eyes filled by something I have never seen in them and unfortunately I wouldn't see ever again.
It was with this promise in the back of my head, that when in Jan 2011, the tube of a pregnancy test we bought from a Pharmacy in Leticia, Amazon, turned purple (positive) and Catalina asked me "where we would live", I didn't hesitate to name Rome. The reason that I pick 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 already from my first months there, I discovered that there is something else that was making from Rome a very special city and that had to do exactly with the concept of Middle South.
For centuries now, Rome is the border between South and North and I suspect that the city actually owns at least a part of its riches to the job it does dividing the two. Indeed, 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 recognize itself on an ugly portrait fabricated at North and to feel inadequate. So when it comes to us, having decided to “Start Up” our daughter there, felt somewhat 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 Alpha coming to light at The Fatebenefratelli, a very peculiar hospital located in the middle of the Tevere River, I was overwhelmed by the realization of how little of a "baby" Alpha had in her. We are used to think of babies as “step one” of a process that -if well accomplished- 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 of parents for taking 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 re-invent family photography. I am doing that by projecting the pictures that I take from Alpha, back to the room where I photographed her or to some other place. Then I am re-photographing them. Decontextualizing the pictures that way helps me to think of the three of us not as a family but as MAC (Miltos/Alpha/Catalina): a network.
Miltos Manetas, Rome, Feb 2012
Written for South as a State of Mind issue 1