re-departing

Eugenia Raskopoulos
Palace Gallery, Brisbane

The recent audio-visual installation re-departing/επ-αναχωρηση by Eugenia Raskopoulos brought into new light the often silent presence of women in history. The narrative was based on a true story, equally tragic and universal as well as diachronic: during their resistance against the Ottoman Empire, in 1803, sixty women from Souli- a small town in mainland Greece - decided to end their lives and those of their children in a desperate act of liberty. Dancing their traditional, local dance, for the last time, they threw themselves off a cliff which overlooked their country and the monastery of Zalogo that had housed them during the last days of their resistance.

Although the story is well known in Greece and has been used repeatedly to commemorate the heroism of Greek women in times of political suppression or war Greek school girls dance the Zalogo dance every year on Greek Independence Day-the point is never really made that the decision of the Souli women was a decision based on gender. Had they been men, they would have taken arms against their conquerors and fought until their victory or death. Being women, their ultimate fear was not death: they would have been enslaved and raped or dragged to the Ottoman courts as mistresses and odalisques. The Souli women sacrificed their life for their national freedom, but more essentially for their freedom as women.

Raskopoulos's installation drew on a piece of national history in order to comment on a reality that women have encountered historically throughout the world. Her emphasis on the personal and the intimate, as opposed to the national and the heroic, was communicated through a sequence of physical and emotional experiences. The first elements to capture the senses were the light and heat of numerous wicks, lit with oil and arranged in the shape of a Greek cross. The wicks' light, reminiscent of the wick lamps (κ α ν τ η λ ι) used in the Greek Orthodox ritual, created a sublime and highly spiritual ambience. The light was used here as a multiple reference, suggestive of knowledge, spirituality and mourning ceremonies. The quality of the light, the warmth, and the spiritual symbols associated this first space of the installation with the narthex of a Byzantine church, an introductory space for the gradual preparation of pilgrims prior to their participation to the most essential parts of the ritual.

This intimate and contemplative experience was interrupted by the sound and imagery of a video projection. The blurry picture of a constantly moving and swaying camera followed the dizzy steps of a woman climbing a cliff. The woman was virtually a shadow-just as in history-a silent and anonymous presence. A Persephone-like voice called out women's names, Chrysoula, Katerini, Marianthi..., in an attempt to give her a face. Evocative Greek words alternated on the screen; they all alluded to women and life, pathos and thanatos. Carried by the woman's/artist's vertiginous and giddy climb, we arrived with her at the top. The end was certain; just a pause before the final step; a look around; and the acute, penetrating sound of a distorted song/scream. Raskopoulos has re-visited and re-departed and through our empathy we have re-departed with her; in memory of the past for the truth of the present.