Despina Sevasti (DAI, 2017): "Is your figure less than Greek? Is your mouth a little weak? When you open it to speak, are you smart?"
Despina's 20 minute presentation for Maelstrom Slow Dance - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, June 2017
Despina Sevasti confidently appears on stage in a fluffy dinosaur costume. Unphased by her costume or the audience’s reaction to it, she begins to give the lecture she had carefully prepared with visual aides and notes, adopting the role of a teacher in control of the class, and alternatively as a non-authoritative figure speaking from a personal perspective. This comical lecture performance makes use of a number of visual and musical tropes. The jazz classic, “My Funny Valentine”, Greek art education, the classical human forms of “Norma” and “Norman”. Despina connects with the audience personally, bringing in her own experience as a teacher to think through the problems of institution together. “I asked my students why do they think it is that 99% of studio teachers at the ASFA are male while 65% of students are female. Most people stayed silent. I felt silly, I felt like a fool. Some people muttered that it was weird. I couldn’t tell if they meant my question or the situation in the ASFA. I asked them why female art teachers are as rare as pink dinosaurs. Some people said that maybe this happens because men are just better painters.” Despina’s performance lecture brings specific and overwhelming aspects of contemporary art practice and its political relevance to the fore - connecting what happens in Greek art education (where she has been occupied for much of her professional life -15 years- as a teacher) to the troubling project of nation-making. At the end of the lecture, Despina transforms from a confident lecturer to a person sitting alone on the floor, back to the audience, singing a melancholy song, “My Funny Valentine.”
Ray Brassier began by remarking that he was puzzled by the title “Affinity” and was not sure what it meant here. In general, he found the lecture performance “both engaging and depressing when hearing about the history.” He complimented Despina on a “very beautifully well-thought out, staged, articulated, and performed” piece. Still trying to work out the reason for the song “My Funny Valentine” to be in this piece, Brassier noted his interest in the contrast between the 1950’s Time magazine advertisements Despina presented and the Greek Communist leader, Aris Velouchiotis, she talked about. He would like to hear more about the relationship between these two (the communist attempt and failure to liberate Greece from Fascism in 1945) and the way the Communists and leftists were forced to participate in these re-education programs (also learning Greek culture, reconstructing the Parthenon, etc). Overall, he was interested in hearing more about the Communist status in Greece. “Is it simply a matter of representation or inclusiveness?”
Gabi Ngcobo observed that Despina had found a way of ending on a light note about a matter that is not laughable. “This way of undoing history by exiting the place in order to go back to it with more clarity shows how we can’t trust history but we can use it to read the present.” She thoroughly enjoyed Despina’s presence on stage, especially her use of gestures to indicate doubt.
Remarking that this performance lecture was one the first ones to use humor, Bassam el Baroni said that he appreciated the archival approach to the information Despina brought to light and that it made him want to know more. Reflecting on the idea that the “main object of desire is the transformation of the art school”, he asked why this institution is so fossilized and how that happens. It “always begins with nation making. Institutional fossilization begins in its development to reflect a nation-state apparatus and then is unable to unpack itself from its allegiance to the original ideology and it becomes a relic in action.” El Baroni could relate to this. Looking at “how documenta as an institution doesn’t touch the actual situation in the art academy, institutions, etc. doesn’t come close.” He praised Despina for her strong articulation of these ideas. “Digging into ideas of myth-making and nation-making using the question of ‘what is an art school’ - can be generative of many interesting ideas.”
Rachel O’Reilly praised Despina on her choice of materials for presentation. She was “extremely entertained and moved by editorial work that went into the combination of performance genres.” Also, the “sensitivity to the congealment of narratives and fascist synchronization came through.” She continued by saying that she thought Despina was incredibly diplomatic in how she had selected a glimpse of the ongoing structures of corruption. “This is a work of endurance, laughing when the only option is to cry.”
About: Maelstrom Slow Dance
Despina Sevasti’s website