Dmitris Papaioannou on Still Life & the influence of Sisyphus ahead of its Sydney Festival premiere

Kat chats with Dmitris Papaioannou ahead of the Australian premiere of his production, Still Life. Taking influence from the Greek myth of Sisyphus and Camus‘ essay on the same story, the performance takes a look at the human condition and the drive or ‘thirst’ for spirituality.

Could you tell us a little about Still Life? About it’s meaning, I know you’ve said before that it represents your vision of a ‘strange new world’ – how does that come to life in the work?

For me, Still Life, is a performance that tries to suggest some kind of meditation upon humans constructing meaning in their lives. Daily matter and our material selves and working towards transforming matter into spirit as a dancer for the human heart’s thirst for spirituality. So it is a performance that plays with these ideas and tries to encapsulate atmospheres that make people dream and think about our everyday struggle with our material selves in order to achieve some brief moments of meaning.

I think you’ve mentioned as well, that it’s [about] encouraging people to find happiness in the ‘everyday’. Is that represented as well?

In a way, yes, it is loosely based on the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus and also loosely based on the existential philosopher Albert Camus’ essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. Camus’ essay is raising the question, ‘Why? Why live? Why not commit suicide?’ Why continue living if you know that you are going to die? If you do not take the rational leap towards fate, religious fate…so if you are not a believer and you are a man who understands that we are going to die, why go on living? He suggests that the myth of Sisyphus is a metaphor; Sisyphus keeps on working, keeps pushing it up the hill although he knows it is going to roll down again.

It’s the ridiculousness of the human condition; how do we construct meaning by working, so that life opens up to something more than matter. For us, for humans, it seems to be important, that the human heart is craving for more. It does not confine itself to the limits of matter. This is a way to explain the whole civilisation – why do we sculpt from stones statues and why do we use stones to build houses? Why do we transform the earth into something like that? It’s probably that quest. This is a performance that plays upon these things but again, it tries to be open to any kind of any personal interpretation. It tries to be clear and specific so that people can project, that’s what is art is trying to do. It’s not trying to teach a lesson or to represent things, but to ask questions and evokes thoughts and emotions.

 

And to help the audience inform their own thoughts about the piece and it’s meaning. What is it like being part of the Sydney Festival?

None of us have ever been to Sydney or to Australia in general. Over the last one and a half years we have been touring extensively and we have been lucky enough to experience what it is to communicate your ideas and your visions with various cultures. It is to us breathtaking and extremely interesting. This will be our furthest trip ever and we are extremely excited; we hope we will physically survive the hours of flight! We are enthusiastic about it.

We will definitely welcome you here, though it is quite warm!

We know warm! [Laughs]

Of course, in Greece! I know in your prior work; you’ve worked on things like comic books and illustrations, to the ceremony of the Athens [Olympic] games. How does something like Still Life compare to that and touring it?

As an artist, I was young and I had to face the issue of being commissioned and used my artistry to deliver commissioned work. On the other hand, [I had] to decide without being commissioned, things I liked to express myself by doing. Still Life is part of my personal expression and it is along a series of works that I’ve done that are precious to me; they are my daring experiments of how one can express one’s self. A work like the Athens ceremony or the European Games Opening Ceremony or various other commissions I’ve done is like an architect who is commissioned to build a big public place that thousands of people have to walk through. It is an enormous exercise of sharpening one’s skills and it is also a breathtaking experience in investing ideas on this platform. My heart and my actual existence are tuned into being able to write my own small things like Still Life, where I talk about issues that, as a human, I face, and communicate these points of views with people who are interested.

Still Life premieres at Carriageworks as part of this year’s Sydney Festival on January 27th before seeing out its run at the venue on January 29th. For more information and tickets, visit the official event page here.

Photo: Julian Mommert