CO-OP Encounters #4: Depression Era

by Unseen August 06 2018

Unseen CO-OP is back for its second edition. Introduced to increase the representation of artist-run initiatives and collectives worldwide, CO-OP encourages artists to present challenging works of art, dynamic presentations and new commercial formats. In the coming months, we’ll be speaking to each of the participating collectives to find out more about the collaborative processes that drive their practice forward.

This week we talk to Petros Babasikas, one of the 25 artists that make up Athens-based collective Depression Era. Since 2011, Depression Era has been using imagery to make political statements and critique socio-economic developments. Their current project, The Tourists, presents a subversive tourism campaign that refers to the current wave of refugees, mass migration and the simultaneous increase of tourism in the Mediterranean.

What inspired you to start working as a collective?
The Depression Era project began as a common, collective response of a group of artists to the significant social changes beginning to take place in Greece and Southern Europe. These changes were felt personally by everyone in the collective and witnessed in the lives of many others close to us. One of the central questions asked was: “What can we do, through our work, to respond to this Crisis?” Keeping calm and going on with our individual projects was not enough. Progress, development and optimism became non-operable notions. There was an urgent need to get together, talk, take on contemporary events through our work. After 2015 we started experimenting with forms and media responding to ‘History in the making’ – our history, now being written by others. The Tourists is a long-term collective project with multiple iterations. We started getting interested in participating, through documentary and storytelling, in the writing of history and perhaps somehow also intervening in it.

How has working as a collective changed the way you interact with the art market?
Our collective work has almost zero access to the art market. We do not buy or sell within the market, because so far it has made no sense for us to do so. Our works have been partly self-funded, supported by various friends’ and partners’ resources and space, and occasionally sponsored by grants, fellowships and cultural institutions.

Rather than the art market, we prefer to operate within contemporary culture and sometimes within mass media. These afford us with access and different opportunities of dissemination and ‘broadcast.’ Given the current cultural and professional context of Greece and Europe, and given our lack of access to the market, our main concern is intellectual survival: to find ways to continue thinking, working and broadcasting together without offering free labour for the benefit of various for- or not-for-profit institutions.

What sets you apart from other collectives?
This is a problematic question as it implies a certain exceptionalism and also asks us to define ourselves in terms of how things are supposed to be like. We’d rather answer the question of what sets us close to other collectives.

Depression Era has been, first and foremost, a gathering, documentation and storytelling experiment with no clear expiration date. We are a fairly large collective, including many different individuals and consensus is always a matter of negotiation. We do share a number of common, basic beliefs and goals, but there are many things on which we disagree. Such disagreements have been an integral part of our creative process from the beginning, as has been finding ways to overcome them. We have been very fluid and flexible in putting new projects and testing new modes of collaboration, education, dissemination – hence the word ‘experiment.’ Lack of consensus and organisational fluidity often make it difficult to work, but also provide a form of organic democratic control. They are also fed by the institutional and organisational structures and the social and cultural precarity and uncertainty within which we commonly operate.

What do you have in store for us at Unseen Amsterdam 2018?
The fragments of a tourist pavilion. The palimpsest of Athens. A distress sale. The taking apart of the walls of our own house. Faces of strangers in their own home or settlers in a strange land. The violent crossings of Global Migrations and Global Tourism. New urban, sea-borne and sea-stranded, post-national identities brewing in the crossroads. Fearless children and ancient heroes.

Thank you, Petros!

You can read more interviews with the collectives participating in CO-OP 2018 on our stories page. 

Image: #5 The Tourists Campaign Publication, 2017 © Depression Era