Thinking with Islands
kyklàda.press is a small imprint in Athens founded by a trans-disciplinary group of artists during the pandemic. Stefanie Peter, head of cultural programs of the Goethe-Institut Athen, spoke with David Bergé, co-founder and director, and Dimitra Kondylatou, artist and author, about the project.
You’ve just founded a publishing house: how did you come up with the idea and how would you describe your practice?
David: I imagine artistic practice as something as fluid as a human body, a living organism able to adapt to different climates, conditions, environments and contexts. A body can move around, travel, isolate, focus, loosen up, take different shapes, get sick, recover, relate to other bodies, eat and rest. When a pandemic strikes, artistic practices morph towards what is possible and available, in my case, a more regional approach. At the same time, in a couple of recent works, I had been experimenting with language, speech, and writing, and instead of pursuing this path in my own practice, I opened it up to a small group of people surrounding me. To me the Cycladic landscape is both rural and urban and continues into the city hills of Athens. This is where the idea was born: a writing experiment disseminating knowledge on the Aegean archipelago.
As for the practice of kyklàda.press, our approach is not author nor disciplinary centered. This six people's team makes four books, through dialogue and shared research, often contaminated and strengthened by already ongoing research of involved team members. As a team, we can read in about 9 languages, are familiar with discourses in different fields, and have access to a lot of practical skills that come at hand when self-publishing: from ideas to proofreading, from designing to printing, to figuring out a webshop, an Instagram account, and understand how to parasite already existing networks of logistics and distribution.
As artists, you are used to other forms of presentation. What makes being a publisher so attractive these days? And isn't it also due to the situation that exhibition openings as social events are currently impossible in many parts of the world?
David: I have to admit that making books as a team over video conferences and shared documents was not always easy. Ideally, the project would have started as a physical writing workshop in which we could really get to know each other's practices before embarking on such an endeavor.
Experiencing performance or installation art is indeed different from books. In most cases, reading is an internalized process, withdrawn from crowds. The pocket-size format of kyklàda.press publications invites for another kind of intimacy, but they are by no means meant to replace spatial or temporal presentations of other practices.
Dimitra: As a member of this publishing project and a contemporary subject in curfew, I also find important the ability of books to drag us away from the screen. As many of our activities are now taking place online, the physicality of offline reading and the materiality of books may have a soothing effect in our everyday indoor experience during the lockdown.
David: At kyklàda.press, besides this catalogue of books, of which the first four are out now, we are also working on what we call for now “Corpoterranea,” environments: new ways of being together in a post-pandemic world, with books and with each other, but that’s for next year!
kyklàda.press: does the name say it all here?
David: Citing our team member Juan Duque: “Through navigation, our Westernized sense of perspective has established a common horizon, simplifying islands as visual spots at the surface of the sea. At kyklàda.press we believe that islands are not exotic entities alone in the sea waters. Islands remain interconnected with the mainland and each other, from the top of the mountains to the hidden topographies of the sea bed: a myriad of creatures and non-organic matter which lives in constant symbiosis with water; tectonic plates, fossil fuel pipes, and data cables”.
Dimitra: Usually when referring to the Cycladic islands, we use the word in plural. Kyklàda - in singular - describes a circle or something that encircles. It refers to our methodology of surrounding concepts or things that may derive from a location, but are reflected from the different locations and positions of the international and interdisciplinary kyklàda.press team members.
David: The name comes from an early conversation with Dimitris Theodoropoulos and Nicolas Lakiotakis, in which we hint to κύκλος the circular formation of the Cycladic islands of which the island Delos is roughly the center. Τhe logo splits this name into 3 distinct sounds: KY - KLÀ – DA, an allusion to Pulsar, a 1975 poem by the Brazillian concrete poet Augusto de Campos, performed by Caetano Veloso. Both de Campos and Veloso were in the late 1960s central figures in the Tropicália movement in Brazil, trying to formulate through music, theater, concrete poetry and film, a Brazillian answer to the dominating American and European straightforward capitalism and modernism
With each volume in the kyklàda.press series - we just published the first four - we are slowly forming a catalogue of liquid forms of modernity: corporeal bodies – historical and actual, real, and imaginative.
The volume "Public Health in Crisis. Confined in the Aegean Archipelago" is published with the support of the Goethe-Institut Athen. In short, what is this volume about?
David: That’s for Dimitra, the initiator of this book.
Dimitra: “Public Health in Crisis. Confined in the Aegean Archipelago” focuses on the notion of confinement and assembles fragments of everyday life and health management during the pandemics of different times in the region. When David invited me to participate in kyklàda.press, I was researching the lazaretto at Syros for the Alternate Paths workshop that I was going to conduct at the Syros International Film Festival. Lazarettos were the first organized quarantine facilities for travelers and goods, established in the 15th century, plague-stricken Venice, and a historical precedent of precautionary measures connected to travel. While learning more about them, I realized that quarantine was for centuries a common, unpleasant, compulsory stage for all kinds of travel. For this book, we chose the historic paradigm of lazarettos, as a focus point, around which unravel historical, geopolitical, theoretical, and experiential aspects of space, travel, and health management. The kyklàda.press team joined and helped me to further delve into this rich material. In this issue, we approach manifestations of confinement of different kinds and different chronologies, by contemplating on religious and medical practices against the Bubonic plague, by citing experiences and impressions of travelers that were quarantined in ships, and buildings precisely constructed for sanitary purposes, which gave us an insight on the states of control, regulated and secured by architecture and legislation. The famine incident in Syros during the occupation of Greece by the Axis Powers in the 1940s, unfolded by Nicolas Lakiotakis, highlights another important perspective, in which the imposed confinement was not the result, but the cause of a health crisis. In all the cases of confinement, there is anxiety. The anxiety, as described in Hulya Ertas’s contribution, caused by experiencing death, mourning, loss, isolation, restriction, the unknown. This book is our attempt to reflect, through fragments and materials of the past, on today’s situation, which, being still in process, we are unable to grasp completely.
kyklàda.press is a small imprint, a series of books made in Athens resonating with phenomena in the Aegean Archipelago, directed by David Bergé, and driven by a trans-disciplinary team, exploring critical and experimental positions in writing.
key words: island topographies, archipelago culture, experiences in landscapes, urbanism, architecture, corporeality, historical (dis)continuities, queer culture, gender equality, non-patriarchy, travel and tourism narratives, photography, art and poetry.