Phoebe Giannisi is a poet and an architect whose work lies at the intersection between poetry-performance and theory, often resulting in visual arts-installations that explore the connections between language, voice, place, and memory. For the Thessaloniki biennial, Giannisi was commissioned to produce a sound walk for the city’s Archaeological Museum’s permanent display. Field, House, Garden, Grave is an open-air exhibition which allows visitors to stroll around in the cemeteries and residences of the ancient city of the 4th up to the 2nd Century BC, an era of great prosperity for the city. A walk through both the ancient history of this city and its communities, long gone but still somehow there.
Phoebe Giannisi’s references in her research for The Black of Bones were her ongoing interest in the simultaneous co-existence of life and death, and, even more so, the resonances of death and the deathly as imprinted in the materiality of our lives. How do we communicate with the black of bones, how does joy emanate even from the morbid? Pertinent questions in a city of ghosts, like Thessaloniki. What sense do these marble-engraved edifices make in our contemporary lives? The constant unerring processes of living and dying, as an urban cat prowls among the tombs, and the zoic communes with the humus that we become.
Thinking of the stratigraphies of history and the way they interlace, Giannisi examines the co-existence of these marble slabs and their stoic epigraphs honoring past lives, with the process of remembrance. As well as the lighting of candles, or even how Greek cityscapes include―in the process of building, rebuilding, and reconstituting themselves―ancient marble fragments of inscriptions, words, and lives which function like cryptic signs of the past, allowing for a city to be deciphered like a palimpsest or a collage of visual texts. And then death harks back, whispering from each corner, creeping out of the dark, like mild or a fierce reminder, even when least expected: in a pastoral flock of sheep on a green hill under its shepherd’s wakeful eye, or in the constant process of metamorphosis in a lush forest, where nettles, dry leaves, and various species co-exist, rot, and mold, forging new interrelationships, interweaving their processes of living and dying. Together. Or in the physicality of living, creating symbiotic relationships, as when, in the wild, animals and plants create environments just by sharing a common space. Together. Animal, mineral in constant collusion.
Giannisi’s The Black of Bones invites us to listen to a sonic collage of read-out texts, vocal experimentations, guttural sounds, and ready-made footage of lamentations, that can be heard as a cry of existential anguish, or the humming baseline of the agony of being, flirting with the liminal in between of life or death, or of life and death. The sound-walk bridges the distance between the ancient past and the corporeal now, transferring knowledge and closely-held emotions, distilling the communion between us and them. Just as bones are crushed and become earth, transforming into compost that in turn enriches earth with fertile nutrients ready to breed new life, the sarcophagi displayed in the Archaeological Museum underline the fact that, no matter one’s social status, personal experiences, life story, richness or health, our black bones together will lie, building this city, this ground, this earth: forming dust, rust, earth, and stone.