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A Pilgrimage to the Peloponnese:
Gregory Markopoulos, Eniaios and the Temenos

Erika Balsom


  Writing this, this glorious afternoon, without a penny to my name, I know, that the depth of the Markopoulos space will harbour a screen enveloping the film spectator of the future. 
         Gregory Markopoulos, 1972

We followed driving directions for four hours out of Athens. At first, it was easy: a large highway, transliterated signs. As we drove up into the mountains, things changed. At one turn the directions told us, ‘There will be a willow tree, yellow telephone booth and small church/votive stand in front of you.’ Indeed, there was. We managed to make it to our guesthouse in the village of Rafti. That evening, we were treated to a delicious communal meal cooked by the women of Lyssaraia, a neighbouring village.

Getting lost had to wait for the following night, when we drove some twenty minutes around winding cliffs and hairpin turns before once again reaching Lyssaraia. Past the main square and up the hill out of town, we followed the handmade signs that had been posted and parked our car as far up the dirt road as we could go. As the sun began to sink into the hills, we set off down the path with beer and blankets in hand. At the fork, we turned right. Five minutes on, we could see the screen and red beanbag seats down in the valley. The field was virtually empty; we had arrived ahead of the chartered buses and, hence, most of the other spectators. The way ahead seemed to veer in the opposite direction of the screen, so we reversed our course and headed back to the left of the fork, meeting some Austrians along the way who seemed to think we knew where we were going. One of them mentioned that some kind of substance had been laid around the screening site to deter scorpions. We walked and walked, running into a small herd of goats, following the path until it became clear that the only way back to the screen was through the dense brush of wobbly rocks and thorny plants. So we reversed course again, this time going past where we had caught a glimpse of our outdoor cinema, past where the path curved around, past where a little sign directed us down into the field, now nearly dark. Finally, we were in the Temenos – a Greek word (τέμενος) that describes a holy grove marked off from quotidian uses – and the movie was about to begin.


June 29–July 1, 2012, marked the third set of screenings of Gregory Markopoulos’ Eniaios (1948–c.1990), an eighty-hour cycle of films left completed but unprinted upon the filmmaker’s death in 1992. The title of the cycle has a double meaning of ‘unity’ and ‘uniqueness’, both of which figure heavily in the project. During the last decade of his life, Markopoulos revisited his entire oeuvre, recutting selections into a single work divided into twenty-two orders. He decided that it would be only viewed at a single site, the Temenos, located in the hills of the Peloponnese, near the village of Lyssaraia, where his father was born. (1) Markopoulos and Robert Beavers, his longtime companion, had found their way to the site in the 1980s and held small, scarcely attended screenings of their work there. But unlike those films, and though Markopoulos would not live to see it, Eniaios was made specifically for exhibition in that venue. Beavers organised screenings of the first three orders of the cycle in 2004. In 2008, the next three orders followed, with the four-year interval functioning less as intrinsic to the structure of the cycle and more as necessary to raise the requisite funds to print the films. In 2012, two hundred and thirty spectators made the trip to watch some ten hours of silent experimental film after sunset, over three nights in an Arcadian field.




1. The confinement of the cycle to the Temenos site is not absolute: the Temenos Foundation, led by Robert Beavers, has authorised infrequent screenings of cycles of the Eniaios in other locations, such as the Museum of the Moving Image, New York.  

My friend bluntly asked every person he met at the Temenos the same question: ‘Why are you here?’ The answers he received necessarily consisted of two stages. First, the respondent would look perplexed: wasn’t it obvious why we were all here? But then came an awareness that my friend was asking something slightly different: he was asking what had drawn the person here, most likely from some great distance, to see these particular films in this particular setting. There were filmmakers and artists, scholars and curators, a fair number of locals and a particularly large contingent from Princeton University. Some had attended the event before, but there were lots of newcomers, including myself. For many, it would be their first introduction to Markopoulos’ work, which has long been very difficult, if not impossible, to see. The filmmaker left the United States in 1967, withdrawing all his films from distribution. Since his death, they have circulated in a very restricted manner under Beavers’ supervision. Several attendees confessed to be scarcely familiar with experimental cinema at all, but were drawn to the event for reasons at times not even clear to themselves; they were certainly learning to swim by jumping in the deep end. The word ‘magical’ was often used.

So why were we there? Perhaps it was for the films. Austere and difficult even by the standards of experimental cinema, the orders of Eniaios consist predominantly of rhythms of black and white leader, with occasional flashes of imagery drawn from Markopoulos films such as Twice A Man (1963) and The Illiac Passion (1964-7). No image touches another – they are all separated by stretches of leader – and none lasts more than a fleeting moment. The act of withholding emerges as perhaps the central aesthetic strategy of the work, as the mere appearance of an image becomes a revelatory gift. The plenitude of movement so central to the visual pleasure of cinema is refused in favour of a resolute concentration on the stillness of the photogram. In a work meant to serve as a grand summa of his career, Markopoulos enacts an almost violent suppression of his own images – one that is compounded by reports that the original negatives were destroyed upon integration into Eniaios. But alongside this sensation of negation – indeed, through it – one discovers something very different: a total recalibration of one’s own vision and one’s relation to filmic movement. When, on the first night, about ninety minutes into the sixth order, hints of movement were introduced for the first time on the face of Diamantis Diamantopoulos, a Greek painter, they appeared as seismic trembles on a vast landscape of the human countenance. Perhaps it was this kind of recalibration that Markopoulos had in mind when he wrote:


  The Immeasureable Barrier is, then, the Act of Unlearning. It is the act of disarming the meddlesome imagery of false facts which have nothing in common with the film as film. (2)   2. Gregory J. Markopoulos, ‘The Intuition Space’, Millennium Film Journal, no. 32/33 (Fall 1998); available online here; emphasis in text.

But perhaps we were not there for the films themselves, but rather for the event of which they formed the nucleus. The copious amounts of black leader registered not as black but as the same colour as the night, intermittently opening the pictorial surface of the screen onto the sky and space around it. While it is possible to find precedents for Eniaios in the history of experimental cinema – notably, Hollis Frampton’s epic, never-completed Magellan (1972-1980) – another kinship for the work resides in the monumentality, site specificity and concern with landscape that is found in Land Art.

Land Art was, among other things, a response to the reproducibility of images, which (as Walter Benjamin noted) allowed the masses to bring the artwork closer, tear it out of its unique position in space and time, and make it possessable. Land Art re-engaged with aura, demanding that one journey to and be surrounded by the work. But it did not do so in a naïve, reactionary way: in a move captured best by Robert Smithson’s notion of site/non-site, much Land Art was not about resurrecting auratic purity, but about understanding the dialectical relationship between rarity and reproducibility. Each term at once cancels out and propels the other. Smithson, for example, intended that his Spiral Jetty (1970) would circulate through documentation, and particularly through his film of the same name, which includes numerous references to the ways by which natural landscapes enter cultural representation (be it in surveyors’ maps or in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest [1958]). The interest of the work resides in the tension and distinction that exist between the structure in Great Salt Lake and the reproductions through which it is known. The Eniaios is, like Land Art, wedded to a specific site and deeply tied to an experience in which art-making confronts landscape. It, too, can be understood as negotiating between rarity and reproducibility. But unlike a work such as Spiral Jetty, Eniaios begins with the inherent reproducibility of film and then denies it. From the very medium that apparently induced a withering of aura, it renews a sacred, cultic attachment to the aesthetic object – or, to be more precise, to an aesthetic experience.


The withholding that is so central to the formal operations of Eniaios is, in this sense, also central to the work’s exhibition context, which relies on rarity and a deliberate gesture of removal. In a talk given on the last day of the screenings on the terrace of the main hotel in Loutra, the village where the majority of attendees stayed, Robert Beavers said that the Temenos gives ‘a moment of strength outside the pressures’ of institutions and finances. But so, too, does it provide a moment outside our visual culture and the economies of circulation that govern it. In an age of unprecedented image mobility and reproducibility, the promise of Eniaios is the promise of the original, of something irrevocably bound to unique temporal and geographic circumstances, of something seen in the proper format and under absolutely ideal conditions. The investigation of aura found in Land Art here gives way to a non-dialectical recovery of authenticity. As copies of all kinds proliferate, a certain yearning emerges for experiences and objects that refuse the logic of serial iteration, that move away from the multiple and towards the singular. It is a yearning felt at the Temenos and more generally in art today. This year’s dOCUMENTA (13), for example, concentrated on what one critic called the ‘emplaced condition of things’: in the room curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev designated as ‘the brain of the exhibition’, four-thousand-year-old Bactrian Princess figurines stood alongside artifacts from the National Museum in Beirut that were damaged in the Lebanese civil wars and bathroom objects that photographer Lee Miller swiped from Hitler’s apartment after visiting it as a journalist in 1945. (3) These are objects inscribed by time, by history. They are not the groundless, detached signifiers of postmodernism but rather eminently local, specific and material things. The Temenos, too, is an event founded in such an idea of emplacement, with all the notions of authenticity and originality that it implies.










3. Steven Henry Madoff, ‘Why Curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s Documenta May Be The Most Important Exhibition of the 21st Century’, Blouin Artinfo (5 July 2012), available online here; emphasis in text.

Of course, there are different kinds of singularity, and the lure of the original is often twinged with whiffs of commodity fetishism. Many artists today issue films and videos as high-priced limited editions, willfully denying the reproducibility inherent to the media in which they work in favour of an artificial rarity that will incite consumer desire and make the work amenable to museum collections. This is one way of responding to the increased thirst for originals in a culture of copies. The Temenos, however, was something altogether different: rather than the turning film into a Veblen good, it insisted on the singularity of the event and the inextricability of the artwork from a unique time and place. On the one hand, there was a particular sense of anachronism at play: it was a throwback to the era of grand modernist projects that, even though they came later to film than to the other arts, have now long been mostly abandoned. But on the other hand, there was something absolutely contemporary about the event and the particular intervention it made into questions of medium specificity and distribution. One wonders if the allure of the screenings would be so great if they did not stand in such stark opposition to the norms of our visual culture, predicated as they are on the ideal constant availability and the ease of format shifting afforded by digital media. It was fascinating to see how many attendees carried photochemical cameras, whether still or moving – so many love letters to an analogue technology now under threat but absolutely celebrated in Eniaios’ ceaseless return to single-frame articulation and the incorporation of colour film stocks long discontinued.

The journey to the Temenos site is a kind of pilgrimage; the experience one has there encompasses much more than just what appears on the screen. Perhaps it is entirely wrong to even try to think of Eniaios as an autonomous film cycle separable from the event that surrounds it. This event would include the exhibition context of the films, surely; but also swimming in the Ionian Sea, dinners of hyperlocal lamb and wine, passionate arguments over the cult-like mythology of Markopoulos and the state of avant-garde film, and living without hot water and Internet access for a few days. But, most of all, it would include the act of doing all these things in the company of others. Much has been written about the extent to which digital technologies make possible new kinds of cinephilia, and this is certainly true. (This very journal, after all, is a part of that.) But the digital public sphere tends to offer connectivity at the price of the physical separation of its users. The Temenos provided an opportunity for a provisional community to assemble in a spirit of profound generosity and conviviality established by Robert Beavers, the most gracious of hosts. Eniaios may not be a generous work, but the Temenos is a profoundly generous event. It partook of a gift economy in a time and place of austerity measures. Admission was free, accommodation was cheap, funds were raised through a Kickstarter campaign, and buses were donated.

Though many attendees spoke of the next edition in 2016, Beavers insisted that there is no guarantee of another Temenos. ‘It’s better’, he said, ‘to know that things are fragile’. The Temenos may be fragile, but it is many other things as well: uncompromising, immersive, challenging, enchanting, and even – to use the word that was mentioned so often – magical.


from Issue 3: Masks


© Erika Balsom 2012.
Cannot be reprinted without permission of the author and editors.