A CONVERSATION ABOUT TIME WITH:
Note: This interview was conducted on June 29th, 2015 in Kythira, Greece. This was just before the July 5th vote regarding the referendum to decide whether Greece would accept the bailout conditions regarding the government debt crisis. The conditions that Greece voted on were proposed by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank. This pivotal time raised fundamental questions about the future of Greece's economy and the country's place within the Eurozone. Many Greeks that I spoke to expressed concern that accepting the terms of the bailout would effectively change the shape of Greek culture, as the measures would enforce conditions such as longer workweeks, privatization of Greek state-owned assets and years of enforced austerity. This particular cultural timing is very relevant to the time interview that follows.
Name: Manolis Charos
1.What are the first five words that come to mind when you think about time?
Sun. Day. Night. Rush. Fishing. Pray. Religion. Pray, yeah. Ok, Five.
2. What are your earliest memories of time measurement?
Ok, let me think. I suppose when, at the age of four, I waited for…I have this memory…my mother is leaving to give birth to my brother, and I remember this waiting period. I mean, I waited for her another day then I saw my brother and my mother. I remember this period, this night and this day and then in the afternoon I saw my brother. I think this is the oldest.
3. In your day-to-day life, how often do you think about the times of the day?
In the morning at the moment that I see my watch, the time that I wake up. And then, it depends. If I have appointments, meetings, then I think about time. Otherwise, I don’t think about time. If I am in Kythira, I don’t think…in Kythira it’s a completely different notion of time because to be late in Kythira means to be late a day, or two or three. To be late in Athens or in big cities, it’s a quarter of an hour, a half hour.
4. When do you lose track of time?
When I am on the sea. On the sea is the only place that I can lose time because I am dependent on another, the captain or whatever—on a plane it’s the same. Whenever I am completely dependent on another, the captain, the pilot, the train driver or whatever, then I lose time. I don’t care if it’s early, if it’s night, no, that’s it.
Do you lose track of time if someone drives you in a car?
No, no not in a car.
So the feeling of dependency has to be very separate, abstract?
In the boat from Piraeus everybody is stressed, but I can watch two, three, four movies. I don’t care about time. If we are late, if we go faster, it does not matter. Even in the smallest boat, if we are in the middle of the sea for fishing or whatever, I don’t care about time. I don’t really worry about being late or at what time we will go back.
What about when you swim? Because you swim everyday here, yes?
Yeah. When I swim [I do not lose track of time] because it makes up part of my day. So I go to swim, yes in a certain proportion it's the same, but because swimming makes me tired in a way, I cannot be in the middle of the sea like that forever, so no. But on the sea, on a boat, yes.
5. Have you ever had an experience in which time felt like it was moving faster or slower?
Oh yeah, of course. Plenty of times, whenever I come from Athens to here I feel this different way that time moves. The same thing that takes two, three, four hours in Athens, here it takes a quarter of an hour. For example, you have to go to the bank and then to the tax office. In Athens, that means one day. Here, that means ten minutes. So, in Athens when I start my day I get to twelve O’clock like that! Here, you arrive at twelve O’clock and you have done so many things, so it’s completely different the way that time moves…generally it’s much more human. You don’t see people rushing, running. The atmosphere is much more cool.
A few landscapes from Kythira, Greece. Manolis Charos was born on this island, and many of his paintings refer to it's particular landscape and unique feeling of place. Photos by author.
6. How does your profession influence you relationship with time?
A lot. A lot. Because, actually, many times I have to work in rush for some reason—for a show, for an appointment or whatever. Then, I realize that in the piece, in the painting it is time by itself. So even if it’s finished already, from my opinion now, then one month later or one year later, I discover that I have to add things on it. So, for the piece that rests in my studio, in a way the time is open. I mean, I can always add or change things. For the pieces that are sold, the time stops. Ok. So, it’s very common to actually have hung pieces in the studio that were made last year, last summer. Through this test of view through a long period, finished or not, you understand? It’s like the wine. It’s a cellar period for the pieces that are in my studio.
Do you ever see a piece that is sold or gone in a gallery someplace, and wish you could change it? Or is it just for the pieces that age?
No. The pieces that are sold or at the gallery… no, once it’s gone the time, the personal time of the piece is stopped. Good or bad. I speak for my pieces. It is good or bad. That means that if I see something that I don’t like so much, in a way I have an alarm in my mind saying that it’s not good so I have to change it. That means to start again and use it. In a way all my work from the 80’s, that’s why I use a lot computers because in my work the digital image is the way to freeze the time in a moment and then to re-work on it to different destinations. You understand? I make something. It is very common I make a photo or video or I scan it, ok? This particular piece is sold or destroyed or it’s given or whatever, but the image, the digital image, exists. So, I print it and continue to work on it in a different way than another that is printed also but finished in a different way.
A sampling of Manolis Charos's paintings. Images from Gallery Alma: http://www.galleryalma.com/charos-manolis/
You said this work was in the 80’s. Do you still use digital imagery now?
No, no I make them the same, still. The 80’s was the invention of computers and it was something extremely revolutionary in my mind because until then painting was something through time. I mean, you had a white screen, you had touches of colors, so the time was linear. You add, time goes by. You add again, time goes by. Etc. Ok? With the digital images you freeze time because you freeze the image. And then, you add to this image but you keep a second image, but truly the old one is frozen somewhere in space. So, it’s not linear anymore. It’s kind of … how do I explain … it’s a kind of three-dimensional tree. With different branches, different linears.
7. If you could draw time, what would it look like?
I am so much marked by this fragment of Heraclitus that I want to show you. In my mind, it’s the perfect definition of time and it’s a fragment of Heraclitus. Heraclitus used to be a very, very old Greek philosopher; I mean six, eight hundred years before Christ. I mean it was much earlier than Socrates or the classical philosophers. So, Heraclitus said that time is a child who plays dice. Time is a child who plays dice and always wins. Time is something very pure, it’s like a child, there’s not a second thought it’s a game. Time is a kind of game, but someone extremely innocent wins. I think it’s the best image because the fragment has the innocence of a child, the game because you are always gaining or losing time, and it has chance—not only chance, it has faith. Related to time is faith, the faith of people, they don’t know what will happen the next day. So, in the game of dice it’s a faith in a way because of chance. And always the winner is this innocent thing who is time. It is not a king, it’s a child. It’s someone extremely innocent who plays, but the act of playing is connected with faith. Play always is part of faith.
Are there two different words for “time” in Greek? There is ‘Kronos’ and ‘Chronos’ – can you explain the difference?
Oh, there are thousands of books on this. Chronos is ‘time’. Kronos used to be the father of all of Gods before the 12 Gods of Olympus. So, Kronos was a very powerful king God who ate his children in order to be always king. And then there was the story of giants against gods, and in that in that huge war came a second generation of Gods, and this second generation of is where we got the gods of Olympus, like Venus, Mars… the 12.
As a Greek speaker, how you use these two words in daily life? For example, do you ever use ‘Kronos’ as anything other than reference to the mythological king?
As a reference, yes. A reference to somebody who eats his children.
So, it’s always a bad thing?
Well, yes, it’s bad. But it is also extremely powerful. Kronos is the example for the system that eats what it produces. Kronos could be a system that destroys the next generation. That is Kronos. But in the mind, it has the similar sound to Chronos, you understand? (sighs) This is the important thing about Greek mythology.
As a Greek person, does Greek mythology play a large part in your idea of time It seems to be very much a part of the Greek worldview.
Yes, because Greek mythology is an easy way to talk about philosophy, to answer philosophical questions. But at the same time, it is a very nice fairy tale. So, if you read Greek mythology without someone to explain to you the meaning of each word, you read just nice fairy tales. But if they explain, the myths describe very strong philosophies – questions about the beginning, the end, time, children.
8. What is your current relationship with time? As in today, June 29th, 2015?
I think today I pass through a, let’s say, historical time. Because I feel that time pass[es] through at this moment has to do with strong historical decisions about Greece. If [it] goes fast perhaps we don’t have government in two days. If goes not so fast, then perhaps the Europeans will answer… you see, I have the notion of time in the middle of war, in the middle of combat. For example, in the battle of Waterloo, time was extremely important – if a soldier arrives early…
Yes, it changes the outcome of a battle, no?
Exactly, every moment is critical, and every act that happens in this moment is critical. What happens in the morning with the stock market in Hong Kong matters to Europe right now. It’s not like time in the middle of August, where everybody swims and it’s vacation time and everyone eats and time has stopped in a way. Time does not exist. This week, it is exactly the opposite. It is so critical, timing is so critical. Even the stupidest thing could change everything. Little stupid things, provoked or not provoked – you know the theory of butterflies in china?
Yes, the butterfly effect?
Yes, we pass through a period of butterflies – butterflies flying in Athens right now. Anything could happen.
9. How much do you focus on the past, present, and future respectively? Do you spend more time thinking about any one of those?
To tell you the truth, as I am older, I try hard to understand ‘now’ by reading the past. I am much more addict[ed] to history in order to understand what happened and what could happen. At the same time, I agree that the future is not something that you can imagine. You can only imagine a tiny percentage of what will be. But the only way for us people to see through future is the past. So, I am not sure. When I work, it is the now, the present. I don’t imagine future and I don’t see the past. But when I try to think about future works, I work hard in the past. You understand? The present is no time period. When I am here, it is not present. It is ‘act’. In a way, the present does not exist. In the moment when you announce present, it is past. Art, not art, create, is in my opinion the only way to freeze the time. Producing. And imagine the future, for me it is very related to understanding the past.
10. Word association again: first five emotions that you feel when you think about time.
Anxious, nostalgia – you see, nostalgia is ‘pain of home.’ ‘Nostos’ means home. Nostalgia means the sweet feeling when you think of your home. Age, I think. Rush. And … (long pause, asks his wife Franka to translate) ‘keeping cool’. You see the Chinese way of seeing things pass – it is the only way to act against time. Because time is just child’s play.
This interview was conducted by Joslyn Richardson June 29, 2015. It has been edited and condensed for this format. The interviewer is responsible for any errors in transcription. All images are taken by the interviewer or otherwise credited.