Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

Inner Time of Television

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Owl's LegacyLately – and late at night mostly – I’ve been reading a rather obscure tome entitled The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, by Thomas McEvilley (New York, Allworth Press, 2002). The book, like the exhibition discussed below – albeit in a much different manner – serves to dismantle the long-held conceit of the hegemony of ancient Greece as an immaculate and self-contained birthplace of (Western) civilization, so-called. As McEvilley states early on, “Ancient cultures from the eastern Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean were shaped through a continuous interplay with one another, an interplay only dimly seen, which is the hidden map of ancient history. It is a map of caravan routes and sea voyages, of travels and commerce—and of their consequences. […] The records of caravan routes are like the philological stemmata of history, the trails of oral discourses moving through communities, of texts copied from texts, with accretions, scribal errors, and incorporated glosses and scholia. What they reveal is not a structure of parallel straight lines—one labeled ‘Greece,’ another ‘Persia,’ another ‘India’—but a tangled web in which an element in one culture often leads to elements in others.” There is something in the nomadic ambition of this investigation that resonates with the highly itinerant, cross-cultural curriculum vitae of Chris Marker.Owl from Bestiaire Marker of the Cat is not the only Marker. There is also the Marker of the Owl; it is to this Marker that a recent Greek exhibition turned, resurrecting a major television endeavor that Marker undertook in 1989, to question some refined minds about fate of Greek wisdom and to take Athena’s companion for his own.

Meanwhile, both mainstream and more obscurely-sourced books about Marker are in an upswing […] Most tantalizing is a slim volume produced by U.K.’s Otolith Group entitled Inner Time of Television, a project for 2007’s First Biennial of Athens, restoring Marker’s legendarily unseen 1989 television series on the legacy of Greek antiquity and philosophy, The Owl’s Legacy, with Marker in the catalogue reflecting on the project from a twenty year distance.
– Bill Horrigan, Wexblog

1st Athens Biennial by Diana Baldon

“THE MINDLESSNESS OF POWER sometimes creates a memory from what was meant to be amnesia,” Chris Marker observes in Inner Time of Television, 2007, the words appearing on a wall above a bank of video monitors as part of an installation made by the London-based Otolith Group in collaboration with the French filmmaker—and put on view in this past fall’s First Athens Biennial. Appropriately enough, given the setting, the work is centered on Marker’s Owl’s Legacy, 1989, a little-known television series (never before screened in Greece) consisting of interviews with some forty intellectuals—including Michel Serres, George Steiner, and Iannis Xenakis—who discuss Greek philosophy and myth, ancient concepts of the soul, the etymology of Greek-derived words, and other subjects. Behind many of the talking heads is a colorful owl that stares intently at the viewer, seemingly guarding the legacy of Marker’s title. But in the context of a biennial intended to undermine the power of cultural stereotypes that inform perceptions of Greece, the insistence of this owl (the emblem of ancient Athens and companion to Athena, a goddess of wisdom) served more to reflect the intransigence of the idea of the “cradle of civilization.” Indeed, The Owl’s Legacy emerged in the show—which was somewhat hyperbolically titled “Destroy Athens”—as a nuanced take on the theme around which curators Xenia Kalpaktsoglou, Poka-Yio, and Augustine Zenakos organized their exhibition, fodder for their argument for a break with the antiquity that haunts the country and its people.

From Pictures at an Exhibition
THIS IS THE END from Pictures at an Exhibition

Final citation excerpted from Diana Baldon, “1st Athens Biennial,” ArtForum January 2008, 276. Diana Baldon is curator in residence at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. For another review of the Athens Biennial, see Lilly Wei, “Destroy, They Said” [yes, we like the Duras reference], Art in America, June-July 2008, 126-130.

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Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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