Kallinitikos  Καλλινίτικος Θράκης –



Inspired by Dimitra Skandali’s exhibition WHISPERS IN MY HANDS


Καλλινίτικος Θράκης – Kallinitikos is a dance from the Black Sea region of Thrace. Kallinitikos comes from the word “kallines” which means “the bride’s friends.” It is a wedding dance that is done while bringing the bride to the church. It is done in triplets: 1 man with 2 women or 1 woman with 2 men with their arms in basket-weave. With this arm hold they fold & unfold without ever separating. In organized performance groups, all triplets follow the same set of specific movements & motion.



For someone like me, who is constantly buried in her head, coming to Paros to be part of Cycladic Arts, Dimitra Skandali’s artist residences, has meant both an inspiration and a trifurcation (a fork in the road that branches into three paths, just like Neptune’s three-pronged pitchfork). This rupture from my daily life has stimulated me to step out of my comfort zone, which, to be honest, has not been so comfortable in these past few years. The three experimental paths that it has help clarify for me are: Language (its discomforts and the need to go beyond it); Decentering humans (getting over the need to be masters over ‘nature’ in favor of a new, rhizomatic horizontality); the need to discover /rediscover neglected modes of Knowledge and from there device forms of communication that may help us move away from the brink.


My artistic/ethical compass is generally set to James Baldwin’s motto “Artists are here to disturb the peace” but this proclamation belies the fact that I have become pretty trite in my artistic practice and lately have been feeling the call of the animal spirits (the kind that provide a constant sound-track to the village of Aliki and seem to be beckoning me day and night, just as the magpies who have called to me over the years that I have been living in Imola). Through their sounds and actions (which we humans call ‘behaviors’) what they have suggested to me is to ask questions about language. Why do we consider it to be the very definition of what it is to be human? Particularly in the 20th century, many disciplines had converged on the idea that the ability to speak, and the attendant writing arts, is what distinguishes humans from the rest of beings. It is the quintessential ‘code’. Homo loquens constitutes our default self-identity vis-à-vis the world, the flora, the fauna, the ‘inanimate world’, the ‘landscape’, the ecosystem. We humans have language, are capable of articulating our thinking processes through language and, in the twentieth century, many have claimed that those very thinking processes arise from language itself and its innate grammar stored in our brains. Lately, the word ‘narration’ has taken hold and it may seem that human beings are nothing but their ‘self-narrations’, the stories they tell about themselves or what others ‘narrate’ about them. But sometimes being between languages, like what has happened to me because of the way my life turned out, prompts you to look at language not as a benign mother (in my case, that so called-mother-language has never nursed me but frankly, I don’t miss her at this point in my life, though in the past it has been a source of suffering). Being in between languages, you might experience language not as something beautiful and an integral benign part of your environment and being, but as something somewhat threatening, lurking in the shadows, that can betray you anytime. I think that being between languages, multiplying one’s relationship to them is an experience encountered by an increasing number of people, and the new generations are already steeped in it. A great many of them seem to accept it cheerfully, wielding with great skill Google translate or DeePL in their audio and visual version, playfully engaging DuoLingo just as they seamlessly turn on Google Maps. Clever way to get around the Tower of Babel lesson that was supposedly handed to us by the Powers That Be thousands of years ago.


Given the widely held assumptions about the primacy of language, any unease with this foundational idea constitutes a quandary for someone who is a writer and whose building blocks, whose ‘materials’, are words. Precisely because of this personal paradox, stepping into Dimitra’s gallery and her art studio was a revelation for me, I could visualize it as the confluence of materials (MATTER), framing (MIND) and artistic execution (HANDS), in a sort of seamless, chaotic yet harmonious dance, “with their arms in a basket-weave they fold & unfold without ever separating” (MOVEMENT). And for me, another curious coincidence in this idea of the confluence of Matter, Mind and Hands in a dance is that besides language, Motion is another concept that has fascinated me over the years, especially trying to understand the relation between literature and movement, that’s something I have explored especially in my academic writing. Many writers have been fascinated by the topic and have explored it, including Haruki Murakami in his book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir”. It has been an inspiration to see my co-resident Jonathan Monaghan try to devise motion in animation and projection for imaginary, mythological animals within an imaginary environment, an exemplary to apply the most advanced technologies to the imagination, without feeling frightened by the potential, but rather open to the experimentation it allows.

An additional element that has tickled my imagination in relation to motion and stasis is the fact that Thrace, the land known for the Kallinitikos dance, today is divided between three countries: Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, thus highlighting its hybrid, borderland setting, and ‘borderlands’ have been another focus of my writing and experimentation. My forthcoming English language collection is in fact titled “Avatars on the Borderlands”, and borderlands are famous for yielding innovative thinking and solutions.


When we talk of borders today in Europe we cannot but think of the Mediterranean, Fortress Europe and the attempt to impose stasis, to prevent travel and access to those Europe deems dispensable people. For many years, much of my written work in Italian has focused on the issue of migration, especially migration through the Mediterranean Sea.


Originally written in Italian, and translated into Greek by friend Dimitris Argiropoulos, into English by Donald Stang and myself, “Mediterraneo 2011: Terzo capo d’accusa” (“Mediterranean 2011: Third Article of the Indictment”) is the title of the poem you see unfolding on the monitor in Greek and English translation, the visuals and sound, an addition that was possible through the generous assistance of Jonathan Monaghan, one of my very talented fellow residents who is much better versed in technology and art than me.  Written in 2011, that poem came to me from a path to language, writing and exploration I engaged with for many years in the past, that could be summarily described as poetry of witness. The subject matter of the poem is painfully as topical today as it was twelve years ago, and it applies to an ever-expanding number of human experiences in many parts of the world. By evoking all the modes of rescue that could have been deployed to save them, from the realistic to mythological, from the religious to pop culture, from the literary to the bureaucratic, the poem seeks to give polyphonic voice to the collective thoughts and resentments of people in MOVEMENT from and to different parts of the world left to drown in the Mediterranean. The flower and plant images that serve as background to the poem’s lines come from a set of photos I took a few days ago here in Paros, on the road to Faragas from Aliki, and have been masterfully enhanced by Jonathan Monaghan. They depict the Mediterranean scrub that would have greeted the drowned asylum seekers if they had managed to set foot in Greece and are used as backdrop in acknowledgement and atonement, with the accompaniment of the mournful music of one of my favorite contemporary composers, Richard Skelton. This open studio project and the interactions has turned out to suggest new experimental paths for me, looking deeper into how we interact with ‘nature’ and how then those processes find form in their intersections with art.


Visible in the gallery and in her art studio at Cycladic Arts, are the results of what Dimitra’s hands are able to accomplish by listening to the WHISPERS OF NATURE, both in their role of materials being molded by the artist’ hands (thus the MIND and HANDS acting together to deliberately frame and structure the materials) and in the more mysterious process where the materials themselves demand to be shaped in a certain way (in a sort of autonomous, external process). As she reminds us, in many of her pieces, materials often impose paths to their shaping (and art object can be a collaboration between artist and materials). An analogy in writing is that of the writer hearing a voice in their head, that somehow cannot be identified as coming from the writer’s own consciousness or subconscious, a disembodied voice dictating and demanding to be written down. A process that resembles what Pirandello staged in Six Characters in Search of an Author, a work that belongs to the early modernist theater. Of course, various theories can be summoned to account for this phenomenon, including Jung’s collective consciousness and many more contemporary mystical/metaphysical explanations from the most diverse cultural traditions. The Surrealists engaged in a process known as automatic writing, that very phenomenon was reprised in cyberpunk and now it has found new technological formats in experiments with AI. Others have sought to liquidate the mysteries of the creative process attributing them to rational or subconscious processes that are not fully acknowledged, but, in my opinion, it warrants further investigation and I think artists and writers should be engaging in it.


What if, instead of always placing human beings at the center, whether with their bodies or their consciousness (or with the two of them as a single unit as envisioned in traditions that are not steeped in the Cartesian split), we tried to fine tune our ears (or some other sensorial organ that we do not fully comprehend yet) to listen or in some other way connect to the wind carrying the poetry of animate life, animal and vegetable, and ‘inanimate’ of rocks and wave. And, what if we did that not from a metaphysical, quasi-religious point of view, but drawing on the scientific discoveries and the new technologies that are available now? What does that mean for writers today?  Does it simply imply a change in the topic of writing to incorporate these new discoveries or does it imply devising new mediums of expression that go beyond writing? How could humans hear, connect with and express the life of a tree, for example?  What would an art form that could transmit these communications to other humans or engage in a dialogue with the natural element look like?  One of my coresidents, Michelle Mansour, inspired me with her experimentation with immersing cyanotype pieces in the seawater and waves, protected in ziplock bags, to see what saturation effects the natural tides would bring to her work, an openness to elemental collaboration and contribution, without the need to dominate them.


In the early 20th century new paradigms in physics were accompanied by the ruptures made by Modernists in writing, theater, painting and music. Could it be that similar, or even more profound, ruptures/raptures are demanded by the historical period we live in, beset by cataclysmic changes as well as by a wealth of discoveries in all the disciplines and sciences, many of them due to new technologies?


Such break would probably imply decentering humans, in a sort of decolonizing process that is begrudgingly under way now as far human societies are concerned. Some form of communication connected to literature as we know it today but making the necessary leap would result in something that looks quite different from many of the plots to which we have become accustomed through science fiction, precisely because it requires relinquishing language as the source or the conceptual framing that comes through language.  Maybe if we stop putting language at the center and get over its primacy, we can develop an ear/or a new sensorial organ capable of capturing a novel sort of communication that goes beyond logos, learn to hear the sounds of the sea and its nuances communicating currents and tides (and perhaps the fisherman of Aliki are already attuned to this). Since their mode of knowing and connecting directly with the ‘environment’ is not part of the written record, it fails to get the attention it deserves, as happens for a great many ways of knowing that are downgraded and discredited and go by the name of  peasant or fisherman wisdom, the very stuff of folk knowledge, akin to old wives tales, first cousin with superstition. But, maybe it is precisely those kinds of knowledge and not those issuing from books that must be tapped if we are to make a dent in interpreting the collective animal nocturnal expressions, the call and response that is certainly not some random sound emission here in Aliki, a baffling combination of farm and wild animal sounds, that I haven’t heard in almost 60 years and that goes back to the night terrors in my grandmother’s Calabrian village house where I would spend summers as a young child, fresh of my migration from California where I had never heard such sounds. Especially terrifying when you throw in the wind and its own sounds plus the rustling it causes in the plants, or as it hits the surface of rocks.

Those rocks that are mapped by Dimitra in great detail showing all the crevices, nooks and crannies, indentations, slits and splits. Those maps that she then artistically re-invents to show, connected with lines and dots, the shape of the human impact of villages, construction on the land and how it relates to pre-existing elements.


What if those of us who use words as materials put some time into learning to read the maps of rocks, as Dimitra so skillfully does in her the collection currently exhibited in her gallery, where she has drawn detail cartographies of the etching on rocks, a testimony of the life and transformations of something that is considered to be completely still. Maybe they would have some lessons for our writing or devising something that goes beyond writing. So let’s not refrain from casting stones, rather, let’s challenge each other to throw the first stone and then pick it up to map it!


Pina Piccolo, Aliki, Paros, Cycladic Arts, June 22, 2023, a few days ahead of the Feast of Saint John, our day for open studios.