PRINT November 2019


Georgia Sagri, Attempt. Come., 2016. Performance view, Municipal Arts Center and Museum of Anti-Dictatorial and Democratic Resistance, Parko Eleftherias, Athens, September 17, 2016. (Duration 24 hours.) Georgia Sagri. From Documenta 14. Photo: Stathis Mamalakis.

AT AN INTERDISCIPLINARY SYMPOSIUM called “Hiving: Living Forms, Forms of Living” at New York University in April 2019, Georgia Sagri provided her own etymology of the word anarchy. Sagri had been invited to participate not for any experience with the apiary but because of her relation to the thematic of the hive as both metaphor and model for less hierarchical forms of political organization, which she rather famously knows something about. Overwriting the traditionally accepted etymon from her native Greek, anarchos, or “without leader,” Sagri instead offered the alternative meaning “without origin,” since arche in its ancient meaning signifies not just a ruler but also primacy, being first.

This linguistic gambit was a small moment in a two-decade career of performance and sculptural practices. But it was characteristic of Sagri in a number of ways. She is tenacious about setting her own terms. As a Greek artist communicating with an international audience primarily in English, she pushes her attention to language, what it covers up and what it constructs, beyond mere niceties of translation. Her interest in redefinition is fundamental, whether in her earlier pieces that posit the contemporary laborer as an overwritable blank slate to be updated and edited per the economy’s needs, or in works like Attempt. Come., 2016, which helped inaugurate Documenta 14’s public programming by repurposing and, in a sense, reconsecrating a space that had been tainted by the Greek junta’s use of the complex. A pervasive suspicion of origins and the reactionary claims they support extends to Sagri’s conception of identity: It is fluid and in constant negotiation with the other. There is no origin, no linear flow, nothing irreversible.

Georgia Sagri, The Invisible Ones, 2008. Performance view, Portikus, Frankfurt, April 21, 2018. (Duration 3 hours.) Platform: Square, 2007. Georgia Sagri. Photo: Diana Pfammatter.

If origins are a scam, where to begin? In the middle of things, with Sagri’s move to New York in 2006 to enroll in the MFA program at Columbia University on a Fulbright scholarship. She’d already gotten a degree at the Athens School of Fine Arts and a diploma in cello at Greece’s national music school. The mid- to late-2000s in New York was not only the gestational period for so-called zombie formalism, nor merely a moment for white dudes making facile post-Conceptualism; it was also a time of resurgent interest in performance art, which had tapered off since its identitarian heyday in the late 1980s and early ’90s. The Performa Biennial, the first periodic exhibition for live art, began in 2005. In association with its third edition, MOMA PS1 presented a history of performance as a medium, “100 Years (version #2, PS1, nov 2009).” Marginal but not insignificant amounts of the money and cultural capital pouring into the art world were shunted away from object making and into performance. Sagri’s response was to forge a manner unique to her, though recognizably influenced by Fluxus. The intermedia nature of Fluxus, its cheapness, and its loathing of the commodity fit very well with the anarchist politics in which the artist had been immersed in Athens.

The violence one half witnesses is a source of contamination. Its unseen agents could be allegorical or psychological, governmental or the cop in your head.

Sagri began her life in New York by plunking down a literal foundation. In her studio, the artist created Square, 2007, a concrete slab somewhere between a low plinth and a small stage. She designated the space within the platform’s bounds public. With this gesture, she not only took up the mantle of a disruptive post-Minimalism in a moment of condensing formalist tendencies, but also made explicit the title’s resonance with the concept of the polis. Sagri’s first significant performance after her move, The Invisible Ones, 2008, is spare of construct: Sagri stands atop Square and, accompanied by the recorded sound of physical blows, acts out the process of being repeatedly struck. She recoils against an unseen strike, staggers, falls, rises. She reels again, falls. The cycle repeats for a good while, and it gets painful to watch. Its most recent performance, at Portikus in Frankfurt in 2018 as part of Sagri’s first survey exhibition, lasted three hours.1 A key effect of Sagri’s movement in the piece is its production of a material trace: her flinchings, scrapes, and tumbles grind up dust from the concrete, which covers her and sifts into the air by the time the piece ends, landing beyond the plinth’s geometrically ideal boundaries. The violence one half witnesses is a source of contamination. Its unseen agents could be allegorical or psychological, governmental or the cop in your head. The title, however, cues one to recall the invisible hand that allegedly regulates free markets but is in fact a crypto-religious illusion.

Georgia Sagri, The Invisible Ones, 2008. Performance view, Portikus, Frankfurt, April 21, 2018. (Duration 3 hours.) Platform: Square, 2007. Georgia Sagri. Photo: Diana Pfammatter.

The Invisible Ones employs a loop structure: Its soundtrack lasts five minutes and then restarts, causing the performer to begin again as well. The motif of the loop was a common one in Sagri’s earlier work, appearing also in Do Jaguar, 2009. There, the loop is doubled, made manifest in the form of a circle painted on the floor that serves as Sagri’s stage as she plays the role of a “spin-and-grin girl” of the type one might have found glassily smiling on a rotating dais at a 1960s auto show. Sagri’s laps around the circle’s perimeter suggest the motions of an animal in a cage, and the audio involves the recorded cries of an actual jaguar, which the protagonist begins to imitate—she “does” jaguar, but errantly. Flouting the imperative to sell cars (and her own sexualized image), she undergoes a transformation that evokes both Simone Forti’s engagements with nonhuman locomotion and the becoming-animal of A Thousand Plateaus. Though the soundtrack here lasts only ten minutes, the piece can go on as long as eight hours.

Georgia Sagri, Do Jaguar, 2009. Performance view, Kunstverein Braunschweig, Germany, December 2, 2017. (Duration 8 hours.) Floor: If Approaching Pain Gives You Recovery the Memory of Flesh Then Go Elsewhere, 2009. Georgia Sagri. Photo: Stathis Mamalakis.

In 2009, Sagri’s use of the loop suggested specific referents very much at hand. In part, it seemed a commentary on the art world’s difficulty in accommodating performance. A convention of video art was transposed to a living, breathing performer, as if to mockingly anticipate the work’s reuptake as documentation in the white cube. At the same time, while it seemed to wryly allude to the postmillennial art world’s romance with the ’70s, and to stage a dark burlesque of labor conditions, the loop was a clear attempt to reckon with digital technology’s pervasive influence at that historical moment. This was the dawn of popularized streaming video: YouTube launched in 2005; Netflix and PornHub began streaming in 2007. Hence the foregrounding in Do Jaguar of the iPod as the device on which the audio component of the piece is stored; hence not only the loop but also the glitch, an accidental mini-loop or inadvertent fast-forward, as a choreographic riff on postindustrial labor and the erratic recursions of immaterial gig economics. Artists such as Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch were mining this same vein in video work, but Sagri was a key adapter of these concerns to live modes.

Georgia Sagri, Working the No Work, 2012. Performance view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 1, 2012. (Duration 1 hour.) Sculptural element: Working the No Work (Zoom In and Out), 2012. Georgia Sagri. From the 2012 Whitney Biennial. Photo: Paula Court.

Sagri continued to dramatize the vicissitudes of labor under late-late-late capitalism in subsequent projects, notably her contribution to the 2012 Whitney Biennial, Working the No Work. Her most elaborate piece to that point, it involved a long performance billet, with Sagri portraying eleven characters (clubgoer, folk-dancer, etc.) in eleven days, each engaging in activities that are not (or that the characters believe are not) work. The coherence of these identities and their orderly presentation over the duration of the piece was scrambled, however, by Sagri’s use of recorded snippets of her voice: She would record a vocalization on her laptop and then replay it a moment later or in a subsequent session hours or days later. At times, she would imitate the recording and engage in a riff-based polyphony of personalities. If this technique had schizoid implications, the effect in the moment was less disturbing than entrancing: rhythmic, comic, musical, an experimental sinfonietta arranged for a one-woman chamber ensemble. The installation included a photomural featuring those talismans of dematerialized labor, human hands—a pair of them, one gripping the other as if to massage away tendinitis—along with a grid of Post-its and some looping geometries topped by the phrase DEAD LINES. All in all, it’s a convincing imaging of the office drone’s permeated consciousness. One sequence of the performance involved Sagri hurling herself against the wall; others involved fragmented, tic-like gestures and repeated phrases that suggest a psyche gradually fracturing under the demands of cognitive-affective production. In 2016, in a statement accompanying Documentary of Behavioral Currencies, one of her contributions to Manifesta 11, the artist wrote, “Work is not the decision of a free person, of a free will. On the contrary, it is a barrier to living freely.”2 Given Sagri’s frequent recourse to etymology, it’s surely not lost on her that one of the Greek words for “worker,” doula, originally meant “slave.”

Georgia Sagri, Working the No Work, 2012, ink-jet print on self-adhesive vinyl, wood. Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. From the 2012 Whitney Biennial. Photo: Paula Court.

The loop and the glitch are historically pertinent technological references, but they also are temporal strategies—markers of involution, pauses, or leaps forward. Sagri has long been committed to representing and reconfiguring modes of time. Though this is not her most obvious concern, it is her most consistent. Working the No Work epitomizes the artist in exposé-ist mode, illuminating the grotesqueries of the skittering tempo of post-Fordist labor, the blending and confusion of on-the-clock and off-the-clock hours. But even as early as 1999, when, at age twenty, she made what was perhaps her first significant work, her interest in time as an embodied phenomenon—for instance, in the way exhaustion registers duration—was apparent. For this piece, Polytechnic, she stood for some six hours, clad only in a few bandages, in a vitrine on the sidewalk outside the Athens Polytechnic. It was November 17, the day of the annual protests commemorating the 1973 uprising that killed dozens of students and led to the fall of the military dictatorship. Her confinement, with her near-naked body on display, served as a potent reminder of the risk one takes in political action. Yet even as it affirmed the protests, it stood outside them, posing a query to those chanting and marching with flags held high; seeming to assert that there is something human, rooted in the corporeal, that lies beyond ideology, and in a sense beyond historical time, embodied by Sagri’s stillness while the protests roiled around her.

Over the years, Sagri has evolved her metaphysics in a Bergsonian direction, against clock time and the mode of organization for life and work it promotes. Like the becoming-animal of Do Jaguar, this inclination has a Deleuzean grade. In an interview for about her epic Dynamis, 2017, Sagri broached the work’s temporality with a reference to Deleuze’s treatment of Bergson in Cinema 2 (1985):

Everyone talks about the here and now of performance, the presence of the artist, and that performance is ephemeral. For me, what takes place in performance has already been formed before, meaning that it was already. As the material has taken place before, it is a heritage of shadows you carry. Performance is crystal-image. It is projection. It is visual affect. And it has the materiality of a dream.3

Georgia Sagri, Documentary of Behavioral Currencies, 2016, sand and acrylic paint on plywood, shatter boards, corrugated metal sheet, fans, acrylic on plastic sheet, LED TV, thermal tubes, acrylic glass, oil paint on canvas, ink-jet print on Tyvek paper, metal components, HD video (color, sound, 10 minutes 30 seconds). Installation view, Luma Foundation, Zurich. From Manifesta 11. Photo: Flavio Karrer.

Sagri’s confinement served as potent reminder of the risk one takes in political action.

The crystal-image is Deleuze’s characteristically intricate figure for articulating Bergson’s endlessly counterintuitive—yet psychologically compelling—contention that the past literally exists in the present. To oversimplify, imagine a circuit between the past (corresponding to the representation, or what Deleuze calls the “virtual image”) and the present (corresponding to the “actual image,” the percept). The shortest possible version of that circuit between the past and present, the virtual and the actual, the represented and the lived, compresses time into something like a crystal, and the virtual and actual become indistinguishable from each other. (For his part, Deleuze cites mirrors to illustrate his theory; I prefer to think of the GIF of two mirror-image Spider-Men accusatorially pointing fingers at each other.) While Deleuze mines cinema to find his Bergsonian exemplar, Sagri locates it in performance, where, it seems fair to say, the virtual and the actual do unite. This intellectual strategy, moving the artistic-philosophical motif from the screen to the physical space of performance, is the predicate of the maneuver in her art around the time of Working the No Work and other pieces of the late 2000s and early 2010s wherein Sagri migrates the loop and the glitch into lived, embodied time. These transpositions reflect Sagri’s sense that our nervous systems have been thoroughly interpenetrated by digital technology, and they form part of an ethically motivated search for a vital counterpart to the measuring and organizing of life according to terms dictated by work.

Georgia Sagri, Working the No Work (Clothing with Hangers), 2012, cotton, plastic, polyester, silk, metal zippers, iron, latex, paint, wood, plaster. Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. From  the 2012 Whitney Biennial. Photo: Paula Court.

Dynamis, her contribution to Documenta 14, is Sagri’s most ambitious and complex project to date, and a milestone in her quest for an anti-utilitarian temporality. The multifaceted piece evolved over months in workshops involving dozens of participants, thirteen of whom composed a “chorus” with the artist that ultimately performed in two groups for six days in venues 1,500 miles apart. The chorus’s activities centered on two sets of sheet-metal sculptures that Sagri made and apportioned between the exhibition’s two far-flung locales, Athens and Kassel. In Athens, the sculptures were housed in a shabby disused storefront in the anarchist quarter, while in Kassel they occupied a gleaming disused ’60s modernist glass shopping pavilion. They took the form of steamroller-flat, cartoony body parts—heart, brain, ear, breast, genitalia, hand, and foot—rendered in mellow off-primary colors. The action of the piece was itself doubled between a suite of motions the two groups of chorus members would enact at their home bases and in occasional forays into the streets to processionally carry one of the metal organs and plant it in the ground at a particular site, where it would remain for the rest of Documenta’s run.

Sagri migrates the loop and the glitch into lived, embodied time.

The profusion of doublings made Dynamis a dizzyingly intricate artwork, as if it had been plotted on a logarithmic scale. No one could experience the whole thing, not even the artist. This derangement of time and space and deliberate extension of the piece’s parameters beyond any one viewer’s perceptual capacities cleverly negated the “here and now” fundamental to performance discourse (and which Sagri had dismissed in that interview), since no one could be there for the work in its entirety. More philosophically, it upended the centrality of the individual subject and the notion of an order of sight—a primacy of viewing position.

Georgia Sagri, Polytechnic, 1999. Performance view, Athens Polytechnic University, Patission Street, Athens, November 17, 1999. (Duration 7 hours.) Georgia Sagri. Photo: Dimitris Diakoumopoulos.

When I visited the center of operations in Kassel a few days into the work, I found the chorus engaged in meditative movements that at times were so slow as to evoke low-impact yoga, cooling down after exercise, or just relaxing on a sunny summer day. The performers seemed museful but not preoccupied; their choreography—if that is the right word—was languid but definite. I saw rolling motions, stretching, contented gazing. The chorus members would periodically exit the space; during my first visit, on opening day, when a more antic mood prevailed, I found Sagri clad in a blue jumpsuit out front on the sidewalk, jaunting forward, swinging her arms up, and strolling backward, only to start the sequence again. Another woman stepped out of the little building, wrapped her arms around herself, and rolled along the pavilion’s glass wall. It could be hard to distinguish the performers, clad in fashion-adjacent, loose-fitting uniformish clothes, from a certain class of exhibition-goer wearing their grand-tour comfort chic. Or, indeed, from oneself. This erasure of the distinction between viewer and performer broke down the analytic mechanism of the critic—of any viewer, really—there to see, understand, and move on. The implied dissolution of the differences among social roles and subjectivities was key to the piece. The warm, drowsy spaces of Dynamis’s foci, with an array of seemingly unfussed individuals engaged in lightly physical, holistic practices—if they were engaged with anything physical other than simply being—contributed to the effect. The grand tourist, with some tight hamstrings after a day of festival tromping, might be tempted to stretch, pause, breathe.

Georgia Sagri, Polytechnic, 1999. Performance view, Athens Polytechnic University, Patission Street, Athens, November 17, 1999. (Duration 7 hours.) Georgia Sagri. Photo: Dimitris Diakoumopoulos.

This suasive ambience fostered not just a way to be but also a temporality for being. Dynamis means “power” or “energy” but with an emphasis on potential, something not yet expressed or coming into expression—becoming, as Deleuze would have it. And the temporality being lived in those times of the chorus’s less-dramatic activity was one rooted not in the clock of work but in the human body. The performers’ preparations and routines involved particular, individualized breathing patterns, and a material trace of the project’s diaphragmatic emphasis appeared in yet another portion of Dynamis as a stunning set of sculptures described as “Breathing Scores,” blown-glass vessels hung in series from rails. Their varying lengths, coloration, and material qualities—walls thick or thin? Surfaces corrugated or smooth?—created a mesmeric visual cadence. The works are a sensual, concretized commentary on the notion of the score; they also conjure organs, the lungs foremost. Seeing them in situ, you were coaxed to imagine the amount of respiration expended to make each one, resulting in a concentration on your own breathing that, in turn, induced a remarkably physical and meditative experience with a work of static art. Through this corporeal connection, the “Breathing Scores” recall Dynamis’s organ sculptures, the élan vital those representations were intended to convey into the city, and the pacing observed and set by the performers.

In an interview around the time of Dynamis, Sagri declared that the basis of it was the stages of orgasm.4 Hence the titling of the organ sculptures Dynamis/Soma in orgasm as ear, Dynamis/Soma in orgasm as breast, and so on. This move ties in to Sagri’s recent interest in reproductive labor—her 2018 monograph, Georgia Sagri Georgia Sagri and I, features a conversation on the subject between herself and Silvia Federici. She calls our attention to the pleasure that, under the logic of reproductive labor, is ancillary at best. And she returns us once again to plotting the elapsing of time using a human measure, according to a physiological response common to us all. The interweaving of art and politics in Sagri’s work is difficult to reckon with, in part because a discussion of her as a political agent so readily swamps the art itself. But yes, Sagri was a significant figure in getting Occupy Wall Street off the ground in 2011. The artist told me in conversation that in her view the two modes of activity should not be conflated; when she wants to do art, she does art, and when she wants to do political organizing, she does that. Her work rarely if ever makes direct statements about specific events, though its political valence is undeniable.

Georgia Sagri, Semiotics of the Household, 2018. Performance view, Hester Street, New York, November 3, 2018. (Duration 3 hours.) Georgia Sagri. Photo: Diego Singh.

Yet a boundary drawn is never quite fixed. In the video documentation of her droll yet intensely poignant Semiotics of the Household, 2018, the artist is seen on a quiet Lower East Side street at sunset removing her possessions one by one from her wheeled carry-on suitcase, right down to her cosmetics and passport, and using them to draw a line across the street before packing them up and repeating the process. Aux barricades indeed; the personal is political, even the toiletries. Sagri’s act temporarily, gently impedes the flow of traffic; a blockage in the system is created—a minor-key reprise of, say, the occupation of a city park. Reaction from drivers is generally patient; even a garbage truck waits unhonking for her to move out of the way. But after an hour, the NYPD arrives and summarily finds a reason to handcuff a woman with a thick accent acting aberrantly in public. While her responses to the police’s queries are mostly smiling and blandly circular, when the cuffs go on she appears to break character for just a moment, declaring to an off-camera friend, “I cannot be arrested,” hinting at the visa troubles she had after Occupy.

Georgia Sagri, Semiotics of the Household, 2018. Performance view, Hester Street, New York, November 3, 2018. (Duration 3 hours.) Georgia Sagri. Photo: Diego Singh.

In Sagri’s monograph, one writer describes a particular Occupy-related episode, the short-lived occupation of Artists Space, which Sagri led, as “her masterpiece.”5 I’m not sure I disagree, though in what genre? Conflating the action with art does Sagri no service. With a Paolo Virno–esque aptitude for seizing an opportunity, she spearheaded the occupation of the beloved New York nonprofit on October 22, 2011, just a week after the closing of a Christopher D’Arcangelo exhibition. The occupation lasted little more than twenty-four hours; I dropped by early on after receiving a text from a friend telling me what was afoot. It was late in the evening when I arrived. Artists Space, upstairs on Greene Street in SoHo, was dimly lit, one section strewn with sleeping bags, while nearby, in an illuminated circle, a vigorous discussion of principles was taking place in classic OWS style. The activist cohort, numbering maybe twenty-five at that time, maybe more, included no one I recognized from the art world other than Sagri. Pizza had been ordered, and I was hungry, but I refrained from consuming any of the presumably limited supply. Instead I pulled up a folding chair, the kind used for events like the panel discussion that had been taking place when the occupation was declared, and proceeded to nod in and out of wakefulness, space folding pleasurably around me and swallowing me in darkness. When it occasionally spat me up, my snippets of awareness gave me the sense very much of fast-forwarding through a video file, finding that, nope, not much was changing from beginning to end. Always in the center of the frame, though, was Sagri—primus inter pares, it seemed to me, which is perhaps unfair, since she was the only one of the group I knew and had the charisma of the performer. It was the same in the OWS splinter meetings I’d gone to where she was present. Also, she tended to draw attention because she just seemed to have some sense of what the fuck she was talking about, unlike a lot of people who were airlessly theorizing—that is, unlike a lot of the rest of us.

Attempt. Come. did not enact some kind of hieratic sacralization of the space—unless we agree that sacralization involves humor, eros, and song.

As I had not brought a sleeping bag, I eventually decided to wrest myself away and catch a cab. In this occupation, I was a civilian, and I had to get on with my life. So, too, did Artists Space, which the next night kicked the occupiers out. It was all a good deal more than the theater that people seemed to read it as. I, for one, found the maneuvering by the Occupy 38 group to be an actually brave leveraging of what was at hand, starting change with ourselves, as we all are supposed to do but almost never manage. Because we all have to get on with our lives, by and large. In this case, I think “we” all know who “we” are. As with OWS itself, it’s hard to say what effect the quixotic Artists Space occupation had in the short, medium, or long term. But I suspect that it was no help to Sagri’s career.

Georgia Sagri, Attempt. Come., 2016. Performance view, Parko Eleftherias, Athens, September 17, 2016. (Duration  24 hours.) Georgia Sagri. From Documenta 14. Photo: Stathis Mamalakis.

In 2016, Sagri took part in the launch of Documenta 14’s Athenian public programming with Attempt. Come., a grueling piece that involved the artist’s attempting to dance for twenty-four hours. (She got through twenty, then deliberately quit when a crowd streamed in to see if she would actually last the whole time. A Q&A with those present followed, likely the most grueling aspect of all.) Clad in a white shift like a sacrifice or holy virgin, Sagri sought to overwrite the history of the associatively loaded space Documenta would be using for its public programming: a site that had been used by the junta’s military police as its headquarters, with the torture of political prisoners going on right next door, before being turned into an arts center years later. The clip available on Documenta 14’s website shows Sagri paired with a single musician, who is beating on a bass drum strapped to his torso marching-band style. Her dancing is energetic, flirty at times, fun. She adds her own musical embellishment with hissings and monosyllabic exhalations, harking perhaps to the solfège method of syllabizing musical notes, wherein alchemy occurs and sound begins to meld with language—another kind of crystal-image achieved, another boundary crossed. Attempt. Come. did not enact some kind of hieratic sacralization of the space—unless we agree that sacralization involves humor, eros, and song. The poem Sagri wrote to accompany the piece spells it out; its invocation includes lines like “Unrepresented eros hits the drum. And the celebration starts, for joy and grief,” and, “Vibrate with me, so chaos can enter.” It also states, clearly, the artist’s position on definition: “Be the point of no-reference. Constant, and as a state of formation.” The original signification of chaos, recall, was not disorder but rather the undifferentiated field of being that existed prior to creation. Sagri invokes the uninscribed as a way to escape the tyranny of definition. And yet the playful element of her work here noses open the door to let a carnival sense of chaos poke its head in as well. 

Domenick Ammirati is a writer and editor based in New York. 


1. Sagri’s first survey exhibition actually occurred in two parts: Georgia Sagri Georgia Sagri at Kunstverein Braunschweig, Germany, December 2, 2017–February 11, 2018, and Georgia Sagri and I at Frankfurt’s Portikus, April 21–June 17, 2018.

2. Quoted in Mostafa Heddaya, “Occupational Hazards: Manifesta 11 Employs the Working Class,”Artnews, August 3, 2016,

3. Georgia Sagri, “Interviews: Georgia Sagri,” by Lauren O’Neill-Butler,, June 5, 2017,

4. Sagri, “Interviews: Georgia Sagri.”

5. Stephen Squibb, “Alive and by Her Own Law (Clone Readymade Incorporated), Or Georgia Sagri Georgia Sagri,” in Georgia Sagri Georgia Sagri and I (Braunschweig, Germany: Kunstverein Braunschweig; Frankfurt: Portikus, 2018), 25.