Miltos Manetas

Studio Marconi

Miltos Manetas’ installation Soft Driller, 1995, reconstructs an episode that occurred some ten years ago in Athens. Using video and photography, the artist recounts a story in which all action has apparently been suspended. This immobility results from an explicit conflict, which is mirrored by the contradictory title of the piece.

In the video two men appear, seated alone at a small table in a bar, smoking and taking sips of coffee. Without ever really looking each other in the face, they gaze pensively around the room. Their faces betray no emotion, although one can hear a murmured threat: “I’ll fuck you up.” One imagines that neither man is willing to make the first move, and that both have settled on a passive stance as the only defense. The viewer is able to register the existence of a dispute, but the reasons for it remain unfathomable, since the inoffensive gestures that are visible serve to further mask the conflict.

Manetas encountered a similar scene while he was waiting for a friend in a bar; he watched while the two men made their threats without glancing at each other or taking the slightest notice of any onlookers, almost as though the surrounding world did not exist. For a time after this Manetas forgot the episode, but later recovered the scene from memory—which can be likened to a “soft drill” steadily boring through the walls of consciousness—and reconstructed it.

He also placed next to the video monitor stills taken from the video, depicting the protagonists. Although each of these images focuses only on a single pose, body part, or facial expression, it still manages to convey a sense of the unresolved struggle that unfolds on the video screen. With a few precise touches—the small table, cigarettes, and coffee—Manetas reproduces the panorama of the bar, while incorporating a sense of light and emotional temperature that is distinctly Mediterranean.

The characters and ambience in the narrative belong explicitly to the contemporary world, where public places are increasingly defined by visual interaction rather than direct exchange. Through a synthesis of memory and representation, Manetas emphasizes an unsettling aspect of our era—always present and always visible, even in the absence of overt conflict.

Francesca Pasini

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.