It’s Time To Open The Black Boxes!

It’s Time To Open The Black Boxes! | Multimedia installation | 2012

Greece, Europe and indeed the World are experiencing multiple crises – economic, social, political, environmental.  IT’S TIME TO OPEN THE BLACK BOXES! is a participatory art project initiated by artist Danae Stratou. Living in Greece in this time of multiple crises, it is ever so easy to fall into a state of fear-induced paralysis. This art project was a reaction to such a prospect. Distanced from traditional commercial practices, the art project aspired to undercut its own costs, to give voice to and to assist materially as many as people possible, to help attain a deeper understanding of our collective predicament, to empower a joint response to the paralysis that is causing us to ‘freeze up’. The project activated a dialogue constituting, in itself, a collective response to our multi-faceted predicament. By opening the ‘Black Boxes’ we symbolically bring to light the words that reflect what threatens us the most, or that which we are desperately eager to preserve.


Installation description
The installation comprises 100 black boxes geometrically positioned on the floor. *The boxes were custom made out of thick black aluminium sheet metal. They are positioned on the floor equidistant from another, so as to form a rectangular grid covering an area of 100m2 situated at the centre of the gallery. The boxes’ lids are open at an angle. Inside each box a black screen is positioned at a 450 degree angle in relation to the floor. The boxes are surfaced with translucent mirrors, thus creating the illusion that they are filled to the rim with a liquid substance and that the screens within them are submerged in polluted water akin to an oil slick.
Upon entering the exhibition space the viewer is confronted by a mixture of sounds such as beeps, heart beats, explosions and flat-lines. As one approaches and walks through the installation it becomes apparent that the screens inside the boxes are displaying words and numbers. Each word appears for a few seconds before being replaced by either a countdown or a count-up (depending on the word). As the numbers race (down toward zero or up to a specially chosen limit), their pace, style and accompanying sounds resemble a ticking bomb. When the countdown, or count-up, reaches its climax, each box emits the sound of either an explosion or a flat-line. These sounds are designed so as to intensify the sensation of tension, crisis, and alarm.

*The boxes were designed by the artist and were produced with the support of ELVAL, one of Greece’s leading aluminium companies.

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Open call | Participatory angle | Touring
The project was inaugurated in Athens, Greece in April 2012. Through the use of a Vital Space blog, social media and other means, a wide range of people were invited to contribute to the project by submitting the one word that best expresses A) what frightens or threatens them the most, or B) what they believe is in urgent need of protection. The artist reviewed the nearly 1,000 submissions and chose 100 of them to be included in an installation comprising 100 black boxes.
Danae Stratou now aims at presenting this installation Internationally. The open call cycle will be re-activated each time the project is to travel in a new city for a period of 1-3 months prior to each exhibition. Through the Vital Space blog, a wide range of social media and conventional local media local communities will be invited to participate (by sending a word each). In this way the Black Boxes, when opened in a different city, will reveal local concerns, hopes and fears in a manner which, nevertheless, bind the different cities together. Thus the project will be constantly in flux in ways that reflect the think-global/act-local adage.

Social Engagement | Non Profit Organisations
The project is based on a collaboration with a limited number of local Non Profit Organisations active in their local communities, supporting their most vulnerable citizens, and/or raising awareness regarding climate change, encouraging environmentally conscious practices etc. This collaboration will take place in each of the cities were the project will travel to and will operate at two levels:
A) The NGOs will disseminate knowledge concerning the project’s financial, social and ecological aspects and will communicate the Open Call through their own network. This will help reach a wider range of people from diverse parts of the community so as to encourage them to participate by offering their one-word-person.
B) Vital Space will support financially these non-profit organisation’s by offering them 10% percent of the exhibitions’revenues.

Public Dialogue | Raising Awareness
Recent shocks like the financial and debt crises have made civil society more politically engaged, the eruption of protest movements and the ongoing political, economic and social crises in Europe and Internationally, have changed our thinking about the “political.” The Black Boxes reflect critically these social shifts by opening a public dialogue that examines the tension between art as art and art opening up onto social and political life.
The Black Boxes transmit a call for a visionary intervention in a time of crisis that examines how art in conjunction with new technologies can open the public dialogue by promoting direct, sophisticated and advanced democratic models and practices.
The project investigates the space between art, democracy and political action by focusing on how society responds directly (without parliamentary representation) to issues that affect them the most, through the medium of art. The Black Boxes monitor the public opinion without intermediaries, as a form of liberation of the public’s muted voices.
In relation to the exhibition of the Black Boxes in Athens Vital Space organized an open discussion which took place at the Gallery during the time of exhibition. The event was conducted with the participation of speakers from different scientific fields, the artist and the public – focusing on the issues that this art project deals with. This open discourse covered various topics and points of view, not only on the artistic area, but also on matters of everyday reality and awareness of our personal and global concerns. A similar event – open discussion/seminar/conference – will be organized in each city along with the presentation of the exhibition. Such an event should give an excellent opportunity to participants of local institutions/universities to express their own thoughts on these important contemporary issues and provoke the active participation of the public.

Scholars Texts:
Black Box Operator by Sozita Goudouna
It’s Time to Open the Black Boxes by Yanis Varoufakis

It’s Time to Open the Black Boxes. Zoumboulakis Galleries, Athens, Greece (2012)