Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Myth of the Argonauts or stories to live by - Hatto Fischer


Construction of the ‘Argo’ ship – Volos, 26th of August 2006

Starting out from the premise everyone has their own imaginary museum (like at home the things collected when returning from trips abroad or else from some excursions), what would be a collection of items which would make the Argonaut Myth become tangible without destroying the very myth as something intangible. A good example is that of the lost sandal which school children search for in the belief this mythical part of the story really existed. By making experiences through such searches real evidence is gathered. It demonstrates both the power of myths in everyday reality while at the same time it enhances continuity in the collectivity of both perception and memory.

Philosophically speaking, the curtailment of any myth has to be the very concept by which things are implemented. Interestingly enough Hegel said ‘people without myth are blind’ while in an extension of that onto the analytical level Kant spoke about ‘concepts being blind when without perception’. Each of these statements reveal and reflect something man has to attain if he is to perceive and retain a hold on reality. Otherwise something cannot be true and reality remains unknown.

Therefore the reality of an imaginary trip can become the dilemma of no longer knowing reality especially if the distinction between truth and false cannot be made. This trap or encirclement of the mind is Cholchis: a location where finally a stepping out of the myth or belief into reality is made possible through love. The return to reality, in this case Iolkos is then the relief found in restoring another sense of governance. Of interest is that the Argonauts themselves upon returning disagreed about the way to do it. A hint of this has been already indicated by students suggesting a kind of Argonaut Museum in which a voyage through the museum can be replicated by following the path of one of the 50 rowers.

Different perceptions, different angles make the mythical light seem to be light (as opposed to heavy) and until Albert Camus writes in ‘L’Etranger’ about the blending of reality with the sun beating down so that no more shadows are created, it suggests that the most dangerous angle in life is the one not knowing if anything still casts a shadow. The downfall of people once they seize power with the wrong myth should also be known. It suggests that the Myth of the Argonauts itself should be read as a highly politicized version of reality and only by certain feats can obstacles be overcome. In that sense it becomes crucial to know the difference between fiction and reality with myth being sometimes in-between but only in the sense of not knowing the truth. That uncertainty can lead to wrong assumptions and therefore to false accusations which in turn trap people in their daily lives in the terrible state of not knowing if they are alive or not.

Out of all that can be deduced the following question: what new narrative is going to be developed in Volos? If anything to go by continuity as sense of time is important. More so for a community undergoing changes and faced by all kinds of including global challenges. There is above all tourism as source of income and with this come new techniques of sustaining power. By turning to the mythology of the Argonauts as a tool to brand culture, Volos has decided to modernize itself by means of reviving the myth. Along with it goes the effort to reconstruct the myth and reinforce the appearance thereof in the present.

To any story teller it matters where you start out from. Again it is like starting on a journey but not only far away for traveling experiences can be made equally at home when stepping from one room into another. It all depends on the mythical element of such a trip. But why the need for voyage aside from seeking new experiences and through trade new commodities to enrich the life back home? Human development is difficult to describe at times, but certainly people seek to break out of their tiny four walls at times in order to find or rediscover their ‘self’. For tourism that is the most important aim: allowing people to enrich themselves by visiting other places and more so by coming close to those mythical ones for which Greece is famous.

Bird on sculpture of ship ‘Argo’ in Volos            Photo: D.G.


A new side view of the Argonaut mythology is to pick up this photo taken by Dorota Gyarmathy when the heritageradio group of the HERMES project visited Volos in March 2006. This little bird on top of the model of the Argo boat, a sculpture or public art work standing at the beginning to the pier running along the port and filled with cafes is just a hint. Life is a search for continuity. That search is more often a complex processes filled with errors and happy moments which altogether make up local identities to be experienced even by those who only visit the place. These prevailing identities are a reflection of something being added to the past by the present. Usually cultural heritage is not cared for and if not neglected then endlessly rehashed as if only of value if it manage to stay around despite all abuses. To be free from such negative examples practical models are needed to bring about a different way of caring about cultural heritage. This is especially the case if not tangible but intangible heritage as the case with the Argonaut mythology. The lack of tangible evidence sets off a creative process to find those clues like those missing sandals school children believe they can find at that location they grow up in.

In search of the narrative or how to tell the story of the Argonauts

Guideline 1: avoidance of a lunar park or Walt Disney like gimmick

There exist already some specific plans for the Argonaut Museum in Volos as indicated best by the department of Tourism having undertaken the reconstruction of the ARGO boat. Right now there is a need to find an alternative to the existing intention to create around the museum a kind of amusement park or more directly a sort of Walt Disney world in which with certain gimmicks a fascination with a myth is being played out. A lot has to do with private investments as to what they can and what they cannot finance. Definitely they would not finance something serious especially if that would not bring in still further money. Even though many fantasize and go along with the process, it is not clear what shape such a museum will take given location but also tendencies within Volos towards adopting only certain solutions.

Comments by Guardian Travel guide about newer developments aiming to attract still more tourists with all sorts of gimmicks which descend into kitsch:

“Once, it was enough for romantics, explorers and other travellers setting out from these shores to walk, or ride, agog through sublime scenery, from the Lake District to the Alps and beyond, or to stroll, eyes wide-open through exotic cities. Such experiences, though, are not enough for today's insatiable tourists. We are demanding, or are being served with, increasingly rich and complex visitor attractions to keep us happy, camera-snappy, spending promiscuously, and, it has to be said, more than a little gormless.

Some of the latest visitor attractions designed to lure and entertain tourists are happy intrusions in old landscapes, yet many more are kitsch curios and even vainglorious monstrosities. Only last week news broke of a proposed "heritage and conservation centre" on the site of a former tomato nursery at Horkesley Park near Colchester. In effect, this would be a Constable theme park - the site is in the heart of the famous painter's Stour Valley - aimed, so its backers say, as a "celebration of the English countryside". It could, though, by the very nature of such centres, be in danger of undermining the qualities of the picturesque landscape visitors wish to see. Surely, say campaigners against the scheme, true country lovers are opposed to the idea of the English countryside being packaged up and sold back to them.

You will have your own favourite human-made additions to popular landscapes, but here is a list of some of the latest tourist wonders and travesties alike. Whatever you think, tourist-driven designs on our landscapes are on their way to a place you care about, adorned or unadorned by human hand, and, it seems, whether you want them or not.” 1

Guideline 2: the lesson of matter – things to smell, to touch, to hear, to taste and to see

Wood remnants at location where the Argo boat is being constructed – such material should mark the entrance hall of the Argonaut museum – by letting visitors step on it

To this notion of 'informal learning experiences' I want to come. After all museums are visited by school children but what needs to be known about children in order to communicate with them? In what setting? Time frame? With what materials? How set up a functioning process? Should museums be life production centers? How to invoke the dialogue with the past? It is all a matter of keeping measure: ‘metron’.

Concluding remarks:

Stacy Koumbis touched in her resume upon an important outcome of the summer school: the students came away from it inspired. That is the most important experience made by not only the students but by us experts at the HERMES Summer School of Volos in 2006.

Stacy Koumbis made many things possible. She has an excellent attitude, above all a non imitating one by which students feel both at ease and encouraged to take a further step and to risk stepping into the lime light of the public.

It is no easy task to make such a presentation within five days. The fact that the students could draw our attention to so many facets as to what it means to live by a myth or a certain story, that is most crucial for the conceptualization of a future Argonaut museum.

As the American writer George Crane would say story telling and stories like that of the myth of the Argonauts make us become more human.

Certainly all of the students expressed a genuine desire to alter the course of current development in Greece and this they did not in the name of any ideology but in just wishing to be authentic. They express themselves in a very interesting way for they are genuine believers of not just any kind of survival on this earth but wish to do so in a most truthful way. This way is based on sharing the wisdom of the Ancient times within the present without thereby being determined by such wisdom or even ‘Sophia’.

Indeed love of knowledge based on real love lets you find the way into the present so that future and past remain in dialogue and this without any perpetrator casting shadows of fear over everything. For the courage to live makes all the difference as to which stories are told compared to those which might have become a possibility to live but sink instead to the bottom of the ocean and there never to be heard of again unless some rescue mission retrieves the sunken boat everyone had abandoned back then. This too might open a new perspective upon the mythical story of the Argo boat for how often evidence is destroyed rather than preserved as cultural heritage for the future. Of interest is therefore the reconstruction of the Argo boat which the students visited in order to have something more concretely in mind when shaping their concepts of the Argonaut Museum.

One crucial reference to was made and which the students want to develop, namely the ‘metrons’ of life and by deduction what myth to live by. Since Ancient Times human experiences have made possible many new stories and therefore tragic outcomes can be easily overturned by man’s ability to create new possibilities. Therefore the measures they wish to live by and the ability to tell the story of a myth which has no tangible evidence is already one of these measures for the construction of the Argonaut Museum. The realization of such measure as made explicit by a voyage spanning departure and return guarantees the continuity of survival as long as it is possible to tell the story. For once the sources of inspiration vanishes they have to be renewed, and if not possible, then that story will no longer be told but then also the community will cease to exist in the long run.

Here then the work with students take things far beyond just branding a culture for the sake of tourism. In that sense the students responded very well under the guidance of Stacy Koumbis to the challenge Vasilis Sgouris, director of DEMEKAV, the Municipal Enterprise of Volos had posed at the beginning of the summer school. There exists already a concept for the Argonaut museum. It foresees what investors would like to invest in, namely a kind of Walt Disney or lunar park. Everyone knows what that would mean, namely a kind of commercialization of culture with gimmicks and cheap entertainments diverting the attention of people rather than facing the task but how to reinvent and to continue the mythical story. The question Vasilis Sgouris poses therefore is what alternative can be developed to such a concept as a lunar or Walt Disney like park?

The premises for the discussions and questions posed during the sessions of the summer school had been set by experts like Peter Higgins, Norman Cohen, Vasilis Bourdakis, Jan Brueggemeier, Ira Kaliampetsos, Socrates Kabouropoulos, Trifon Trifonov, Stacy Koumbis and Hatto Fischer. This provided both a framework and a set of examples to nourish the discussion with the students.

As to a potential networking in future, here Stacy Koumbis gave a good example. She works as program director at the Hellenic Museum in Chicago, USA. They have a special section of oral history about Greeks living in America. Immediately the question was asked by those living in Volos whether traces of people they knew who had left Volos for the United States could be found in that archive. Time bridges and memories of those gone to other places are linked as always with the huge history of the Greek diaspora. That too gave then ideas on how to develop a methodology for oral history to be included in the Argonaut museum. With international networking starting alone through these contacts things can be made possible.

When it comes to multi media in museums Stacy Koumbis gave a demonstration of an interactive media called the fish tank. Children could create at home via computer and Internet already their typical fish and let it enter the fish tank. Then by going to the museum they could see their fish swimming around in that virtual fish tank. The example shows that both the contents of the museum but also the way the surrounding area shall be treated must include considerations of such media. When it comes to take the treatment of this myth by use of the new media further, then it would mean all that has to be done in a much more serious manner than what any kind of lunar or Walt Disney like park could produce. Moreover, and this was an important principle the students stressed, use of the new media must be organized in such a way that it leads to a dialogue between parents and children. Often parents are afraid if their children use something they do not know in which direction this will lead eventually the children. This means a consultative process shall be required via school teachers on how to develop the media by which the story is going to be told.

The next phase for organizing the development and realization of the Argonaut Museum has to be the creation of a context by which the community of Volos can come to identify with the museum and as such allow the development of such a reference point and study centre for all myths, in particular those having to do with voyages and journeys. The experiences of the traveler is an old theme but it has in the present and in the future many dimensions since the modern traveler has become above all the tourist in search of the true and authentic self as a turning point in life and even personal fate.

Crucial are the conclusions of the synopsis, namely the 42 questions asked by the students. They lead in the direction of bringing together the city of Volos with the new museum. They may be taken up at the summer school next year. By then these questions will be a measure of time since all those students will have matured in their answers and comprehension of the complexity involved when creating a museum in order to tell stories by which people live by. This means opening up the Argonaut museum to not only one myth but become a research and study centre for mythology so that a link between university and museum will become a permanent feature. And by having students live and study at the location the risk of the place remaining dead or rather without people shall be overcome. Right now not many people will go there so there will have to be something more than a museum in order to have 24 hour activities since no myth goes ever to sleep but enters our dreams.

Moreover the term ‘journey’ is crucial and here already Peter Higgins started to have some ideas on how to bring about some tangible evidence for all kinds of journeys. This can mean as suggested by students such interactive media installed in the museum so that a journey through the museum and into the mythology is possible out of the perspective of each of the fifty heroes. A visitor can choose how to experience the route of the Argonauts through the eyes of one particular hero.

It means also in linkage to the archaeological museum to have anthropological and ethnological evidence about the kind of society which does not use slaves but heroes of their society as rowers. This means a freedom to go onto such a journey as entry point into another type of society upon returning should make possible the transition from negative to positive power. It was suggested that a special boat would connect the Archaeological and Argonaut museum as part of the innovative network to be created in Volos to connect the various museums, including the Industrial Heritage one at Tsalapatas and the Museum of the City as place of memory and meeting. In that sense the Argonaut Museum will fit as finest piece into the mosaic being created over time in Volos to acknowledge cultural heritage as memories of the future based on our understandings and interpretations of the past and how it connects to our future and indeed survival as human beings. As such the political dimension of the myth of the Argonauts needs to be examined.

The HERMES Summer School of Volos 2006 touched upon two crucial aspects: what took place in terms of the tasks faced by museums of the twenty first century and what this means in terms of work within such museums; the second aspect is therefore the qualification strategy so that local people will be able to fulfill the demands of such a museum and in due time acquire the necessary skills, know how, managerial expertise so that they can work at the museum. Here a special report shall be prepared so as to have an overview of current museum studies, seminars, workshops, online training possibilities etc. to further this qualification strategy for the future. It is a common trend that nowadays even governmental officials say culture is not subsidized anymore but money given in that direction is an investment in the future.

Altogether the students have set already some very important constraints linked to working with children and safeguarding the values of the local community, including the need of a freedom of expression from mythology since there is the danger of something artificial being imposed from above and thereby choking Volos off from other stories. This would be especially the case if the political authorities insist to live only by this mythology. It means from now on an over emphasis has to be avoided so that the full creativity of the citizens of Volos can be activated throughout the various phases of conceptualization, design, implementation and visitation i.e. making full use of what the museum and the area of Volos has to offer to every visitor. A start of such collective participation was made by the summer school. Each of the students developed four questions which they took home and there posed them to a family member, a friend or some stranger. That set off a process of reflection amongst citizens. Some had not heard as of yet that such plans exist. From now on they will take notice and a more active interest in what is taking place. In terms of the cultural impact of such a museum the key measure should be whether or not the people of Volos can sustain such a museum or not.

Hatto Fischer

1 Jonathan Glancey, Wonders or blunders? Saturday February 11, 2006
The Guardian http://travel.guardian.co.uk/feature/0,,1707207,00.html

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