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Breathing and Breaking. Georgia Sagri’s IASI

Georgia Sagri, 'Case_L', Installation View, Kunsthallle Friart, Fribourg, 2022. Photo: Stathis Mamalakis. ©Georgia Sagri.
Critic and theorist Marina Vishmidt discusses Georgia Sagri’s IASI practice of self-care and recovery, paying special attention to the conceptual and material trajectories of this specific healing practice and the translation of such therapeutic approaches into gestural languages.
Georgia Sagri, Food Disorder, Treatment, October 15th, 2020, Installation View, Kunsthallle Friart, Fribourg, 2022. Photo: Stathis Mamalakis.

Where others encounter walls or mountains, there, too, he sees a way. […] No moment can know what the next will bring. What exists he reduces to rubble – not for the sake of rubble, but for that of the way leading through it.01

She is breaking the door. She is not talking about it.02

The arc of Georgia Sagri’s work, and what she has been involved in, is enormous, and, based upon the criteria brought to bear in the analysis of it, illimitable at first sight. So, this essay will focus primarily on the exhibition ‘Case­_L.’ staged over the summer at Kunsthalle Friart.03 The exhibition, in departure from other recent projects such as ‘IASI’ at Mimosa House in late 2020 or her participation in this autumn’s ‘YOYI! Care, Repair, Heal’ at the Gropius Bau, does not take the form of a one-to-one process of guided somatic therapy, but is instead a multi-mode, synthetic anthology of the IASI (recovery) practice she has been developing, with paintings, drawings, sculpture, live performance and a parallel film programme. This introduces the idea of the attempted healing specified by ‘recovery’ not just as a goal, narrated by Sagri as the sharing of her own experience of mediating the arduous effects of performance pieces and political engagement on her total life, but a conceptual framework, a worldview and an aesthetics, conceived as ‘education of the senses’ by the artist and an activation of the body toward both psycho-physical recovery and political resistance.

A striking characteristic of all the work presented at Friart is that the viewer experiences it as an object and a passage at the same time, evoking the ‘spiritual anarchism’ Sagri identifies with in her recent collection of writings and resonates with Walter Benjamin’s short, gnomic essay cited in the epigraph. How did this concretely unfold in the work she brought together at Friart?04Beyond, or rather, prior to, this question is another: what is the relevance of the IASI work as performed within an art world context and what distinguishes this practice, and its multiple iterations, from other therapeutic approaches that operate according to similar techniques but from within spaces for therapy? And perhaps before an answer is attempted, it needs to be turned around – what if the practice is the preconditions that make it possible, and all aesthetic and conceptual rationales for its appearance and its enactment are to be sought in that preconditionality? In other words, the point here may be less to discern why some therapeutic practices unfold in an art institutional context and some elsewhere, but how the folding of a performative practice as well as political engagement into the preconditions of their (human, somatic) possibility becomes the gesture made in the art field, how conditions are made to eclipse the ‘object’ and supplant it – even as the practice continues and develops elsewhere in between, and at the same time. The question, turned in any of its significant directions, is crucial, and yet not the focal point in ‘Case_L’, which seems to be more interested in the conceptual and material trajectories of a specific healing practice or their translation into other gestural languages than it is in the embodied displacement of such practices into an art context.

Georgia Sagri, ‘Case_L’, Installation View, Kunsthallle Friart, Fribourg, 2022. Photo: Stathis Mamalakis. ©Georgia Sagri.

This displacement was enacted by each work in its own way. Shelter­­­ Refuge (2022) refers both to the ongoing, day-long performance and the hulking, convex shelters, woven of water hyacinths and other grasses (Shelter_Refuge I; Shelter_Refuge II, 2022) that sat in the upstairs space and provided the focal point to the movements of Sagri in the space and the occasional collaborator, as well as to the viewers at the room’s perimeter following the action. 05 They offered the clearest emblem of the double exposure between object and passage – a superposition, not a vacillation – in their performance at the same time as sculptural presences, and as tunnels through or obstacles around which Sagri’s activities flowed. Also, during the times that this activity included vocalization, they turned into singing caves, as she was not visible in every location in the space. Sagri’s undressed and horizontal exits and entries into pods unavoidably evoked birth and death, two kinds of traumatic passage whose metaphorical dimension recur in both performance practice and forms of therapy – rehearsals of emergence and extinction whose power is guaranteed by formalisation, or containment. This becoming-object as part of a passage is complemented, from the opposite side, by Sagri’s understanding of performance as a medium, in the sense of material but also in the sense of channelling, which ‘radically modifies the functioning of the body, inaugurating a new relationship with representation’ 06. Although such a use of medium can be easily linked to therapy, or a mystified version of it – a channelling of healing forces, for example – the crucial element in Sagri’s conception is instead the body as a condenser and amplifier of social, structural and impersonal forces. This is the conception that traverses performance and therapy for her. The body as the basic material where these forces can be disclosed, externalised and worked through without compromise: a politics of singularity that redefines the ontology of becoming collective and the resistance this redefinition is able to power. With its strenuous, cyclical temporality, this work emphasises process over spectacle. Since no one can view the performance in full, it makes an incision in the self-evidence of the performative body generating an experience to be consumed. Like the labouring body, it is instead consumed by time, both the time that elapses and time’s analogue in the husk-cocoon-igloo, the object that exists alongside and apart from it, itself a product of labour. 07

The formalisation of a therapeutic process as a condensation of the power it can generate, its uncontrollable affects and energies, took another turn on the ground floor, where the room-size installation of drawings (all produced in 2020) generated from several IASI sessions were installed, hanging banner-style from the ceiling. These were the public registrations of a process that has in other recent and upcoming instances taken the form of one-on-one encounters in the exhibition space, literally on a raised podium called the Stage of Recovery. Here the large multi-media drawings at first appeared like body imprints, filled in by visual phenomena such as lines and dots that could be taken as coded traces marking pain points, flows, or the results of specific movements undertaken in each event of treatment. These visual-material elements are typical of the approach Sagri has developed in doing IASI, which is predicated on finding the location in the body where the harm or pain is felt, and then on finding a method in breath or movement to address it. This is one level of formalisation which can be deemed ‘performative’, while the drawings are another, and feed back into the treatment process – the representational. Session dates, times, and symptoms are indicated in the titles of the drawings. All stem from Case_L, which gives the exhibition its title; an encounter with someone experiencing acute panic attacks. These works, along with the performance and sculptures upstairs and the paintings that circumscribe the room which I will come to next, in their several ontologies as medical notes, performance scores, and ‘autonomous’ drawings, in their mixed being as documentation (of something that happened at another time and place) and a dazzling immanence, seems to register the compelling friction Sagri generates between this evolving therapeutic practice, its somatisations and externalisations rooted in a radical anti-capitalist and anti-patriarchal worldview, and the gradual inhabitation of many corners of the contemporary art complex in latter years by discourses around care. We witness institutional care, self-care, the politics of care, and their more and less concrete adoptions thematically and, less often, programmatically. For Sagri and IASI, the emphasis on recovery is its integration into a praxis of ongoing refusal – lifemaking as unreconciliation. This requires a view of the totality of someone’s experience in which the need to reproduce social and biological life cannot be disentangled from a saturation with the toxic effects of that life. It’s an approach to therapy that attends to a systematic ecology as well as a politics of what it takes to live in that world. Such a systematic, or social, ecology can be said to also characterise the more recent engagements with debates around ‘care’ in the space of art. Surely, from this year’s documenta to the previously noted ‘YOYI!’ festival – whose curatorial concept makes space for ‘disavowing’ as well as ‘perpetuating’ notions of healing – such projects entails a careful and contextual attending to their material conditions and what it means either to formulate or translate them by artistic means. Such an understanding, however, is already at work in Sagri’s vision of a body as a ‘sequence of complex relations which develop within a varied momentum, between decelerations and accelerations of different acts and behaviours’, drawing on Gilles Deleuze’s analysis of Spinoza. 08 There is then an emphasis on breath, voice and movement to push past the suffocation of image-bodies and performing bodies which form the inescapable realism of ‘survival’ in the world of capital where we all work. The notion of ‘breaking the door’ rather than talking about it seems apt here. Knocking on the door would be the exhausting petition to power; breaking it means to move into another landscape shaped by (personal, collective) movement, which starts from finding a new way for your body to move and live.

Georgia Sagri, Early Morning, Cool Passage, Cave, Organ, Installation View, Kunsthalle Friart, Fribourg, 2022. Photo: Stathis Mamalakis. ©Georgia Sagri

With landscape, then, to conclude. The six enigmatic, smallish egg tempera paintings placed on the walls surrounding the drawings – Early morning, cool passage, cave, organ (left side); Early morning, cool passage, cave, organ (right side); Noon, passage, cave, warm organ (left side); Noon, passage, cave, warm organ (right side); Humid night, passage, cold cave, organ (left side); Humid night, passage, cold cave, organ (right side) (all 2022) – positioned in accord with the movement of the sun through the space over a day, depict a landscape imaginary of the body and take a form that recalls, at least for this viewer, Eastern Orthodox icons. Due to the size and material, but also the vernacular image of genre fiction, a spooky and unmoored medium shot of caves through the course of a day, sometimes with a figure, sometimes without. I start to imagine a process of therapy where my eyes don’t wander to a generic print on the wall of a doctor’s office but where part of the therapy is understanding the changes in a geophysical site that is both the interior and the milieu for my body.09 Another passage in Benjamin, from a dream diary: ‘I found myself standing in front of a map and, simultaneously, standing in the landscape which it depicted. The landscape was terrifyingly dreary and bare; I couldn’t have said whether its desolation was that of a rocky wasteland or that on an empty gray ground populated only by capital letters. These letters writhed and curved upon their terrain as if following mountain ranges; […] I knew or learned that I was in the labyrinth of my auditory canal. But the map was, at the same time, a map of hell’. 10


  • Walter Benjamin, ‘The Destructive Character’, Frankfurter Zeitung, 20 November 1931, available at (last accessed on 4 October 2022).
  • Georgia Sagri, Stage of Recovery, Brussels: Divided Publishing, 2021, pp.151–3. In the second of two identically titled pieces, both presented as letters, Sagri writes, ‘I am not going to eat the capitalist’s paradigm that through survival I will be able to live at some point.’ One of the ways this can be read is as pushback not to the politics of survival at issue for people and movements of the oppressed, but the way ‘survival’ is both reified and romanticised as the absolute horizon of contemporary life in the West, in mainstream ideology and cultural-critical discourse alike (‘hustle culture’, ‘crisis ordinariness’). If ‘precarity’ was an earlier buzzword that seemed to offer a possibility of solidarity between strata of the hyper-exploited, the category of ‘survival’ as a term of declassed disenchantment tends to occlude any political dimension. I explore this further in an upcoming book-length study. ‘Crisis ordinariness’ was coined by Lauren Berlant in Cruel Optimism, Durham and London. Duke University Press, 2011.
  • Georgia Sagri, ‘Case_L’, Kunsthalle Friart, Fribourg, Switzerland, 10 June–31 July 2022.
  • G. Sagri, ‘Spiritual anarchism’, in Stage of Recovery, op. cit., pp.151-3.
  • As a catalogued invasive species, the water hyacinth, plentiful in Athens (as I learned in conversation with the artist) can be deemed yet another ‘destructive character’ in the mise-en-scène of the show. Yet, as with other ostensibly self-evident terms such as ‘survival’, the designation ‘invasive’ is highly equivocal. The ongoing scientific debate is structured by charges of ‘denialism’ on the one hand and ‘nativism’ on the other, showing how the topos of native/alien both encompasses and is projected into ecological discourse – a point that critics of ‘eco-fascism’ have been underlining for a long time.
  • G. Sagri, Stages of Recovery, op. cit., p.79.
  • Karl Marx writes ‘Time is everything, man is nothing; he is, at the most, time’s carcass.’ The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847, available at (last accessed on 4 October 2022).
  • Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (trans. Robert Hurley), San Fransciso: City Lights, 1988, quoted in G. Sagri, ‘Performance Pathologies’, Case_L, Fribourg : Kunsthalle Friart, p.19.
  • Recent experience in a Berlin hospital where faded prints by the likes of Kandinsky and Toulouse-Lautrec line the walls of treatment rooms might have spurred these reflections
  • W. Benjamin, ‘Diary Entries, 1936’, 6 March 1938, in Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (ed.), Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings, Volume 3, 1935–1938, Cambridge MA and London, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002, pp.335–36.
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