An Empire (2023)

An Empire is a multi-year research project by artists Richard Hancock and Litsa Kiousi.

Drawing on their very different and complex relationships to European identity — Hancock as a UK national, and Kiousi as a Greek citizen, both residing for well over a decade in Germany — the artists endeavour to explore the histories, atrocities, presents and futures of empire building. Together they ask how these practices may be identified, articulated, subverted and resisted.

Britain and Greece, respectively, led the single largest empire and one of the oldest empires in the world. Coming from these two nations, Hancock and Kiousi are acutely aware of the privilege and damage which European empire building has accorded. Yet this is not a purely historical process. The ramifications of these practices extend from the past into the contemporary moment, and into the future. The ambitions of empire building continue to shape the world. The 2016 decision of the UK to exit from the EU was fuelled by a nostalgia for empire and a national refusal to accept responsibility for, or educate on, the realities of history. In the same moment, the EU itself was also concerned with the ring-fencing of wealth, borders, and ideologies; led by the very nations, and on the very lands, which divided continents into colonies and ‘protectorates’. Since that time, Europe has itself returned to a state of war on its own lands.

Throughout An Empire, the artists map the tide of European history, propose questions around their place in the contemporary world, and exchange experimental scores for a future. Through a collaborative dialogue that continually exchanges the poetic and the concrete, the artists create a world where the complexity of contemporary existence in a modern empire resonates. It is an urgent enquiry into the future of a world balancing on the dangerous brink of repetition.

Empires have notoriously asserted their authority through paper decrees, logbooks, false testimonies and fictionalised accounts. Hancock and Kiousi have amassed an armada of over a thousand paper boats, and built a series of images tracking the seven stages of empire identified by the British and Jordanian General and military historian, Sir John Bagot Glubb (AKA Glubb Pasha):

The Age of Pioneers | The Age of Conquests | The Age of Commerce

The Age of Affluence | The Age of Intellect | The Age of Decadence

The Age of Decline & Collapse

Invoking Glubb’s lament for empire, Hancock and Kiousi present a roadmap of failure and destruction, and a counter-narrative for nostalgia.

Investigating the notion of the ‘papers of the empire’, as the material through which empires have commonly attained, consolidated, and perpetuated their powers and legacies, Hancock and Kiousi have developed a ‘performance- in-print’ in seven acts; a boxed edition of photographs, texts, and material traces of their artistic processes, that may be revealed and performed through an individuated encounter with the viewer. The event of the performance moves away from the communal viewing of bodies on stage, to an individuated encounter between an audience and the boxed edition, which requires the viewer to perform multiple gestures of unwrapping, unfolding, and unravelling in order to unpack the colonial histories contained within.

The seven acts of An Empire unfold over a series of 22 photographic scenes, and a text — written in Ojibwe — by the artist Isaiah Lopaz. While the ordering of the scenes suggest a clear path from coercion to chaos, the plates remain unbound and open to reinterpretation and reconfiguration by the viewer. Each scene holds a moment of knowledge, longing, and desire that may be pulled from the ashes of history as a meditation on loss, damage and deception.

An Empire: A Performance-in-Print in 7 Acts, 2022

Supported by Fonds Darstellende Künste with funds from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media within the program NEUSTART KULTUR.

With additional support from Theaterhaus Berlin, and Tanzfabrik.