Fourteen Greek artists in Vienna
They exhibit at the Austrian capital works inspired by a world that’s boiling, moments before its explosion.
A man in his pajamas climbs up his window and leaps into the void. The video of Dimitris Halatsis refers to the suicides committed since the outburst of the financial crisis in Greece.
Every morning for months now, M.M. steps up on his window sill, on the fifth floor of an Athenian apartment building, stares ahead motionless for a while and then leaps into the void. M.M. was certainly dead after his first fall. The constant repetition of the scene in a video by Dimitris Halatsis obviously refers to other similar events: the suicides that have become a massive phenomenon in Greece since the financial crisis erupted.
The title of the piece, “Death, or death”, expresses the dead end Greeks have been lead to by the troika and its local partners. It’s message: “Adieu” to the future and to hope, “bonjour” to sorrow and to leaps out the window. Halatsis’ installation – next to the video a human skull, peacock feathers and a sponge-looking coral – is presented at the exhibition of fourteen Greek artists at the Kuenstlerhaus gallery of Vienna (one of the most prominent galleries in the Austrian capital) under the title “Boiling point”.
The title is perfectly fitted to the event: exhibits signal a world that is on fire and is boiling, perhaps a moment before it actually explodes. The artists accelerate this explosion.
“Pissed” (off) is the title of Olympia Toptsidou’s work, a composition of metal, polyester, plastic roses, fake fur, pencil and handkerchief: the crisis is really getting on the nerves. Generally, though, the exhibition doesn’t illustrate in a simplistic manner, nor is it “political” in the denouncing sense of the term. Besides, it doesn’t need to be. Art, according to Theodor Adorno, criticizes the status quo through its own alternative form of existence, not by blatantly criticizing it.
This, of course, doesn’t stop art from reacting to political events, the same way it does to natural or social ones – through its own vocabulary and it’s own forms. Like the one Giannis Grigoriades uses in his piece “Identity points”. Namely, on the one hand are the identity points of fascist movements (insignia, crowns, torches, two-headed eagles, flags) and on the other hand are the points standing on the “dark side” of the internet, in other words on-line intelligence propaganda. Their combination, as the artist himself remarks, redefines the fears of modern society as dictated by politics on the basis of an old motto by Walter Benjamin: “Every upraise of fascism implies an unsuccessful revolution”.
Politics and “vandalisms”
Practicing new ways to read. Like the one proposed for reading the Greek Constitution (2008 version) in Costas Basanos’ work “Constitutional White”: 164
all-white, A4-sized pages, which is as many as the countries constitutional map, placed on the floor in rows forming a rectangular. This is “a horizontal reading of politics and power implementation” as mentioned in a somewhat vague explanatory note.
However, it is a fact that in this “concept-art without concepts”, the visitor can “read” whatever she or he wants: from everything to nothing. And imagine that for governmental elites, the Constitution has always been – even more now, at the peak of the crisis – a piece of paper void of any meaning. Beware, the cannibals are amongst us! Leading them is Nikos Giavropoulos, who in his work “The Fall” video-projects the image of a living person on an ancient bust that has fallen on the floor. “Vandalizing” this way, as he says, the classical heritage, he shows the collapse of contemporary Greek society. The shape of the betrayal: eleven “neon” light-sticks by Babis Karalis, two set against the wall, the rest on the floor, refer, as the artists notes, to Judas’ absence. An escape for nothing – his absence makes the betrayal more intense.
Many other exhibits are political, even if they do not relate to the latest news. For example, the triptych “Suspect of guilt” by Eva Marathaki, that detects the fears of people facing the judiciary, as this is imprinted in the blindfold of a female prisoner.
The presentation of contemporary issues on a Byzantine background is reminiscent of the method developed usefully in the last few years by Maria Rigoutsou in Cologne.
Politics are indirectly present in Anneta Spanoudaki’s piece “Globalization was a lie” – a map of Athens as three-dimensional model. “The map for me is the only ground,» she explains. And properly adjusted, the map transmits to the viewer the intensity of the real space it depicts.
Other works use politics as a starting point, such as the “Window” by Ireni Bahlitzanaki, the poetic landscapes of Thodoris Zafeiropoulos, the geometrical compositions of Giannis Ganas, or the “Black lake” by Dimitris Fourtis. But great timeless values, such as creative work and respect for the environment, that these works of art defend, standing against the troika and its followers, give them not only a timeless, but also an immediate political value.
Eventually, of course, a piece with contemporary political context is the one that stands out: “Breath” by Andreas Vousouras, is a mirror within which a video is projected. The video shows the face of a man covered with a plastic bag – the same way prisoners’ heads were covered in the American concentration camp in Guantanamo or the Iranian prison of Abu Ghraib. The man is trying to breathe. He can barely do so, though. At the end, he stops breathing. Together with his breath, stops, at least for a moment, the audience’s breath.
By Nikos Heilas
“To Vima” newspaper, Art & Culture section, 12/08/2012