far near centre

twelve positions in contemporary Greek art


The Charm of the Archaic

     The twelve artists invited to Munich were all born between 1950 and 1970 - members of a generation which leads a cosmopolitan existence but has nevertheless remained in touch with its roots. These are people who may live in Athens or in the provinces and then spend a few years in Berlin, London, Madrid or New York, before returning home or maybe - who knows? - deciding to stay abroad. Are they engaged in a quest for identity, a sense of belonging somewhere between Brussels and the Bosporus? The answer is no: self-definition is simply not an issue for any of these twelve artists, including those who have opted for exile. Their work bears no relation to the problems of the migrant worker or the politically correct discourse of marginalised minorities.

     From a German perspective, the attitude of these artists towards their origins appears surprisingly uncomplicated, at times quite playful, yet highly subtle. This stance is epitomised by the exhibition's guest curator, Françoise Heitsch, herself of Greek extraction, born in Istanbul and resident for many years in Munich: her selection of the positions featured in the exhibition exemplifies precisely the dichotomy between, on the one hand, the urge to preserve an unproblematic Greek identity on the geographical, cultural and political edge of Europe, and on the other, the promotion of a critical, self-reflexive spirit which emphasises precisely the detachment from fixed identities that provides this exhibition with its provocative focus - comparing Athens with Munich as cities with "constructed" histories, on which neo-classicism and philhellenism have imposed their visual stamp.

     The range of exhibits, chosen with meticulous precision, extends from videos and staged photographs to the classic genres of painting and sculpture, though with a certain bias towards conceptual approaches. The latter emphasis is not a mere function of the curators' programmatic preferences: it reflects a kind of fundamental uneasiness, a mistrust which appears deeply rooted in the Greek soul, about the medium of painting, which has become so popular in the country's folk art. Different as they may be, the twelve positions in this exhibition all manifest the same contempt for superficial aesthetic effects, the same rejection of the desire for easily consumable artistic events, the same refusal to employ glamour and happiness as sources of cheap provocation. It will be interesting to observe the dialogue between the works and installations, the employees of the European Patent Office who work on the premises, and members of the public and visitors from outside.

to the art works

     Meditative power is combined with skilled craftsmanship in the intricate structure of whisper thin paper cut-outs, running up to the ceiling, which the Cretan artist Nikos Alexiou has installed as a site-specific sculpture. Sheer sensual greed and crude voyeurism characterise the creatures of Xenophon Bitsikas, which are tormented by their own desires and inspire a certain voyeuristic curiosity in the viewers themselves, leaving them with an uncomfortable sense of being caught in flagranti when inspecting the pictures. Echoes of mythological, religious and philosophical archetypes are to be found in the tangle of threads by the Cypriot Andreas Savva which burgeons uncontrollably into the surrounding space and envelops everything in its path, and in George Lappas' sculpture, combining archaic lumps of meat with pieces of monumental furniture made of translucent film, which plays with the Platonic concept of mimesis. These images, charged with apocalyptic significance, are juxtaposed with slyly ironic references to the heroic figures of Greek national culture (Maria Callas, the Iliad) in the work of Angelos Papadimitriou or the sharply comic miniatures by the Berlin based sculptor Thrafia, with figures reminiscent of music-hall tableaux vivants which are artfully imbued with dramatic coherence. Soft textures with a strong sensual appeal (velvet, pillow feathers and candyfloss) and a kind of raw matriarchal presence, deliberately arranged but not pitilessly exposed to the public gaze, are combined in the work of Katerina Tsekoura with a poignant revelation of vulnerability and lost innocence. These archaic models contrast sharply with the coolly analytical and classically composed photographs of Panos Kokkinias, showing the cityscapes through which the modern nomad wanders, restless and forlorn. Quite different ideas about space are found in the video works of Vassiliea Stylianidou, who lives in Berlin. Here, humanity is semi-virtual and semi-real, and is already dematerialised.

     Half-concealed in the external area around the European Patent Office there are two site specific installations which build, each in its own way, on the conceptual framework defined by the exhibits inside. Aemilia Papaphilippou's complex and skilfully assembled needle sculpture is complemented by the sound installation of Zaphos Xagoraris, an artist currently working in New York, who experiments with the origins and resonance of bell chimes and humorously challenges the viewer's perceptions of time and space. One of the artists, Christos Prossylis, is only present via a website, on which visitors can communicate with him directly in the exhibition. His artistic conception is based on the idea of the post modern community of net-citizens, but refers back to the era of the original Olympic Games, when culture was an integral part of the sporting events. Prossylis incorporates the contributions of his virtual visitors into an overall project, the so-called "Cultural Games", which he puts on public display.




web site created by Christos Prossylis on June 2004