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Destroy Athens, says biennial February 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Arts Exhibitions Greece.

An alternative art event looks at contemporary life in a metropolis tornbetween negative stereotypes and its ancient myth

In 2007, Athens will be hosting its first contemporary art biennial. Via its chosen theme, Destroy Athens, this event will present an alternative perspective on a metropolis that still plays on its own ancient myth, despite the fact that it is seriously suffering from ‘modern ailments’.

The first Athens Biennial, curated by Xenia Kalpaktsoglou, director of the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art, journalist Augustine Zenakos and artist Poka Yio, and directed by art historian Marieke van Hal, has set its opening date for September 10, with Deutsche Bank as its main sponsor. Around 50-60 artists will participate, mostly international names, with around 10 to 15 Greek artists included. More information about the artists and venues involved will be announced in the coming months. The organisers talked about their project in the making.

The Athens Biennial has recently published Suggestions for the Destruction of Athens: A Handbook. This is a series of excerpts from diverse pieces of literature and publications beginning with Ezra Pound, “This thing, that hath a code and not a core”, moves on to a host of quotes from, among others, art historians, intellectuals, politicians, journalists and even actors such as Woody Allen. This rather puzzling manifesto of sorts is meant to be “an elliptical narrative, which can be read cover to cover as a progression through various realisations and instances of disillusionment. It is a kind of guide to the exhibition concept,” explain the organisers.

Marieke van Hal has previously worked as senior curator at Montevideo/TBA, the Netherlands Media Art Institute and general coordinator of the International Foundation Manifesta, European Biennial of Contemporary Art.

She says: “When introducing a new biennial in a new city, it makes sense to start with and choose a concept that is closely related to its location. Athens, or Greece in general, carries many pillars, democracy, philosophy, language/dialogue, to name a few, of our Western society, and with Destroy Athens the curators will reinvestigate and discuss some of the fundamental things that have formulated our identity of today. So, in this sense Destroy Athens can be seen as a metaphor for a wide range of present issues.

“At the same time, one can interpret the theme more concretely, looking at contemporary life in Athens, negative stereotypes related to the city like the traffic, pollution, permanent demonstrations, lack of greenery and space, stressed people, versus the positive stereotyping or utopia of the ancient past of Greece, which is the most familiar image projected abroad and symbolised in the cultural products that echo the great history of Greek culture and civilisation. These two sides have a lot of interesting aspects, which make them ideal for discussing how self-perception and the perception of others are interconnected in determining a sense of identity and social behaviour.”

As far as the Greek contemporary art scene is concerned, journalist Augustine Zenakos, of To Vima and To Vima tis Kyriakis, believes that “younger contemporary artists seem to worry less about traditional norms and the quasi-nationalistic hangups of their predecessors and more about conversing in a language that is increasingly common and supra-national”. One such younger contemporary artist is Poka Yio, also involved in the biennial: “I am happy that we the biennial team have done quite an unorthodox entry in this biennial system,” states the artist, whose own views on Athens were recently shown via a series of works entitled Shitty City, at the Gazonrouge. Furthermore, Poka Yio’s view of the Athens School of Fine Arts, where he studied, is that it is a “fata morgana. From afar it glows like a mystical Shangri-La for hundreds of young Greek artists, but when they manage to enter it the disillusionment is totally devastating.”

The Athens Biennial will run in close collaboration with the Istanbul Biennial, which opens on September 8. The Athens Biennial organisers have also teamed up with the Lyon Biennial, opening later in September, to organise a reception in Venice during the opening days of the Venice Biennial, king of biennials, next June. However, what about a possible collaboration with the first Thessaloniki Biennial, due to run next May. “We are open to a collaboration with this biennial as well, and we await their proposal,” say the Athens Biennial organisers.

The organisers stress that with close to 100 biennials in the world today, the Athens Biennial aims at being medium-sized and an autonomous non-profit organisation, as are most biennials. Yet with the Deste Foundation’s director being involved, there could be some overlaps with the events of the foundation. Curator Kalpaktsoglou says: “We, the Deste, are planning to have quite a few new productions specifically for the biennial.” She also believes that the Dakis Joannou collection itself could also be a point of reference for some artists. The 5th Deste Prize for contemporary Greek artists is also scheduled for May 2007. As for the future plans of the foundation, it is working on the development of a reference-only, specialised art library, which will be open to the public in the near future.

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