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The Greece of Andre Masson July 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece, Arts Museums.
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The Basil and Elise Goulandris Museum on Andros island hosts an exhibition on the famous surrealist artist

The French surrealist painter Andre Masson once said that when, in a small study conducted within the surrealist movement during its early days, artists were asked to list the creatures of Greek mythology that interested them the most, they all cited the Minotaur. This deadly creature represented the instinctual forces that the surrealists sought to release in the hope of breaching the dominance of reason. For, according to their thinking, it was reason that had led to the impasse of Western civilization and the crisis of the interwar period.

Theseus was the figure of reason and the Minotaur the image of the beastly and of death. The labyrinth, a structure with psychoanalytical connotations as it also symbolized the delving into the unconscious, was the dangerous and often fatal path that man had to take in order to attain wisdom and liberation. The labyrinth offered no way out, yet, in surrealist utopian thinking, death and disaster were necessary for the birth of a new society. Life and death, violence and eroticism were the flip sides of the same reality.

The myth of the Minotaur captured human drama in all its range. As an artist at the core of the surrealist movement, Masson (1896-1987) was actually the one who introduced the mythical monster into surrealist iconography. Several years after his well-known “Massacre” scenes, in 1938 he painted “The Labyrinth,” a painting with complex visual symbolism. In this famous painting, a labyrinthine structure and other elements taken from nature fill the insides of a beastly figure, presumably the Minotaur, that towers against the background of a formidable, cosmogonical landscape.

The painting is one of the most impressive works of Masson presented at “Ancient Greece and Masson,” an exhibition held at the Basil and Elise Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art on Andros island. Vassilis Goulandris bought the painting in 1977 when the Andre Masson retrospective organized by New York’s Museum of Modern Art traveled to Centre Pompidou’s National Museum of Modern Art. Goulandris donated the painting to the Museum; its current display on Andros brings the story full circle.

The Andre Masson exhibition helps bring attention to an artist who, according to Didier Ottinger, chief curator of the Musee National d’ Art Moderne and co-curator of the Andros exhibition together with Guite Masson and Kyriakos Koutsomallis, was the most intellectual of the painters who were part of the surrealist movement.

In the early 1920s, Masson gathered with artists and intellectuals that went on to become leading figures in surrealism, among them Michel Leiris, Antonin Artaud, Georges Limbour and Joan Miro, in meetings that discussed the poetry of Rimbaud and Lautremont, the writings of Dostoevsky and the Marquis de Sade and the philosophy of Nietzsche which had a profound effect on their thinking and particularly on the work of Masson. The concept of the sublime as expressed in the romantic-symbolist tradition fitted the surrealist rejection of the rational and the concept of an artist as a visionary, while Freud’s analysis of the unconscious provided a theoretical basis for the technique of psychic automatism that the surrealists introduced in art.

Masson joined the surrealist movement in 1924, when it was officially founded by Andre Breton, who that same year bought Masson’s “Les Quatres Elements” at the artist’s first solo exhibition in Paris. The painting is one of the earliest expressions of Masson’s keen interest in pre-Socratic philosophy, particularly the thinking of Heraclitus. It also shows his passion for the philosophy of Nietzsche.

The Andros exhibition includes a wonderful portrait of the Greek philosopher that Masson painted in 1943 when he was living in New York. Like other European artists and Breton himself, he left Paris because of the war but returned in 1945. In those days, Masson was interested in Asian calligraphy and was inspired by the spiritual contact with nature that was inherent in Asian philosophy. His work had a profound effect on the American abstract expressionists.

This connection with nature, which in the New York period took on a certain mysticism, is latent in all of Masson’s works and underlies the themes of metamorphosis, violence and eroticism that dominate his work.

It is the dark, “Dionysiac” and “Nietzschean” aspect of Greek mythology that pervades the work of Masson. In the Andros exhibition drawings inspired by the fearsome Horses of Diomedes, the massacre of the Amazons or hideous monsters such as the Gorgons or the Minotaur unfold Masson’s perusal of Greek mythology. “Bataille and I dealt with the dark Greece, the pre-Classical Greece that was filled with abysses and ruins” he once wrote. “According to the Greek myth, the Minotaur is slain. In my version he is the victor, he kills anybody who enters the labyrinth.”

His paintings of violence corresponded with the thinking of Bataille who, for ideological reasons, broke off from the Breton circle in 1929, taking with him other dissident surrealist artists and intellectuals. Masson followed suit and his work, especially his “Massacre” series, was published in Documents, the periodical that expressed the group’s beliefs, their interest in the Jungian approach to civilization and their study of ethnology.

Together with Bataille, he also participated in the periodical Minotaure, a venture by the Greek publisher Stratis Elefteriadis-Teriade.

After a two-year stay in Spain (1934-1936) which enriched his depiction of the myth of the Minotaur with scenes inspired by bullfights, Masson collaborated with Bataille once more, this time in the newly released publication Acephale. Masson designed the cover of the magazine: He drew a headless human figure with a skull in place of the genitalia and a labyrinth for the intestines. The image is one of the most potent symbols of surrealism’s loss of faith in conventional power and the authority of logic. It contains all the violence and dark side that suffuses the work of Masson. But it also expresses the utopian and visionary thinking that lies behind his art. Through his work, Greece became the start for a more profound understanding of human nature and the inspiration for a liberated society.

“Ancient Greece and Masson” at the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art on Andros island, tel 22820 22444, to Sept 30. 

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Women in ancient Greek drama July 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece, Stage & Theater.
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Theorists and practitioners at Delphi approach the subject from every conceivable direction

Naked truth. Peter Kaghano-vitch as Castor and Pollux in Euripides’ ‘Electra’ and Valerie Dreville in Heiner Mueller’s ‘Medea Material’ directed by Anatoly Vasiliev, two productions that sparked debate about presenting the body on stage.

Images of the human body, brave, embattled, transcendent, were a keynote to the start of the XIII Meeting on Ancient Drama at the European Cultural Center of Delphi (ECCD) last Friday.

The arresting sculptures by Alexandra Athanassiades in her exhibition “Horses and Armor” explore the body’s fragility and durability. Metal on the verge of disintegration seems to morph into wood in the shape of limbs. Torsos of warriors, now intact, here battle-scarred but still indomitable, there ruined and rusted but still recognizable, reveal the vulnerability and strength of the body and of the notional person inside the armor.

The material itself, corroding and disintegrating, echoes the damage the warrior’s body has sustained. The artifacts, torso and armor, the thing itself and its representation, are an invitation to muse on the body and mutability.

“Heroines in Ancient Drama,” a small but evocative exhibition of costumes once worn by great performers opened the following day. The bodies may be absent but the costumes, all from the collection of the National Theater of Greece, possess a curious power, as if still inhabited, the aura of the actors almost tangible.

The explosive power of a body stripped yet totally dominant was the visual focus of the first performance, Heiner Mueller’s “Medea Material,” a monologue directed by Anatoly Vasiliev. In a production that paradoxically made half the audience fidget while riveting the other half to their seats, it wasn’t just the transparent phallus strapped to Medea’s naked body that compelled attention. Valerie Dreville gave a tour de force performance of a Medea with a mission who eventually crushes the phallus, releasing its flammable contents to burn two dolls and her costume. Does this reduce her to “a half-crazed children slayer” as Tony Harrison chides men for doing in his “Medea: A Sex-War Opera,” from which he read at Delphi?

When Vasiliev was asked if he saw Medea as a woman unhinged by grief, who destroys not only her own children but also their father’s ability to procreate, or as something more. “She’s a woman who transcends her destiny,” said Vasiliev, who sees Medea’s slaughter of her children not as revenge but “a sacrificial act.”

Director Hans-Guenther Heyme’s decision to make the chorus of Euripides’ “Electra” into a gaggle of giggling girls in bikinis was another choice that divided the spectators. Some stayed, others fled, many argued the toss the following day at the conference, in a rerun of the ongoing argument about just how much innovation is acceptable when staging the classics.

Opinions were so divided, participants couldn’t even agree on what they disagreed about,  that the post-play discussions were unusually productive.

Women in ancient drama is the theme of this year’s meeting, and artists, actors, directors and academics came at the subject from every conceivable direction. To mention just a few: Bettany Hughes examined the timeless appeal of Helen, that “incomparable mixture of Eros and Eris, love and strife” in her lively presentation “Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore.”

Oliver Taplin, using vase painting to demonstrate that much of what we think we know about Medea is recent invention, argued that the reason ancient Greek drama has such power for reinvention is that it already “contains the seeds of change, the potential for different and rival versions.” For instance, in some earlier versions of the story it is not even Medea who kills the children.

Judith Mossman looked at the problem of believing Cassandra whom “nobody ever believes except the audience” because they know their mythology.

The symposium ended yesterday, and the meeting continues with a tribute commemorating the 80th anniversary of the first Delphic festivals, more papers, workshops and performances by young theater troupes.

The final event takes the theme into the modern world with a two-day session, “The Tragic Heroine as a Symbol in Modern Society,” exploring the role of women in Western and Eastern society, jointly run with the Research Center for Gender Quality (KETHI).

Well-attended as always, this year’s meeting attracted a larger number of young people, including students and teachers of theater studies, performers and directors. The ECCD deserves congratulations for maintaining its high standards and broadening its base to attract future standard-bearers for Delphi.

OPAP cancels IT upgrade tender July 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy, Games & Gadgets.
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Europe’s biggest betting firm, Greece’s OPAP, canceled a tender to upgrade its IT unit, a key issue for the lottery’s future, the company said yesterday.

“OPAP’s board of directors… decided to cancel the tender,” the company said in a statement. “The cancellation does not affect the company’s operations.”

Greece’s lottery systems provider Intralot, Italy’s Gtech and US Scientific Games were competing in the tender, which was scheduled to expire mid-July.

OPAP launched a tender to upgrade its IT unit and secure 9,000 new terminals and maintenance services for its future growth in 2006 but objections by bidders delayed the process. Analysts say the cancellation of the tender would not affect the Greek betting monopoly’s current operations but would delay its future earnings growth opportunities from new activities.

OPAP said last month it was in talks with lottery systems provider Intralot to extend a current contract to provide the lottery with hardware and software for the operation of its flagship sports betting game Stoichima. The 65 euro-million deal with Intralot ends later in the month.

The lottery, 34 percent-owned by the state, has the exclusive right to organize sports bets and lotteries in Greece until 2020. Its shares trade about 14 times 2007 estimated earnings, compared with about 17 for British bookmakers Ladbrokes and 14 for William Hill, according to Reuters Estimates.

Tourist arrivals in Greece climb record high July 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Tourism.
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Foreign tourist arrivals in Greece broke an all-time record last year, although this year has a strong chance of setting an even higher one, according to preliminary data.

Conservative estimates put the arrivals for this year above 16 million for the first time ever.

National Statistics Service (NSS) figures put the number of tourists who came to Greece in 2006 at 15.7 million, while some 1.6 million foreigners came to Greece as economic migrants. From 1995 and for another eight years it was the Greek National Tourism Organization and not the NSS which calculated foreign arrivals, considering them all as tourists, thus misrepresenting the actual performance of Greek tourism. The idea was to hide the major crisis that tourism went through mainly in the 2001-2004 period.

In 2006 there was an 8.44 percent increase in tourism arrivals over 2005. Britons, Germans and Italians were the leaders among arrivals from Europe, who rose by 8.1 percent year-on-year. Sweden posted the biggest annual rise (35.5 percent), while the UK had a small decline (3.8 percent) from 2005. A significant increase came from the US, with 17.3 percent more tourists coming to Greece last year than in 2005.

Airport traffic focuses on Athens International Airport (23.1 percent), followed by Iraklion, Rhodes and Corfu. The biggest annual increases were recorded by Hania, Thessaloniki and Kos. Charter arrivals registered a 6.3 percent yearly rise. Nearly half of all charter flights came from the UK and Germany. However there was significant growth in charter flights from the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy and Sweden.

Separate data from the Athens Hoteliers Association (EXA) show that the Greek capital still has the lowest average revenue per available room compared to 10 rival metropolitan destinations in Europe. Athens remains low even though it improved its ranking with a 4.9 percent rise in hotel occupancy in May from a year earlier and 12.4 percent more revenue per room.

Cyprus’ CYTA profit up July 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Telecoms.
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Cyprus’ state-owned telephone operator CYTA said yesterday its pretax profit rose 29 percent in 2006 on the back of increased turnover and cost-containing measures.

Pretax profit rose to 93 million Cyprus pounds ($216.3 million) from 72 million in 2005. Operating costs were flat at 210 million pounds. The operator has faced increasing competition from independent operators in recent years but has maintained its market dominance in both mobile and fixed-line telephony. Total investment in 2006 was 54 million Cyprus pounds.

Experts urge prudent use of mobile phones July 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Health & Fitness, Telecoms.
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Health specialists recommended yesterday limiting the use of mobile phones, keeping the appliance away from children under the age of 16 and carefully choosing handsets in order to reduce the possible harm it could cause to users.

At a conference organized by the Athens Medical School and the Hellenic Society for Social Pediatrics and Health Promotion, experts pointed out the mixed messages coming from health professionals on the dangers of using a cell phone.

According to survey results presented yesterday, 76 percent of doctors said patients ask them whether mobile phones are safe but more than eight in 10 health professionals admitted to being poorly informed on the subject. Around 70 percent said there is evidence linking mobile phone usage with cancer.

Plan for a cooler city July 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Environment, Greece News, Nature.
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Less car use, more efficient buildings ‘will offset Parnitha fallout’

The damage wreaked on Mount Parnitha will have disastrous consequences for the air quality and temperatures in Athens unless crucial countermeasures are implemented, scientists and environmentalists told a press conference yesterday.

Until last month’s fire, Parnitha had functioned as the capital’s air conditioner, offsetting the heat emitted by some 2.5 million cars in Attica, experts said. “It is as if the number of cars in Athens doubled,” said Athens University professor Matthaios Santamouris. “The climate of our city will change.”

Santamouris, other academics and representatives of Greenpeace and WWF Hellas urged citizens to leave their cars at home and use public transport more often. They also proposed the extension of rail-based public transport networks. “If we curb the heat emitted by vehicles we may be able to win back part of what we lost on Parnitha,” Santamouris said.

Also high on the list of proposed countermeasures was the preservation of parts of the city that have not been built up. “No more new structures should be built in Athens. We don’t need any more, we can reuse existing buildings,” said Yiannis Polyzos, vice president of the National Technical University of Athens and president of the Urban Environment Laboratory. According to Polyzos, the undeveloped expanses of land in Athens have a surface area roughly equal to the 4,200-acre expanse of forestland burnt on Mount Parnitha.

The creation of more parks would also help, he said. Another measure that could bring down the temperature in the capital by at least a couple of degrees, according to experts, is the replacement of standard tiles on rooftops with special tiles that repel heat. Painting tiles a “cool” color like green was also suggested. The public sector needs to set the example here, experts agreed. An equally beneficial effect can be achieved if the same principle is applied to roads and sidewalks.

Environmentalists also urged authorities to adopt a European Union directive on the energy efficiency of buildings. Most Athens buildings do not repel heat effectively while also spewing more heat into the atmosphere due to excessive use of air conditioners.