IN THE HEART of Athens, on the 7th floor of a typically grungy inner city block of flats, you will find a real gem of an alternative art space, where contemporaneity of all forms and mediums features in the show ‘Love and Disaster in Athens’ these days. The works of 32 artists were selected after the art space’s open call, and have been ingeniously curated into a poignant critique and appraisal of what makes Athens tick and trip, trip up and tumble, sometimes even all in the same work. The tragic ironies and even the tragicomedy of this city are indeed given the spotlight. And to be able to discern the pitfalls as well as the glories of any given situation or city, is progress, even if it means also focusing on this city’s sometimes burdening cultural heritage.
It’s hard to escape antiquity in Athens, seeing as it’s everywhere: from the ancient ruins to the artefacts in the museums. Just a glance from the rooftop of this art space proves my point: there you will find a magical view of the Acropolis. Out with the old and in with the new isn’t really an option in Athens. So antiquity or references to it, obviously feature quite a bit even today in the Athenian art scene, although contemporary artists are trying to find new ways of exploring this fundamental component of Athens, and of Greece in general. In this show for example, artist Dionysios Pappas has chosen to burn it, by presenting us with 40 burnt prints of the marble head of Venus. In Loula Leventi’s collages, you will find the Greek ideal of beauty, contrasting with the reality of today. In Makis Kyriakopoulos’ video work, the ‘Victory of Samothrace’ appears. “Niki is a symbol that I use very often the last three years. For me, it is the depiction of Deus Ex Machina, in the upcoming era of ‘technological singularity”, explains the artist. His video work presents a love letter from an AI system, to its object of desire, its human operator.
But there’s much more to see in this show which has nothing to do with antiquity, and everything to do with what contemporary Athens is all about. Because in essence, if you strip it of its ancient glory, Athens is yet another modern metropolis, facing all the problems that its mix of people and cultures can create, especially when it comes to the hazards of love. Take for example Alexandros Mavrogiannis’ video work ‘Ashtray’, with its exploration of victim and victimizer in the game of seduction. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you the plot, because it is definitely worth seeing for yourselves. “The work was inspired by today’s isolation, ‘instant’ social contacts, use of substances and the vulnerability of the human condition when it spirals out of control. And when it does, victim and victimizer can easily switch places”, explains the artist.
Love and disaster merge also in Andromachi Giannopoulou’s ‘Crash’, depicting a woman face down on the pavement, after having tripped. This work was created after the artist put pen to paper and came up with the following thoughts: “Every day that I don’t meet you by chance on the street, adds to my daily demise. I might have missed you for a few seconds. You might be turning a corner just before I appear. And the most tragic of all, is that even if I had seen you, and had met you, I would have done nothing and (what a disaster!!!) you would have done nothing too. Astrid Gilberto’s singing from a window. On the steps of Kolonaki, I tripped and fell from Lykavittos, falling down in my attempt to reach you. I broke on the pavement, my cd player broke, and the cd splintered into tiny mirrors, in which I see the sky and the seagulls that came to town to eat garbage because the fish in the sea are lessening. And I’m eating pavement.”
Athens is full of seedy corners, complete with lurid lighting, and dodgy canteens. Andreas Spinos’ work ‘Send 3’, depicts one such corner in Perama. Archeologist-Museologist Dora Evangelou describes Spinos’s artistic project, of which this work is part of: “A walk at night through the neighbourhoods of Athens with a photographic lens as our guide. Images of the capital which take us back in time and place, with routes through old houses of folk architecture, refurbished neoclassical buildings, industrial facilities into new use and modern architectural creations, all of which are elements of the local historic memory and the modern cultural heritage which build a dialogue amongst heterogeneous elements. Human presence is either stated clearly or insinuated through, the unfailing in time, human creativity and self-expression.”
The verticality of the urban landscape is explored by Iliana Theodoropoulou, while children play in some forgotten, rundown corners of town, in Babis Pilarinos’ fresco. And there’s lots more, from poetry written on flats (Anastasia Zoi Souliotou), graffiti (Kiveli Zachariou), an abandoned giant teddy bear (Alexandros Mavrogiannis), a pink woolen gun (Afroditi Anastasopoulou), and cupid’s shadow (Annette Luycx). Plus one of the city’s many stray dogs (Alexandra Mainta), and a focus on the homeless (Lina Bebi).
Last but by no means least, let me mention the work of Geeta Roopnarine, which my work‘Sails I’, had the honour of being placed next to. Geeta is truly a fascinating artist, whose work will feature at FokiaNou in another show later on in the year. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, a graduate of the Athens School of Fine Art, but also of Goldsmiths, Geeta’s work lies within the intersection of art, science and technology. Themes that run through her work include transformation, ambiguity and exploration of the inner self. The three works included in the current show, present both how Athens can be about love (the lights of Athens have been transformed into Mondrian-inspired works), but also disaster (where Geeta manages to digitally manipulate an image of the houses of parliament and turn it into an image that resembles the sea). This is what the artist has to say about the latter: “Living in Greece (before the crisis) and speaking to people I have a sense that we, the citizens are not told the truth or that the truth is manipulated at times when citizens are blamed with the state of affairs here or they are told things which have no bearing on the actual circumstances and are pushed towards believing in an utopia or having a surreal sense that things are fine while beneath the various layers there are forces which will influence things for generations to come and we are herded towards a state of denial (we think we are at the beach (the parallia)) and go on having a good time and do not prepare ourselves to compete with the rest of the world.”
As you can see, the show ‘Love and Disaster in Athens’, is an exciting mix of mediums and perspectives, on this ever-challenging city, that manages to seduce us with its ancient charm and sea views, while it destroys us in other ways…
• ‘Love and Disaster in Athens’, runs till Feb 1. Open Thurs-Sat, 5-8pm. Address: 24 Fokianou St, 7th floor. (nearest metro stop: Evangelismos).