Sunday, 25 May 2008
'DISCO COPPERTONE' IN ATHENS, TEXT BY PLB IN FROG MAGAZINE ISSUE 6
Piraeus Port, Athens
September 7, 2007 to October 12, 2007
Text by Pablo Leon de la Barra
Installation photos by Pablo Leon de la Barra
Last May, while in Athens, I went with Maria Thalia Carras to visit the site where Locus Athens, the curatorial agency she directs with Sofia Tournikiotis, would organize their next exhibition: a passengers terminal in the port of Piraeus from where tourists board their cruises to travel around the Mediterranean. I was surprised by the location: they couldn’t have chosen a more characterless place. The port station is what Marc Auge called a ‘non-place’, a generic space for the transit and circulation of passengers, but also a spaces of parenthesis, of a shared solitude and of a shared identity as tourists. If Athens is the city where it’s impossible to ignore the presence of the Acropolis, and where there’s always a connection with the origins of Western civilization, then choosing to do an exhibition in Piraeus is an attempt to escape this weight of history through the non-place. If recent contemporary aesthetic production in Athens has been marked in most cases by a fascination with neo-figuration or with the destruction, fracture and fragmentation of these figurations, that the exhibition happens in a non-place, opens the door for other type of discourses to be presented and examined.
Since it was founded in 2004, Locus Athens has had a non-space, and organized exhibitions, events, talks and publications without having a physical exhibition location. This has given them the flexibility to adapt their projects to the context and to create a critical dialogue with and within Athens. Past projects have included, a video-tea night, a book on art for children, an exhibition in which Dan Perjovschi drew on walls of a school, a publication and a series of performances by Greek artists including Poka-Yio and Yorgos Sapountzis in different public spaces in Athens, the production of Los Super Elegantes ‘Nothing Really Matters’ video and a concert with them in the rooftop of a hotel where they performed an aquatic ballet, a manifestation against abstract public sculpture in Athens together with a celebration of the Greek mustache, among other things.
Back in Athens in September, I took a taxi to the ferry station where the exhibition was taking place. Upon entering the station, my first stop was the café of the station where a group of people were gathered. To my surprise, they were not art people watching an art video, but normal users, mostly port workers having dinner and watching the news. I continued towards the station’s lobby, there in a shop called ‘Heaven on Earth’, Aleksandra Mir continued her investigation on tourism and the production of multiples, by inserting a series of tourist products designed by her which made reference and played with travelers expectations within the Greekland: bags with images of the Three Graces, T-shirts printed with a design of two classic men wrestling for Justice, and mugs containing an inscription reading ‘I love Greece’.
Inside the passengers terminal, in the hall where tourists wait in line for their passports to be stamped before boarding the cruise, there are two works that totally modify the space (which before only had some posters promoting tourism to the Greek Islands), transforming through interventions the ‘non-place’ into a place: this works provide decoration, distraction and comfort for the tourist, returning him from the abstract non-place to a sensation of being somewhere else. Olaf Nicolai has covered the columns and the passport control booths with posters with the colours of the rainbow blurring into each other. With this he has transformed an aggressive place of surveillance into a friendly place. Meanwhile, Nikos Alexiou has created a curtain that runs all along the space, next to the luggage conveyor belt. The curtain is made of sewn and dyed table-cloths from Greek tavernas and dyed in the different tones and shades of the Greek sea and sky. The curtain anticipates the shining reflections of the sea and sky. Both posters and curtain act like hypnotic mantras in which the mind can get lost from the boredom of waiting within the terminal. Nearby a work by Ian Kier, a giant inflatable plastic ball covered with gold liked the one used in Greek icons, waits for the bored tourists to come and play with it.
Three other works avoid the tourists desire for escapism and further reveal the fissures of the non-place, creating connections and providing for a critical dialogue with more subtle and hidden yet still present layers in the passengers terminal. It is in the empty space of the non-place where the mind searches for understandable signs in order to orientate itself, it might be also here where the mind is more receptive to codified messages. In the background one can hear the lyrics ‘Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true…’. The soundtrack for the terminal and the exhibition was part of Christodoulos Panayiotou’s video documentation of his performance ‘To Be Willing to March into Hell for a Heavenly Cause’ which took place a few days before the opening of the exhibition on a boat leaving Piraeus Port where handsome Danish singer Kristian Finne Kristensen sang 7 songs from American musicals produced during the Cold War. All the songs, like ‘The sun will come out tomorrow’ from Annie, ‘When you walk through a storm’ from Carousel, ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz, etc. sang about a better future through climatological metaphors. The work was complemented by screenings of American utopian musicals shown on ships traveling from the port. The songs and musicals reminds us of the romantic and comforting power of the cold war feel-good propaganda, so different from today’s media fascination with celebrities, and the distraction with global warming and the dramas, tragedies, kidnappings and murders of common people, used to distract common people of the bigger picture of today’s Hot and Holy War.
From the ceiling of the terminal hang Carolina Caycedo’s flags created out of the crossover of different national identities. While some of the flags allude to her own identity as British citizen born of Colombian parents, or as a Colombian married to a Puerto Rican, others are a direct comment to the political and territorial context of Greece, specifically a Greek-Albanian and a Greek-Turkish-Cypriot flag. The fact that the flags are hung in a real space, and not in the safe white space of a gallery or a museum, provoke an instant reaction. Caycedo’s flags are immediately torn down and confiscated by the hot but tough military guards in charge of the security of the port. Caycedo’s flags remind us of art’s potential to effectively affect the world existing outside of the art world. In a highly nationalistic Greek context, this kind of art games are seen as a violation of the nation’s sovereignty and a sign of disrespect towards the national symbols. Needless to say, the attempts to exhibit or recover the flags were ineffective. Words are exchanged with the passionate military guards remind the curators that there is only one Greek flag, and that in the past Albanians have violated Greek women. The response by one of the curators, that in the past Greek men have also violated Albanian woman, seems to have no effect on the military.
The last work of the exhibition is a slide show narrative presented as vacation diaporama. A project by Mario Garcia Torres, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ is an homage to Martin Kippenberger’s relationship with the Greek Island of Syros. The narrative begins in a kind of naïve tone, explaining us the islands and who Kippenberger was, a reminder that the immediate public of the exhibition, is not an art public, but a general public, many who might have never entered a contemporary art museum or know or are interested in knowing who Kippenberger was. Similar to the tourists and travelers searching for escape in the Greek islands, it was there where Kippenberger liberated himself. In Syros he established MOMAS, The Museum of Modern Art Syros which he founded in 1993 in the structure of an abandoned and unfinished cement abattoir. Kippenberger was the director and curator of MOMAS’ and he invited his friends Ulrich Strotjohann, Johannes Wohnseifer, Stephen Prina, Cosima Von Bonin, Christopher Williams, Michel Majerus, Heimo Zobernig, and Christopher Wool to exhibit there. Similar to other projects done by Garcia Torres, here he re-examines past narratives in order to expand their meaning and make them relevant to contemporary culture and larger realm. For this exhibition, Garcia Torres, in Kippenberger style, produced a series of posters, which were pasted around Athens, and in which he stands next to the sea pointing towards the museum inviting people to his exhibition. With this, Garcia Torres reactivated MOMAS, now transformed into a wastewater treatment plant, and exhibited within the building some early works he had never made together with other pieces related to museum stories.
Contrary to what its name suggests in Disco Coppertone there is no reflecting disco balls or sun protection lotion. Disco Coppertone offers no art escapism through holiday evasion, but provides through the transformation of a non-place into a temporary space of exhibition, for a space of transition and thought on the role of art, institutions, public and artists… All this happening before one boards his cruise or returns to Athens to view more ruins…