Cultural Diplomacy and Artwashing at Documenta in Athens

206


Thierry Geoffrey, “Is Documenta the botox of late capitalism?” (2017), (image courtesy of the artist)

ATHENS — The auspicious arrival of Documenta 14 in Greece earlier this year has so far met considerable controversy in a country still coming to terms with the 2008 financial crisis, social unrest, and the ongoing issue of refugees entering the country’s porous southern Mediterranean border. Athens stood out as a curious choice for Documenta right from the start, immediately spurring speculative criticism since the announcement nearly five years ago that it was to be split between its usual host city in Kassel and the Greek capital. Entitled Learning from Athens — a concept developed by artistic director, Adam Szymczyk, with a team of six other curators the exhibition features the work of over 160 artists, set over 100 days, spread across nearly 40 venues, including most notably the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), the Athens Conservatoire (Odeion), the Benaki Museum and the Athens School of Fine-Arts.

Issa Touma “Nine Days — From My Window in Aleppo” (2012) (film still), Artists at Risk pavilion (photo by Sol Prado)

After a controversial 2010 bailout package brought relations between Germany and Greece to a new low, organizers had said they hoped the festival would help mend relations between the two countries. However, the undertaking has largely failed to appeal to locals, and in the process has even alienated some. According to Yanis Varoufakis, the enigmatic former Greek finance minister who stepped down after pressure from European leaders forced Greece to accept harsh austerity measures in exchange for an international bailout package in 2015, Documenta’s arrival was nothing more than “crisis tourism.” During a talk held at the 6th Moscow Biennale he suggested that Documenta’s placement in the Mediterranean country was both a political and cultural gimmick, unpropitious and a blight on the Greek people:

I have to say that I am not very happy about the idea that part of Documenta will take place in Athens — it is like crisis tourism. It’s a gimmick by which to exploit the tragedy in Greece in order to massage the consciences of some people from Documenta. It’s like rich Americans taking a tour in a poor African country, doing a safari, going on a humanitarian tourism crusade. I find it unhelpful both artistically and politically.

Issa Touma, “After United” (2017) series, Artists at Risk pavilion (photo by Sol Prado)

During the opening press conference held on April 6, Szymczyk nevertheless stated that organizers had a political responsibility, “there is a large untapped potential when visitors come together for an exhibition — a political potential,” he stated.

However, Documenta’s integrity at the local level began to seriously unravel after alienating the Athens Biennale, despite sharing an office building with the team. When it was first announced that Documenta 14 was to take place in Athens, there were several joint press conferences and public appearances held with the Athens Biennale team. Initially, the Athens Biennale was supposed to be one of the main collaborators and partners, but later this relationship soured as the oleaginous Documenta staff began to poach some of the Athens Biennale workers. Besides this, there were murmurings of Documenta using neoliberal practices such as employing their own invigilators as art laborers. What’s more, after two weeks on the job, these invigilators hired for Documenta 14 were informed that their wages would be decreased from a promised €9/hour to €5.62/hour, in a move described by the administration as a “misunderstanding.” In response to these and other issues, an Athenian group of anthropologists organized by Eleana Yalouri, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Anthropology at Panteion University, and Elpida Rikou, an instructor at the Athens School of Fine Arts and TWIXTlab developed a parody research group called “Learning from Documenta.”

Artur Żmijewski “Glimpse” (2016–17) digital video transferred from 16 mm film, black-and-white, no sound, approx. 20 minutes (photo courtesy of Documenta 14)

However, since the crisis, Greece’s 270 public museums have seen their budgets considerably slashed, and austerity has noticeably pinched Greece’s other areas of the cultural sector where funds remain scarce. One of the main positives of Documenta’s arrival in Athens is that the organization brought with it cold hard cash that was invested in local cultural infrastructure, and to Documenta’s credit, they decided to work with cash-strapped public museums, rather than private entities. For example, Documenta restored an EMS Synthi 100, a rare analog synthesizer manufactured in 1971, which had been in disrepair for over twenty years and is now situated at the Megaron. There was significant cash made available through Documenta’s presence: the €37 million budget allocated for Documenta 14 was split evenly between Kassel and Athens. Apart from the free rent of public venues in Athens, no funding came from the Greek state or the city of Athens itself. In addition, Documenta brought with it a wealth of experience and an international team including Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, founder of Berlin’s influential Savvy Gallery, an expert with considerable experience exploring how intersections of colonialism, power, and representation function within art.

In one of Documenta’s strongest stand-alone works, Ross Birrell’sThe Athens-Kassel Ride(2017), a mobile performance project takes place over the 100 days of the exhibition, during which two equestrian riders invited by the artist will travel the distance from Athens to Kassel on horseback, mapping what Birrell has called a “vagabond trail” through Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, and Germany. The project takes as a point of departure the idea of the mythical Greek god Hermes, the god of commerce, theft, music, and border crossings. Tracing the relational and metaphorical connections between the Balkans and Western Europe, Schengen and non-Schengen countries, the project also mirrors the migrational passage of many asylum seekers who make their way westward to Europe’s more prosperous countries, like Germany.

Marta Minujin “Untitled Performance” (2017) (© Mathias Voelzke)

Another performance that gained considerable attention was Marta Minujín’s “Payment of Greek debt to Germany with olives and art” (2017). In it, Minujín, dressed up like Angela Merkel on the opening day of Documenta in Athens, serving olives to passersby while reciting a speech entitled “Angela” in which she agreed to write off Greece’s debt in exchange for the olives. While the performance bordered on being flippant, it appeared to me intended to awaken political consciousness within the sanctified space of the museum, though in a way that appeared naive and flat.

Alexandra Pirici, performance of “Parthenon Marbles” (2017) (image courtesy of Alexandra Masmanidi)

Performance was on full display both inside the official Documenta program and outside it. In a parallel project organized by Future Climates entitled theParthenon Marbles (2017), artist Alexandra Pirici and writer Victoria Ivanova examine the controversial request for the repatriation of marbles taken by Lord Elgin from the Acropolis in Athens to the British Museum in 1801. The work takes the form of a choreographed ensemble presenting an immaterial speculative dance performance and journey into a “what if” scenario if the marbles were repatriated to Greece. Yet it was unclear what the project’s intended aims were — other than perhaps commenting on the role played by cultural imperialism in exhibitions like Documenta.

Pathway leading to Artists at Risk pavilion outside Omonia Square (photo by Sol Prado)

Artist Thierry Geoffroy, aka the Biennalist, trolled organizers at the opening press conference, wearing his signature blue United Nations Peacekeepers helmet, asking to what extent, if any, organizers had exercised self-critique. Archived under the hashtag #Documentasceptic, Geoffroy’s Instagram exploded during the opening press conference with the artist posting amusing images including one that asked “is Documenta the botox of capitalism?” At a book launch by artist and comedian Olav Westphalen, co-editor of Dysfunctional Comedy (2016), the artist discussed how biennals have been used to artwash crises. Often interspersing witty criticism with analysis of the culture industry, Westphalen is perhaps best known for his comic “Untitled” (1999), which depicts a smoldering town, while in the foreground an individual being interviewed on TV suggests “what our village needs now is a biennale!” Such humor was not lost in the context of being in Athens under the specter of Documenta.

In the main exhibition at the Athens School of Fine Arts, a work by Polish dissident artist Artur Żmijewski proved to be one of the exhibition’s most controversial. Entitled “Glimpse” (2017), it’s an unabashedly grim, silent video depicting refugees on location in two camps: one in Calais, also known as the “Jungle,” (which was closed and demolished by French authorities in 2016); the other in Templehof, Berlin, which is Germany’s largest refugee camp, housing about 1,300 individuals. The work speaks to the plights of migrants and the sordid conditions in which they live, but does so in a way that borders on victim porn, shot in a style that reminded me of Werner Herzog. A young girl smiles into the camera, seemingly unaware of the conditions of the shacks around her while her father looks on grimacingly. Żmijewski gives one of the migrants a pair of worn shoes; he paints the face of another. Oscillating between trembling close-ups and medium range shots, the film feels shockingly disconcerting. It is both Documenta’s most powerful, visceral work, as well as its most disturbing.

Pinar Öğrenci, “A Gentle Breeze Passed Over Us” (2016) film still (photo by Sol Prado)

Also referencing the refugee situation is Rebecca Belmore’s large marble tent installed on Filopappou Hill, overlooking the Acropolis. With it, the artist designed a place for speculation on displacement. One can literally sit in the tent, which is otherwise a common item used by refugees for shelter. However, this one is cast in marble and placed at the highest point in the city, a primary area frequented by tourists. The tent felt like a crypt, and rather than actually evoking the experience of refugees, I saw it as a wasteful object that sought to consecrate the refugee crisis with an expensive monument.

In Athens, others projects set up shop outside Documenta’s official program, like the Artists at Risk initiative, organized by Marita Muukkonen and Ivor Stodolsky. Artists at Risk is founded on a simple, yet important principle: to provide safe haven and passage to artists facing acute political threat, to support their work through long term research projects, exhibitions, workshops, lectures, grants, studio space, technical support, and visa applications. In Athens, Artists at Risk set up a pavilion just outside Omonia Square, a stone’s throw from one of Athen’s oldest fish markets. The pavilion features a series of films and photographs by Issa Touma Pinar Öğrenci, and Erkan Özgen. Though outside the official program, it offers Athen’s most politically salient works under one roof. Touma’s film (which last year won the European Film Award for Best Short Film), “9 Days — From My Window in Aleppo” (2012), depicts in shockingly realistic terms how the battle for Aleppo played out from the perspective of his apartment window. It traces the shifting alliances of a group of college-age men as they take up different sides in the Syrian conflict, sides that correspond to shifting dominant powers. The rupturing alliances depicted in Touma’s film hints not only at the brutality of war, but also the mutable state of affairs in a civil war that has claimed millions of lives and displaced several million more. In Öğrenci’s film, a sententious shot of an oud floating in water stands in for the importance of the instrument for a group of Iraqi refugees the artist met while on residency in Vienna. In Özgen’s film, on the other hand, the artist depicts the heart wrenching story of a 13-year-old deaf Syrian boy who recounts the horror, violence, and tragedy that struck his family while living in Kobanî, a small Syrian village. Rather than using voice or language, the young boy testifies to the horrors of war with gestures and body language, performing for Özgen’s lens the necropolitics of the mass violence he has witnessed.

Rebecca Belmore “Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside)” (2017) installation on Filopappou Hill (© Fanis Vlastaras)

In May, nearly a month after Documenta touched down in Athens, a new round of tax and pension cuts were imposed on Greece by its EU-IMF creditors — principal among them, Germany. Percolating not so far beneath Documenta’s surface were these realities. Though Documenta features a number of strong individual works, as well as investments made in local cultural spaces, and interesting parallel projects, it also includes the standard interlopers of art tourists and poseurs who touch down amidst the city’s crumbling social and economic infrastructure. Consequently, it remains to be seen whether Learning from Athens manages to responsibly employ cultural diplomacy, or simply artwashes crisis for the acquisition of cultural and curatorial capital. Above all, these two competing narratives dominate Documenta’s Athens experiment.

The Athenian portion of Documenta 14 is on view at locations throughout the city through July 16. The Kassel portion of Documenta 14 will open on June 10 at various locations and run through September 17.

The post Cultural Diplomacy and Artwashing at Documenta in Athens appeared first on Hyperallergic.





Source link

قالب وردپرس

You might also like More from author

  1. Ian says

    Actually when someone doesn’t be aware of afterward its up to other visitors that they will
    help, so here it occurs.

  2. New Hindi Songs 2017 says

    We stumbled over here different web page and thought I
    might check things out. I like what I see so now i’m following you.

    Look forward to exploring your web page repeatedly.

  3. New Hindi Songs 2017 says

    Wonderful article! This is the type of information that are meant to be shared across the web.
    Shame on the seek engines for no longer positioning
    this post upper! Come on over and seek advice from my web site .
    Thanks =)

  4. song hye kyo says

    In August of 2010, Paris Hilton awoke to an intruder armed with two knives who was trying
    to break into her home. These kinds of people are just destroying
    themselves as well as the society. Of these, recent Oscar winner singer-songwriter John Legend chose to propose to then girlfriend
    Chrissy Teigen at the Anantara Kihavah.

  5. 부산키스방 says

    Actually no matter if someone doesn’t be
    aware of after that its up to other viewers that they will help, so here it occurs.

  6. Www.Ieeve.com says

    This article will help the internet users for setting up neww blog
    oor even a weblog from start to end.

  7. get marijuana says

    Know what are your amazing thoughts more or less this?
    Regarding first tip was providing my destination down. Chemotherapy will
    causes of desires for food.

  8. soins massage lyon says

    Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all folks you really recognize what you are speaking about!
    Bookmarked. Please additionally visit my web site =).
    We can have a hyperlink exchange contract among us https://goo.gl/maps/RLPFGxUQTms

  9. institut massage lyon says

    What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered
    It positively helpful and it has helped me out loads. I’m hoping
    to give a contribution & aid different users like its helped me.
    Good job. https://goo.gl/maps/RLPFGxUQTms

  10. forex trend detector review says

    Excellent article. Keep writing such kind of information oon your blog.

    Im really impressed by your blog.
    Hi there, You have performed an incredible job.
    I will certainly digg it and personally recommend
    to my friends. I’m sure they will be benefited from this
    website.

  11. лада х рей says

    wonderful issues altogether, you just won a new reader. What
    would you recommend about your submit that you made some days in the past?

    Any positive?

  12. шапки 2012 купить says

    Wonderful beat ! I would like to apprentice while you amend your website, how could i subscribe for a blog site?
    The account aided me a acceptable deal. I had
    been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided bright clear concept

  13. масса катка says

    Everyone loves it when people come together and share thoughts.

    Great blog, stick with it!

  14. зайти контакт says

    This is very interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger.

    I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your wonderful post.
    Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  15. копейка ваз says

    I am sure this article has touched all the internet viewers,
    its really really fastidious article on building up new website.

  16. веб камеры выбрать says

    Hey there terrific website! Does running a blog such as this require a massive amount work?
    I have no knowledge of programming but I had been hoping to start my own blog
    soon. Anyway, should you have any ideas or tips for
    new blog owners please share. I understand this is
    off subject nevertheless I simply needed to ask. Thank you!

  17. sovetneg says

    Aw, this was a very nice post. Spending some time and
    actual effort to generate a superb article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and don’t manage to get
    nearly anything done.

  18. read source says

    Sims do not need to be in an entertainment field to become
    a celebrity, they just need to work at it and gain the points to rise in the ranks of stardom.
    This is where you can find clips from all of your favorite
    E. Well, to get that answer, I have put together some
    facts about 5 celebrities whose obsession with dieting signed their death warrant or how they suffered from life
    threatening ailments.

  19. doubledubs.Com says

    Article writing is also a fun, if you be familiar with afterward you can write if not it is
    complicated to write.

Comments are closed.

Hey there!

Close
of

Processing files…