Wednesday, December 19, 2007
In Present Tense
In today’s globalized reality of expanding networks of artistic production, exhibitions with national or geographic orientation are being re-defined; the challenge in an exhibition of young Greek artists –the object of which is primarily to bring out the queries posed by their artistic research– is to detect their position in a mutating local and world-wide reality.
The planning of the exhibition In Present Tense was from the outset oriented in a spirit of openness and exploration. In its two years of preparation, a wide and thorough research was undertaken into the work of Greek artists born after 1965. In this framework, a considerable amount of material was gathered on Greek artists of the younger generation, with the aim of achieving an approach as comprehensive as possible to the practices and directions of contemporary Greek artistic production. The selection of the year 1965 –besides serving the purpose of delimiting the extent of the research– at the same time determined the time-span for the study of Greek artists’ creative activity approximately within the foregoing decade.
It could be maintained that the span from the mid-90s to this day is marked by a series of changes1, such as the institution and activation of two state museums of contemporary art, the organization of wide-scale international exhibitions, and other shows that focused exclusively on the work of young Greek artists.
The scope of the research comprised a study of the work of this new generation in relation to contemporary international artistic concerns, on issues such as globalization, mass media, multi-culturalism, new technologies and communication potential, setting a series of questions: in what manner and to what extent is the work of the younger Greek artists in discourse with the international, socio-political realities of our day? What is their critical relation to local culture and the modern information society? What place, at the dawning of the 21st century, does their artistic production hold in the framework of contemporary realizations and practices?
From this viewpoint, the selection of the artists for the exhibition was made on the basis of a combination of criteria shaped by the process of the research itself. The fundamental criterion was the critical stance of the artists toward vital contemporary issues and artistic concerns, such as the social role of architecture, the new conditions of communications in the art production, the re-negotiation of history of art, through works that constitute new aesthetic and conceptual propositions. A further significant criterion was the entirety of each artist’s research and activity. Thereupon the selection comprises of artists with a career extending over a number of years, with a defined style while at the same time includes younger ones recently beginning to emerge.
The exhibition, without being exhaustive, investigates essential proposals and tendencies of contemporary Greek artistic creation, through the work of 34 artists. It includes new proposals, made especially for the exhibition as well as older works selected in close collaboration with the artists. These works are collected in an openly structured presentation permitting the creation of a field of relations tracing the emerging and the already formed directions, the particular singularities and the collective tendencies and the intimated future orientations. Through the dialogue created between the works, the distinguishing features appear to co-exist, converge, conflict and co-relate thus bringing out the dynamics of contemporary art.
This nomadic generation of young Greek artists moves between Greece and international centres aiming at the creation and presentation of their work. They nonetheless mostly maintain strong ties with Greece and its local cultural organizations. The artists of the exhibition participate in diverse networks of artistic production.2 Beyond their common past and common roots, these artists are connected amongst themselves by the constant dialectic procedures of cultural exchanges and dialogue in which they are subsumed. In the framework of the contemporary information culture, new technological and socio-political developments, the artists evolve in a field between the local and the global, wherein traditional definitions of national and European identity –and their correlations– are re-determined. In a transnational world where multiple identities coexist, as Βruno Latour puts it, «labels can no longer be safely positioned along the former scale, stretching, by successive extensions, from the most local to the most universal. Instead of subtracting one another, conflicting identities keep being added. And yet they remain in conflict and thus have to be sorted out, since no one can belong to all of them at once…»3
Bearing these facts in mind, the exhibition traces the issues Greek artists are querying, and their critical stance towards mass culture and its mediums, the social and political dimension of architecture, the re-examination of individual and collective identity and the re-interpretation of the history of art and of history. The fields of research are examined in the framework of international artistic concerns, as also in relation to the broad spectrum of local social and cultural developments in the foregoing decade.
Young Greek artists draw from an immense reservoir of signs and elements from the cinema, the Internet, entertainment, advertising and comics. As noted by Boris Groys in his essay The Logic of Equal Rights “The contemporary world of media has emerged as by far the largest and most powerful machine for producing images – vastly more extensive and effective than our contemporary art system. […] What the artist standing in the tradition of the classical avant-garde can do, however, is something quite different: he can make reference to the infinite scope of artistic imagery, within which the range of imagery pertaining to political power, advertising and entertainment represents but a slender share.”4
In Greece, in the previous decades, the potential for production and projection of electronic images from modern communication media has been broadening. It is now a commonplace to note that a great number of artists of the younger generation draw material, select and follow a course among the signs of mass culture, adopt and examine the structures and mechanisms of its mediums. But what are the particular terms by which popular culture is translated into the work of the younger generation of artists, and what is their critical examination of it?
Information technology and the Internet have emerged as the newer means forming popular culture and altering the form of mass entertainment through the digital and virtual environment. In recent years, the relation has evolved between art and a new area of mass culture: the Internet. The new technological realities constitute for contemporary artists not only a source of inspiration but also a platform for the presentation of their work.
[…] The interest of ever more numerous artists turns to the social and political dimension of architecture. The constantly changing aspect of contemporary metropolises –Athens being no exception– has brought about a plethora of alterations to the way of life and habitation. Changes in urban planning affect the manner in which each citizen perceives his surrounding space and his self within it. In recent years these novel relations, created between subject and urban environment, are ever more the object of study and artistic research. The more general notion of the artistic work as site-specific is analysed by Miwon Kwon in a framework of intra-disciplinary dialogue, combining on the one hand “ideas about art, architecture and urban design, and on the other with theories of the city, social space, and public space.”6
An equivalent change-about is noticeable also in the work of the younger Greek artists who distance themselves “from form as such and from construction” and turn to “the relation of body-dwelling-public space.”7 The artists often examine the relation of architecture to history and its effect on today’s reality, researching facets of the private and public built space and its relation to the individual, or focus on matters of architectural aesthetics and functionality, breaking them down to their social and political parameters.
[…] The search for a personal and collective identity has always been a primary concern examined by artists. The search into the complexity of human existence, as well as the relation of man to the social environment continues to concern a younger generation of Greek artists. In an effort to comprehend the realities of a globalized world, the artists seek an identity, a sense of belonging within the place in which they live.
[…] The quest for identity takes on a primarily individual form in the work of the younger generation of Greek artists. They turn into their inner self in a more endoscopic procedure, seeking an incorporation of their selves in society. The work of a significant number of artists of this generation demonstrates their anguished search for self-determination in a contemporary, estranging world. This fractured and fragmented identity of an individual at odds with his environment is strongly apparent in the works of many artists.
[…] Through a sociological prism, the work of the young Greek artists appears to mirror the uncertainties brought about by the changes of modernity.8 Private life, as well as the intimate aspects of individuality, and their alterations at the outset of the new century are found at the core of the discourse of contemporary social science. As mentioned by Richard Jenkins, “the ‘re-contemplative identity of self’ is comprised in the phenomena greeted by certain theoreticians of the social sciences [...] as a typical characteristic of the contemporary era”.9
[…] A significant number of the participating artists places at the centre of their research the reinterpretation of the history of art and of history in its social components, as well as their re-inscription in the present. History and history of art are not abstract formations of outdated significance but rather emerge as essential factors giving meaning to the present. According to Walter Benjamin, “history is the object of a construction whose place is formed, not in homogenous and empty time, but in that which is fulfilled by the here-and-now.”10 The artists of the exhibition focus on arbitrary approaches, personal interpretations of the past and subjective perceptions of historical reality; to the prevailing construction of history they contrast a multitude of non-aligned narratives and histories.11
[…] The tendencies and the directions that have been delved into do not constitute an attempt to classify the artists in categories but instead operate as axes upon which to base research for reading their works and as an approach to their artistic thought. The exhibition In Present Tense is a meditation on contemporary artistic reality and an attempt to look into the present through a historical continuity. Bearing in mind that “there is no simply now: every present is nonsynchronous, a mix of different times”12, the exhibition aspires to infiltrate the present, the ‘present tense’, placing it in an open framework of critical discourse.
Tina Pandi, Stamatis Schizakis, Daphne Vitali
(extract of the curators’ text from the catalogue)
1. To be more specific, mention should be made of the founding of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in 1997 and its commencement of operation in 2000, making up for a long-standing deficiency in the area of such establishments, as well as the concurrent institution of the State Museum of Contemporary Art. There is also the housing of the DESTE Foundation in a permanent exhibition space in 1998, and the institution of the Athens School of Fine Arts’ exhibition space The Factory in 1995.
2. Thirteen of the artists of the exhibition are living and active in international centres in Europe and the U.S. such as London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris and New York. The artists study at the Fine Arts schools of these centres, developing collaboration with agencies, institutions and galleries.
3. Βruno Latour, “On the difficulty of being glocal”, Art-e-fact, http://artefact.mi2.hr/_a04/lang_en/theory_latour_en.htm.
4. Boris Groys, “The Logic of Equal Rights”, Synopsis 3. Testimonies: Between Fiction and Reality, National Museum of Contemporary Art, edited by Anna Kafetsi, Athens 2003, p. 21.
5. Nikolas Sevastakis points out the transformation of cultural logic determining the Media in Greece: “From the end of the 1980s, here too powerful codes of novelty are formed […]. The new codes evolve morphologically also from the angle of the content at the base of the system of the Media, publicity and commercial cultural sphere, indicating model images of self and the good life, proposing concrete anthropological models and existentialist desiderata.” Nikolas Sevastakis, Kinotopi Hora, Savvalas Editions, Athens 2004, p. 29.
6. Miwon Kwon, One Place after Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2002, pp. 2-3.
7. Yorgos Tzirtzilakis, «Program from a territorial workshop of the present», GAP#1, January-February 2005.
8. Richard Jenkins mentions the following dramatic changes: re-determination of labour and of family, mobility of social classes and positions, migration, […] the fresh drawing of borders. (Richard Jenkins, Social Identity, Savvalas Editions, Athens 2007, p. 37.)
9. Richard Jenkins, Social Identity, Savvalas Editions, Athens 2007, p. 38.
10. Walter Benjamin in Μichael Löwy, Walter Benjamin: Prominima Kindinou, Plethron, Athens 2004, p. 154.
11. Remaking History, Discussions in Contemporary Art and Culture, edited by Barbara Kruger and Phil Mariani, Dia Art Foundation, The New Press, New York 1989, p. 9.
12. Hal Foster, “Whatever happened to post-modernism?”, The Return of the Real: Art and Theory at the End of the Century, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1996, p. 207.
George Drivas George Drivas
Curated By Tina Pandi, Stamatis Schizakis, Daphne Vitali