Magazine article Artforum International

1st Athens Biennial: Various Venues

Magazine article Artforum International

1st Athens Biennial: Various Venues

Article excerpt

"THE MINDLESSNESS OF POWER sometimes creates a memory from what was meant to be amnesia," Chris Marker observes in Inner Time of Television, 2007, the words appearing on a wall above a bank of video monitors as part of an installation made by the London-based Otolith Group in collaboration with the French filmmaker--and put on view in this past fall's First Athens Biennial. Appropriately enough, given the setting, the work is centered on Marker's Owl's Legacy, 1989, a little-known television series (never before screened in Greece) consisting of interviews with some forty intellectuals--including Michel Serres, George Steiner, and Iannis Xenakis--who discuss Greek philosophy and myth, ancient concepts of the soul, the etymology of Greek-derived words, and other subjects. Behind many of the talking heads is a colorful owl that stares intently at the viewer, seemingly guarding the legacy of Marker's title. But in the context of a biennial intended to undermine the power of the cultural stereotypes that inform perceptions of Greece, the insistence of this owl (the emblem of ancient Athens and companion to Athena, goddess of wisdom) served more to reflect the intransigence of the idea of the "cradle of civilization." Indeed, The Owl's Legacy emerged in the show--which was somewhat hyperbolically titled "Destroy Athens"--as a nuanced take on the theme around which curators Xenia Kalpaktsoglou, Poka-Yio, and Augustine Zenakos organized their exhibition, fodder for their argument for a break with the antiquity that haunts the country and its people.

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To set the tone, the show opened with Julian Rosefeldt and Piero Steinle's video installation Detonation Deutschland, 1996, which consists of footage of building demolitions in postwar Germany. As aggressive, and also clearly linked to the exhibition's premise, was Eva Stefani's Acropolis, 2001, a video continually switching between images of the Parthenon and 1970s pornographic film clips, pointing to the iconic building's timeless exploitation in the West's collective memory. Such works were set within a narrative framework consisting of six "days," each focusing on a different idea: civic participation (day one); place and history (day two); refuge and hell (day three); a brief pleasurable interlude (day four); violence (day five); and possible conclusions (day six). Visitors were directed through these sections along a linear route, or "journey," through the Technopolis, a former gas factory.

Such a degree of curatorial control is a dangerous strategy but here ultimately generated an unexpected strength, thanks in large part to the complementary narrative elements in the films and videos on view (many of them made specifically for the biennial): Olaf Nicolai's Rodakis, 2007, for example, a documentary portrait of Alekos Rodakis, a craftsman who in the 1880s built a stone house on the island of Aegina that would inspire a number of mid-twentieth-century architects wishing to incorporate popular traditions into their modernist plans; and Stefanos Tsivopoulos's Untitled (Remake), 2007, which examines, in part with re-created footage, the political instrumentalization of television in late-1960s Greece, when the country was ruled by right-wing dictator Georgios Papadopoulos. …

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