1ATHENS BIENNIAL 2007
Preview : 9th September 2007
Public Opening : 10th September 2007
Destroy Athens is an attempt to challenge the ways in which identities and behaviours are determined through stereotypical descriptions. The notion of ‘Athens’ – as the archetypal city that has become emblematic in terms of stereotypes – is used as a metaphor for this feeling of extra-determination or entrapment that the stereotype inflicts upon the personal sense of identity and social behaviour. ‘Destruction’ is used as the term for the possibility of action against the stereotype, which however does not automatically offer a substitute in its place, something like an exploration of the violent reaction that someone has when they are trapped, without actually using this reaction strategically to replace something with something else.
Cities belong to their inhabitants. Concepts belong to whoever chooses to use them. The exhibition aims to address the concept of ‘Athens’ in relation to the certainty that whatever we do is due to our good nature, to our perception of a world that is just for all - even for those who maintain that they do not desire to live in the world that we propose to them. Because ‘we alone do good to one and the other, not upon a calculation of interest, but in the confidence of freedom’. (Pericles Funeral Oration, Thucydides ΙΙ 40.5)
If one were to claim that what we call the Western civilization has one prevalent characteristic, this would be its certainty that the values by which it believes it is defined and that it defends - justice, equality, democracy, the western way of life - are so noble that they can’t but be attractive to others. And it is in this certainty that the West finds a soothing alleviation of guilt: we do not oppress, we teach; we do not conquer, we civilize.
There appears here, of course, an issue of interiority and exteriority: the truth is that while everybody else perceives Athens mostly through its ‘positive’ stereotypes, its inhabitants perceive it mostly through its ‘negative’ ones. There are then at least three layers superimposed one upon the other:
Athens as a lived city is perceived almost exclusively through negative stereotyping (e.g., the pollution, the apartment building, the demonstrations) by its inhabitants.
Athens as a site-to-visit is advertised through positive stereotyping (e.g., the antiquities, the Olympic Games, or even Greek hospitality) by the Greek nationalistic construct in absolute accord with the worldwide cultural and tourist industries.
Athens as an emblem of western certainty is conscripted, again through positive stereotyping (e.g., the birthplace of democracy), to alleviate the guilt of a hegemonic civilization.
Unsurprisingly, every aforementioned layer is usually expressed through an aesthetic codification, be it the supposed ‘real’ Athens with its desiccated urban cityscapes, or the tourist Athens with its Acropolis, or the universal, timeless Athens - that imaginary, ahistorical place, where justice and democracy always rule and inspire us.
The 1st Athens Biennial International Contemporary Art Exhibition aims to attack stereotyping, and this is what it invites artists to do. It does not invite them, as is often the case, to ‘live’ the experience of the city and to create works about its supposed ‘reality’. It invites them to destroy their and other’s preconceptions, a process that is of concern to everyone everywhere. It invites artists to employ the heretical treatment of the universal and timeless symbol of Athens as a pretext or as a metaphor for an assertion of self-determination.
The intention that lies in the heart of these thoughts, however, is not to orchestrate a one-dimensional critique on an existing situation, but to achieve the very questioning of our desire to have an impact on things. Therefore, the stages through which one goes when negotiating feelings of entrapment and impotence, when one, in their quest to discover a mode of articulation and a sense of participation, attempts to turn to a series of alternatives and is confronted by a series of dead-ends, will be explored.
Destroy Athens aims to function as a progression through various themes – elements will contradict, collide or cancel-out each other constantly. Successive realizations and disillusionments will make up a fragmented acknowledgement of a dead-end, a kind of ‘world’, a dystopic environment of conceptual Waste Lands.
Adbusters, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Aidas Bareikis, Banu Cennetoglu, Marc Bijl, John Bock, Olaf Breuning, Kimberly Clark, Annelise Coste, Kajsa Dahlberg, Peter Dreher, The Erasers, Chris Evans, Stelios Faitakis, Jan Freuchen, HobbypopMUSEUM, Narve Hovdenakk, Derek Jarman, Folkert de Jong, Pierre Joseph, Vassilis Karouk, Omer Ali Kazma, John Kleckner, Terence Koh, Edward Lipski, Lotte Konow Lund, Mark Manders, Bjarne Melgaard, Ciprian Muresan, Eleni Mylonas, Olaf Nicolai, The Otolith Group, Erkan Ozgen, Torbjorn Rodland, Julian Rosefeldt, Georgia Sagri, Yorgos Sapountzis, Yiannis Savvidis, Martin Skauen, Piero Steinle, Eva Stephani, Temporary Services & Angelo, Thanassis Totsikas, Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Jannis Varelas, Void Network, Eva Vretzaki, Bernhard Willhelm