Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Destroy Athens, build up Porto Alegre

(*by Evanthia Tselika)

As Rio Grande do Sul sees the 7th year of the Merco Sul Art Bienal in Porto Allegre, the people of Athens saw their first contemporary Art Bienal open on the 11th of September 2007. Many of you might find that bewildering: that the birth place of Fidias, Ictinus and Aeschylus (architets of Acropolis) has for the first time held what has been a developing global trend for some time in the International Art Market, a Biennial. A Biennial: the term evolved from the fact that it is an event that takes place every two years, and many times it is referred to as Bienniale, the Italian counterpart.

The Venice Bienniale, is one of the most renowned in the world and has been established since 1895. Thus in what has been maimed as the cradle of Western civilization, Destroy Athens arrives, in Technotopos, in Gazi, an industrial area of the city, close to the center. The space is large and the entry into the first exhibit, a large small room with crumbling walls does not prepare one for the maze that follows on. Keeping very much with the prevalent themes that appear to concern contemporary European artists at the present moment, we are encountered with the crumbling environment, the human destruction of nature and other humans, questions of history, memory and identity. The Biennial followed the ideas that in order to take part in the international movement of artistic practices, local work has to be portrayed but in a setting where it can be internationally accessed. Athens seems to be a location according to the organizers that is “ideal”, “as it does not seem to ever coincide with the ceaselessly shifting borders between centre and periphery, a fact which provides an oversight of both the centre and the periphery”.

Both biennales are ending on the 18th of November and both include artists from all over the world, representative of the international art market systems that allow some artists to rise to a level of global visibility and exclude others. In the 2007 Merco Sul Biennial work by British born artist Francis Alys can be found. Francis Alys’s work that focuses on urban voyeurism can be found in acclaimed institutions around the world, including the largest British contemporary art institution Tate Modern. Aris Marcopoulos is another artist whose work focuses on urban procedures, but from a very different angle: his photographs show skateboard and snowboard culture, the graffiti and the youth that accompanies these notions. The Netherlands born Greek photographer portrays the links that are created by events such as these ones that connect different sides of the world and create dialogues that facilitate creation.

Globalization produces connections and benefits that can be easily disputed depending on which viewpoint you assume. But the instigation of dialogue that it allows through creative processes is one of the aspects that trigger the production of contemporary art. So even if you have no connection with the art world, being part of these international dialogues that are established through the Biennials that take place around the world, make one realize the fact that distances and time are becoming increasingly compressed in the contemporary world.
*Evanthia Tselika is an art critic born in Athens, Greece. She holds a degree in Visual Art from Goldsmith University, in London and a Master in History of Art from SOAS, University of London. She has currently been living in the British Capital.

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