In a country Henry Miller once observed as ‘aimless, anarchic, thoroughly and discordantly human,’ this report begins at Lustlands. Conceived in 2012, it is a day of performances, a pop-up group exhibition, a barbeque, wine, beer, other spirits, and camping. Also an online magazine, Lustlands is hosted at the country home of Lakis and Aris Ionas, who form the art-cum-performance outfit, The Callas, in the middle of a field in Thermissia, situated on the Peloponnese peninsula.
It feels more like a celebration than an ‘event’ – a small gathering open to all who can get here (the ride to the Peloponnese from Athens is pretty amazing, as is the 20-minute ferry from Hydra (an island two hours from Athens).
From an island to the mainland, we arrived at Lustlands at around 5pm. The sun was high; cicadas were clicking; fig trees made the arid landscape feel moist and cool. Dogs of all kinds abounded, and artists were setting up in their numbers. We had the pleasure of watching Pavlos Tsakonas assembling a Minoan bull painted the fleshy tones of ancient monuments, with a bevvy of candy-coloured, robed boys scrambling onto its back, conceptualised and produced in collaboration with Stelios Karamanolis. Later, there was a pyrrhic ceremony of barbequed Greek village sausage by Maria Papadimitriou.
Curated by Nadja Argyropoulou, this year’s iteration of Lustlands: Vol.II, The Great Eastern (After Embiricos), was named after an epic story penned by late-Greek surrealist writer and photographer Andreas Embiricos. Painter Aliki Panagiotopoulou described his writing as reminiscent of the Marquis de Sade, and The Great Eastern as an account of a journey from one side of the world to another and everything that happened in between.
Performances started at around 8pm, and included a sunset walk up a hill to view two women simulating hetero-sex on the roof of The Callas’s house down on the field below (kudos to collector Laura Skoler, the first to clock that it was two women to begin with). It ended with a rumbling, poly-sonic set by The Callas in full performance-band mode, during which artist Panos Papadopoulos, wearing sunglasses, coolly (and stealthily) stripped naked and inserted himself, as if from the shadows, between the ray-banned ‘Callas Girls’ – (Robert Palmer/Nico-esque) wearing nothing but white lace capes and white panties (and sunglasses), positioned around a tree. An impromptu intervention, Papadopoulos’s instinct was, quoting another artist, ‘perfect.’
Returning to Hydra by water taxi that night, a saying came to mind: ‘Live your Myth in Greece.’ The Ministry of Tourism coined it years ago. When the crisis hit, that slogan became painfully ironic. But it rings true. Greece is bountiful when it comes to the sheer beauty of its natural landscape. Henry Miller (whose Colossus of Maroussi is a memoir on his time in Greece); Picasso (who once drew a picture of a dove over the Parthenon in support of jailed activist Manolis Glezos); John Fowles (whose epic The Magus is based on the Greek island of Spetses); and Leonard Cohen (with a home on Hydra); are all names who have become enamoured by Greece one way or another.
The next morning, we visited Urs Fischer’s interactive installation/project, Yes, at the Deste Slaughterhouse – the Hydra project space for Dakis Joannou’s DESTE Foundation, with its headquarters in Athens. In Yes the slaughterhouse has been turned into a ceramics studio (complete with images printed out for inspiration: the bronze head of Poseidon, for instance, celebrities…). Anyone can come to the space and make ‘whatever’ – there is an abundance of clay. People have made clay columns; a donkey with a monkey on its back; a man lying down with a cat coming out of his belly; a sickle and hammer; a man sitting on a bench, gazing out over the sea. The clay objects are left out in the sun, they perch on any suitable surface along the rocky path leading to the slaughterhouse; cities are built on rocks. Unfired, the forms crack and crumble. The natural material will become part of the earth; that seems to be the idea.
The Greek art scene has always been a resolved one. And so far, in 2013 things look good. Evidently, the issues and challenges surrounding art in Greece – the political situation in the country, the Eurozone and the global economy – have fed into art production and exhibition making.
The beauty of Yes is how it relates to the island and its natural composition while invoking the joyful human need to sculpt matter into form. It's a sensitive work to show in a country entering its seventh year of recession. The project is child-like and inclusive (to all who can get there), hence the poster of a little boy literally gazing up at a mound of clay packs with sheer and utter delight. That same kind of delight was redolent in the faces of those who attended 'Athens Pride' days later. In the parade, Athens-based artists Katerina Kana, Angelo Plessas and Georgia Sagri were ‘dancing’ on a parade float, along with everyone else, as one fellow dancer noted with euphoric glee, ‘for our rights.’
But the Greek art scene has always been a resolved one. And so far, in 2013 things look good. 'Art Athina', established by the Hellenic Galleries Association in 1993, returned after a year-long break; an organisation, NEON, has just been launched to create a larger dialogue about contemporary art while working with the D. Daskalopoulos Collection. In autumn, the Athens Biennale and the bi-annual ReMap will present their fourth iterations, and the fifth Thessaloniki Biennale (this year curated by Adelina von Fürstenberg) is scheduled to take place (dates are yet to be officially announced for all events). There are new spaces, including Iliana Fokianaki’s new non-profit, State of Concept, and open C.A.S.E 303 in Kifissia (showing to 10 July a stunning collection of works in a group show including Ai Weiwei, Khaled Hourani, Savvas Christodoulides and Tula Plumi, arranged by artist Nikos Charalambidis under the project concept: WhiteHouse Biennial).
Meanwhile, a whole generation of artists are evolving, from Elias Kafouros, showing at Alpha Delta Gallery (set to travel to New York on a Fulbright scholarship) to 29 June, to Kostas Sahpazis (also showing in Art Statements in Art Basel in June 2013) and Alexandros Tzannis (who also showed at Lustlands), both nominees for this year’s DESTE prize alongside Michail Pirgelis, Ilias Papailiakis, Maria Theodoraki and Marianna Christofidou, currently showing at the Museum of Cycladic Art (to 20 September).
Evidently, the issues and challenges surrounding art in Greece – the political situation in the country, the Eurozone and the global economy – have fed into art production and exhibition making. (The System of Objects, the DESTE Foundation in Athens’s summer show, and new zine KYPSELI spearheaded by Antonakis Christodoulou and Dora Economou being two cases in point.) The gallery scene is resilient. Kalfayan Galleries, The Breeder and Melas/Papadopoulos are all regulars on the international art fair circuit, and the blue-chip Bernier/Eliades are Art Basel (in Basel) long-timers.
When writing about Greece, Henry Miller also described a place of ‘blinding illumination’. Maybe it is the landscape that does it. Kunsthalle Athena, an independent exhibition space run by curator Marina Fokidis, staged a group show taking David Byrne’s evocative line, This Must Be the Place as if to reflect on this point. Art practices here feel urgent, vibrant, considered and progressive; forged from a landscape shaped by economic crises, fiscal cliffs, hard sweat, clear waters and blue skies. — [O]
Stephanie Bailey is Managing Editor of Ibraaz. Her writing has appeared in ART PAPERS, ARTnews, Artforum, LEAP, Modern Painters, Notes on Metamodernism, Whitewall and Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art.