June was a difficult month for Athens. It came packed with tensions. There were stalled negotiations and fears of an imminent default. There was a government that five months since the elections, were reluctant to shake off their longstanding attitude of ”the opposition” and do what they were elected to do – lead. There were demonstrations, large cash withdrawals, anxiety, speculation and a trending hashtag: grexit.
And then, there was Art. In a lush secluded garden, hidden behind a tall wall that surrounds the grounds of EFA (École française d’Athènes/French School of Athens), the oldest foreign institute in the capital.
It was the institute’s magnificent and elusive hortus conclusus that NEON, a Greek non-profit organization and the Whitechapel Gallery of London, both working to make contemporary art accessible to everyone, chose as a backdrop for their joint exhibition TERRAPOLIS.
– ”How come I had never visited this beautiful garden before?” I wondered out loud.
– ”That’s because it has never been open to the public”, said the helpful assistant, ”until now, on the occasion of hosting TERRAPOLIS. The garden remained off-limits ever since it was planted”.
That was in 1872!
I thanked her kindly and walked reluctantly away, blessing my lucky star…
*When the picture was taken, the young volunteer performer – most likely an EFA student – was giving her and the hippo’s back a break. We found her seating with a group of other student volunteers, chatting away in the cool shade – who could blame them in such heat?
Practicing my Medusa gaze above Tue Greenfort’s MEDUSA, Murano glass, 2007/14. Sometimes I wish it worked.
From guidebook: These elegant sculptures of the Pelagia Noctiluca were commissioned by Tue Greenfort from the glass workshops of Murano, Venice. Despite their delicate pink and mauve hues and floating, ribbon-like tentacles, these creatures are dangerously toxic, hence being named after the sea monster Medusa whose gaze could turn men to stone.
Greenfort makes site specific works about our impact on the environment. In 2007 at the Sharjah Art Museum he turned down the air conditioning and used the cost savings to acquire and protect part of the Ecuadorian rain forest. With rising sea temperatures and the extinction of predators through overfishing, the poisonous ‘mauve stinger’ is proliferating in the Mediterranean. While its beauty belies the sting of the jellyfish, the delicacy of the glass also symbolises the fragility of the whole ecosystem.
27 MAY – 26 JULY 2015
From guidebook: Echoing the satyrs, sphinxes and centaurs of Greek statuary, contemporary sculptures, installations and films draw on myth, drama and the animal kingdom to suggest a ‘bioethics’ for the 21st century. TERRAPOLIS, a term proposed by science philosopher Donna Haraway, combines the Latin ‘terra’ for earth, with the Greek ‘polis’ for city or citizens. This show asks ‘should we regard animals as citizens’? How do processes of nature, such as metamorphoses relate to the creation of art? How do mythic narratives resonate in contemporary society? And can we recalibrate our relationship with other species?
Athens, 17 June 2015
All photos by Konstantinos Implikian