Kostas Bassanos (b. 1961, Greece) lives and works in Athens. In 1991 he received his BA Sculpture at Accademia Clementina in Bologna, Italy, before receiving an MA Sculpture at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, in 1996. He holds a PhD from University of Southampton.
In Search of the Exotic (2016) draws on ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ (1898), a poem written by the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy (which also inspired the biennial’s curator, Koyo Kouoh, to title this edition of EVA International Still (the) Barbarians). At the time of writing the poem, Cavafy was living in Alexandria, Egypt, which was under British rule until its declaration of independence in 1922. This site-specific wall sculpture comprises letters, made from wooden pallets that are tinted with black ink. The work refers to the central verse of Cavafy’s poem: ΕΙΝΑΙ ΟΙ ΒΑΡΒΑΡΟΙ ΝΑ ΦΘΑΣΟΥΝ ΣΗΜΕΡΑ. The line translates as: ‘The barbarians are due here today.’ Questioning the modes of cultural perception through language, the artwork subverts the notion of the barbarian through the appropriation of Cavafy’s verse. Although, the exotic exists as a place – a Wunderkammer – or holiday destination, it is at the same time a place (or rather a means) of resistance to stereotypes, to homogenized cultures carried by hegemonic attitudes. While transnational corporations, religious beliefs and oligarchic models aim to uniform and promote an imagery of the same, the exotic finds its way to resistance through language as a safeguard of cultural identity.
Thus, the use of Cavafy’s verse in its original language reiterates the notion of exotic and resists sameness. What would happen if we were all the same? Who would be the barbarian then, who would the other be? What would be the condition to differ us from the others?
And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? They were, those people, a kind of solution.