Greece: Traces Of Today

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists From Greece

The Greek €2 coin depicts the myth of Zeus who, in the guise of a white bull, abducts Europa, daughter of Agenor, King of Tyre. Later, the Greeks gave this name to the continent of Europe, which, ironically, today imposes strict economic conditions on their descendants with dramatic social repercussions. It is in this difficult context that Imago Mundi asked 207 Greek artists to express, using the small 10x12 cm format, their vision of the present, between a glorious past and an uncertain future.

Alexandra Athanassiades - Study Of The Parthenon Frieze (2014)

“Classical Greek civilization, like the Roman civilization that followed it – notes Luciano Benetton, the creator of Imago Mundi - dominated the world for centuries and today continues to fascinate and inspire us, with all that we still carry with us as a legacy for the future – philosophy, theatre, art, poetry, mythology, politics, sport. The history of our tastes, for example, has for centuries been influenced by the Hellenic tradition, by classical sculpture in particular. And Homer’s epics have left extensive traces throughout European literature.”

Venia Dimitrakopoulou - Sacred Garden (2014)

But is all that enough to counter-balance the country’s present-day difficulties? For Luciano Benetton the answer is undoubtedly yes. “Every European citizen, - he says - has a measure of Greece in his heart. But what matters most in these challenging times is that Greece is still able, with great tenacity and inspiration, to be culturally active. Pride in tradition and openness to the most advanced cultural influences are symbolically compensatory factors for the country’s social hardships.”

Hope – Untitled (2014)

The difficulties of recent years have, however, had objective repercussions on the cultural sphere and on Greek contemporary art. “Recent artistic production – explain the collection’s curators Polina Kosmadaki and Anastasia Karangelou - has become increasingly concerned with this economic, political and social crisis, which overturns established perceptions and impels us to look for ways to redefine the national and the international, our relationship with the past, and the necessity and possibilities of artistic creation. This has resulted in the art produced by Greek artists (within and outside the country’s borders) becoming aligned with the global shift of the art world to the ‘political’ and the ‘social’. Contemporary art, like other fields, is reflecting on art’s ability to address contemporary and pressing issues such as democracy, participation, and solidarity, as well as decay, violence, and loss of control in the social sphere.”

Yiannis Hadjiaslanis - Immigrant Squat, Peloponnese (2014)

The Imago Mundi project plays a role in this constantly changing backdrop in that, as the art historian and curator Christopher Marinos sustains, “each one of the works in this collection is a kind of signature or index that refers to the current state of Greek art. Starting from the assumption that a collection is an ‘anthropological event’.”

Iannis Ganas - Work Ethics (2014)

“We believe - argue Polina Kosmadaki and Anastasia Karangelou - that the 207 works of the Greek collection retain, as a whole, a dynamic relationship with what is happening in the field of visual arts, in this particular time and place. This approach led us to include not only practitioners of the purely visual arts but also representatives from other fields such as architecture, industrial design and photography, and to choose artists on the basis of this indexical representativeness. In this spirit, the collection of the material was ultimately the result of a kind of ‘field research’ such as that undertaken by either a collector or a researcher exploring the production of a current or bygone artistic field.”

Nikos Alexopoulos - Athens 2009-2014 (2014)

Without a doubt, the challenge of creating within the space of a canvas 10 by 12 centimetres is much greater for those artists who are not engaged in painting but grapple with large site-specific sculptural installations. As one would expect, these artists explored the possibilities of the support medium they were asked to use in a conceptual way, treating it primarily as an object and less so as a painting surface. Simulacrum by Kostas Roussakis is typical of such a sculptural approach. Using a label maker the artist first signed the canvas with his name, the title of the work, and the date, and then made a copy in lead without polishing the surface of the mould. The result is a small sculpture that gives emphasis to the associations of the materials and, due to its large weight (lead being the heaviest of metals), resists the idea of easy transportation and portability. This resistance, which is the ‘hidden power’ of Roussakis’s work, is further reinforced if one takes into account the hazards of this particular material and its harmful consequences for human health.

Kostas Roussakis - Simulacrum (2014)

In a similar vein, Danae Stratou also treated the frame in a conceptual manner, and indeed, in a way that honours it: she removed the canvas, named the work, and inscribed her signature. As a gesture, Greece Stripped conveys a sense of austerity and also submits the need to shed – both as an artistic community and on a national level – any excess weight that holds us back and impedes our progress. As Stratou implies, in the critical period we are going through, it is imperative to see the deeper essence of things more clearly and to move forward with the absolute essentials. On the other hand, if her work is a critical- ironic comment on the state of poverty that the country has come to, Greece Stripped is particularly appealing and enigmatic, bringing to mind Marcel Duchamp’s famous Bride that has been “stripped bare by her bachelors”.

Danae Stratou - Greece Stripped (2014)

Unlike Stratou, who strips the frame, Babis Karalis allows fire to turn the surface of the wood into a burnt landscape. In this case too, 4963 could be a commentary on a certain necessity, a negative attitude or a general dystopian situation. In their own Dystopia, busybuilding keep the canvas but reverse the roles of the painting’s two surfaces. The front is left empty and operates exclusively as a space for the signature. On the back, in the recess created by the small wooden stretcher, is placed a black male figure which has its back turned to the viewer. On the threshold of a gate, ready to travel into the interior of the painting (obviously a journey of the mind), the figure symbolises the anatomy of restlessness, the desire for constant movement.

Babis Karalis – 4963 (2014)

One of the features – and strong points – of the Imago Mundi Greek collection is that it includes artists of the younger generation, born in the 1980s. The majority of these artists, familiar as they are with technology, have adopted a new media imagery. Both Maria Varela in Free Cultural Work Morse Code Machine and Natali Yiaxi in Interactive Sonic Painting, incorporate the small canvas into an interactive mechanism with sound as the dominant element.

Maria Varela - Free Cultural Work Morse Code Machine (2014)

Natali Yiaxi - Interactive Sonic Painting (2014)

From this generation of artists, Theodoros Giannakis and Dionisis Christofilogiannis present works that make reference to art history. In the relief painting by Giannakis entitled The Rape of Europa aka Small Erotic, we have the explosive meeting of two artists of different times but with a kindred sensitivity: the first is certainly Titian, by reason of his well-known representation of the mythological subject at hand, while the second ‘suspect’ is Yves Klein, through his poetic rendering of blue colour which here refers to the sea which Zeus, transformed into a bull and with Europa on his back, crosses on his way to the final destination of Crete.
In his painting Greek Mellon, Dionisis Christofilogiannis employs both irony and humour: here the face of an ancient statue (Apollo?) is reflected on the surface of a watermelon (‘mellon’ being a play on the name of the fruit and the Greek word for ‘future’). In this case, it seems likely that the artist is commenting on the merger and coexistence of the classical with the popular: on the one hand, the concept of beauty and idealised form, and on the other, a symbol of one of the modern Greek’s timeless pleasures (due to its affordability even in these years of crisis, watermelon remains the fruit of the people).

Theodoros Giannakis - The Rape Of Europa Aka Small Erotic (2014)

Dionisis Christofilogiannis - Greek Mellon (2014)

As with other collections which have been created for the Imago Mundi project, studying the Greek collection one can discern certain trends and preoccupations, common features and techniques. For example, there are artists who depict national symbols and company logos, sometimes in a stylised and abstract way and at other times in a photorealist manner. Nikos Larios has made a composition with the famous Nike logo, while Manolis Daskalakis-Lemos has painted the company logo of Capital Product Partners L.P., which belongs to Vangelis Marinakis, in acrylic. The young artist’s work, which is from the Shipping Company Logo Series, constitutes an indirect critique of wealth, concentration of capital, and power in general.

Nikos Larios – Nike (2014)

Manolis Daskalakis-Lemos - Shipping Company Logo Series I (2014)

One of the prevailing and arguably most distinct trends in the Greek collection are those projects which have text as a main formal element. In his diptych Money vs. World, Manolis Anastasakos recounts in the most concise way, the outbreak of the crisis in Greece with the intervention of the IMF.

Manolis Anastasakos - Money Vs. World I (2014)
Manolis Anastasakos - Money Vs. World II (2014)

A second, quite large, category of works in the Greek collection is comprised of self-portraits (Nikos Gyftakis), portraits (Vassilis Selimas, Katerina Chadoulou) and general depictions of the human body, especially the female body (Nana Sachini, Nikos Mantzios), in a state of pleasure or pain (Georgia Damopoulou), or disintegration or deformation.

Nikos Gyftakis - Self Portrait (2014)

Vassilis Selimas – Her (2014)

Katerina Chadoulou - Blooming Inside (2014)

Georgia Damopoulou - Darlingtonia Delicatula (2014)

It would not have been possible for abstract works and motifs to be absent from this collection, mainly drawings (Ioanna Papageorgiou) and paintings (Yorgos Stamkopoulos, Efi Spyrou) but also compositions created by computer, three- dimensional printing (City Index Lab), embroidery on fabric or by the use of readymade objects such as a miniature frame (Marios Pavlou). Many of these images deal with detail and the distance from which it is best to look at such an image, while some have a relief form, even the inclusion of woodcut fragments and nails (Nikos Sepetzoglou).

Ioanna Papageorgiou (Nana) – Nanosaurus (2014)

Yorgos Stamkopoulos – Untitled (2014)

Efi Spyrou - Edged Sun (2014)

City Index Lab - Pocket Parasol (2014)

Marios Pavlou – Levitation (2014)

Nikos Sepetzoglou – Vanitas (2014)

The collection is completed by another three categories. In the first we encounter works with a pop idiom and evident influences from comic books, science fiction and anthropomorphism. In this group belongs Robot by George Oiback, and Jet Train by Michalis Zacharias. Belonging to the second category, where we have works with animals, insects, fruit and still lifes, are the engraving Crescent Phases by Evripidis Papadopetrakis, Separation by Miltiadis Petalas, the photorealistic Pill Candy by Peggy Kliafa (a pill wrapped as candy).

George Oiback – Robot (2014)

Michalis Zacharias - Jet Train (2014)

Miltiadis Petalas – Separation (2014)

Kollektivemind* - Cicada (2014)

Peggy Kliafa - Pill Candy (2014)

Finally, the third and largest category includes representations of real or imaginary places, sites and emotionally charged objects. Lea Petrou has made a magnetic puzzle with a world map that can change aspect and also function as a children’s toy.

Lea Petrou – Inside (2014)

From these small works a useful trace emerges to help us interpret the future of Greece. “The language of contemporary Greek art – Luciano Benetton summarizes - fully earns its right to modernity. Its artists invite the country to resume its journey, inspired by the incendiary passions that have shaped the history of Greece. Like the ancient heroes armed with swords, philosophy, mythology and a sense of history, they face the uncertainties of our day and create a new world before our eyes.”

Christina Saradopoulou – Link (2014)

Credits: Story

Polina Kosmadaki
Anastasia Karangelou

Assistant Curator
Vanessa Melissourgaki

Valentina Granzotto
Valentina Pozzoni

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Luciano Benetton
Polina Kosmadaki and Anastasia Karangelou
Christopher Marinos
Demetrio De Stefano

Editing and translation
Sandro Berra
Emma Cole
Sara Favilla
Anastasia Karamanis
Ferena Lenzi
Pietro Valdatta

Book design
Marcello Piccinini

Marco Zanin (artworks)

Marco Pavan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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