Art considers Europe’s future

The three-day Athens «transit» of government and international organization officials has practically turned this city into a fortress. Tight security measures and what often seem like irrational precautions have caused chaos in the daily lives of Athenians, making their everyday journeys to work next to impossible. Of course, this is only temporary. But the situation that will gradually become clearer to millions of Europeans with the welcoming of the 10 new member states into the European Union is not. How open and free will Europe be for both its older and new citizens? This is the question posed by «Free Transit(?),» an exhibition of contemporary Greek art organized for the occasion of the Ceremony of the Accession Treaty of the 10 new member states, the Informal European Council and the European Conference that are currently taking place in Athens. The exhibition is being held at the Zappeion Hall and is the official, principal artistic event which was organized by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the occasion. It is curated by Nadia Argyropoulou, art historian and director of Cultural Affairs for the Hellenic Presidency Bureau, and represents a both unusual and refreshing gesture on the part of the Greek State in the form of accompanying such an important occasion with an exhibition on contemporary artwork instead of antiquities or other art from the past. Seen in context, «Free Transit(?)» is an unusual choice for the additional reason that it does not openly celebrate the event, but takes a skeptical approach and helps open a series of political issues. The exhibition does not consider whether the accession treaty will strengthen Europe – which in politics is perhaps the most crucial issue – but broadly speculates on freedom and equality in the new, expanded territory of Europe. It raises a number of politically and socially related issues such as respect for and integration of differences (national, religious, cultural), the peaceful exchange of ideas, and communication and the use of the media. Seen from another angle, the exhibition also explores the potential of art and, through its exclusive focus on Greek artists, brings in the issue of the artistic periphery and its dependence on the centers of finance and art. Another unusual aspect of «Free Transit(?)» is that, with the exception of Stephen Antonakos and Chryssa, it leaves out the big names of the older generation of artists, focusing instead on artists in their late 30s and 40s. Nikos Alexiou, Manolis Baboussis, Haris Kontosfyris, Alexandros Psychoulis, Nikos Haralambidis and Savvas Christodoulidis (both Cypriot), Thalia Chioti, Ilias Papailiakis and Dimitris Antonitsis are several of the names out of the 25 participating artists. The works are spread throughout all of the Zappeion Hall, as the display is meant to render art a vital component of the mood and surroundings. Argyropoulou, who is particularly interested in alternative forms of display and the urban context, has also placed images of artworks in the form of banners on selected buildings mainly on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street. «Free Transit(?)» is meant to remind us of art’s vigilant language. Although fully integrated into a political occasion, it is intended to offer a detached, pensive approach to the evolving political situation. That it does so through contemporary Greek art offers a rare opportunity for Greek artists to gain international exposure. This in itself is enough to give the exhibition a distinctive quality. «Free Transit(?)» will open to the public tomorrow at the Zappeion Hall and will be on view through mid-July.