Staying out of the power game
On the ground floorof CAMP – a beautiful neoclassical mansion that has been converted into a cultural hub – visitors enjoy a cup of coffee and some jazz.
Upstairs on the first floor, “Counter Culture: The Emergence of a New Social Subject 1983-2012,” running through November 21, is billed as the next installment of a previous exhibition, “The Athenian Underground.”
A collective project inspired by Pantelis Arapinis, the aim is to provide different interpretations of the counter-culture phenomenon in all its manifestations. These range from a display dedicated to Convoy magazine, which expressed libertarian culture, to fanzines, punk concert posters, flyers advertising school sit-ins, comic books, demonstrations of moral support for prison inmates and patients in psychiatric clinics as well as publications exploring gender identity.
The exhibition sends out powerful, yet at the same time easy-to-decode, messages. But what does ‘counter culture’ and ‘underground’ actually mean?
“Underground is a phenomenon that emerged in the mid-60s. People were talking about underground culture following the collapse of the May 1968 movement,” said gallery owner Arapinis during a recent guided tour of the CAMP exhibition. “The French May 68 movement, but also similar movements such as the Prague Spring or the Berlin Spring, are defined by confrontation with a centralized system in the sense of a radical change aimed at benefiting large parts of the population. Underground is the opposite: While antisystemic, it does not participate in the power game. Because ultimately, the antisystemic movement was after power. The Paris Spring was after power, and the slogan at the time was ‘Power to the imagination’.”
The CAMP show covers the period from the early 1980s to the present, picking up where “The Athenian Underground” – which showcased works from the mid-60s to the end of the 1970s – left off.
“In terms of politics, counter culture is tied to the expansion of the middle class and to the rise of consumerism. There was a need for an alternative proposal to consumerism, which back in the early 80s appeared to be the predominant trend. Another characteristic of the counter-culture movement is that it never tried to develop its own narrative as a global model of understanding the world. Its purpose was to deconstruct the existing narrative and explore its different elements, as opposed to creating a new comprehensive narrative. From this point view, counter culture is a non-narrative movement that does not include any political groups prior to the pre-80s period,” noted Arapinis.
According to the curator, the CAMP exhibition is very much political.
“Many exhibitions around the world show works expressing political sensibilities. Nevertheless, in order for an exhibition to be defined as ‘political’ its works must side with those who were defeated in the confrontation. It cannot be defined as such just because some of the works express political sensibilities. Viewers who may not have a very good understanding of the vernacular of art should be able to see immediately that the exhibition has a political dimension. This idea led me to think of a show in which all the work would be treated equally: political, fringe and punk posters, CDs and fanzines. I wanted all these to be like words on a wall, a kind of footnote that clearly stands out as a challenge to the status quo,” said Arapinis.
Yet for all the writing on the wall, the exhibition does not provide any answers.
“What we are interested in achieving by reintroducing certain ideas and symbols is to readdress questions that continue to be valid today but which need to be asked in a different way every time the re-emerge,” said Arapinis. “As far as I’m concerned, the most important issue is that while we all agree that art is a social phenomenon, we rarely study or analyze it in its political context, especially in Greece.”
CAMP, Contemporary Art Meeting Point, 4 Evpolidos & 2 Apellou, Kotzia Square, tel 210.324.7679. Opening hours are Mondays to Sundays from 2-9 p.m. For more information, visit www.campoint.gr.