Artists do an inside job of poking fun at bureaucracy

On the ground floor of the Greek Interior Ministry, a group of civil servants preparing to clock off at the end of the day express their annoyance at the papers that have been scattered on the floor. Bearing the logo and image of a rat trap printed on them, the papers are in fact part of an installation by artist Costas Ioannidis and one of the 19 artworks in «Bureaucracy,» a contemporary art show curated by Olinka Miliaresi-Foka and currently on at the Interior Ministry. Contemporary art in the staid environment of a ministry is an unusual mix and reactions such as those of the exiting civil servants or of a pleasantly surprised public is what makes this site-specific installation both interesting and refreshing. But it is also what proves the point of how bureaucracy and art, or anything else that generally falls into the category of creativity, lie at opposite extremes. The concept aside, the exhibition is nevertheless uneven and contains several works that seem simplistic, even cliched and overly dependent on the exhibition’s setting for an effect. The exhibit works best if seen as a whole rather than broken down into its component parts. Its strong point is a clever idea and despite its solemn title, it is best viewed as playful rather than serious, as poking fun rather than making elaborate intellectual arguments on the issue of bureaucracy. In fact, the exhibition’s more playful works are among the best. A series of drawings by artist Constantinos Kakanias feature the artist’s favorite character, the fictional grande dame, fashion victim Ms Tependris, going into a crisis when asked for a birth certificate. The drawings are equally sarcastic about two completely different and discordant worlds: the glamorous life of Ms Tependris and the miserable world of civil servants. Humor and surrealism greet the eye in «Frappe» by Anna Maneta, a giant effigy of a plastic cup of coffee placed on a pack of documents, a work suggestive of how the indolence of civil servants overrides their duty. Alexandros Psychoulis views the bureaucratic behemoth as an amusing absurdity. In his video, which has been made to resemble an electronic game, the civil servants are captured hunting down butterflies, a game which apparently takes place each Friday when the offices are closed to the public. The exhibition also contains photographs and installations, all well displayed along the ministry’s main entrance hall. This display and the catalog which is printed to resemble a document with the seal of the ministry on most pages are some of the most successful aspects of the exhibition. What seems to be missing, however, is some kind of comment on the bureaucracy, not of governmental structures, but of art and cultural institutions. In its broader sense as a mechanism of control, bureaucracy is indeed a phenomenon that permeates all aspects of life, even its more creative manifestations such as art. The growing significance placed on art management, the influence of an art establishment wielded by art writers, curators, art collectors and museum directors, the dependency of art on financial institutions and the gallery system are only a few examples of how art too is ruled by its own kind of bureaucracy. Although ideally, artistic expression is free from exterior constrictions, what is also true is that art is neither value-free nor free from governmental and institutional structures. This self-criticism is something missing from the exhibition. So is an acknowledgement of the positive sides of bureaucracy. Had it included both these concepts, «Bureaucracy» would have been an altogether different exhibition, perhaps not as playful, but certainly more speculative than the current one. «Bureaucracy» at the Interior Ministry on Vassilissis Sofias Ave runs until July 23.

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