The development of modern Athens following the city’s liberation from Ottoman rule began as a reflection of neoclassicism in the eyes of the Bavarians who came to the Greek capital following the Greek War of Independence. A reflection of the city’s past and present in an imaginary dimension remains an interesting and stimulating game for foreigners, even today. This is the concept behind “Strange Cities,” an exhibition organized by the Onassis Cultural Center, which was inaugurated at the Diplarios School in Theatrou Square, central Athens, on Monday. In this case, the idea of visualizing Athens was addressed to 24 artists from around the world, all of whom had one thing in common, they had never set foot in the city.
The invitation was extended primarily to artists with close ties to the worlds of fashion and applied arts. Illustrators, photographers, painters and sculptors accepted the challenge and developed their individual projects over the course of nine months, with one condition: that they refrain from going in search of information regarding the city on the Internet and instead base their work on an “inspiration box” forwarded to them by the exhibition’s curators, the Double Decker team (aka Wilhelm Finger and Melita Skamnaki). The box contained the following elements: a song by acclaimed composer Manos Hadjidakis (“The Magic City”), a music excerpt from Konstantinos Vita’s “2” soundtrack, a recipe for traditional Greek stuffed vegetables, an excerpt from a Petros Markaris novel (“Deadline in Athens”), a series of signature city sounds, as well as a copy of “The Jasmine,” a poem by Greek Nobel laureate Giorgos Seferis. What does the end result look like?
Strolling through the premises of the Diplarios School (where an information technology vocational training institute operates on the ground floor), what strikes you is how freely the artists dealt with their subject matter. The art of collage is the predominant technique in this case (a trendy technique, according to curator Skamnaki who guided us around the show), followed by painting, video, mixed media and sculpture. The exhibition’s “sexiest” artwork, created by Japanese artist Amana, is transformable through an iPad application. Personally, I also singled out another two works. The first was created by Brazil’s rising artist Fernanda Rappa, who worked with a Sao Paolo craftsman who makes ancient Greek-style columns. The second was developed by Canada’s Amy Friend, who worked with vintage postcards she photographed after making holes in them, resulting in people and places coming across as constellations. Did the artists’ versions of Athens resemble our own? Not that much. The exhibition comprises plenty of cliches: including antiquities, the sun, light blue, holidays and chaos. The unorthodox approach running through the show, however, becomes an element of subversion which gives rise to a new order.
Besides the works on display, the exhibition is complemented by a series of parallel events including city tours led by local street newspaper Schedia vendors, discussions featuring foreign ambassadors in Athens talking about how they view the city, cooking workshops led by chef Vasilis Kalidis, and events focusing on the capital’s stray animals, among others.
Running to June 28, the exhibition is open to the public from noon to 9 p.m. daily. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.stg.gr.
Deiplarios School, 3 Theatrou Square, tel 210.324.0130