This summer, celebrated Argentinean artist Adrian Villar Rojas has transformed Athens’s Hill of the Nymphs into a “jungle,” posing questions to locals and foreign tourists about disappearance and extinction, as well as the passage and volatility of time.
Rojas’s impressive installation on the Hill of the Nymphs titled “The Theater of Disappearance” is the first project he has been allowed to set up in an archaeological site worldwide, representatives of the Greek nonprofit organization NEON, which commissioned the work, told Xinhua. It is also the first time Greek authorities have given the green light for such a major project at an archaeological site.
The Athens National Observatory, with a remarkable view of the Parthenon, is a landmark in the historic center of the Greek capital. It was established in 1842 and was the first research institution in modern Greece. The Observatory is part of the city’s history. It’s tried recently, through various events, to highlight the link between science and art, according to its director Manolis Pleionis.
“Opening up to a different kind of art and hosting ‘The Theater of Disappearance’ was a challenge. Through his work, Adrian Villar Rojas revealed the potential of the historic site of the Hill of the Nymphs,” Professor Pleionis noted.
Villar Rojas is well known for large-scale sculptural installations that radically disturb the sites he engages with. He creates unpredictable settings for the visitor to explore.
He’s worked for months to sow 46,000 plants – 26 species, including bamboo, artichokes, watermelons, pumpkins, artichokes and asparagus – across an area of 4,500 square meters. The vegetation gradually took over the hill and will to grow until the admission-free exhibition’s end on September 24.
Since June 1, visitors have been able walk through narrow paths to admire this “jungle” and discover the sculptural installations Rojas has hidden in vitrines among the plants as well as a barren zone which points to a war-torn site.
Visitors can also see a replica of the Victory of Samothrace – a statue of a winged female figure unearthed on the island of the same name and now housed at the Louvre in Paris – which lies horizontally instead of upright, or a replica of NASA’s unmanned space rover that arrived on Mars in 2012 to assess whether the planet has ever supported life.
“What does it mean to have the soil beneath our feet?” Villar Rojas asks visitors through this intervention which also expands into the indoor spaces of the Observatory. “I come from Argentina, where essentially soil is a means of production… The strongest features of our national identity are our crops and cattle,” the artist told the organizers.
“When I arrived in Greece, I immediately understood that for Greeks what is below their feet was as constitutive of their national identity as it is for Argentineans, but in a completely different way. What was beneath their feet was culture: thousands of years of human civilizations,” he said according to an NEON press release.
“The transformation of the National Observatory by Villar Rojas shows his vision and commitment to overturn the status quo. It also shows NEON’s determination to bring contemporary culture closer to the public with innovative and bold ideas,” NEON’s founder, collector and entrepreneur Dimitris Daskalopoulos, said.
Founded in 2013, NEON aims to show that art is a key tool for growth for a country which has faced difficult times in recent years due to the debt crisis. The project on the Hill of the Nymphs is part of the organization’s campaign to establish a link between contemporary culture and the historical and archaeological heritage of Athens.
The installation is also an umbrella title and part of four separate exhibitions taking place in until early 2018 across Europe and the US. [Xinhua]