Critical probe into modern reality

Three dresses, or rather shreds of fabric, hanging on the wall like a nostalgic evocation of the past, is the melancholy prelude to a contemporary art exhibition that is pensive and at times esoteric yet casts a sharp and critically probing eye on contemporary reality. Titled «PREMAculture,» the exhibition is the fifth consecutive curatorial project organized each year by artist Dimitris Antonitsis on the island of Hydra. In the disused premises of Hydra’s former secondary school, Antonitsis has staged an exhibition with various media, including canvases, clothing and painting, which fluctuate from the ominous and haunting to the soothing, from a Zen-like calm to TV or consumer culture. Each of the rooms evokes a distinct quality, with the works playing off one another to produce different meanings. Yet seen as a whole, the exhibition has an underlying quality: In one way or another, most of the works are about hidden meanings or tensions and many of them make some kind of allusion to the past. In his curatorial projects, Antonitsis has shown a bent for surprise and for the unusual. In the current exhibition, for example, he included the work of alternative, New York-based fashion designer Tara Subkoff and her cutting-edge womenswear label «Imitation of Christ.» Straddling the ground between art and fashion, Subkoff uses vintage clothing or old fabrics which she remodels and manipulates to produce new effects. Recycling and evoking the past are strong aspects of her work, which despite its edgy quality is sold in high-profile department stores Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys in New York, Harvey Nichols in London and cult-boutique Collette in Paris. Taken out of the spring 2005 collection, the dresses shown in the Hydra exhibition seem like vestiges of the past while their breezy and ethereal quality hint at the sea and the Greek light. They were presented in an unusual catwalk performance with the models arriving by boat in Hydra’s port and ending in a procession-like manner at the exhibition hall. At the same time, luggage on which Subkoff had printed the logos of large fashion brands were carried from the boat to the exhibition. It was intended as a jarring juxtaposition to the ethereal quality of her clothes and a reminder of consumerism and the fashion industry. In the same room that the Imitation of Christ clothes are shown, there is a screening of a video by Bjorn Melhus, a disturbing and almost nightmarish story with references to American TV culture, reality and tele-evangelist shows in particular. The video’s stifling effect creates an intentional contrast to the more ethereal quality of Subkoff’s work. In the next room, minimalist works in black and cream create a soothing, Zen-like effect. Zoe Keramea’s elegant totemic-like sculptures are made of black cardboard paper which the artist has folded into double pyramids and hand-stitched together. Her work reverses the concept of traditional sculpture by unpredictably creating a sense of solidity and absolute symmetry out of paper and through a technique associated with the crafts. Meaning that is not fully revealed and is more complicated than what first meets the eye: This is the concept behind the bare canvases of Marcus Huemer, on which the artist has applied just a few daubs of black paint shaped like birds or pebbles. Resembling Asian calligraphy, those works are in fact the artist’s study of the work of the German artist Sigmar Polke. So is a portrait of Sigmar Polke by Vic Muniz. Also by Muniz are two images of the Parthenon and a group portrait. The artist has created these images out of melting chocolate placed on plexiglass which he then photographed. Suggesting celluloid that is melting away, Muniz’s images are a play on memory and reality and tease our olfactory senses, not with the chocolate itself, but its photographic image. Again, Antonitsis has arranged the works so as to produce tension: Slava Mogutin’s image of a young man covered in blood splashes uses dripping liquid just like Muniz’s pieces but to a far more violent effect. More photographs by Mogutin address youth culture, loneliness and melancholy. A similar melancholy mood also comes through the images that Jessica Craig-Martin takes from socialite events, zooming in on unlikely details to show the other, meaningless side to glamour and wealth. Silicone lips covered in glossy lipstick or wrinkled nude backs emerging out of a luxurious dress highlight vanity and perishability. In another image, the artist zooms in on a beautifully set table where the carefully manicured hands of ladies wearing expensive jewelry hold the photographs of their kids and grandchildren. The image suggests that human relationships are just one more commodity. Jessica Craig-Martin’s photos are juxtaposed with two aggressive, yet frail, images of two adolescent girls drawn in felt-pen by artist Marlene McCarty. In another room, Jessica Craig-Martin’s photos are presented together with a pop-like painting of a cell phone by her father, artist Michael Craig-Martin. In a separate room, an installation by artist Sooja Kim consists of old Korean bedspreads hung on a washing line and a bundle positioned on the floor. The installation resonates with the mysticism that we usually attach to distant civilizations and conveys a soothing, Zen-like quality. The work is more about a certain energy than about materiality, about subtle nuances rather than concrete statements. This is also the predominant feeling in PREMAculture, a feeling that somehow ties all these diversified works together. PREMAculture is on at Hydra’s former secondary school through Thursday. The Hydra projects The curatorial projects that artist Dimitris Antonitsis began on the island of Hydra five years ago have portrayed current ideas on the international visual arts scene and presented works by contemporary artists, several shown in Greece for the first time. Well attuned to the international visual arts world and head of a curatorial project held annually in New York, where he has also held solo exhibitions of his work, Antonitsis – who besides being an artist also teaches video and media art at the University of Patras – has made Hydra the annual meeting point for the contemporary art crowd. For the most part, the works shown here are commissions especially made for the Hydra curatorial project. The idea is to present original, fresh works, some of them especially made to address the concept of the exhibition. The idea is to use this project as momentum for creating new works and, it is hoped, to build a residency program for artists in the future. Antonitsis has brought current names on the art scene to Greece. His shows have presented such artists as Andre Serrano, Marlene MacCarthy, Michael Craig-Martin, Allan McCollum, Inez Van Lamsveerde and Candida Hoffer for the first time in Greece. They have also presented works by young or emerging artists such as Nikos Kanarelis, Giorgos Sapountzis, Koji Simizu and Polys Peslikas. Taking place for the fifth consecutive year, his curatorial Hydra project is self-funded by his partner Dimie Athanassopoulou (Bang&Olufsen).

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