CULTURE

Installation addresses cultural identities

The pressing issue of migration and multiculturalism as a growing aspect of contemporary Western societies is addressed by a two-part installation by artist Harris Kondosphyris. The work will officially represent Greece at Sao Paolo’s Biennale, which opens next week. Art historian and art critic Irini Savvani is the Greek commissioner who proposed and supported the work of the artist. «Athens-Beijing,» which is the installation’s title, comprises two complementing but visually contrasting installations: «The Migrant’s Ark» is the facade of a Chinese pagoda and its cement-made floor reflection. Resembling a giant cutout taken from an animation film shot, the installation looks like a gothic set design and has a cartoonish, ghost-like aspect, particularly as the pink light that emanates from behind streaks through the empty windows of the pagoda. The artificial and slightly kitschy style is intended as a metaphor for our idealized, superficial perceptions of the East. Rather like a postcard, both sad and silly, this image is meant to remind us of our simplistic stereotypes and, by extension, of our readiness to classify foreigners and immigrants in generalizing terms. It also symbolizes the dreams and memories that immigrants carry with them when leaving their countries. The second part to «Athens-Beijing» is «Heart of Dark,» a shiny, wall iron panel on which the artist has carved out the outlines of human figures taken out of an urban, multiethnic crowd. (Kondosphyris has repeatedly worked with mirror or shiny surfaces which he carves to produce the outlines of images.) The carved outlines resemble scars and suggest the distance that separates people in large cities. That part of the installation is more extroverted and more confrontational, particularly as the mirror-like surface reflects the image of the viewer, thus making him a part of the human crowd and prompting him to think of his own position in this multiethnic reality. Also part of the installation is the music by Vassilis Kokkas, the wall-mounted verse by poet Panayiotis Bosnakis, and the burning of incense concocted by biologist Orestis Davias. Meant to be experienced as a surrounding that is addressed, «Athens-Beijing» is essentially made up of shadows and reflections. What they probably symbolize is our projections and our dreams, our assumptions and desires that we bring into reality and which are so crucial in shaping our cultural identities and our perception of the «other.» Sao-Paolo’s Biennale opens next Saturday and will run through December 19. Its theme is titled «Image Smugglers in a Free Territory.»