Shows tackle political subtext of life and art

The history of art has shown that when art meets politics, it becomes, if not openly propagandistic, then often rhetorical, usually sacrificing form for content or reducing complex meanings to cliches. This is a probable reason why Cypriot artist Nikos Charalambides wraps his political message in a web of different meanings and diverse references. The outcome is a maelstrom of different ideas combined to produce a surreal, almost dizzying effect. This outrageous blend is what makes his works seem richly dense in terms of concepts, yet also somewhat complacent, and certainly demanding on the viewer. An example is the artist’s ambitious, expanding installation, titled «Good Walls Make Good Neighbors» on view until the end of the week at the House of Cyprus, the cultural venue of the Cyprus Embassy. As in former works, Charalambides addresses the political situation in Cyprus – the title suggests the segregation of the country’s territory – but in a broad way that encompasses topics such as identity, colonization, even modernity and the Bauhaus. The «wall» does not just mean the divisions of national borders but any kind of partition, from the curtains in Gropius’s house (the artist reproduces the curtains out of a photograph that he found) or the walls of one’s home. The idea of a domestic environment actually runs through the work and is what endows it with an autobiographical subtext. The large constructions in the exhibition are made from parts that the artist removed from his home in Athens, or replicated from his home in what is now the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus. A digital video shows the process of removing these parts and reassembling them into an artwork. The video also blends references to art history, the Bauhaus or the surrealists, into a mix that contains humor and sarcasm but also gives a somber perspective on the personal and the political. Interesting studies of the artist’s work are contained in «Social Gym» (the name refers to one of the artist’s projects), a book published recently by Futura on the occasion of the artist’s exhibition at the 50th Venice Biennale. Henry Meyric Hughes, who curated the show, is one of the authors who appear in the book. Architecture and politics A political subtext combined with references to architecture also runs through a conceptual work by Vangelis Vlahos currently on view at the Els Hanappe Underground and jointly presented with a film by German filmmaker Hito Steyerl. A version of the work that Vlahos exhibited at the Manifesta show in the summer, this three-part installation replicates six architectural models that were presented for the construction of the Athens Tower, the first skyscraper built in an international style during the reign of the junta. A list of the occupants from the building’s construction to the present day makes up the second part of the installation and is intended to suggest how changes in the building’s «interior» reflect shifting political situations. Vlahos examines how architectural styles and the urban fabric affect the social fabric and daily life. By extension, he challenges us to reappraise the set values that we ascribe to architectural landmarks that surround us. The transformation of the urban fabric is also the core subject of Hito Steyerl’s film that follows the development of Potsdamer Platz in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nikos Charalambides’s one-man show at the House of Cyprus (10 Irakleitou, Kolonaki, 210.364.1217) runs to Friday. Exhibition on Vangelis Vlahos and Hito Steyerl at Els Hanappe Underground (2 Melanthiou, Psyrri, 210.325.0364) runs to November 20.