Art on conflicts and resolutions

The mental state that follows an emergency situation is the mood that Dimitris Antonitsis sought to capture in his curatorial project «postER,» a group exhibition of international contemporary artists which is open for a few more days at the former high school on Hydra and the island’s Bratsera Hotel. (The exhibition is the seventh in a row of an annual, contemporary art project that Antonitsis, in collaboration with entrepreneur Dimi Athanassopoulou, launched on Hydra.) That which constitutes an emergency situation is meant in a symbolic, general way, as something that undermines critical thinking. It can range from violence to the swaying of public opinion, cultural or political brainwashing, the damaging effects of popular culture (The acronym ER refers to an American television series set in an emergency room.) The sense that one gathers from most of the works presented in the exhibition is that a post-emergency situation is the passage from confusion to a clearing of the mind and a state of analytical thinking, a resolution, awareness or recovery, but not necessarily something pleasant. Some works fit the general concept better than others, yet the best way to approach the exhibition is not to look for straight references to its theme but to appreciate each work on its own and outside any narrow context. Some works succeed both in expressing the exhibition’s concept and in standing on their own by their sheer impact. A wall painting by German artist Tilo Schulz is probably the best example. Covering the three walls of one of the classrooms in the former high school, Schulz’s work speculates on the cultural and political stereotypes attached to postwar Germany – its western and eastern parts. An elegant play of black and white, the wall painting is divided into two zones to suggest the division of Germany. The upper part shows white lines in simple architectural configurations against a black background while the bottom part features small circles that are outlined in black and hover against a white background. They suggest tears that come out of a female figure on one side of the lower panel. Instructions against the decadence of abstraction and formalism which Schulz found in the archives of the art academies in the former East Germany are written along the bottom part. The work considers how the postwar political situation has created stereotypical notions of modern art. The top part represents the formalism and abstraction which we usually associate with the avant-garde. Yet it also contains the opposite notions of rigidity, the domination of power and male culture. The instructions on the bottom part speak of totalitarianism yet the emotive, feminine side, as indicated by the tears, suggest the opposite of austerity. The work challenges the «black and white» dichotomies between Western and former East Germany and their respective role in the development of modern art. Schulz condenses a complicated thought in a sophisticated, compact work that works on different levels and can be appreciated both for its emotional and mental impact. The most overtly political work in the exhibition is probably a video by Israeli artist Singalit Landau. Here, the artist is seen dancing with a barbed hoola hoop, inflicting upon herself the cuts that the wire leaves on her body. It is a harsh, raw image of contrasting references – Christianity, American pop culture, Middle Eastern culture and the Mediterranean as the cradle of civilization – that allude to the endless violence in the Middle East and the clash of interests between East and West. Befittingly presented in the same room as Landau’s video, David Cutler-Kennedy’s works also deal with American politics. Using glycerine soap, the artist has constructed small, iceberg-like forms and in them has encased newspaper clippings showing political protesters and self-immolators. The work carries a double meaning: By arresting the image of violence in a rock-like formation, the work can be taken to suggest a dead end. Yet the fact that the icebergs are made of soap, a material that will melt, points to a resolution. In another work, the melting American flag hanging out of a branch suggests the wilting of «the American Dream.» The fact that the flag is made out of gum is a reference to the popular, trivial aspects of American politics. Cutler-Kennedy works on an interesting idea, yet one has the sense that in his work the concept is stronger that the actual form. The works of Nate Lowman have a somewhat similar impact. Lowman makes a connection between American street culture and politics. At the opposite end of the political scale are the dreamlike, surreal photographs by Italian artist Andrea Galvani, among the best works in the exhibition. An image typical of his work shows black balloons hovering slightly above the base of a white, rocky landscape. One has the sense that his images capture the moment of passage from an unconscious to a conscious state. They are both soothing and paradoxical. Galvani’s images of weightless landscapes make an interesting juxtaposition with the neo-Goth-styled photographs of Swedish artist Hanna Liden. Evocative of the Nordic, romantic tradition, these neo-Goth-styled images remind us of our lineage in legend and nature. Most of the works in the exhibition capture a sense of tension, an in-between situation or state of mind. Josh Smith’s works, for example, are the color palettes that he then uses for other paintings. Turmoil and tension can be found in the abstract compositions of German artist Bernhard Martin. There is also the kind of tension that arises out of clashing situations or when one questions belief systems. Taiwanese artist Charwei Tsai, for example, has painted Buddhist prayers on the trunk of a lemon tree in the courtyard of the Bratsera Hotel. The work is intended to question material, Western culture. A video by Venezuelan artist Xavier Tellez shows the Caracas police removing the city’s emblem – a stuffed lion – from a public site. The work questions the country’s current political and social situation. There is also an installation by the well-known Belgian artist Johan Grimonprez. «Looking for Alfred» – an ongoing project – includes a video and, displayed on the walls, the pages of a study that the artist has made of Hitchcock’s films. (The book is to be published shortly by the German Hatje-Cantz publishing house.) Grimonprez has studied how Hitchcock has directed himself in his own films and, by extension, has constructed his entire persona. The work has a cool, detached quality about it that singles it out from the rest of the exhibition’s work. Yet it shares a critical stance and, like the exhibition’s other works, communicates a sense of mental alertness to the viewer. A varied exhibition with several challenging works, «postER» is an interesting curatorial project that addresses contemporary issues. It is also an exhibition that introduces the Greek public to the work of young international artists. At the former Hydra high school and the Bratsera Hotel through September 27.