Innovative project captures beat of the Greek art scene

It had all the spirited energy of youth: the opening of «What Remains is Future,» a sprawling exhibition about the Greek, contemporary art scene, was a lively gathering of hundreds of young people – artists, curators, gallery directors, writers – who are shaping that same emerging and trendy Greek art scene. Set up on the premises of the former Arsakeion School in Patras, the exhibition resonated with the same kind of upbeat energy that prevailed on its opening night. An underlying mood of «back to school» which the venue by itself suggested, enhanced the exhibition’s youthful aspect yet also brought out a slight twinge of nostalgia and triggered some thought on the passage of time, memory and the relationship between the past and the future. Curated by Nadia Argyropoulou, organized by Angeliki Antonopoulou and produced by the Patras Cultural Capital of Europe 2006 organization, «What Remains is Future» (the title is taken from a recent collection by fashion designer Ann Demeulemeester) is a lively, contemporary art project and an interesting curatorial idea. It is probably the first site-specific, large exhibition held thus far that has set out to capture the energy of the emerging art scene and portray what is considered the more trendy, «downtown» profile of contemporary Greek art (for example, painters working in a figurative, more traditional style – though plenty in Greece have not been included). Intended as a «snapshot» of an art scene that is in its making, it is a project that contains the very same liveliness that it seeks to portray: it includes works by more than 60 artists, among them many collaborative projects, as well as discussion groups and fanzines. The exhibition is an open-ended project and feels more like the beginning of a discourse rather than the outcome of it. By including only site-specific works which refer to some aspect of the Arsakeion (the oldest educational institution in Patras and a girls’ academy) and explore issues such as education, institutions, conditioning, or authority, the exhibition has used contemporary art to enliven the cultural and social history of the city, animate a semi-abandoned space and explore the ways in which history and tradition live on into the present. Reciprocity is one of the exhibition’s concepts. Works by a generation of older artists are, for example, included to explore the cross-influences and exchange of ideas between the younger artists in the exhibition (in general they are no older than 30) and the slightly older generation. Everything comes together in a lively, energetic, ongoing, liquid present which is what the exhibition is all about. However, the exhibition is not without some weak spots. Not all the works included are of equal standing and several of them would not work outside this particular context, an effect which may have been intended. The artists of the «older» generation (now in their 40s) have produced some of the exhibition’s best works. An installation by Alexandros Psychoulis – also a member of the music group that performed on the opening night – of a huge desk positioned on the building’s rooftop and tied to the courtyard’s two palm trees suggests the shaky promises of education. Giorgos Gyparakis produced a political work that alluded to the war in Iraq and was based on his research on that country’s civilization. Ilias Papailiakis invited the younger artists (his pupils in drawing) to participate in an interesting group project. Other examples include the fairy-like, yet slightly ominous, drawings of Christiana Soulou and the photographs that Giorgis Gerolimbos has taken of a central square in Patras There was also an impressive, huge installation on the concept of the carnival that Nikos Haralambidis produced in collaboration with younger artists. Also part of the exhibition was a periodical published by the Reading Group. Founded in 2004, the six members of the group advance discourse in contemporary art theory by organizing discussion groups among artists and theoreticians. A creative initiative, Reading Group’s inclusion in «What Remains is Future» enriched the exhibition’s intellectual side and underlined its multi-disciplinary aspect. Plenty of interesting works were also produced by the artists from the younger group. There were wonderful drawings by Irini Miga, an ethereal wall drawing by Eleni Kamma and the stencil floor-drawing by Ioli Sifakaki; they all used draughtsmanship and contained motifs that referred to the city and the story of the host building. Other works included the humorous, yet slightly melancholy, floor sculptures of Costis Velonis or the distorted, chocolate-made school desks by Poka-Yio. Each artist was given a separate classroom in which to show his works, but the exhibition also spilled over in the corridors, the staircases and toilets. Interestingly, some works were split into parts that were presented in different parts of the building. Although the works were too varied to fit into any single description, on the whole, the exhibition had a playful, grunge and upbeat quality about it. It has both the freshness inherent in the endeavors of emerging artists but also their recklessness and their often dubious defiance. One of the questions to ask, however, is: What is it that remains? How do these artists converse with their cultural past? And, how does contemporary Greek art stand in relationship to our Greek heritage, landscape or current pace of life? In the age of globalization and the Internet, is there something that differentiates a Greek artist’s work from the work of an international artist? How does a young, Greek artist position himself in respect to his past and the contemporary, global present? For the past several years, the Greek art scene is striving to become more outward-looking, more in sync with international art and more a part of the global art market. The Greek art world is slowly building ways to allow this to happen and for making the presence of its artists felt. Greece is rapidly changing and so is its art scene. What is new, young and what points toward the future is favored. The actual exhibition stems from that trend. This forward, future-oriented momentum has something liberating and very contemporary about it. On the other hand, the future is based on a past, of «what remains.» A past, that if is passed on with imagination to the younger generation, can provide vital stimulus and create a sense of security. One of the challenges of «What Remains is Future» is that it brings these questions to the forefront. Curator Nadia Argyropoulou has put together an unusual exhibition and an inventive, innovative project very much at the crux of contemporary, Greek reality. At the Old Arsakeion School (35 Maizonos) in Patras, through November 19.