Images on ‘crisis’ and order

As a professor at the Athens School of Fine Arts, photographer Manolis Baboussis has often attended meetings and has found himself at both ends of criticism. He has witnessed situations in crisis – after the Greek word krisis – both in the sense of something which is judged and of something that is at a critical point. Often times, he has also noted how decision-making exercises power and maintains institutional authority. As a photographer, he has opted to render what he sees as control mechanisms in visual terms and as an architect has noted how particular spaces (for example, a conference room) are structured in a way that reflects order and authority. In «Crisis,» the artist’s solo exhibition held on the occasion of the 19th International Photography Meeting which is taking place in Thessaloniki (the large festival organized by the city’s Museum of Photography), a photographic installation that shows the interiors of established, public institutions (meeting rooms at universities, the Holy Synod, a courtroom) provide an almost clinical, unyielding take on how space and architecture regulate behavior and channel emotions. In the main part of the exhibition, the photographs are projected in pairs (one not always in synchronicity with the other) on a huge screen. Large, printed photographs are shown in the rest of the exhibition space. Interestingly, all the spaces are shown void of human presence. They all include chairs, the «chair» of the decision maker. Moreover, in each, a religious icon hangs in a prominent place to connote the idea of «higher» judgement. The exhibition is held at the Yeni Tzami, a former mosque that was built in the early 20th century and was attended by Jews who had converted to the Muslim faith. The building subsequently became a refugee shelter and was later turned into an archaeological museum. It it now used as a cultural venue. The disused mosque is the perfect location for a body of work that raises the issue of institutional power. The resemblance between the empty interiors in Baboussis’s photographs and the stripped interior of the mosque establishes a connection between religion, politics and various forms of power. The sense of emptiness is gripping: It mirrors a reality that is hard – and at times manipulative – but melancholy in all its vanity and self-importance. A photograph showing a cemetery and another that depicts a freshly covered grave underline the idea of vanity. The grid-like structure alludes to order and control, yet both ideas are rendered futile and meaningless when considered in relationship to mortality. Close by, a photo showing a collection of trophies creates a juxtaposition that further underlines the vain struggle for power. Most of the photographs are built from recurring units of the same shape. A photo from the interior of the Greek Parliament, for example, shows rows of identical seats, while another photo depicting the interior of a bouzouki club shows rows of identical tables. Repetition expresses order but is also used to allude to the stifling of individuality and differences. Baboussis’s photographs depict contradiction and show the fine balance in decision-making processes: crisis in the sense of judgement and crisis in the sense of a rift. Many of the photographs were also presented in a huge exhibition on the artist’s work that was shown several months ago at Italy’s Spezia Modern and Contemporary Art Center. Published on that occasion, a book on Baboussis’s work provides probing analysis (texts are written by Bruno Cora and Denys Zacharopoulos) on the work of this well-known Greek artist. The exhibition was one of the highlights of the 19th International Photography Meeting (known in Greek as Photosynkyria). It also showed the openness of the event to a kind of photography that is usually represented by contemporary art galleries and does not strictly fit the category of pure photography. «Crisis,» at the Yeni Tzami (30 Archeologikou Mouseiou Street, tel 2310.857.978) to May 16.