A conference on the subject of culture and modernity

Contemporary Greek culture is constantly growing. This is what the increasing numbers of events in all fields of the arts indicate. But does this growth run parallel to innovation? How does modernity match contemporary artistic production in Greece? These were some of the questions raised in the discussion of «Modernity and Contemporary Greek Culture», the theme of the 5th Panhellenic Conference of Cultural Publication Agencies recently organized by Highlights – the bimonthly cultural review – in Nafplion. Representatives of Greek cultural magazines from different parts of Greece, together with artists, academics and people in the arts participated in a three-day cultural get-together which made an attempt to define innovation in respect to Greek culture. Modernity in the sense of innovation and originality is a common concern among artists who work in countries outside the major cultural centers. In Greece, for example, when discussing the art produced, one often makes comparisons with the more international trends. Keeping pace with what is happening abroad is indeed important, but so is building a distinctive identity that is not an imitation. There is also Greece’s rich history and ancient civilization to consider, which are often seen as incompatible with the quest for the new. The problem of establishing ties between Greece’s history and its present was one of the points made by theater critic Irini Moundraki. A participant in the panel on Greek contemporary theater, she spoke of how contemporary art should not be seen as clashing with the country’s cultural past. On the most interesting panel, on contemporary Greek literature, literary agent Katerina Frangou observed that many young, Greek authors have renounced the literary tradition of their own country and are very much influenced by international literary production. On that same panel, Yiannis Baskozos, director of the literary review Diavazo, presented what are in his view some of the recurring aspects in the work of young, Greek writers which he distinguished from the work of their predecessors. He spoke of how young writers do not tackle life’s broader themes but usually base their stories on more personal, autobiographical plots. Baskozos also referred to the pressures felt by writers to constantly produce, which inevitably diminishes the quality of their work. Other participants made an attempt at defining the terms «modernity» and «Greek culture.» Novelist Christos Chrisopoulos for example spoke about modernity in historical and philosophical terms. He associated modernity with «identity» and, at the other end of the spectrum, of the postmodern in relationship to «otherness.» Constantinos Lignos, publisher of the music magazine Polytonon, remarked that modernity in the sense of originality is not always related to the new. Yiannis Vasilakakos, writer and coordinator of the International Association of Literary Critics of Oceania, raised the question of whether a definition of contemporary Greek culture should incorporate expatriate Greeks. The arguments presented varied greatly and differed in their depth and intellectual content. For this reason, those attending the conference gained an understanding not only of the specific theme of modernity but also of a way of thinking shared by people in the arts in this country. It is unfortunate that constant complaining is part of this thinking. Besides its theoretical aspect, the conference has also served a very practical purpose. For it has provided people in the field of culture with an opportunity to present their projects (at this year’s conference for example, representatives from several website magazines participated) and has generated artistic collaborations. Its main purpose is to document contemporary artistic production in the country, a task which also lies behind other cultural projects organized by Highlights. The creation of an «Electronic Network of Cultural Magazines,» a website that will be launched in the next few weeks, is one of Highlight’s most recent projects. The outcome of two years’ work, the site is a guide to the country’s cultural magazines (there are a total of 550 reviews, many of them inactive) and to its cultural scene. In many ways, the site ( serves the same purpose as the annual conference: it fosters an exchange of ideas and draws attention to the cultural life that extends beyond Athens and reaches the most remote parts of Greece. (The writer is a contributor to Highlights.)

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