A generation of 40-year-olds in search of their own place in the sun in contemporary Greek society

Could a new spring be dawning? So wondered an article published by Kathimerini following the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics, in August, 2004. The enthusiasm was justified. The ceremony created by Dimitris Papaioannou made us suddenly realize that something existed right amid us: Greece does possess a worthy and creative pool of people. «They’re the kids next door, just over or under 40,» explained the article by Nikos Xydakis, «who have worked alongside us for years, silently, without taking up too much space…» Three years on, the Olympics-related hype has subsided and this generation of artists remains stranded in obscurity. Could they be living in a land where individuals deemed appropriate for important posts must have reached 50 years of age? Is this neglected talent drowning in a country that languishes in the pseudo-freshness of reality TV and a general lack of professionalism? Could these shunned individuals themselves be partly responsible for not pushing hard enough for their place in the sun? Kathimerini spoke to four individuals, all around 40 and artistically mature, in search of clues as to why this generation is finding it so difficult to position itself on fertile ground. Vassilis Zidianakis The exhibition that was discussed more than any other last winter was «RRRRRIP! Paper Dress» by fashion designer Vassilis Zidianakis and his associates. Arrangements have already been made for repeats of the show next year in Antwerp and Luxembourg. Zidianakis said he had recently rejected an offer for a show in New York, too. «All societies expect plenty from 40-year-olds. It is the power age. It is now. Creative people of this age often get rejected in our country. Some get disappointed. Others maintain their sense of romance. We proposed «RRRRRIP!» for Patras’s European Cultural Capital agenda. We believed that it needed to be placed within the framework of a public agency. Our bid was not accepted. The same thing happened with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the show’s main part would have been the costumes presented at the 2004 Olympics. The Culture Ministry did not even bother to reply. But we’re not stopping. The firm organizing the show, Atopos, is currently working to send the exhibition to China, without state support,» explained Zidianakis. «One of the main reasons 40-year-olds, and not only, don’t stand on fertile ground is that individuals occupying state sector cultural posts neither know nor love the field they’re in. Nobody works with enthusiasm or spirit. I’ve been doing shows since 1997. Every time I’ve sent a proposal to a state agency seeking collaboration or information, nobody has ever gone to the trouble of getting back to me in writing. If they can’t respond to a letter, how on earth are they supposed to view culture as the country’s heavy industry and be in a position to set long-term objectives? Directors at state agencies are preoccupied with projecting their personal achievements and see their terms as timetables. They don’t look any further. It’s impossible for these people to discover and make the most of talent of any age.» Zidianakis also contended that the public sector is unable to function in cultural domains that have the potential to be at the international forefront. «We often say that Greece has the richest archaeological heritage. This inherited wealth is often handled in uninspired ways. Imagine, for example, how much global interest could be generated by an exhibition on ‘Sex and Ancient Greece.’ Conservative ways dominate everywhere. Rarely is any individual with heretical, pioneering ideas trusted in Greece. Even if given a little leeway, they will look to control artistically. But, under such conditions, no artist or creative person is able to articulate expression… This kind of castration of ideas affects us all, 40 or not. Self-restriction has become the norm. Greek fashion designers, for example, don’t create a collection based on a concept but, instead, make 10 dresses that will be bought by as many rich Athenian customers.» Penny Panayotopoulou At the time of the Athens Olympics opening ceremony, director Penny Panayotopoulou had spoken about the «outbreak of a generation,» in remarks to Kathimerini. Three years later, Panayotopoulou avoided generalizing about an entire scene of similar-aged artists. «I don’t really believe much in grouping people together and don’t like to make groundless judgments on whether the 40-yearolds eventually faded early. Perhaps we’re a generation that’s looking to cash in on its talent more easily. We’ve neither sunk nor risen. On the other hand, we’ve got to deal with very difficult conditions in Greece, regardless of age. Stefanos Lazaridis’s departure from the Greek National Opera is an indicator. It seems there are certain people stopping the creative momentum in our country. There was something positive in the air in 2004. A feeling that we were blossoming, not only culturally but politically, too. Until now, we haven’t gone back to make assessments in any fields. We’re a society that doesn’t look at its own face. So, artists, too, go astray. Not because they don’t produce, but because their work gets lost in the air. It has nowhere to lean on. You see a good performance at the Athens Festival, discuss it over dinner with friends, and then everything’s forgotten. As if nothing ever happened. The framework that would have kept it around is missing. We’re still peasants and, as a result, have a bad attitude at all levels.» Mania Papadimitriou «Dimitris Papaioannou is possibly the most gifted well-known person among the generation of the 40-year-olds. He’s an exceptional artist, but also has the ability to protect his talent from tasteless ways. They say that Picasso had the same ability. He cherished the artist Amedeo Modigliani, who knew how to paint without knowing how to sell himself,» actress and director Mania Papadimitriou told Kathimerini. «For me, both young and old are useful in art. Yes, thanks to Papaioannou, the generation of the 40-year-olds managed to emerge to the surface. No, the scene hasn’t changed. Just three years have gone by since the Olympics. Also, being 40 doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re good. In theater, there are 80-year-olds who are much younger in thought, like Peter Brook. The main thing is for authenticity to come through, regardless of age. You could be a 20-year-old and be as conventional as an old man, or an 80-year-old child. The human element has nothing to do with age or generation, because it’s always anachronistic…» Constantinos Giannaris «One could talk about the generation of 40-year-olds and the fact that they haven’t shone as much as they should have so far. Some people criticize Greek society. Yes, it’s conservative, narrow-minded, and clumsy,» notes film director Constantinos Giannaris. «There’s a shortage of spontaneity, innovation, tolerance, and, on a daily basis, a verbal abuse that really frightens you. But I wouldn’t want to blame it all on society. Some 40-year-olds – creative and not – have remained stuck to rock’n’roll youth and refuse to grow up. Others have developed a psychological autism that’s linked to political autism, which prevailed in Greece’s post-dictatorship era. It’s a feeling of introspection and bitterness. It’s a good thing to be self-critical and not expect everything from the state, as if that’s going to save us. As a group, 40-year-olds don’t have the power, patience and willingness. They don’t get organized at any level, be it social, political, or cultural. All of Athens was burnt and certain people believed that they could suddenly get people out onto the streets. Things just don’t happen like that…»