Artists question objectivity

In the past, having a music library meant going to a music store and buying one or more of the available albums. Nowadays, downloading songs from the Internet allows compilations to be built on the basis of one’s own personal preferences rather than the choices of the record companies. This is just one example that illustrates the freedom of choice provided by the Internet. It is also an indication of the growing importance that the modern world seems to place on individual choice. But where does this leave shared values and collective memory? If knowledge and our experience of our world is increasingly shaped by individual choices, does this mean that the notion of an objective reality is being endangered? This is one of the questions that «Selective Knowledge,» an intellectually stimulating contemporary art exhibition currently on view at the Cultural Center of the National Bank of Greece (MIET), provokes the viewer to contemplate. Organized by ITYS (Institute of Contemporary Art and Thought) and curated by its director Els Hanappe, the exhibition includes works by 16 well-known Greek and international artists: Mark Dion, Apostolos Karastergiou, George Hadjimichalis, Mark O’Kelly, Christian Boltanski, Pietro Roccasalva, Albert Oehlen, Candida Hofer, Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani, Armin Linke & Peter Hanappe, Henrik Olesen, Allen Ruppersberg, Eirene Efstathiou, Ivan Grubanov, Sam Durant and Vangelis Vlachos. In her essay included in the exhibition catalog, Els Hanappe notes that artists sift «through historical information with a social, economic or political content to construct identities and gain understanding, while relying on a subjective approach that does not necessarily provide answers but reveals.» Priority is given not to reality or truth but to our perception of it. Hanappe explains that this approach is to some extent a reaction to the prevailing global outlook as well as the immediate and constant availability of information. Artists feel the urge to personalize that information in order to make it more unique and pertinent to themselves. «The viewer is no longer confronted with one set of iconic images but with associations that require interpretation and engage him/her on a personal level,» she writes. Most of the works in the exhibition do indeed question objective reality and replace a more «scientific» approach with personal interpretation. They paint an image of the world as constructed by multiple, different stories, each as credible as the other. Several artists question the establishments or methods that claim to collect and preserve knowledge in an organized and objective way. American artist Mark Dion explores the evolution of natural history museums and is interested in how their collections express changing perceptions of nature. Dion is also interested in how the private collections (cabinets de curiosites) that preceded museums were incorporated into the model of the Enlightenment museum, thereby introducing a subjective point of view to a scientific approach. His installation «On Tropical Installation» looks like a regular natural museum display case; the arrangement of disparate objects placed inside the case challenges the museum’s scientific approach. Libraries are also placed under scrutiny. The effect that digital technology has on the future of libraries is the theme of a video by Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani. The video’s title, «Toute la memoire du monde,» is taken from a documentary on the French National Library made by its director Alain Resnais in 1956 (which is included in the exhibition as a point of reference). Artist Vangelis Vlachos traces the political ideology behind a photo archive amassed by the Greek newspaper Eleftheros Kosmos from the 1960s through the 1980s. His work is a photo installation showing images of the former Soviet Union (themes revolve around sports, music and space technology). Its objective is to shed light on the Greek political and ideological aspects underpinning the images and to explore how such visual representations have shaped our perception of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. «Small Archive of Images» by George Hadjimichalis, a wooden filing cabinet filled with images and small objects collected or drawn by the artist, is one of the works most suited to the concept of the exhibition. Here, the work of art itself is modeled on an archive, in this case, a personal archive. Hadjimichalis is actually working in the manner of an «archivist.» Each of his works contains a body of information and knowledge that he has amassed after detailed research. His works operate as a sort of archive that preserves and propagates that information. The ways in which personal and collective memories feed off one another is an underlying theme. Among the exhibition’s most poignant works is Christian Boltanski’s «Vitrine de reference,» a well-known work from the early 1970s in which photos and other objects are placed in a display case. Boltanski’s work, which has often focused on the Holocaust victims, is about preserving memory and perusing history not through hard, historical facts but through a more human, personalized approach. Knowledge is after all not objective. It is tinted by the angle from which it is amassed. This is one of the points that most of the artists participating in the exhibition wish to project. In order to make sense of the world, they make their own selections from an available body of knowledge to build their personal narratives. «Selective Knowledge» at the MIET (20 Aghiou Constantinou & Menandrou, 210.522.3101) through July 20.

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