The darker side of ‘Heaven’

Heaven is a concept that comes with a fair amount of tension – a place for storing dreams and regrets. This is where, in our search for virgin landscapes and lost innocence, we create vivid images. The word alone brings to mind a sense of well-being. Hence, one gets a strange feeling when crossing the doorstep of the former Olympic Complex in Faliron – an abandoned storage building next to the Tae Kwon Do Stadium – in order to encounter heaven. Nevertheless, this is the place where «Heaven,» the second Athens Biennale, is currently being held, until October 4. The biennale endeavors to bring together two different places which may lie very close, but have no actual communication with each other. This is the case of the lively promenade, which lies between the Edem and Floisvos beaches and the deserted area of the stadiums built for the Olympic Games – the latter revived solely for the purposes of conferences and exhibitions. The founding team of the Athens Biennale, namely Avgoustinos Zenakos, Xenia Kalpaktsoglou and Poka Yio, known collectively as XYZ, decided to abandon the Technopolis arts complex and the city center altogether; instead, they passed the torch to six curators who organized six exhibitions. There are five large group displays in the building that lies on the esplanade (with a capacity of 3,000 square meters), as well as an open-air display with performances and other events on the beachfront. Contrary to what one would expect, the exhibition is not so much about heaven, but rather deals with its dark and ironic version. Inside the former Olympic Games building, Greek and foreign curators have chosen works that illustrate the murky times we are experiencing, as opposed to the idyllic aspect of daily life or the timeless ideal usually associated with heaven. The architectural journey that Andreas Angelidakis has created inside the building makes things even harder. Visitors go through narrow passages and have to stoop to see videos with restricted visibility. On a recent visit there was no ventilation, but visitors were assured that it would resume shortly. A first tour of the exhibition creates the feeling that many works are flirting with death, vanity, violence, rebirth through debris and contemporary obscurantism – notions far removed from the biennnale’s original poster, in which a young woman on the beach looks out over sun-kissed waves. There is no optimism here, no sugar-coated packaging, but then again there is no raw power stemming from the realism of major political, social and religious issues associated with the present. Titled «Praxis,» the Thessaloniki Biennale has put across a stronger point of view, when compared to the self-referenced and slightly narcissistic Athens Biennale. «Destroy Athens,» the Athenian event’s debut title, appeared more powerful, coupled with a more cohesive concept. Here are some highlights from a biennale defined by lots of videos, not a lot of photography and almost nowhere-to-be-seen paintings: Thomas Bayrle’s prints; «The Next Great Moment in History is Ours,» by Dorothy Iannone; images by Maria Pask; and photographs from the work of Italian design guru Ettore Sottsass, among others. There was plenty of emotion with the Greek participants. Sculptures and drawings by Giannoulis Chalepas, manuscript poems by Nanos Valaoritis, sketches by Andreas Kasapis – who became known through graffiti on Athenian walls – photographs by Lydia Dabasina and porcelain sculptures by Angelos Papadimitriou. The biennale stroll continues outside the building, with a route designed by Dimitris Papaioannou and Zafos Xagoraris, with various events set to unfold during the exhibition’s run. For more information, visit