Artists explore urban reality

The city, a frequent subject in curatorials of contemporary art over the past few years, is also the theme of «Head Start,» a group exhibition that brings together 11 contemporary artists – most of them young or emerging – and is jointly curated by Anna Chatzinasiou and Alexandra Ikonomou. Held at the City of Athens’s Art Center in Eleftherias Park, it is a compact, unassuming and well-displayed show with works that tie in with one another and explore a city’s cultural, political and historical layers in indirect, allusive and personal ways. Black and white, gray and earth tones predominate, enhancing the overall contemplative mood. An exception is the vivid purple and yellow in the paintings of Yiannis Ganas. Yet even here, the black background and the black outlines of trolley bus wires prioritize play on light and shadow, not an emphasis on color. In their essay included in the exhibition’s catalog, the curators quote Walter Benjamin’s description of the city as a «hospitable refuge and retreat» due to its anonymity but also as «a place of alienation from nature, isolation and melancholy.» Both sentiments are communicated through the works. An example are the «Invisible Cities» images of ethereal-looking cityscapes painted by Marianna Gioka. Visually soothing, the images contain poetry but upon closer inspection allude to the dense and constricting urban fabric. Paintings, or works that employ the language of painting comprise a good share of the exhibition, giving it warmth. Panos Famelis works his canvases in heavy layers of paint. His sculptures are actually lumps of different colored paints applied one on top of the other. A painterly sense is even to be found in the two photographs included, both nighttime views of cities (Athens and London) by Margarita Myrogianni. The relationship between the public and the private is an idea behind the work of Eirene Efstathiou (recent winner of the DESTE Prize in 2009), who takes archival material or images from the media and then transforms them into photorealist paintings. Small in format, her paintings show details of buildings or public spaces. By employing painting, Efstathiou «personalizes» the public and hints at how a city’s history is processed, remembered and experienced. In «Regularisation sans papiers!» a motto that Costas Christopoulos found written on a public wall is reproduced through the technique of decollage and written in reverse. The work conveys a political message on immigration. Images or objects picked up in the city itself have also inspired Kosmas Nikolaou, whose unusual conceptual installation is based on the thrown away archive of an unknown architect that he found on the street. Also on the side of conceptual art is the series of manipulated photocopies by Maro Fasouli. These are images of dwellings outlined only as white, flat shapes in a rural environment. Her work plays with the relationship between exterior and interior spaces, nature and architecture, void and built-up space. «Transit,» the key word in the intallation by Alexandros Laios, addresses a state of transition and is a likely allusion to the instability of urban life. The paintings of Nikos Varytimiadis do not have any obvious connection to the city and resemble Nordic rural landscapes at night. But details in the paintings are intended to hint at issues related to an urban lifestyle, such as social seclusion and violence. There is also a video by Leonidas Liambeys which focuses on the Pakistani community in Athens. «Head Start» will make the viewer more aware of our daily surroundings and draw attention to the complex layers of any city. It is an interesting statement made by two young curators and a group of young artists. «Head Start,» at the City of Athens’s Art Center (Eleftherias Park, tel 210.722.4028) through September 29.