‘Athenscope’ offers alternative versions of the capital’s history

Three stories about history; the science-fiction scenarios for Athens: Athens as capital of the eastern Roman Empire, a metropolis that never disappeared from the historical purview of the West; Athens as a provincial town in the newly established Greek state, whose capital was Corinth; and Athens as the capital of an imaginary socialist Greece. Yiannis Savvidis is participating in «Destroy Athens,» the first Athens Biennale (which runs to November 18 at the Technopolis complex in Gazi) with a work that destroys the very myth that gave birth to the idea of Athens as a capital. He has set up three different rooms, brought in superbly designed town-planning maps, and set out with almost surgical accuracy the evidence he calls on to support his imaginary versions of history. There is always something attractive in the avidity with which some people mobilize their imagination to subvert aspects of reality. In his «Athenscope,» Savvidis goes a step further. Born in Germany in 1966, he had his artistic education in Berlin in the 1990s, he retains the aura of a city that has unsettled accounts with history. «Berlin is an historically fragmented city. It isn’t easy to define and it carries many different myths. The inability to classify it makes me feel the need to impose some order on the chaos. So I draft maps as strictly as a robot; I use town plans; I do research.» «Athenscope» is the first visual project in which Savvidis has married two opposing forces: a natural attraction to historically loaded sites, and a passion for classification. Visual installation Athen’s relation to history is more one-dimensional than Berlin’s. «What is interesting in the case of Athens,» explains Savvidis, «is that it was founded on an idea, on a collective fantasy that served specific purposes. That makes it unique in Europe. European cities became capitals either because they posses certain geophysical features, or because military conflicts, the very flow of history, led to them. Neither of those things happened in Athens. The idea of Athens was based on a visual construction.» And Savvidis’s «games» are no more fantastic than what happened in reality. His installations prompt many questions. He sees the visual construction we inherited centuries ago as an unhealed wound. «It stops us from seeking our true identity, a problem we constantly face,» he says. And there is another, more personal dimension: «I feel I am part of the problem, a victim of a fantasy I can’t stop going back to. It is a component of the Greek identity to fantasize about versions of history. What if the Democratic Army had won the Greek Civil War, and so on? They are fantasies that hold us back, that bring us into collision with our real self, but that also serve us. We refuse to assume our responsibilities.»