Chaos precedes creation; mankind understands this. Even modern science states that the Universe began with chaos. Through stories such as Noah’s flood, that erased and rebooted a civilization, and the Greek myth depicting Chaos as creator, we are shown that only in pieces can something be assembled into coherence.
Perhaps that is why there is something so invigorating about the chaos that has been taking place in Athens. Over the years, an emerging art scene has become increasingly hungry, informed and determined to break a staunchly traditional establishment steeped in the technical and historical traditions of Western art. The main battle is against stereotyping.
In the second half of the 20th Century, Greek art was influenced by the Impressionist, Expressionist and Surrealist movements, with Surrealism lending itself to Greece amidst both foreign and local pre-occupation with the deified legacy of its ancient past. However, this often resulted in sometimes camp, overly-romantic, arrogantly-attributive and predominately figurative odes to unattainable ideals. Laurel wreaths were featured extensively, as were white loin cloths draped on shiny, Polykleiton bodies.
Today, it is clear that these out-dated styles recurrent in Greek art have become too academic, too fine, too flat and arguably too superficial for a new and jaded generation to understand. The glossy stereotyping of Ancient Greece as an ideal in all its forms only serves to demean the role of modern Greece itself and fossilizes the characteristics of that ancient past. As a result, philosophy, debate and politics become nothing more than flowery incantations with no real meaning. For a generation that has grown up with the stories of a very different past, regarding the Turkish occupation and battles for national independence that only really stopped 30 years ago, it is time to move on.
That is why the first Athens Biennale is so important; it is what the Young British Artists did for British Art and what Marcel Duchamp’s Latrine did for art theory. It announces Greece’s rebirth. After years of working quietly in the background, a multitude of graffiti, graphic and experimental artists, filmmakers, animators, musicians, art historians and curators, are beginning to loudly express their own views not only on Greek culture, but on the world itself and man’s place within it. They seem to have alot to say. By simultaneously embracing the language of the technological age and questioning the nature of art itself, this Biennale is truly a chance for a dormant Greek art scene to explode.
Athens has set about destroying itself and by doing so, it has upped the stakes. Three main exhibitions ‘Destroy Athens’, ‘How to Endure’ and ‘Young Athenians’ stand alongside smaller exhibitions such as ‘Fractured Figure’. The Biennale itself features over sixty international artists and a wide array of mixed media complemented by video screenings and live events. The result is a dynamic cultural revolution that expresses its ideas in that blissful language of observational response where participants are invited to witness a story unfolding and contribute to the plot. By dismantling the tired view of what art, culture and society should be, organizers and artists alike are replacing stereotypes with possibilities, ideas, and most importantly, a willingness to imagine, portray and suggest several visions of the past, the present and possible futures. Who needs Plato when there is an international generation defiant on re-examining old ideas in order to create new ones? After all, even if some things seem wrong, they still contribute to what’s right.
Let the Mayhem continue.