Pavilion of Greece at the 58th International Art Exhibition ― La Biennale di Venezia
Artists Panos Charalambous, Eva Stefani, and Zafos Xagoraris
represent Greece at the Biennale Arte 2019 in an exhibition titled Mr. Stigl
curated by Katerina Tselou
May 11–November 24, 2019
How does one approach a national pavilion in an era of volatile national identities, quick shifts, and radical changes, when the concept of nation-states as we know it is being disputed—and simultaneously intensified through extreme permutations.
Mr. Stigl, who lends his name to the title of the Greek Pavilion exhibition in Venice, is a historical paradox, a constructive misunderstanding, a fantastical hero of an unknown story whose poetics take us to periphery of official history, but also of reality.
Lining the pavilion―both inside and outside―with installations, images, and sound, the three artists highlight the different aspects of our political, social, and private lives. In the environment they create, there is a constant transposition occurring from grand narratives to personal stories. The unknown (or less known) details of history emerge, subverting the indisputable character of the official record in a playful manner.
What does history rewrite and what does it conceal?
The voices introduced by Panos Charalambous reach us through the rich collection of vinyl records he has accumulated since the 1980s. By combining installations with sonic performances, Charalambous brings forward voices that have been forgotten or silenced, recomposing their orality through an idiosyncratic play of vinyl using eagle’s claws, rose thorns, and agave leaves. His new work An Eagle Was Standing is an installation covering the Greek Pavilion floor with 20,000 drinking glasses upon which an ecstatic, “ultrasonic” dance is performed—a vortex of deep listening. The viewer is invited to walk on this transparent stage and leave behind an echo, a trace in the present. Two archival recordings from the artist’s collection accompany the sounds emerging from the glass installation, transforming the listener-viewer into an “aficionado.” His multisensorial installation forms a eulogy to the body held in contempt, a hymn to the Dionysian element of popular dance existing in the periphery of official history.
Eva Stefani has a different approach to official history. She uses the short narrative form traditionally associated with the periphery of history and thereby considered marginal. Her new work titled Only Men documents the everyday life of several middle-aged men; multiple narratives composed of “infinitesimally small” stories move between realism and paradox, outlining a man’s world in a very different, anti-heroic way, removed from the stereotypical depiction of masculinity. It is of no importance who these men are. They could be a poet, the owner of a taverna in Metaxourgeio, a retired tailor, or a builder meeting an immigrant in a coffee shop. Through Window she retells a different story, the story of time that does not pass and seems to have stopped. A woman sitting in a room references the significance of silence and nonaction as unrecorded history. Archival footage of parades and national celebrations is set against tiny pieces of text in the work titled Mouth. The text, written by Stefani herself, subversively intertwines private and public speech. Like the pages of a diary containing different entries that are simultaneously bound together, Stefani’s heroes bear―without aiming to do so―the intimacy of the human condition through an unofficial telling of the past that casts light upon history.
Zafos Xagoraris transforms the architecture of the Greek Pavilion by reconstructing the military prison gate of Makronisos. His installation The Concession transports us back to 1948, connecting the Greek past (specifically the troubled years of the Civil War and concentration camps) with the movement of modernism and the figure of Peggy Guggenheim. That year, the Pavilion of Greece was offered to the American collector to show her pivotal collection of modern art for the first time on European soil, changing the history of the Biennale itself. During the opening, displaced soldiers and civilians were forced to build replicas of ancient Greek temples at the Makronisos concentration camp as part of a political and cultural “reformation.” The three-dimensional portrayal of a hybrid building inside of the Greek Pavilion references the architectural connection between the Pavilion and the buildings forcibly created by the exiled islanders, as if the outcome of a collision between two contradictory events occurring during the same period of history―a time that defined the collective memory of the land as well as the stories of people living apart.
The Metropolitan Organisation of Museums of Visual Arts of Thessaloniki (MOMus) has been appointed commissioner of Greece’s national participation by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports. The role of commissioner is undertaken by Syrago Tsiara, deputy director of the MOMus –Museum of Contemporary Art and MOMus–Experimental Center for the Arts. The project is funded by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports.
The project is powered by Onassis Culture, with the support of NEON Organization for Culture and Development, the Greek National Tourism Organization, and Aegean Airlines as official air carrier sponsor. Media sponsor ERT.