Polyglossia

Onassis Cultural Centre

polyglossia.gif

Polyglossia, 2011. Installation view.

Polyglossia, 2011. Installation view.

‘Polyglossia’ – the existence, use or knowledge of multiple languages – brings together 31 Greek artists, as well as those of Greek origin, including American-Greek Lynda Benglis and Italian-based Jannis Kounellis. From Christina Dimitriadis’s deconstruction of the family unit to Vassiliea Stylianidou’s investigation into coincidences and systems in architecture, the exhibition stages conversations around a variety of discursive threads. Each explores the theme of identity, but none reach a simple conclusion.

Inviting questions about how artists are shaped by geographical influences and cultural origins, the show’s understanding of identity is exemplified in Miltos Manetas’s painted collages Internet Paintings II, 1 and Internet Paintings II, 2 (2009–11). Reflecting a copy-and-paste culture, the paintings acknowledge cultural identities that shift continuously within a globalized context. Of course, self-definition can be liberating as in Lucas Samaras’s masterful manipulations of his own image in the series ‘Photo Transformation’ (1973–6). Yet Dimitris Tzamouranis’s painting of immigrants shipwrecked off the coast of Italy in Clandestini (2008) reminds us that the experience of redefinition can also be forced and torturous.  

Like the artists on show, Greece has been formed as much from outside its borders as from within. Chryssa’s ‘Cycladic Books’ (1953–7) – 20 plaster casts of a cardboard box – explore the transmission of cultural origins from an international perspective. A meeting point between US Modernism and Greek classicism, stylized Cycladic forms fuse with the replicated imprint of a disposable cardboard box. The use of cardboard and plaster negates the marble-carved image of ancient Greek civilization cultivated by Western scholars (and 20th century fascist movements) as a symbol of superiority, authority and perfection, while in their referenced classical form, the cardboard boxes are rendered ritualistic icons for a modern, consumer culture. Perhaps Giorgos Gripeos’s print Facing West (2009) has the same intention by literally turning Athens on its head and presenting the contemporary city – without the Acropolis – in its over-crowded, cluttered chaos.

In this context, George Drivas’s video Sequence Error (2011) analyzes power relations and labour divisions through the lens of a system verging on collapse without making overt connections to culture or place. Speeches originally delivered by Che Guevara and George Marshall are spoken by symbolic figures: a 1960s-looking man in a turtleneck sweater; a presidential figure in a brightly lit boardroom; and a woman officiating over the dismissal of workers. A microcosm that echoes Greece’s current economic crisis set inside a glass-and-steel administrative building where everyone is identified by barcode badges, the work exposes Greece’s situation within the framework of a system that turns people into numbers.

Throughout Sequence Error, a silent woman icily presents equally silent employees with notices of their dismissal until she is finally dismissed herself. Her astonishment recalls the anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemöller’s question to German intellectuals during Nazi purges: ‘When,’ he asked, ‘they come for you, who will speak on your behalf?’ As such, although ‘Polyglossia’ appears as thematically unified as shattered glass, there is a moral to the show that speaks to a world in flux. At the beginning of a century characterized by upheaval, where the individual must navigate reality on local and international levels concurrently, it’s better to have many voices than none at all. The challenge is to discover meaning amidst the cacophony of the collective, while never losing sight of who you are in the process.

Issue 140

First published in Issue 140

Jun - Aug 2011

Most Read

The solace of Boris Charmatz’s danse de nuit in light of the Manchester atrocity
Colin Siyuan Chinnery considers the development of China’s non-profit sector and its relationship with the...
Ben Burgis & Ksenia Pedan, Cloist Gulch, 2017, installation and performance. Courtesy: Raven Row, London; photograph: Marcus J. Leith
Raven Row, London, UK
Mat Collishaw Thresholds at Somerset House 2017. Courtesy Graham Carlow
Mat Collishaw’s virtual-reality tribute to photo pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot suggests what VR can learn from early...
Two Baltic cities with compact, open-minded and active art scenes
Stanley Brouwn, 1 step – 100000 steps, published by Utrechtse Kring, Utrecht 1972, 27 x 21 cm
Stanley Brouwn has died, aged 81; a new triennial of contemporary art for Uptown Manhattan
Ellen Gallagher, Abu Simbel, 2005, 62 x 90 cm, photogravure, watercolour, colour pencil, varnish, pomade, plasticine, fake fur, gold leaf and crystals. Courtesy: Private collection and WIELS, Brussels
WIELS, Brussels, Belgium
At home in the gallery
Q: What do you wish you knew? A: All that I don’t, of course!
On Alan Clarke’s Rita, Sue and Bob Too, the death of Ian Brady, and what laughter might conceal
Celebrating its 70th anniversary, a preview of some of the highlights of this year’s festival which opens today
Nina Canell, Gum Shelf, 2017. Courtesy: galleries Barbara Wien and Daniel Marzona, Berlin. © André Morin / le Crédac
Ahead of Paris Gallery Weekend, a round-up of the best shows to see in the French capital
A stroll through the off-site shows
Henry Scott Tuke, The Critics, 1927, oil on board, 41 x 51 cm. Courtesy: Warwick District Council, Leamington Spa
Tate Britain, London, UK
A first look at ‘Viva Arte Viva’ at the Arsenale
BROUWNTOYS 4000 AD, c. 1964, artist book, 11 × 11 cm. Courtesy: Archiv Marzona, Berlin; photograph: Nadja Vogel
With the sad news of the death of Stanley Brouwn, aged 81, revisiting this feature on the elusive artist, first...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2017

frieze magazine

April 2017

frieze magazine

May 2017