ViewZine Admin

Pavilion Focus: Artists Panos Charalambous, Eva Stefani, and Zafos Xagoraris represent Greece at Venice Biennale

ViewZine Admin
Pavilion Focus: Artists Panos Charalambous, Eva Stefani, and Zafos Xagoraris represent Greece at Venice Biennale

Lining the Greek Pavilion―both inside and outside―with installations, images, and sound, the three artists challenge the establishment of history across the political, social and private spheres of our lives, by uncovering and rediscovering the voices and stories that have been lost or ignored over time. In the environment they create, grand narratives and personal stories interchange constantly. By revealing the unknown details of history, the works subvert the supposedly indisputable nature of the official record.

Mr. Stigl, the enigmatic character who lends his name to the title of the exhibition, is a playful reference to the Dutch de stijl works that occupied the Greek Pavilion in 1952. There are official records of Mr. Stigl, yet his existence is questionable. He is a historical paradox, a constructive misunderstanding, a fictional hero of an unknown story whose poetics take us to the periphery of official history and reality. This ironic narrator introduces us to a space of doubt, paraphrased sounds and nonsensical identities.

The question that Mr. Stigl proposes is: 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, disrupting and recomposing their sound. His new work An Eagle Was Standing is an installation covering the Greek Pavilion floor with 20,000 drinking glasses, upon which an ecstatic sonic dance is performed, creating a vortex of deep listening. The viewers are invited to walk on this transparent stage and leave behind an echo, a trace in the present. Two archival recordings from the artist’s vinyl collection accompany the sounds emerging from the glass installation. This multi-sensorial experience is a eulogy to the body’s ability to tell powerful stories - a Dionysian idea celebrated in many areas of Greek tradition and yet largely excluded from official historical narratives.

Eva Stefani presents three video works that use the short narrative form and present marginal characters associated with the periphery of history. The new work titled Only Men documents the everyday life of several middle-aged men; multiple narratives composed of small-scale stories move between realism and paradox, outlining a man’s world in an anti-heroic way, removed from the stereotypical depiction of masculinity. These are men of all sorts - a poet, a tavern owner, a retired tailor, a builder, an immigrant. In Window the artist tells the story of time that seems to have stopped. The video depicts a female sex worker sitting in a room, with her gaze directed at the viewer; in her silence and non-action, she signals the persistence of unrecorded history. In Mouth, archival footage of parades and national celebrations is set against tiny pieces of text. The words, written by Stefani herself, subversively intertwine private and public speech. Like the pages of a diary containing different entries bound together, Stefani’s characters bear the intimacy of the human condition through several unofficial tellings.

Zafos Xagoraris transforms the entrance of the Greek Pavilion by reconstructing a gate of the infamous military prison on the island of Makronisos. This installation, The Concession, transports us back to 1948, during the troubled years of the Greek Civil War, when the Pavilion of Greece was instead offered to the American art collector Peggy Guggenheim to show her pivotal collection of modern art for the first time in Europe, changing the history of the Biennale itself. At exactly the same time, displaced soldiers and civilians were being forced to build replicas of ancient Greek temples at the Makronisos concentration camp, as part of a political and cultural reformation. Xagoraris' gate, along with his three-dimensional model of a hybrid building that sits inside the exhibition space, references the architectural connection between the Greek Pavilion and the buildings constructed by the exiled islanders during the Civil War. The works suggest that two contradictory events occurring simultaneously have the power to define 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.

IMAGE: Panos Charalambous, An Eagle Was Standing, 2019. Photo by Ugo Carmeni