Documenta comes to Athens

In a surprising move, Adam Szymczyk, Documenta’s Artistic Director, transplanted half this year’s exhibition to Athens, where it is sprawled over 40 venues, showing 160-odd artists, with the working title ‘Learning from Athens’. Documenta is an exhibition of contemporary art which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany. It was founded by artist, teacher and curator Arnold Bode in 1955, in an attempt to bring Germany up to speed with modern art.

Here in Athens, the heart of the exhibition resides in the large available spaces—the Athens School of Fine Arts, Benaki Museum Pireos Street Annexe, the former Athens Conservatoire, and the EMST Contemporary Art Museum which, due to government mismanagement, has only just opened after years of delays. But the rest of it is spread around the many small galleries about town.
The program also includes a radio station that broadcasts 28 commissioned sound pieces in multiple formats, art films screened on Greek television, a vibrant education program, and a jam-packed schedule of live performances.

 

 

It was difficult to know what to tackle first, so we decided to start with the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), which is a converted beer factory, and thus an interesting space in itself.

 

 

The building does not disappoint – it has been beautifully converted, provides an amazing background to showcase art, and has stunning views on the Acropolis, Mount Lycabettus, and the Philopappos hill.

 

 

The art itself, however, and although it did include some stunning pieces, left me somewhat underwhelmed. There were a number of very plain sketches which would have been better placed on Instagram, and installations which, while being creative and sometimes original, inevitably brought to mind the question: This is clever/imaginative/fun, but is it art?

 

Lois Weinsberger, installation for Documenta 14 in Athens

Austrian artist Lois Weinberger had packed old objects  ‘excavated’ from under  the Weinberger family’s old farmhouse floorboards – animal skulls, broken crockery,  bits of torn paper, scraps of wood – into cardboard boxed with plexiglass tops. There was even a line of old shoes.

 

Lois Weinberger, Installation for documenta 14 in Athens

 

Strangely, the labels for the whole exhibition were located on the floor – they were just work titles on paper and handwritten artist’ names on small, rectangular blocks of marble that looked like paperweight (apparently a number have already disappeared – perhaps purloined as souvenirs).

 

 

Another installation comprised a few desks strewn haphazardly in an empty space, as if an office had been abandoned in a hurry. On them were objects described on a list: i.e.  ‘a piece of A4 paper.’

 

Art is very subjective and encompasses a wide range of creativity, yet there are still some some things I don’t get – but perhaps there is nothing to get. Just sayin’. The most creative part here, it seems to me, has been getting people to believe this is worthy of a place in Documenta.

 

 

Moving on, among the video installations was one I found engrossing, from the collaboration of artists Nashashib and Skaer – a group of women and children in a house and courtyard, complete with dogs and chickens – which revisited Gaugin’s images of Tahitian women. Another, called ’15 hours’, by Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing, showed the repetitive work in a Chinese sweatshop – and there was an unbearable one, by Iranian director Forough Ferrokhzad. Called ‘The House is Black’, it documented life in a leper colony. I could only watch a tiny bit – in fact, I’ve noticed that visitors seldom have the patience to watch the whole of a video installation, which, in some instances, is probable a shame.

One aspect of the exhibition I liked was the variety of artists represented, from all over the world. Many from Eastern Europe, and some from unusual destinations – artists from as far away as Mongolia, or belonging to the Sami people from the Arctic regions of Norway. On the other hand, who wants to see a series of portraits of Hitler, even if they do have socio-political connotations? (paintings by McDermott & McGough from their series ‘Hitler and the Homosexuals’.)

 

 

Installation by Cecilia Vicuña for Documenta Athens
Cecilia Vicuña ‘Quipu Womb’ The Story Of The Red Thread, dyed wool

At the end of our tour, we came upon two impressive installations, especially since our first glimpse of them was from above.

A circle of masks made of woven vines by Khvay Samnang.

 

 

And I loved Quipu Womb (Story Of The Red Thread) by Cecilia Vicuña. The ancient art of Quipu is a pre-Colombian form of writing involving intricate knotting patterns. Here, untreated wool was sourced from a local Greek provider and dyed red.

 

Installation by Cecilia Vicuña for Documenta Athens
It is made of wool, and it’s hard to stop oneself from touching it or sneaking inside the strands

 

Art is rampant all over town, and one of the positive effects of Documenta  is that it has attracted a lot of visitors from abroad. Documenta has been called a ‘cultural peace offering‘ from Germany to Greece by some, a ‘Trojan horse’ by others. It so vast and diverse that it is intimidating: one has to make up one’s own mind in the end. The dialogue continues.

 

Mask by Beau Dick. Documenta 14 Athens
A set of twenty ‘tribal’ masks, by the late British Colombian artist Beau Dick

Documenta is on for 100 days, so I will certainly be seeing more of it. For anyone interested in more detail, however, or for those of you living in Greece, I recommend browsing Art Scene Athens, a blog I have often referred to before. There are several detailed posts on the subject, a lot more erudite and objective than my own biased view!

 

They must have been fun to make!

Happy Easter The Chios Way. And Killer Bunnies

Read about a crazy, dangerous Greek Easter tradition on the blog of Nicholas Rossis. I don’t think I’ll be celebrating Easter there any time soon!

Nicholas C. Rossis

Vrontado, Chios | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books Resurrection Rocket War on Vrontado, Chios. Image: Atlas Obscura

Today, at midnight, Easter is celebrated by both Orthodox and Catholics. I’ve written in the past about Greek Easter customs, mentioning in passing how, in most places, the celebrations include fireworks.

There is one place, however, that takes this to the next level: Vrontados, on the Greek island of Chios. Here, two rival parishes engage in a most unusual and dangerous Easter tradition that has been taking place quite possibly since the Ottoman era. The churches, Agios Marcos (St. Mark) and Panaghia Ereithiani (Holy Mary on Erythai-the ancient name of Vrontados), sit on opposite hillsides about 400 meters away from one another. Every year, they recreate a yearly “Rocket War”, which is exactly what it sounds like.

According to Atlas Obscura, real cannons were used until 1889 in this annual performance, which no one really seems to…

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Easter Lilac

Πασχαλιά (Paschalia) is the Greek name for lilac: the Paschal flower. It always blooms for Easter.

 

For Greeks, Easter is a more important holiday than Christmas: a time for fasting and feasting. A celebration of spring. Even people who are not religious will go to church at least on Good Friday and then Saturday night for the Resurrection, in order to join in the festivities. Sunday is spent with family and friends, preferably in the countryside, which is covered in wild flowers, with the aroma of roasting lamb wafting about in the breeze.

 

 

For those who have not been following this blog for long, last year I wrote a post on Greek Easter traditions which you can read here.

 

 

The date upon which Easter falls is calculated according to the moon and the vernal equinox and Greek Easter this year coincides with the other Christian churches – it doesn’t always, since the calculations are based on different calendars (Julian versus Gregorian). So, for all those who celebrate this holiday, whatever their customs and traditions, I wish you a very joyful and happy time!

 

I couldn’t resist making a quick sketch of the lilac bush in our garden.

Horiatiko Phyllo

Introducing My Kitchen Witch, the blog of Debi, an American based in Athens. Delicious recipes!

My Kitchen Witch

The first element to consider in any Greek pie is the pastry – in this case, homemade phyllo pastry. It is often refered to as horiatiko phyllo, village phyllo, and is generally thicker than the machine-made store bought stuff. Pie fillings vary, but a popular one is based on seasonal greens. Here – as an example – I’ve made little pies (pitakia) with tsigarista, a winter dish of sautéed wild greens. It really doesn’t matter what you fill your little pies with, this post is primarily about the homemade phyllo!

Homemade Phyllo
When making Phyllo for a sweet pie, a teaspoon or two of sugar is added with the flour.

  • 1kg flour
  • pinch salt
  • 30ml red wine vinegar
  • 60ml olive oil
  • Up to 500ml water

Place the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the vinegar and oil…

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Skiing with a view of the sea

Did you know it’s possible to ski in Greece? Yes, we are not just about idling on the islands – we have beautiful mountains, too. When I was in high school, a bunch of us used to climb onto the Mountaineers’ Club bus on a Friday afternoon in winter. After five or six hours, including a stop in Volos for bougatsa, a cream-filled pastry, we’d arrive at the parking lot on Mount Pelion. From there it was a mere 25′ walk in the dark along a snowy track, carrying backpack and skis, to the refuge. Us kids would hurry along, so we’d get there first and grab a room with no ‘oldies’ in it. Next morning, we’d ride up on the t-bar and snowplow down the slope in a row, arms linked, in order to ‘groom’ the piste, so proper skiing could commence. Evenings were spent singing along to someone’s guitar and playing board games. There was no way of ringing home – our parents saw us again on Sunday night, when they came to collect us off the bus. I wonder how many parents would be ok with this nowadays?

Now, of course, it’s all properly organized, with chairlifts and snowplows and instructors. And the beauty of it is that in the early spring, with a bit of luck, you can ski and swim on the same day. Ski in the morning on Mount Parnassus, then, when the sun turns the snow to soup, drive down the mountain and go for a swim in Galaxidi bay. The same can be done on Mount Pelion and the Aï-Yannis beach.

 

Photo from Google

 

If anyone’s interested in doing that, or even just skiing with a view of the sea, or hiking in the Greek mountains, Christian Mayer, an official at Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance who spent more than three years based in Athens, has written a book with all the necessary information on how to go about it.

After climbing Mount Ziria one summer in order to escape the Athens heat, Mayer, a skilled skier, got acquainted with Greece’s mountaineering community, making friends with people who had the same interests and exploring the Greek mountains extensively. He kept a journal, and eventually he turned his notes into a book, Ski Touring With Sea View, with beautiful photographs and detailed descriptions of 23 routes on the Greek mountains.

 

 

 

As well as being a great guide for skiing, the book is useful for summer hikes.  It contains practical information about the different locations, such as maps, starting points, mountain refuges or other places to stay, altitudes, potential dangers like a risk of avalanche and necessary attire.  It also seems refuges and tavernas mentioned therein and will give you a 10 percent discount if you have the book with you!
A must for everyone who loves mountains and wants to explore Greece. Amazon link

 

 

Christian Mayer in the Greek mountains (source: Kathimerini)

For Sale

In 2008, residential property prices in Greece were through the roof, boosted by the success of the Olympics, and the denial syndrome that made people refuse to acknowledge the approaching crisis. Today, they are down by 42% (-45.3% in real terms). And everybody wants to sell – or rather, needs to sell.
People can’t afford to keep the summer villa on the islands, or the large house in the suburbs which they built with such pride and is now costing them an arm and a leg.

To revive the housing market, the Greek government recently offered residence to non-EU investors purchasing or renting property worth over €250,000. This is known as the “Golden Visa” program and has resulted in a spike in the demand for property by foreigners – especially houses – according to research published  by “spitogatos.gr”,  a website focusing on property investment in Greece. The rise in interest has been particularly evident in January and February 2017 by nationals from Arab states, China, Germany and Turkey.

This might come as a welcome respite for some Greeks; it might also be the perfect opportunity for foreigners to acquire the house of their dreams on a Greek island. And we do want foreigners to keep coming, dont get me wrong – tourism is very important to us. But there is a very dark downside to be considered.

 

The ancient theatre at Argos

At the same time, the Greek government has been implementing a selling-out of public assets in an unprecedented scale and in ways that are mostly suspect, if not downright illegal.

Ports, airports, huge pieces of public real estate including beaches, land and wetlands, dozens of properties abroad, dozens of listed and non-listed monuments, Olympic facilities, national roads, military installations, natural gas, the defense and oil industries, railways, post offices, and profit-making enterprises – all have been sold, or are for sale.

The European Union has a hand – and, of course, an interest – in this (and some countries more than others!) Reading articles about it makes my head ache – the politics and shenanigans involved are surreal. The complications and different opinions are impossible to unravel.

 

Loutsa beach near Athens

History repeats itself – we are a small country coveted by many, because of our climate, natural beauty and geographical position. We are preyed upon, while being in some way complicit in our own destruction.

In twenty years, will Greece still belong to the Greeks? Or will we be the servants of higher powers, in a country where others live in our houses and profit from our natural wealth? Thinking about it makes me scared, and sad.