is your place? Or how do you find Ellinikotita?; Modern
Miltos Manetas, nike
shoes and sony playstation
greek odysseys: Queens Museum, Queens New york Metro; Deste Foundation:
oil on canvas
Ellinikotita. Greekness. Greece calls to mind landscapes of beaches,
blue sky and sun, or ancient monuments full of meanings of another time.
Rarely when we speak of Greece do we think of a center of artistic production
or the many Contemporary artists whose work signifies particular Greek
nationalistic traits. In our global society it is hard to
define artists as sharing enough traits to be classified as being one
nationality or another. However, Greek artists seem to share history,
traditions, the importance of family, and the legacy of their country,
whether they were born in Greece and stayed there or if they moved to
another country, or countries, for short or long periods of time, or
even if they were born outside of Greece but were raised in a Greek
community. They also share a desire for travel and exploration. These
are the means by which people construct their identities. Ioanna Mirka,
an artist based in Athens, often uses video as a means to document common
events that take place around her to comment on the structure of society
and how identities are formed. On a website devoted to Greek artists,
http://www.c3a.gr, Mirka stated, The myth of the Ellinikotita
or Greekness is finally coming to an end, while the global character
of the Greek spirit emerges in the use of new technologies with older
thoughts and concepts. The understanding of this origin contributes
to the formation of a new Greek identity. www.hanappe.com/c3a/mirka.htm.
What do Greek artists stories tell us about their Ellinikotita?
Is there a gauge for how much Ellinikotita individuals have in their
identities? And does that change with the way artists present themselves
and how they are perceived?
Mythology is a label often used to define Ellinikotita. How do some
Greek artists use mythology as a means to deal with the label of Greekness
and does it make them more or less prone to being categorized into having
nationalistic traits? Despo Magoni, a Greek-born artist who has lived
in Brooklyn for over 30 years, uses mythology as a source in much of
her work. She insists that the myths she was brought up on, help her
make sense of life; they show truth and relevance over time. She doesnt
necessarily use images of Hercules or Persephone in her primarily collage
work, but she references them and Contemporary events to describe her
own modern day myths. Kate Barba, a young artist who was born and stayed
in Athens, is also influenced by mythology, but in a more story telling
and technological way. She has stated that she was influenced by childrens
books: In the same way that fairy-tales and myths warn us of the
dangers and pitfalls of life, the childrens tales spoke of good
and evil, preparing us for the real world, all represented in an acceptable
and forgiving way. Barba takes images from comics which portray
heroes of childhood and manipulates them via computer into new interpretations
so that, The hero no longer kisses the heroine but tries to strangle
her; the blond beauty has turned into an old lady; little red riding
hood is lured by evil. http://www.hanappe.com/c3a/kbarba.htm.
Tradition plays an important role in the life of all Greeks. Artists
born in Greece or born into Greek communities cannot escape their ancient
heritage. They have the significance of ancient monuments and the Romanticism
associated with Greece in their souls. Some Greeks embrace this heritage.
Others satirize the place they come from. Maria Papadimitriou uses a
wide range of media and styles as she regenerates, pastiches and
parodies art history and popular imagery whilst celebrating communication
and creativity as collective pleasures. http://www.wigmore-fine-art.co.uk/old/georgiou-papadimitriou-wurthle/papadimitriou.htm.
In one particular image, to be continued (ballooning over mount athos),
the artist cuts out the face of a woman and pastes it onto a hot air
balloon floating near Mount Athos, a religious community on a northeastern
peninsula of Greece in the Aegean Sea where women are barred.
From a country situated at a traditional crossing point of countries
and civilizations, Greeks have long been long associated as wanders.
They tend to lead a peripatetic existence. As Peter Pappas, Director
of the Foundation for Hellenic Culture, wrote in the exhibition catalogue
for Modern Odysseys: Greek American Artists of the twentieth century,
. . . Greeks are people of the Mediterranean, that is, of flight, of
exchange, of wandering, and dispersion. It is not a linguistic accident
that even in English the words peripeteia, periphery,
metropolis, diaspora, nostalgia,
and, of course, odyssey, are all rooted in the cultural
experience of the Greeks. Greeks themselves have never ceased to be
rootless cosmopolites (another Greek word). Which is all
to say that people emigrate for reasons other than poverty, and some
more easily than others . . . How does where an artist lands influence
the work they make? How does it inform their identity construction?
Athens-based Eva Vretzaki and Poka Yio explore in their 98 series
Southern disco-mfort, . . . the ways in which tourists
view Greece and Greece presents itself as a tourist attraction. A mini
dance floor blurs alternately international pop and local bouzouki music.
On the wall, a film is projected that features sun, sea, sexthe
cliché attributes of Greece. An advertisement lights up, displaying
a sign that reads tzatziki, set in a heavenly blue light.
http://www.hanappe.com/c3a/eva&pokayio.htm. This mixing of cultures
helps to mark ones identity, but also mocks the very construct
of how their culture is seen.
Surrounded by seas and partially fragmented in small islands, periphery
becomes an important defining quality of Greece. Thessaloniki, the second
largest city in Greece, is on the periphery of the periphery. It may
be physically closer to larger cities in Europe, but it is still not
Athens. Alli Poli, a project run by Conceptual artists Thanasis Chondros
and Alexandra Katsiani in Thessaloniki, created a place in the early
90s for ideas to be broadcast around the globe. http://www.magnet.gr/views/allipoli/
There is a certain reassurance in being invisible in the periphery,
but most artists will agree that exposure is an important factor for
them. With the growing output of artists working in the global language
of photography and new media, Thessaloniki will likely soon become more
recognized, eliminating at least one level of periphery associated with
Many of the Greek artists Ive met and done research on have either
moved from Greece or have traveled quite a lot. Perhaps travel and moving
provides a means to get out of the periphery and move into mainstream
centers. For some artists travel is a means to learn about what is happening
around the world. Experiencing other cultures allows artists to better
understand their own heritage and Nationalistic tendencies. The Internet
provides a thorough means for artists to associate with a more global
artistic production and a way for people in the center, like New York
City, to learn about artists on the periphery. Jenny Marketou, born
in Greece but living in the United States for 25 years, states .
. . my Greekness has brought elements into my work that I cannot always
describe, but on the other hand, my American-ness has created the context,
the information, the experience where this work has been created.
(Modern Odysseys, 64) Marketous technologically based work reflects
the trend of many artists whose work is becoming more global in nature,
as there are no Nationalistic predispositions in it, making it nearly
impossible to label where the artist is from. Miltos Manetas, another
Greek born artist who has made Italy and now the United States his home,
makes paintings of computers and computer parts using traditional painting
techniques. Manetas recently coined the word Neen for Contemporary
art. The technology-based work that Neen describes shows
nicely the way that globalism is affecting so many artists today. Another
example is the exhibition Metro, curated by Dan Cameron
for the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art in Athens. In his curatorial
statement, Cameron noted that the lines between local and international
artistic developments have become increasingly blurred. Does making
work that looks like any other artist in any other country could have
made it detract from these Greek artists Ellinikotita? Does the
mythical aura of the purity of Ellinikotita become stained by a globalized
or image? Greekness seems to evoke nostalgia, melancholy, memory, whereas
Americanness (or globalness?) evokes voyeurism, an incestuous relation
with media, frenzied Consumerism, and cutting up of symbols to make
a fragmented landscape.
How we form our identities is influenced by where we are born, where
we travel, and what we are exposed to. While it is impossible to actually
define Ellinikotita, it is fun to try and interesting to see the similarities
in some Greek artists works and their disparate natures. The very
task of trying to categorize artworks into nodes of Greek nationalistic
identity brings up issues of place, of identity and of historical understanding.
As we expose ourselves to the -nesses of other cultures are we able
to adopt some of their characteristics along the way? If all Greek artists
are born with Ellinikotita, but some keep it and some hide it or let
it go away, can those of us who are outside the sunny place pick some
up along the way? If so, how much Ellinikotita is in your palette?
New York, New York