In 'Common View,' a project of the Greek National Theater, art and theater enter into a dialogue
When taking the elevator up the Rex Theater, one may be slightly confused by the sound of laughter that seems to come from the auditorium. For a moment, you may think that you have arrived late for a performance that is already under way. In fact however, this is not live laughter coming from the auditorium but recorded and used in the acoustic installation of artist Kostas Ioannidis. He is one of the artists participating in "Common View" a new project that brings contemporary art to the Rex, one of several premises of the Greek National Theater. Initiated by Yiannis Chouvardas, director of the Greek National Theater, the project explores the common ground between the visual arts and the theater. It hopes to expose theater audiences to the medium of the visual arts and create a different context for understanding both the visual arts and theater.
Ghislaine Dantan and Eleni Koukou, the two curators who were invited by Chouvardas to design the project, have planned three successive exhibitions for the Rex which will stretch through to the end of May. They have chosen artists whose work borrows elements from the theater or performance. They have also shown a preference for site-specific projects, performance art or video and audiovisual installations. The majority of the works are special commissions made for the particular project.
The first exhibition, which will run to January 6, is an elegant and carefully designed display arranged along the building’s staircases, in the foyer and cafe. Designed to be seen during the performance’s intermissions, it includes works that are not imposing or tiring to the viewer but which nevertheless can make an immediate and lasting impact. It is a tight, unpretentious and conceptually solid exhibition, not a bland or decorative arrangement of works.
It is also an exhibition that includes some high-standard art. One of the best works is "Drama Queen," a video by the Berlin-based team of Elmgreen & Dragset (Michael Elmgreen is Danish and Ingar Dragset Norwegian). The video which was first presented at this year’s Munster sculpture project (a reputable public sculpture exhibition that takes place in Munster once a decade) shows a play in which the protagonists are not people but seven actual sculptures. Andy Warhol’s "Brillo Box," Jeff Koons’s stainless steel "Rabbit," "Four Cubes" by Sol LeWitt, "Walking Man" by Alberto Giacometti, "Elegy III" by Barbara Hepworth, "Untitled" by Ulrich Ruckriem and "Cloud Shepherd" by Jean Arp are each transformed into a human character. The character-sculptures articulate thoughts that reflect the mind-set of the artist that made them or the culture of each period. There are also amusing, witty dialogues that make indirect, clever comments on modern and contemporary art. Because the video is around 40 minutes long, it is best seen during a separate visit.
"Common View" also includes six videos from the well-known "One Minute Sculptures" series by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm. The videos show small happenings in which the artist engages in bizarre, humorous acts that imitate routine, everyday habits such as putting on one’s clothes. The videos are shown on the building’s staircase landings and can be seen all together from the theater’s cafe area. As with the video by Elmgreen & Dragset, Wurm’s videos are works with a performative aspect.
The most eye-catching works of the exhibition are the large sculptures by the young Greek artist Michalis Kallimopoulos. Painted in white, the plaster-like, huge, grotesque-looking busts have something exaggerated, almost theatrical about them. They somehow bring to mind the busts of actors that are sometimes placed in traditional theater-houses. The characters that Kallimopoulos depicts bring to mind Greek life in the 1950s or 60s: They include a grouchy old man or the elderly female character of the "Auntie." They personify aspects of Greek mentality that are rooted in the past but still persist – for example the dominating female figure or the constant complainer.
Seen against the old-time architecture of the Rex, Kallimopoulos’s sculptures appear even more vivid. Indeed, in "Common View" one may find that the building’s interior architecture complements the works and helps bring out their different aspects. The opposite is also true: The actual art enlivens the space and introduces a contemporary feel to it. Dantan and Koukou plan to use the building’s interesting architecture to its best effect. In "Common View," the theater’s architecture becomes a stage for art. Theater becomes a context for viewing art and art for appreciating theater.
Contemporary visual arts and theater are replete with examples in which one becomes an inspiration for the other. The Greek National Theater project is a reminder of this interdisciplinary aspect in the arts.
Future "Common View" projects will feature works by Dimitra Vamiali, Kostas Bassanos, Georgia Sagri, Giorgos Sapountzis, Jonas Dahlberg, Maria Konti, Deanna Magania and Zafos Xagoraris.
Rex Theater (48 Panepistimiou, 210.330.5074). Free admission. www.n-t.gr.
Source: Kathimerini, English Edition, Wednesday, 21 November 2007 (Courtesy of the author)