“Transcultures”. Theory and Practice of the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) (Newspaper, EETE Newspaper, January 2005)

Mihalis Papadakis, sculptor
President of the Chamber of Fine Arts of Greece (EETE)
Member of the Board of Directors of the EMST
Theory and Practice of the NationalMuseum of Contemporary Art (EMST)
The open-air exhibition “Athens by art”, which was realized during the Olympic Games, was very positively commented by the Press – although with no enthusiasm, as a matter of fact. However, the personal comments of many agents that took part in the organization of the exhibition  – I happen to know some of them very well -, not only were not positive, but more or less they faced it as a traumatic experience that they would rather forget.  
The wounds of OUTLOOK were still open and “Athens by art” was like “scratching” them. So, when the exhibition “Transcultures” of the EMST came about, it was as if under a common agreement it was almost unobserved by the public speech and the wide public.  
The big issues arising from these exhibitions are two –because of their size and also because of the public character of their funding.  
Α. How do they determine the concept of Contemporary Art? Instead of doing this through an open, towards all the trends, approach to contemporary (temporarily) artistic creation, they choose to promote one and only specific direction – the one of illustration of an idea– from which the aesthetic suggestion that is the content of Art is absent.  
Β. What are the procedures chosen by the State in order to promote contemporary artistic creation and to project it to the wide public? Instead of depending on the institutional bodies of the field, it assigns to people –curators or directors – the management of public money for this aim.
These two issues have always been open “on the table”. But now they have a special meaning, aiming for the formation of the character and orientation of the EMST.
The Museum either will become a strictly scientific, and at the same time open, institution, with collective approaches, having the fine art happening of our country as a base-starting point, and this way with an independent presence in the field of world Art, or it will be another franchise shop of one of the big international centers of the market, where of course the manager-director plays the major role.
The “Transcultures” is the top act in the short history of the EMST. How do they manage the first question?
The exhibition presents 17 big art works of 17 artists.  
The 17 works can be separated in two basic categories: five of them belong to the category of video-photography and the other 12 to the category of installations of the ready-made and the design-constructions.
Mrs. Kafetsi writes on the text of the catalogue that prologues the exhibition: “… we trace methods, practices and forms that control, question or attempt critical transgressions of the economic-political boundaries of globalization, [of the one-dimensioned globality,] by revealing the other side [of the opponent internationalism]. From that point of view, the postmodern concept of multi-culturalism, is confirmed as fundamental, by referring to the other, non-European cultures, and the co-existence of different, axiologically equal civilizations, opening the way for the reconsideration of the previous west-centrism and from new artistic fronts.”
The 17 artists that take part are: two from the U.S.A., eight from Europe (in which five Greeks) and seven artists from five countries (South Korea, South Africa, Lebanon, Iran, Palestine) as “equal civilizations” to the western centers of the U.S.A. and Europe…
These civilizations are considered by the “Transcultures” so equal, that all the artists that have been chosen to represent them, with no exception, have studied, live and work permanently, either in the U.S.A., or in Europe.  
The codes of artistic expression (Fine Art Language) that all 17 artists use are the codes that are promoted as trend (as Contemporary Art) by the “reconsidered previous west-centrism”.
The issues with which the 17 artists set about belong to two categories, the one of “philosophical thinking” and the one that makes comments of social character with a simple message, “one that has been said a thousand times, but still ineffectual, just like the way in which it is conveyed, which is by now a commonplace”, as the oldest exhibitor highlights about his work.
This highlight is very appropriate for the characterization of all the works of the exhibition, the ones of the “philosophical thinking” as well, with the most well-intentioned approach. As a matter of fact, I compile some “messages” that the artists themselves “send” as an essence of their work. An artist comments: “The idea is something like a chamber of superstition…, all these things change from country to country, and because I am doing this work as a picture, the magic hopefully doesn’t work”. (“The idea is something like…”!! Not the work!! This is not a phrasal error. Normally the artist and his idea are in one place, and he creates the work in another place). Another one writes: “The overall impression I am hoping to achieve is that of an urban/industrial cityscape in a clear trade of decay (…) or one in the process of being regenerated and brought back to life”. Another one: “Mandala: zone of zero is mixed media sound installation in which  tibetan, islamic and gregorian chants are interwoven to manifest a journey towards enlightenment”. Another one: the work is “against this fading of memory”. And some other…wise things. . Another one: “Another one: the work is “”. And some other…wise things.
In the introductory text the “Transcultures” are self-presented as the “opponent internationalism” that with “methods, practices and forms in new artistic fronts” breasts the “one-dimensioned globality”, the flattening culture of the metropolitan centers of the West from the one side, but also the “fragmentation into entrenched identities” from the other side, for one transcultural unity of the world. However, the exhibition not only presents artists that all of them basically come from the western centers, but also all of them use exclusively the two ways of artistic expression that are promoted by these centers: the linear design and the ready-made installations (beginning of the sixties) on one hand, and the video-art (beginning of the eighties) on the other hand – wanting to abolish the free design and whatever stems from it, as well as the plastic of the color and the shape.
Parenthetically we must mention here that when the ready-made appeared (Dysan 1913) and the design-constructions (Bauhaus 1919), and until the Second World War, the first was used as an ironic comment against the ready-made culture and the second for the creation of human-centered aesthetic applications for useful objects. As far as the video is concerned, it is promoted as “art” since the mid eighties, with the explosive development of electronic means (see CNN). The art– past of video lays in the cinema, as well as its present and its future.
The ready-made installations, the design-constructions and the video are forms of commercialized Art. Commercialized, because it is an art that is formed inside the limits of the technological possibilities of each time and that has as a natural extension – aim its multiple reproduction.
Art always functions with no regard for the technological limits of the means of creating the work and not a few times creating its own means. This is the concept of the Unique, the really “new front” at the level of “the methods and the practices”.
The market (the stock market) of Art, after investing mythical amounts on the rights of the Unique, it is interested to give value to the copy, so that it makes the depreciation faster and so that it has the desired profits through its commercial exploitation (internet, signed by the artist offset copies and other relevant practices).
The value-price of the copies is decisively increased, and “is justified”, when they are promoted as Unique. Works, that is to say, that the originals are not at all different from their copies, because the intervening of the same technical procedures and machines that also realize their massive re-production is a prerequisite for their materialization.
In the “electronic information dominance era” –the Era that has invested so much money on electronic means– the work of Art should also serve the new means, as some willing “theoreticals” declare.
Even though all this seems to happen –and happens– for financial reasons, at the same moment they cover –hide– the semantic differentia, the discrete character, of fine art creation-work of art (Unique) in contrast to art-product of individual consumption of a wide range (copies).
Artistic creation, as such, has a discrete social character, like scientific research, as well. And as the results of scientific research do not coincide with the consuming products of technology, the same way in artistic creation as well the result-work of art cannot coincide with the massive reproduction of its image (copies, design applications etc.).
Inside its historical route, the work of art is defined as the coincidence –identity of the clearly individual-personal with the most catholic concepts in a material result which is the result of the essence of each social activity.  
Art activates the Whole that is contained in the separate (the man as part of the Whole) and gives to the individual (the individual imagination) the power to break the stereotypes that refer to it – as, that is to say, the Whole is perceived by the collective knowledge-, and so to open roads for scientific thought and, in continuation, collective knowledge. Besides, here lies the “dangerous-revolutionary element” of Art, the threatening to each social policy, and not to arid and thus propagandistic, illustrations. They are arid, because they don’t cultivate or develop the “tools” of the aesthetic intake of the world, of Aesthetics (as a content of Art and as science) with which man sorts and combines his sensory performances.
Youth of Art, is what Mr. Zenakos (VIMA 2/1/2005), who “is activated in the dim notional space of contemporary fine art creation…”, calls works of art relative to the ones of “Transcultures” , which circulate in the “stands” of the galleries. By the way, he does not refer to the “Transcultures” and to “Athens by art” as important events of 2004. Mrs. Kafetsi calls these works “hybrids” of a new Art that arises, as she implies in her text.
In the “Transcultures” we don’t see neither “hybrids” of a new Art, nor “youth”, just the fine art language is abolished, the fine art language that is historically determined as the language of the free design and of the plastic of the color and the form, that which gives Being to the work of Art, and with “theoretical” sleights it is replaced  by its applications in the design-useful ready-made forms, those which, although 90 years ago were used in Art just as ironic comments to the “one-dimensioned catholicity”, here they are presented as the “new artistic fronts” of our age!!!
The everlasting verbalism is now a constitutive element of the putative “work of Art”, which alone does not have any content, and as such it cannot convince the public to approach it. The irony is that this kind of –let’s say- art, the so much loaded with words in order to become apprehensible, is called minimalistic!!!
In the second question, which basically refers to the State and involves the way it has chosen to construct the institutions of Civilization, it should answer, not only it, but the Board of Directors of the EMST as well, regarding its responsibilities. We will see…
Mihalis Papadakis

Mihalis Papadakis

Designed by Design-It