Veiled in a cloud of national bereavement, I am here to write about art, but first there will be an introduction.
The peaceful demonstrations, the protests, the riots, the rallies, and finally what it seemed to be a civil unrest began taking place in Athens, Greece on Saturday, December 6th, 2008. Earlier that evening, a policeman in downtown Athens for who the f*** knows why shot dead a 15 year-old high-school student. Despite the fact that the policeman has been charged with murder, this devastating incident was the tip of the iceberg for the Greek youth, who have been left with no room to dream of a future; for my generation, which is also widely known as the “€ 700 generation”; for those in mid-life confronted with dead-ends and for the senior citizens, who gasp hopelessly – unable to make a dignified exit.
It’s important to clarify that (a) the groups who are peacefully demonstrating in the streets of Athens with (b) those who are strategically attacking civil offices and (c) the left-winged union demonstrators along with (d) those who excel in Molotov cocktail and rock hurling plus (e) everybody else in between are different groups of people. It is unfair to homogenize the aforementioned groups and further criticize a society based on who is the loudest.
I condemn all forms of violence and vandalism and I have been firm on this since the very beginning. Yet in a cloud of ambiguity the media, a political party and many civilians justified the mayhem and fed its appetite. A state of simmering pandemonium stamped this holiday season and with no further delay, a bloody dialogue was set in motion in the early hours of January 5th, 2009. Thirty Kalashnikov shots were fired towards three policemen who were guarding the Ministry of Culture. The gunmen sealed the attack with a grenade. A 21 year-old policeman was wounded and still remains in critical condition.
Both shootings took place in Exarchia, in downtown Athens. When asked about January 5th, a middle-age female resident of the area said with confidence to a news reporter “I heard Kalashnikov shots been fired.” Who can distinguish the type of a gun by its shots in the middle of the night in Athens? The death of the student has sparked the worst riots for decades, which escalated to be a sociopolitical vendetta. Is this a society of an eye for an eye?
Why is this all happening? For way too many reasons that go too far back, but most importantly because the Greek gluttonous government in power since 2004 is digging a hole and inviting us all to jump in. For the last 18 months, new scandals make weekly headlines, there isn’t even enough time to react in between – the lethal combination of a corrupted government and a lethargic Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, is what we’re left with at a time of severe economic stagnation, a chronic lack of meritocracy, an endless list of social injustices and continuous brutality towards protestors, which in this case were often teenagers, by the state.
How could I ever link this intro to the art postings I’ll upload from Athens for you in the following days? Maybe I can’t and maybe I shouldn’t and for that I have to say this now.
Art may echo this page of Greek contemporary history, but I’m not convinced it’s entirely necessary unless we’re willing to individually evaluate the role of art within the contemporary Greek society and further admit openly the kind of voice it has for each one of us, and then get on with our day. There is life after art and if artists are willing to react, or make a stand, they are not obliged to call it art – an artist is also a citizen. If anybody finds comfort in turning this into some careerist driven niche, I’ll personally stay away. An open dialogue that’s not addressed exclusively to the intellectual elite can be an initial answer to our racing thoughts.
Sometimes we come closer to art outside the art world. On December 19th, 2008 mainly through facebook and other social networking sites, a call to decorate with trash the 2nd erected Christmas tree for 2008 – on Syntagma square was widely distributed. The first one was literally lit right after the student’s shooting. Despite the preceded events, the mayor of Athens was determined to feel the Christmas spirit by putting everything behind us. The tree was guarded throughout the remaining holiday season.
The optimistic side is that I live in a society that the loss of a 15 year-old life still matters. And I want to believe that it equally does when another life is put at risk. What’s pessimistic is the outlook of those who found the protests incomprehensible, it’s frightening that, that too has to be explained.
Stay with me the next couple of days, and I promise to stick to what I know and to what you come here for.