more from the
May/June 2016 issue:
The Home Depot,
the Georgia Aquarium,
– Carson Chan
Two Sides of the Same Sea
– Stephanie Bailey
The School of Athens
– Despina Zefkili
– Ala Younis
Interview: Chrysanthi Koumianaki
– Iliana Fokianaki
– Jasmine Amussen
for Bethany Collins
– Buzz Spector
Change is Everything
– Emily Wilkerson
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TWO SIDES OF THE SAME SEA
Text / Stephanie Bailey
Andreas Angelidakis, Crash Pad, 2014 [courtesy of the artist]
Since the Eurozone crisis officially erupted in 2009, we have seen a marginalization occur, and the revival of a schism. Greece became a letter
in an acronym: one of the PIIGS, along with Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and Spain—the Eurozone nations hardest hit by the effects of the global financial
crash of 2008 (and eventually, the effects of the post-9/11 War on Terror in the form of a migration crisis that has been ongoing since 2003, when
the Dublin II Regulation was ratified by the EU). Greece became a pariah of sorts and has remained so within the narrative of this long crisis,
during which the specter of a Grexit ("Greek Exit") has constantly loomed, its discourse predicated on a state of uncertainty about Greece's
future in the European Union.
Throughout this seven-year period, Greece underwent a violent "othering," in which the nation state essentially began to dismantle itself as
a result of global neoliberal economic policies and pressures—a condition perhaps exemplified in the flash bailout referendum called in the summer of 2015,
and the results of that vote, which rejected proposed bailout conditions, and yet resulted in the failure of the Syriza government to deliver the rejection
the people called for.
Yet the shaping of Greece's identity via networks of global mediation, be it through economics or through propaganda, is nothing new. It could be said
that Greece has always been dependent on the world's Great Powers, ever since its early 19th-century War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire, when
Russia, France, and Great Britain intervened in support of the Greeks. In 2011 a series of satirical illustrations from a late 19th-century periodical,
Neos Aristophanes, were presented at the Third Athens Biennale as a reference to this legacy. The images depicted Greece's bankruptcy in 1893 as a result
of systemic corruption and over-spending, alongside cutting observations on the country's political disunity, and on its confused identity as both a protectorate
feeding off the teat of the Great Powers, and as a helpless victim caught in the waves of geopolitics. Famously, the prime minister at the time, Charilaos Trikoupis,
stood up in parliament and simply stated: "Regretfully, we are bankrupt." The bankruptcy had been a long time coming: it was in part tied to foreign loans
the Greeks took out in order to sustain the War of Independence against the Ottomans, and to later establish the modern Greek state after 400 years of
Turkish rule with a Bavarian king. (As Kostantinos Menzel wrote in 2014, when the War of Independence ended in 1827, Greece's first prime minister,
Ioannis Kapodistrias, had to ask the European allies "for a new loan so as to meet the repayment of a part of the previous loans," in order to aid the
Greek economy's recovery.1)
In this early postcolonial situation, Greece simply became a protectorate of an imperial alliance, complete with a line of foreign kings (again, Bavarian)
and later with homegrown dynasties. Western institutions were also imposed in Greece hundreds of years ago, and more just kept getting grafted on—the European
Union and the subsequent Eurozone being two more recent examples. As Gerassimos Notaras, head archivist of the historical archive at the National Bank of Greece,
once noted: "From the beginning, our state had no other choice than to live on credit. We were born in debt."2
Such a long-running history speaks to the depth of frustration felt by many Greeks today. To insist on this historical precedent is to encourage anyone who
might not know Greece to find something relatable in its story. After all, economics aside, what we are left with are the real human effects of such negotiations,
transactions, and submissions.
Andreas Angelidakis, Crash Pad, 2014 [courtesy of the artist]
As Vassos Argyrou notes, Greece and Cyprus are classic examples, of "how nineteenth century European discourse situated both societies 'in the margins of
Europe.'"3 Argyrou maintains that the Great Powers of the 19th century did not merely deny Greeks and Cypriots their European identity, "but also refused
to classify them as unequivocally Oriental."4 This placed Greece in a liminal position, Argyrou continues, performing a number of roles in relation to
"what Europe was (uncivilized), could have been (Ottoman, thus Oriental), and was becoming (classical, yet modern)."5 This classification was part of
the diacritical power structures imposed on Cyprus and Greece by the Great Powers "by means of divisions and boundaries," writes Argyrou, "that produce
and maintain distinct and separate identities."6
A 1936 watercolor by the Bavarian Hans Hanke, made after an original by L. Kollnberger, neatly sums up this condition up in the depiction of a café
called Oraia Hellas ["Beautiful Greece"], situated in central Athens. The scene presents a binary view of Greek society held within the frame of the
Greek café, with the foustaneloforoi on the right:
traditionalists, or guerilla fighters, who played a major role in the Greek War of Independence.
The traditionalists were dubbed "Christian Turks"—elites who sought to replace Turkish oligarchical rule with their own—by the Padua-educated Ioannis Kapodistrias,
who was aligned with the alafrangas, gathered around in the image of the café on the left side. These alafrangas were suit-wearing modernizers, led by
Kapodistrias, who espoused a romantic nationalism that sought a direct link to Greece's classical past, and which aimed at importing western institutions
wholesale so as to build the new Greek state.
This schism lies at the core of modern Greek history, which in the 20th century manifested in a civil war, a military dictatorship, and, more recently,
in the rise of the extreme right and a divided left, to name just a few examples of the festering national politics that have unfolded since the beginning
of the Cold War. Diagramming this timeline into the present is Stefanos Tsivopoulos' film Lost Monument (2009), which follows the story of a controversial
and now destroyed monument to former US president Harry S. Truman, architect of the Truman Doctrine. This 1947 doctrine was designed specifically to bail
out Greece and Turkey following World War II, an effort that led to the Marshall Plan in 1948, when the bailout touched the whole of western Europe
(and paved the way for the establishment of the European Union). The sentiment in Tsivopoulos' work is straightforward: capitalism—what Lenin called
the "highest form" of imperialism—a historical and political system to which Greece has been subject. Michael Herzfeld calls this system "crypto-colonialism,"
defined as "the curious alchemy whereby certain countries, buffer zones between the colonized lands and those as yet untamed, were compelled to acquire their
political independence at the expense of massive economic dependence."7
Reflecting on such a state was a poster from the 1960s presented at the Third Athens Biennale, showing the Statue of Liberty rendered among
the caryatids of Acropolis Hill. The poster read, "The American Banking System in Greece!," and thus pointed an angry finger at the crypto-colonialism
Herzfeld described. Indeed, Greece's current crisis is intrinsically historical, and to consider it as such would be another way for those who might
not know Greece to find something relatable in its story. From the Ottomans in the 15th to 19th Centuries, to the Europeans in the 19th century,
America and the EU in the 20th, and now, evidently, to the Chinese in the 21st (China COSCO Shipping Corporation recently bought a 67% stake in
the Piraeus Port Authority), much of the resistance surrounding the current crisis in Greece is predicated upon a very real and long history of
conforming to political and economic systems that are not only imposed, but that also ultimately fail. These conditions swept the country into
the international wave of protests that erupted in December 2010 in Tunisia, and would eventually reach New York and North America as the Occupy movement.
In all these historical cases, and in varying degrees and iterations, we see the replication of a specific reaction—a response
to what Immanuel Wallerstein observed in 1983: "that the historical system of capitalism has, after four to five hundred years of flourishing,
finally come into structural crisis."8 The very capitalism in question is that which drove the imperial Western powers toward global domination
in the last 500 years—an era that, as Walter Mignolo and others have said many times before, has well and truly ended.
A counter argument worthy of note, however, would be that this crisis is but another stage in the relentless and globalizing
march of neoliberal capitalism, rooted as it is in the imperial histories that have come to define so much of our world. If
the current crisis is indeed a symptom of neoliberal capitalism, rooted in the imperial strategies of the Western powers from
the 16th century onward, then there is an urgent need for us to read this crisis from a cross-cartographical perspective. That
analysis brings us to the framework of this dossier, which came out of my collaboration with the Athens Biennale on Synapse 2,
the second symposium staged as part of a two-year process instigated in lieu of the usual two-month biennial exhibition, as
directed by Massimiliano Mollona, working with Biennale co-founders Xenia Kalpatsoglou and Poka Yio. Synapse 2 was a response
to my participation as an observer of the first symposium in November 2015, when I flew between Greece and Lebanon for the
openings of both the Athens Biennale and of Home Works 7 in Beirut: two precarious events staged by precarious institutions
operating within highly precarious circumstances.
Athens and Beirut are joined by the Mediterranean Sea, and are historical cities with much in common, despite the fact that one city
ended up on the European side, and the other did not. The convergences and divergences I saw between the two cities led to a conversation
with the Athens Biennale organizers and, eventually, to my co-programming of the project's second summit. The Biennale, I had observed,
would need to widen the view of the South the first summit offered, which was glaringly limited to southern Europe.
These remarks are in fact an extension of a paper I delivered at Duke University in April 2014, during a conference titled "Arts of the Revolution of the
Middle East." In order to subvert the framework (and title) of that event, I offered the argument that Greece should be included within its considerations,
given the relationship between the Indignant movement, for instance, and the protests that spread through the Middle East and North Africa, to the south of
Europe, and then to New York, London, and other world capitals, beginning in 2011. The general argument was that Greece, as a territory positioned in a
geopolitical hotspot, has always been a site of blurred rather than fixed boundaries and borders. We cannot deny that Greece is historically bound to the
Middle East and North Africa by history. Thus if we are to truly talk about the protests of 2010 and 2011, and their causes, we must absolutely include
Greece in these discussions. In essence, my participation in the Athens Biennale summit was a way of putting into practice some of the arguments I had
previously explored on paper, specifically in a conference that sought to rethink institutional practice from a global southern perspective.
It was particularly important to stage such a discussion within a biennial given the roots of the exhibition format. From the Venice Biennale in 1895,
established out of the trend of National and World's Fairs in the 19th century, the exhibition format is an inherently political structure. In Venice,
it offered a world stage—a site, as it would follow, in which cultural politics, and cultural economies, are exchanged, valued, and defined. The biennial
is a structure of complexity and contradiction: an institution stained with a very real long durée of interconnected histories, cultures, and thus politics.
It is a world space offered through the apparatus of a so-called great exhibition within which we are all agents, producers, and workers: an agora for the
global art world.
Of course, we are no angels when it comes to knowing the implications of such structures as the Athens Biennale, a space of contradiction located in the
supposed birthplace of Western civilization, and which has now come to represent an afterimage of a dying modernity—one now inscribed into the very institution
of the biennial exhibition itself. It was within this framework that I compiled this dossier: a brief glimpse into the world space of Athens as a site and situation
linked to a complex, global crisis that connects us all.
Stephanie Bailey is an ART PAPERS contributing editor.
1. Kostantinos Menzel, "Born In Debt: Greece's History of Borrowing," The Greek Reports,
(January 26, 2014):
3. Vassos Argyrou, "Is 'Closer and Closer' Ever Close Enough? Dereification, Diacritical Power,
and the Specter of Evolutionism," in Two Days After Forever: A Reader on the Choreography
of Time, the catalogue for the Cyprus Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, which featured
Christodoulos Panayiotou curated by Omar Kholeif in 2015, (Sternberg Press, 2015): 50Ð63.
7. Michael Herzfeld, "The Absent Presence: Discourse of Crypto-Colonialism," South Atlantic
Quarterly 101, no. 4 (Fall 2002): 899Ð926.
8. Immanuel Wallerstein, Historical Capitalism (London: Verso Books, 1983).