View from the roof of the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), one of the festival’s venues.

Our photographer Angelos Christofilopoulos spent a couple of days strolling around Documenta 14 in Athens

Athens Conservatoire (Odeion Athinon), Benaki Museum, EMST — National Museum Of Contemporary Art and Parko Eleftherias, Athens’ Municipality Arts Center.

The art festival Documenta, which normally takes place in Kassel, Germany, has split in and in 2017 also take place in Athens. A brave move, for even though the festival will bring extended tourism and awareness on Greece, the decision raises criticism on ‘colonisation’, ‘exoticism’, and ‘intellectualism’ and it has sparked criticism about the labor conditions.

Documenta 14 Merchandise.

Titled ‘Learning from Athens’, the exhibition wants viewers to in fact “unlearn what we know” and to “immerse ourselves in the darkness of not knowing instead of pretending to know enough in advance,” said the artistic director Adam Szymczyk.

Politics takes centre stage. Set against the backdrop of Greece’s social and economic woes, displacement, colonialism, violence and protest are among Documenta 14’s central themes. Szymczyk said: “The great lesson is that there isn’t one lesson; no school that can dispense it and that no masters that can tell us how to live and what to do. We must assume responsibility and act as political subjects instead of simply leaving it to elected representatives.”

“The Parliament of Bodies”

Our Danish intern reporter Luna Svarrer wrote back in October: “The international art elite, which followed documenta, might be in Athens; listening interested to the stories of torture in the Junta dictatorship, but the speakers and artists at the public program is more a melting pot, introducing stories from around the world: Chile, Norway, Canada, Armenia, Bangladesh and many more. In this case Norway seems as exotic as Greece.”

“With a project like this one, we cannot aim at the utopia of full participation. You still have to give some content at the beginning to set up the premises for people to discuss.” — Paul B. Preciado.

The Athens Municipality Arts Center in Parko Eleftherias (Freedom Park) and the Museum of Anti-dictatorial and Democratic Resistance belong to a nineteenth-century complex of military barracks whose recent history is linked to the repressive military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, sometimes called the Regime of the Colonels. The building of the Arts Center, currently occupied by documenta 14, was used to house the military police headquarters; the museum building just behind it was a detention and torture facility. Both buildings still belong to the Greek Ministry of Defense.

These two sites represent divergent approaches to history, memory, and collective trauma. The Museum of Anti-dictatorial and Democratic Resistance is operated by the Association of Imprisoned and Exiled Resistance Fighters. Lacking funding, it is run on a nonprofit basis by some of the victims, who personally relate their experiences. The interior spaces have been preserved as they were during the 1960s and 1970s and include archival and documentary material.

Documenta 14 invited Greek architect Andreas Angelidakis to transform the architecture of the Athens Municipality Arts Center into the site of the Parliament of Bodies, which subsequently serves as an exhibition venue. In an act of “investigative restoration” Angelidakis carried out a series of minor yet crucial interventions. First, paneled walls were partially cut away, allowing the stone walls and the material history of the building to emerge. Second, a direct connection to the museum behind has been created by reopening the back door of the building. Third, Angelidakis has covered the windows with black curtains, which suggest mourning “widows” or shrouds between the buildings. Finally, Angelidakis designed Demos, a soft architecture consisting of sixty-nine blocks of fake concrete “ruins” that can be assembled and reassembled in multiple ways to reorganize the inner structure of the space. For eight months, the building has been the site of the Parliament of Bodies, a space for public debate and collective performance, and it continues to have this function throughout the exhibition.

Parko Eleftherias, Athens Municipality Arts Center — Museum of Anti-dictatorial and Democratic Resistance.

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