Hell-Ω

5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, 5th Young Artists’ workshop: Romance, curated by Areti Leopoulou. 

The performance took place at the Yeni Mosque of Thessaloniki.The Yeni Mosque is a historical mosque in Thessaloniki, Greece. It was built by Italian architect Vitaliano Poselli in 1902 for the city's Dönmeh community, crypto-Jewish converts to Islam. However, when the Donmeh left the city during the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, it was used to house the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki in 1925. Today it serves as an exhibition center. 

The title of the main exhibition of the 5th Thessaloniki Biennale, Between the Pessimism of the Intellect and the Optimism of the Will, is inspired by an aphorism invoked by Antonio Gramsci in The Prison Notebooks (Quaderni del carcere) that he wrote between 1929 and 1935 while he was imprisoned by the Fascist regime in Italy at the time. In these voluminous writings which he composed during his eleven years of incarceration Gramsci repeatedly cites a particular phrase; in one of the letters he writes: “The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned […] I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will”…Gramsci himself defined crisis as precisely that situation where “the old is dying and the new cannot be born” and added that, “in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”. Given the failure of both politics and the political imagination, what remains in many parts of the Mediterranean world is an anticipation of alternatives and the hope for a better world. —Katerina Gregos, Main exhibition curator.

The 5th Young Artists’ Workshop was one of the events of the main programme of the 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art. The title of the workshop, Romance, arises from an “alternative” reading of the main concept and primary theoretical underpinning of the 5th Biennale, which is based on Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. Romance is what characterises people living and communicating with society under peculiar conditions; it is a trait to be found in every ideologue; romance is also a concept and a choice both genuinely personal but also deeply political —Curator: Areti Leopoulou

In the garden of Yeni Mosque live 100 tortoises hardly noticed while they move among ancient remnants of abandoned sarcophagi and other findings. A rich symbolic animal inside a rich symbolic space. I decided to perform with it. Tortoise symbolises wisdom and knowledge, it is able to defend itself on its own. It can be regarded as personifying water, the moon, the Earth, time, immortality, and fertility. Due to it’s long lifespan, slow movement, sturdiness, and wrinkled appearance, it is an emblem of longevity and stability in many important concepts in religion, mythology, and folklore from around the world. To perform with it and bring it from the garden inside the Yeni Mosque was a symbolic, allegorical gesture of hope and a pray against violence, fascism and corrosion in any form. Tortoises are silent like we do when we pray. During the performance I crafted different coloured paper boats (referring to the distinctive signs in the Nazi concentration camps) I threw the boats to the floor and cover them with soil that I had selected from the garden. I marked a territory with them and I put the tortoise inside. I covered my face with clay mask, I remained silent dressed in a bathrobe, sitting on an old plastic chair from the garden, watching the tortoise escaping from the territory that I had created. When the clay got dry, I cleaned it with water. At the end the tortoise moved away from me hiding among the spectators. I returned it to the garden.