The Bukowski party

In the article signed by Sebastian Kort titled “Vrouwen willen seks. Bukowski niet” (women want sex. Bukowski not) published in nrc-next on 4 March, I read about the project in progress of uitgeverij Lebowski (Lebowski publishers #LebowskiBooks): to re-publish all the works of Charles Bukowski. The first three books are about to appear, within March, and for this occasion the publishers are organising a party with chicken and beer, film projections and performances. The author of the article found this rather anti-Bukowski(an), thinking that the poet himself would hate the idea of so many people around him. However, just for displeasing the expectations, the party can very well fit in the spirit, I find.

Breaking the pattern of compulsory book buying whenever travelling, I felt cool about not buying any during my last visit in Athens; the house of my parents has still a lot to offer book-wise. But then again, poetry (just like art) saves lives; I walked in front of it; this edition not new not old either, not  Greek neither in Greek.

“Love is a dog from hell” appeared on the shelf and I had to open it. Page 139: “the meek have inherited… if I suffer at this/ typewriter/ think how I’d feel/ among the lettuce-/ pickers of Salinas?” … eye down the page … “some suicides are never/ recorded.”

I turned, page 193: “melancholia … the history of melancholia/ includes all of us…”

I don’t know if Bukowski hated parties or was sometimes bored of women and sex; he did though hate paid slavery but kept it up for 13 continuous years, while keeping up writing too; there’s your hero and a good reason to party; off to Amsterdam!

P.S.1 The quotes are from the edition “Love is a dog from hell” of 2003 by HarperCollinsPublishers, poems 1974-1977 by Charles Bukowski; a beautiful edition.

P.S.2 It is great that Lebowski publishers undertook such a project, but it will be in Dutch; I always preferred dual language editions, when poetry was somehow difficult; but here, it is clear as the sky(?); saying this made me curious again…

"Assimilated information/ 3" , acrylic on wooden board, 2009
“Assimilated information/ 3”, acrylic on wooden board, 2009

China at the Venice Art Biennale (no55)

Sometimes things are simpler than they show; in such well established events the declared bright ideas mostly come down to fulfil a recipe. The Venice Art Biennale, in all its variety also follows the recipe; even more, it is the recipe. For years it also kept the arty intellectual forefront too, always of course with a good dosage of commerce. Then China came in the game. And where in the beginning, in 1993, its artists were a curiosity, as the rare to find examples of what was currently produced in that vast country, now China takes its space almost proportionally. It is said clearly in one of the curators’ interviews in a video exposed in the show “Passage to History: 20 Years of La Biennale di Venezia and Chinese Contemporary Art”: when other countries have a population of 10 million to choose from, China has a choice amongst 1 billion; it is natural that we can send more high quality artists to Venice . . . But does it really work this way? Culture, art is not supposed to be competitive in this sense; it is not the Olympics in another field (though often named so). You do not even want it to work like in sports, to excel in a specific set-up; I thought the idea would be more to enrich the “tastes” by exposing your difference. But then where do the taste sensors recognize what is offered? Would a brief look at the recipe help? Let’s see: good skills and a theme (something catchy), minimalism or huge works, technology, a complicated text, something shocking. Chinese artists have all that, plus the sense of grandeur and plentifulness. Still, the endless rooms filled with their artworks in several exhibitions in Venice (not more a curiosity, but an abundance), did provoke a feeling of discontent.

I walked through most of those rooms and tried to isolate the element of disconnection (that brings the discontent). I walked keeping in surface the thought that Europe is extrovert in accomplishing its needs but introvert in terms of culture and identity; actually super protective as a whole (each of its little countries just the same, often resulting to extremes). In all the good works, some more some less, something was indeed missing; something that makes the recipe what it is (whatever that is). In the end I sensed an open hole of something removed and not replaced. To my understanding, the discontent is caused by the lack of what actually gives European culture its form: the sense of vanity and inborn pessimism. The Dutch philosopher Jos de Mul in his lecture “Athens, or the fate of Europe. Two faces of Greek tragedy”, presented at the 23rd World Congress of Philosophy (first week of August in Athens-Greece) (as read in the article “Tragisch besef in Athene” published in the magazine Filosofie by Maarten Meester), makes a similar thought about Europe, only he names it simply “tragedy”; in the sense of an unfortunate destiny where the individual is (co)responsible for his/her tragic path and also aware of this. He states “tragedy” as one of the fundamental elements of Europe’s identity.

Indeed in art at least, where this pain (followed by self-doubt, self-destruction, etc.) is missing, we Europeans in our turn miss to see the point. In this line of thinking, Chinese art remains a curiosity from the Orient with no direct influence to the recipe. I am not sure that Chinese artists have isolated their fundamental elements of identity in contemporary times; not yet at least. But let’s keep our sensors alert to recognise them when these will be presented at the Venice Biennale’s to come. Their production of art objects is anyway impressive and does reveal thoughts, which is always good.

P.S.1 I am talking specifically about Chinese art because of its extreme exposure at the 55th Venice Art Biennale. Art from Asia, though, is a more complicated story as it entails peoples and expressions as distant to each other as their geographical position.

P.S.2 European culture is mentioned in a wider sense, covering all places where people from Europe resided in the course of history, since its identity was kept even if only partially.

P.S.3 My excuses to the artists, but I cannot find their names related to their works; the artist/ title of the first image I had noted myself while walking through.

P.S.4 Other interesting articles about China’s presence in Venice this year:

"Green wall-landscape and television" by Zhang Xiaogang, 3x8 meters
“Green wall-landscape and television” by Zhang Xiaogang, 3×8 meters, “Passage to History” expo
sculptures in “Voice of the Unseen”
big scale drawing in “Voice of the Unseen”
one missing
installation in “Voice of the Unseen”
hanging from the roof in “Voice of the Unseen”
lecture desk
reading desk in “Passage to History”

Figures from the deep

Exhibition “The Antikythera Shipwreck” at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

ending on 28 April 2013

The exhibition running since April last year, 2012,  has the quality of the rare: a small exhibition where you can spend at least one hour (in three rooms) and leave overwhelmed of the story, the findings and the research. The sculptures alone will hunt you as unbelievable figures reshaped in the deep of the sea, there where the ship sunk, close to Antikythera island, in the sea between Peloponnesos and Crete. For years we only knew the Antikythera Ephebe, one of the first findings of the shipwreck, during the initial archaeological operations around 1900 and of course the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient analogue computer designed to calculate astronomical positions. I am linking this to the wikipedia page but for detailed documented information and image material (where you will realise that the research project is ongoing) I refer you to this website:

And some practical info: the exhibition is temporary but no extra ticket is required. To visit it you walk through the museum, already preparing yourself for a breathtaking experience. Do not forget to go afterwards downstairs to the café of the museum and assimilate what you just saw in the interior garden amongst ancient sculptures and two equally antique turtles.

The whole package is a must!

figures from the deep

Avoiding clichés in a natural way

“To take you with, to let your mind wander”, this is a standard answer to the question “How should an artwork affect us?”. It has become cliché as much as the more sharp “to punch you in the stomach, to make you aware of our shitty world”, “to move you so that you act, to shake your passiveness”. Sorry, clichés.”To reveal the truth of things” is the option that would please the artists’ ears. Great masters fall in there, from Goya to Cézanne (with his appleyness: the apple as itself) and Francis Bacon with his portraits digging under the faces of his models. This is a serious endeavour, to find the truth of things, but in the end it becomes as hopeless as finding god, any god. Mostly, it is a goal understood by artists but not by the audience. And even artists working under this rule often fall in deeper clichés than they think. And in the end the expectancy of greatness (the godly element, the truth) becomes the word cliché itself.

I have a dear friend, painter, who maybe because of her peculiarity as a person she has never fallen in clichés at her work. Where others try to break the aesthetic rules learnt at the art academy “in order to make their own language”, Ismene Assimaki just paints images that belong nowhere. Her themes are as humble as one can think: mainly conversations between dogs, cats, furniture, objects of a closed environment; at least this is what she says. What we see is the absolute silence of things that once existed in a space shaped to fit a past or a future; the present is left out to be lived. Having worked side by side with her, even before we entered the academy, and having shared wild musics, crazy stories, a lot of laughter and equal flaws – up to now that our uniqueness has been a bit blunted – I can only hope that her little studio will bring out a new series and a new exhibition, after so many years! Ismene, please do surprise us again!

The photographs were taken during my recent visit to her house at Kalamaki on the coast of Athens. It was a hot day, like all the others, around 40 degrees Celsius, but I was determined to see her in her space again.

The artist next to one of her paintings, at Kalamaki-Athens, July 2012
the studio, part of the house
Painting and objects in the same aesthetic line
An older work, next to the main door

Grandma and the Aunts*

At the beginning of the 70’s, in the centre of Athens, you could still park your car at the side of the street without a worry. You greeted your neighbours by their names and the shopkeepers would bring the groceries at home when needed; kyr-Yannis brought the vegetables, kyr-Dionysis the meat. The ‘nouveautées’ store ‘Miranda’ under our apartment had nearly all the rest; supermarkets did not exist yet. On the contrary, families still existed in their wider form and everyone had their function therein. Giagia (grandma) Aphroditi the Athenean, as the eldest member of our household had the sceptres of the kitchen. But, very often, more elderly women, aunt Thália, aunt Efrosyni, or even giagia Elpiniki from Ioannina, would enter the kitchen with rolled up sleeves and a recipe in the hand. They would make all kinds of pitas and cakes, each one giving them an own taste and shape. The talent and the drive of these women would not stop there. Cooking was only one of their talents; their craftwork was another one. Their hands were constantly busy with mixing ingredients or with arranging threads. As a kid, I could not perceive the point of all this commotion. In brief, who needed all these embroideries, crochets, bedcovers, tablecloths, and all the smaller or bigger decorated textile? Much later, when my busy aunts were long departed, I found myself in possession of a few handmade pieces which became the most valuable part of my household. In each handmade piece you can always see the personality of the maker; even more when you personally knew them and you have witnessed the process for years.

My mother, Athiná, was also a keen craftswoman. Although she had a job as a book keeper and her repertoire in the kitchen was suppressed under the dominance of grandma and the aunts, she found the time to produce a remarkable volume of textile, all handmade and perfect to the detail. The handworks of her generation mark the end of the tradition of homemade textiles; at least in Athens. The enormous changes in the daily life, in the family bonds and in the expectations of the people of the end of the 80’s and after, limited seriously the available time for concentrating on a complicated textile work or for making a complete meal for that matters. For me, skipping to the following era with our devises and electronic contacts, I felt like pushing a break when I started experimenting with textile. I would never be able to follow a pattern like my aunts did, but as a painter, I envision textiles produced with the experience of painting. I make expressionistic drawings on embroidery. In fact, I draw directly with threads on the woven material. Although my embroideries, as mirror picture of our turbulent times, carry the thread of uneasiness, the medium itself keeps the essence of a timeless moment, the room for uninterrupted thinking, and in the same time the continuity of an activity that passed from aunt to aunt.  Now I am part of  the process that I once witnessed and this ties me with the ideal big family of my childhood thoughts; moreover it weaves in my roots the idea of an artistic production without commercial goal and thus beyond price.

* A slightly different version of this text was published in the Dutch language magazine “Lychnari” no1-2011, under the title “De bezige tantes” (the busy aunts); it was accompanying a recipe for kolokythópita.