Neighboring Sounds

Left: Tzisdarakis Mosque. Right: Artist Athanasios Argianas and curator Sophia Tournikiotis. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)

ALTHOUGH LAST FRIDAY was not yet Good Friday in Orthodox Athens, a spiritual sort of ritual took place in the Tzisdarakis Mosque on picturesque Monastiraki Square. There rang the melancholy tones of a theremin played by Theodore Pistiolas, part of a performance orchestrated by artist Athanasios Argianas for the inauguration of “Silent Space Stand Still,” curated by Maria Thalia Carras and Sophia Sofia Tournikiotis, a weekly series of four visual art and sound installations by artists from around the politically discordant Eastern Mediterranean region. Next up, Lebanese Tarek Atoui, Turkish Cevdet Erek, and Israeli Dani Gal.

Filling the intimate eighteenth-century mosque, now a museum housing a ceramics collection, the modest crowd comprised a cross-section of the most prominent curators and critics and artists of the Greek contemporary art scene, among them George Skianis, curator of the Elaiourgeio in Elefsina, and artist Stefanos Tsivopoulos, who will represent Greece at the Venice Biennale. The temple doors were closed and there was something ecclesiastical, if not sacred, about the performance. Old frescoes peeked through the plaster just as Ottoman influences still permeate the Greek culture. The improvised piece, Branching Music (Under the Trees Above You), employed musical notation in the form of a slide projection of meandering tree branches, resembling neurological pathways, which the musician’s hand appeared to play as it actually engaged the electronic waves of the instrument. “When I visited Argianas's studio the first time I had no idea he recorded under the name Gavouna, whose music I had in my collection,” critic Sam Thorne explained. “It is surprisingly acoustic and melodic.”

Left: Artist Maria Papadimitriou and dealer Helena Papadopoulos. Right: Artist Rowena Hughes and archaeologist Sophy Downes.

Every now and then an abrupt electronic crashing sound would interrupt from a projection of scallop shells flipping and clapping, an irregular percussion accompaniment. Next to it, a kitschy clay depiction of the notoriously nude Aphrodite of Knidos, kicked out of ancient Kos for obscenity, concealed her womanhood with her right hand, coming off as mock modesty in the modern reproduction. It added a touch of comic bathos to the dark atmosphere.

The curators and artist led a posse—most of them Goldsmiths graduates, including Turkish critic Nazli Gürlek—to a little taverna for dinner, passing by the heaving bars on lovely Agia Irini Square. The biggest national holiday, marking independence from the Ottoman Empire, had been celebrated the weekend before. “The civil war is much more important to Greek cultural identity than the two world wars or even anything after the dictatorship,” artist Theo Prodromos explained over a leg of veal and roasted potatoes. Another Greek artist sniped, “It is a ridiculous holiday; we would be much better off if we were still under the Turks.” It had also been announced that Athens—the only European capital left without an official Islamic place of worship—would finally get a mosque, if you believe Greek government promises. Our group moved on to curator Konstantinos Dagritzikos’s Six Dogs for cocktails and music by DJs Thorne and Argianas, where string music by the Balanescu Quartet competed with electronic beats into the balmy night.

Left: Musician Theodore Pistiolas. Right: Curator Daphne Vitali and artist Stefanos Tsivopoulos.

The next evening I arrived late with artist Maria Papadimitriou and dealers Helena Papadopoulos and Andreas Melas for Thorne and Argianias’s talk at the mosque. The gate was padlocked and a couple of signs in Greek proclaimed that the entryway should not be obstructed during a four-hour period and that nobody would be allowed entry after 7 PM due to a performance, which seemed like overkill considering nobody seems to know about the place. Papadimitriou charmed the adjacent street vendors into calling the guard, and a heated discussion ensued. By the time we were told we could enter, we decided instead to head to the friendlier “Artists for Athens Pride” auction being held at the Breeder. We showed up on the dark little street lined with bordellos to find trans activist, photographer, and prostitute Paola Revenioti, who financed the first gay pride celebration in Athens, holding court among the rest of the Athens art world. It was a sort of religious ritual all its own.

Left: Annie-Claire Geisinger of the Economou Collection, critic Selana Vronti, and artist Panos Papadopoulos. Right: DJs Sam Thorne and Athanasios Argianas.