Thessaloniki

Maria Papadimitriou

White Tower

When the turquoise-green refracted laser beams radiated from the top of the White Tower in Thessaloniki, quite a stir was created. Maria Papadimitriou’s Project for Two Towers: The White Tower of Pisa and the Leaning Tower of Thessaloniki, 1993, raised questions regarding the sacrosanctity of ancient monuments. The problematics of a collaboration between artist and state were also brought into focus. While this work could never have come to fruition without permission from the many authorities under whose jurisdiction ancient monuments are slated, surmounting the red tape proved to be a tortuous task, an impressive demonstration of tenacity and determination on the part of the artist.

Papadimitriou first conceived of this project in 1989. She envisioned it taking place in Thessaloniki and Pisa simultaneously, broadcast by satellite television to Greece and Italy. However, due to a shortage of funds, only half of The Project for Two Towers could be realized, at Thessaloniki.

The work consisted of a laser-beam image of the Tower of Pisa, not leaning but straightened, projected onto a gigantic cloth surface painted an iridescent white, which was laid out on the esplanade in front of the White Tower. By means of this “reverse reflection,” the laser-beam image of the straightened Tower of Pisa appeared to assume the role of the Thessaloniki tower’s reflection or shadow. Unfortunately, the project lasted only for one week. Once the beams were turned off, the White Tower of Pisa ceased to be, leaving behind only the memory of its presence.

Papadimitriou, while essentially adhering to the principles of Conceptual art, also appropriated an existing art form—in this instance, the architectural monument—to make a new artwork, raising issues connected with learned and accepted perceptions of place—perceptions that have remained as static as the monuments in question. The “reverse reflection” also suggested dislocation of the metathesis of a well-known edifice—from its own site to another one—expanding on the significance and role of the two specific monuments. The interaction between laser-beam representation, monument, and ambient space—cityscape and bay—provoked a lively dialogue about site, history, nature, and technology, renewing discussion of the historic interaction between the Greek and Roman civilizations; about an ever-shrinking Europe marching toward apparent unity; and about the definitive global uniformity in the wake of technological innovation.

The Project for Two Towers offered the spectator a double experience: the phantasmagoric, enormous laser-beam image seen from the top of the White Tower, and the equally phantasmagoric experience of walking through the piece, that is, through the resplendent fanlike flood of laser beams. Moving in their midst, the viewer found himself in an enchanted world of light and color. Immaterial and impermanent, phantasmic and mercurial, ultimately, Project seemed to endorse the intrinsic impracticality of art—to glory in its magnificent and disarming uselessness.

Catherine Cafapoulos