– Spring/Summer 2017

What is to be Learned? On Athens and documenta 14 So Far

Stavros Stavrides

Andreas Angelidakis, DEMOS, 2016, dimensions variable. Installation view, ‘The Parliament of Bodies’, documenta 14, Athens Muncipality Arts Centre, Parko Eleftherias. Photograph: Stathis Mamalakis. Courtesy documenta

The choice of the artistic director of documenta 14, Adam Szymczyk, to focus this internationally acclaimed exhibition on crisis-ridden Athens has indeed been controversial. It was not only the choice to split the exhibition and its programme between Kassel, the event’s traditional base, and Athens that has fuelled the debate, but also a widespread view that Germany and Greece are in a continuous state of friction, if not hostility, concerning the handling of the Greek public debt. True, documenta 14 explicitly attempts to build bridges through art between the two countries. Yet what is perhaps most interesting in

  1. Adam Szymczyk, quoted in Alanna Martinez, ‘Documenta Still On For Germany and Greece… Despite That Whole Debt Thing’, The Observer, 23 July 2015, available at http://observer.com/2015/07/documenta-will-still-be-jointly-hosted-by-germany-and-greece-despite-debt-mess/ (last accessed on 13 December 2016). Emphasis mine.

  2. Before the crisis, especially during the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK – nominally socialist, actually social-democratic) administrations (1981–89; 1993–2004), populist policies connected with a consumption-oriented economy created a welfare state that was becoming more and more indebted. Public debt, of course, is one of many reasons for today’s socio-economic crisis. Greek society is actually trapped in the restructuring mechanisms of the EU, which create a new geometry of power within the ‘union’, resulting in new neocolonial relationships.

  3. See Stavros Stavrides, Common Space: The City as Commons, London: Zed Books, 2016.

  4. ‘34 Exercises of Freedom’, documenta 14 website, available at http://www.documenta14.de/en/public-programs/928/34-exercises-of-freedom (last accessed on 30 January 2017).

  5. Ibid. One might also question this reference to a distinctively Greek version of freedom.

  6. Gustavo Esteva, ‘Hope from the Margins’, in David Bollier and Silke Helfrich (ed.), The Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market and State, Amherst, MA: Levellers Press, 2012.

  7. See Jacques Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (trans. Steven Corcoran), London: Continuum, 2010.

  8. The mayor was also one of only a few politicians to support the EU’s austerity blackmails in 2015, which resulted in a brave majoritarian ‘no’ in the public referendum.