Thessaloniki Biennale 6

Various venues, Thessaloniki

What is the cost of 97 good ideas? Thoughts are free, but the production and administration of a major exhibition across four main venues is not, and the State Museum of Contemporary Art orchestrated the Thessaloniki Biennale 6 with only 20 percent of their typical budget. About half of the participating artists were selected from the 1,352 respondents to an open call organized by the museum staff around the theme of ‘Imagined Homes’. According to the biennale director Syrago Tsiara, the organizers responded to the challenge by taking ‘extensive advantage of the cultural reserves of the city’ – but that wasn’t its only resource. At the opening, the curators sheepishly expressed their gratitude to the artists’ for their willingness to cover many of the costs. ‘We didn’t want to cut back on the number of artists just because of the limited funding,’ Maria Tsantsanoglou, Director of the State Museum told me. Among 97 exhibiting artists from 37 countries, 33 of them are working in Greece. Yet, the biennale’s laudable ambition for inclusivity is undercut by the vast quantity of works, more than the curators could manage to install carefully or thread together conceptually.

The show’s strongest works connect to the theme through vivid cinematic narratives. Hong Kong-born British artist Bo Choy’s video Un/folding in (2016) offers some of the show’s most lucid writing in the form of a voiceover letter to her mother. She handles different childhood objects, considering how their presence conjures multiple temporalities, ending with a casual rejoinder, ‘gestures are not enough … thoughts and images need to work harder to project the not-yet and the to-come in the horizon.’ Choy’s notion of home is less a physical site than a web of strangeness and familiarity that is formed through resolutely imaginative work.

web_oleg-mavrommati-boryana-rossa_no-place-for-fools-002.jpg

Oleg Mavrommati & Boryana Rossa, No place for fools, 2015, video / documentary, 82’. Courtesy: SUPERNOVA Film Union and League of Experimental Cinema

Oleg Mavrommati & Boryana Rossa, No place for fools, 2015, video / documentary, 82’. Courtesy: SUPERNOVA Film Union and League of Experimental Cinema

The 22 video works in the exhibition tend to be most adept at complicating clichés of home, offering scenes rife with desire for belonging and for reconciliation with difficult histories. Russian and Bulgarian artists Oleg Mavromatti and Boryana Rossa’s disturbing No Place for Fools (2015) intercuts Youtube footage of swirling flocks of birds, gas explosions and reversed suicide jumpers with home videos of a Russian man, revealing his complex worldview inflected by homosexuality and orthodox Christianity. Another feature-length film by Ascan Breuer traces the German artist’s journey to his ancestral homeland in Java. He searches for his grandmother who haunts her former home as a tiger spirit in Riding My Tiger (2014). In their documentary Anamones (2016), Cyprian and Greek artists Michalis Charalambous, Stefanos Papados, Giorgos Stylianou and Andri Tsiouti investigate a widespread Cyprus phenomenon of steel bars left poking from the roves of homes. Interviewed parents explain that this practice facilitates upstairs construction for their children’s hypothetical future family. The specificity of these cultural nuances and the artists’ critical approaches to symbolism of the idea of home are a welcome rarity in the biennale as a whole.

web_dionisis-christofilogiannis-feels-like-home.jpg

Dionisis Christofilogiannis, Feels like home, 2017, photograph, collage, variable dimensions. Courtesy: the artist

Dionisis Christofilogiannis, Feels like home, 2017, photograph, collage, variable dimensions. Courtesy: the artist

Many works use collage or documentary strategies that either give a didactic determination of an appropriate reading or do little to present a new approach to found material. Belarusian artist Marina Naprushkina uses two distinct types of photographs in her wall-mounted assemblage Home Aerobic (2012). Although the juxtaposition of images of women under arrest and women in gymnastic poses hints at the connections of force and obedience to female bodies, the work feels more preparatory than a fully realized work. Greek artist Dionisis Christofilogiannis also works with binary source material in his series Feels Like Home (2017), with Syrian rubble superimposed on city views of Athens and Thessaloniki, yet his simplistic political gesture offers the viewer a feeble choice between vague fear and guilt. Although many of the included works might have been effective in a more rigorous context, the curators couldn’t bring themselves to reject less mature works that make the raison d’être of the biennale unclear.

web_marina-naprushkina_home_aerobic.jpg

Marina Naprushkina, Home Aerobic, 2012, installation view. Courtesy: the artist

Marina Naprushkina, Home Aerobic, 2012, installation view. Courtesy: the artist

An insufficient budget does not necessarily equate to a substandard exhibition. On the contrary, a judicious use of resources is the onus of organizers who determine an exhibition’s scope. An international biennial may bring greater visibility to local art scenes, but if struggling artists and under-funded art spaces must absorb a significant financial burden, we must ask if the sacrifice is really worth it.

Thessaloniki Biennale 6 runs until 14 January 2018.

Main image: Ascan Breuer, Riding My Tiger – Trilogi Jawa III, 2014, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Dokumentarisches Labor

Vanessa Thill is an artist, writer and curator who lives in New York, USA.

Most Read

A year marked by new visualizations, both controversial and celebrated, of the black body
The Courtauld Gallery, London, UK
Openings at the new ICA, The Bass and PAMM played out against a backdrop of geographic uncanniness and atmospheric...
With the recent razing of suburban slums, tightening censorship and the sad passing of Geng Jianyi, a year of...
Nicholas Mangan, Ancient Lights (detail), 2015, two-screen installation, solar panels, batteries, projectors powered by solar energy, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland and Labor, Mexico
At once stagnant and dynamic, politically tense and blissfully buoyant, the French capital was a strange place to be...
From victims of Hurricane Harvey to the music of Roger Waters, 2017 has been full of renewed debate around support for...
In further news: MOCA Detroit suspends Jens Hoffmann after harassment allegations; Met refuses to remove ‘suggestive’...
‘Conflicts of interest’ may have cost Beatrix Ruf her Stedelijk job but the problem doesn’t just lie with individuals...
Her work animates the consequences of our colonial history and the construction of identity politics: in a divided...
France's President Emmanuel Macron meets Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kabore at the Presidential Palace in Burkina Faso on November 28, 2017. Courtesy: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images
The French President’s recent comments hint at a dubious politics: using art restitution as a stopgap to France’s...
More from today’s Briefing: protesting Raghubir Singh; documenta artists defend exhibition (again); Enrico Castellani (...
Tiffany and Co., Sterling Silver Paper Cup, 2017, from the ‘Everyday Objects’ collection. Courtesy: Tiffany and Co., New York
Tiffany & Co.’s new range of gift objects and the shifting meaning of the ‘everyday’
From Hannah Black to Not Surprised, the changes demanded by today’s letter writers are still a long way from being...
Johan Grimonprez, Shadow World, 2016, film still. Courtesy: the artist, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris, Flatland Gallery, Amsterdam, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, Louverture Films, Dillywood and Shadow World inc., New York
Johan Grimonprez’s recent films explore the mechanisms of the arms trade
A pivot to glass by the sculptor shows an attempt to see hope through political disillusionment
In further news: initiative for museum staff diversity; Gwangju Biennale's 2018 curators; Jens Hoffmann clarifies Front...
Ahead of Manifesta’s opening in Palermo next summer, the importance of remembering an alternative Mediterranean...
Inverting the gaze: real life biography, game play fantasy and Frantz Fanon combine in the British artist’s films
Old Food, 2017, production still. Courtesy: the artist, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, Cabinet Gallery, London, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York and Rome, and dépendance, Brussels
Helen Marten responds to Ed Atkins’s new work, Old Food, currently showing at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
Elsewhere: activists protest AfD with Holocaust Memorial replica; censorship at Kuala Lumpur Biennale; Venice Biennale'...
Twenty years after the First Cyberfeminist International at Documenta X, what does Cyberfeminism look like in...
Thinking about propaganda, palimpsests, and a presentation of Tino Sehgal works in Moscow
As London's Architectural Association celebrates 100 years of female students, rediscovering the city designed by women
Lin May Saeed, Lobster, 2017. Metal, 11 x 24 x 14.5 cm. Courtesy: the artist, Nicolas Krupp, Basel, Jacky Strenz, Frankfurt am Main and Lulu, Mexico City
Lulu, Mexico City, Mexico
For the 6th Amsterdam Art Weekend, our picks of the best shows and events across the Dutch capital
Highlights of the shows included in the third iteration of Dublin Gallery Weekend
An interview with Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory, on new ways for art institutions to work
With her current show at Studio_Leigh, London, the artist shares some important images
Recent instances of censorship show an emboldened far right attacking the arts, queer identity and more: artists,...
The staggering price reached by Salvator Mundi prompts the question: what are you really buying when you buy an artwork?
Wong Kar-wai, Happy Together, 1997, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Alamy 
From the new issue of frieze: Changes in urban cultures and queer aesthetics across the Sinosphere 
On the occasion of two UK solo exhibitions, the British artist reflects on the art and events that have shaped her...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018