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Miltos Manetas on his project for the Athens Biennial, never exhibited but visible to us all

7 months ago

Mara Sartore: This year you participated in the Athens Biennial, without setting foot in your hometown, can you tell us about how you managed this?

Miltos Manetas: I was contacted by Poka-Yio, the founder of the Athens biennial, he was an emerging artist when I was beginning to become well-known in Athens. The biennial had so far been a great success, with each edition better than the next, I had previously participated in the 2013 edition. And taking part in this edition, after Documenta 14, seemed like a good opportunity. I was also interested by the title “Anti”, which in general for the Athenians is significant because it alludes to a historical left-wing magazine called “Anti”.

The first thing that came to mind was to make a piece with Yanis Varoufakis, leader of the transnational Diem25 movement, with whom I’m also collaborating with on a political idea. The idea is to start a campaign in May from Montenero in Sabina, where I am based, it is a very small but beautiful place, lost in nature. The village is actually hosting a ten-years art lasting project of mine. Citizens are very interested in Varoufakis, and for this reason I am using #Overeality, projecting his image with an application on my smartphone simulating his presence amongst citizens, so that when he arrives, he will actually be returning. In this way, and by other creative means, we attempt to bring democracy to Europe, we want to spread the spirit of Diem25 because Varoufakis has seen for himself the absence of democracy ….

This is a premise to stress that my idea for the biennial was precisely to bring political art, or rather anti-politics, but the biennial was opposed to my proposal. So I asked if they were interested in a project which derived from Documenta. In fact, during Documenta, Marina Fokidis, editor-in-chief of “South Magazine”, one of the most interesting art journals, in my opinion, was swallowed by a whale, that is, by Documenta itself. The journal was extremely powerful, with very real content, nice graphics … it represented what I call the “middle-south” that is a south that accepts being north but without wanting to become so totally … a spirit that pervades Italy from Rome downwards, just as in Greece and the Mediterranean. Marina had captured this spirit perfectly. But when during Documenta 14 Adam Szymczyk asked her to create a magazine specifically for this edition, she created a new one, redesigning the graphics and the concept behind South. Under the direction of Documenta, this became a “Nordic” magazine, like Adam Szymczyk’s curatorial idea, with his character atypical to that of “South”. Marina then succeeded with her determination to get me out because I began to vent with her and to express my frustrations with the idea of handing over her magazine to Documenta, for me it was a failure. From there, in short, our friendship became complicated, however the only remaining bitterness in me is to have lost a journal of great quality like “South as a State of Mind”.

From this experience my second proposal for the Athens Biennial came about, this consisted in relaunching “South”, perhaps collaborating with Marina, if she wanted to. An attempt to try again, as in a love affair, where we try to make peace with the past and live in a new eternal future. An attempt to restart Documenta, I regretted that the magazine had lost its #NeoUmile “middle-south” spirit, and was not as moving as it was before. I had also proposed to Documenta 14 to work on #MedioSud with a project based outside of Athens, in Derveni, where I grew up and which is a melting pot of different cultures. The project had been rejected by Documenta that wanted to remain central to Athens …maybe Marina hadn’t help me in this. So I expelled myself from participating.

At that point, all this had cast a light on the fact that in the Internet age you can not interrupt a conversation that has already begun. Today everything that passes through the internet can not be stopped. So I continued to write long emails to Documenta and Marina, proposing my help in the curatorial direction of the exhibition, expressing my opinion on the works and artists that I would have seen … for me it was a way to continue my work with Documenta, but I never received any feedback on these reflections.

I saw many things that I did not like, like the Parthenon made out of books in Kassel. I proposed pushing it down, leaving book chaos … no answer! Angelo Plessas, for example, presented work that was not in his style but rather in that of another friend of ours Maria Papadimitriou, it seemed that the biennial had forced Angelo to make work that did not reflect his style; Angelo would have definitely definitely displayed his best side with his typical internet-related work. Maria, on the other hand should have gone and taken that work, but she hadn’t even been invited.

Mara Sartore: After the Biennale had rejected your two project proposals, how did things evolve?

Miltos Manetas: The Athens Biennale was interested in my digital art, linked to the internet, a theme that was similar to that of the Berlin Biennale 2016, the concept was dedicated to the post-digital era.

In Athens, however, this “Anti” was heading North rather than to the Middle South. In fact, in 2015, when I was beginning to work on the Berlin Biennial, the organisers asked me for a meeting in Bogota where I live, but at that moment I was leaving for Greece, so I missed the appointment … then from there, with the ‘advent of Yanis Varoufakis and political chaos in Greece, I completely lost sight of this project and the communication with the biennial, so much so that in the end I could not participate. During the spring of 2016 I found myself looking at the biennial site and I was fascinated! It was full of interesting content and this made me realise that I could not miss this event. So I decided to enter this exhibition all the same, and I did this by developing a facsimile of their site, you can still see it here (biennale.net). I entered my name, I created dialogues … I made this creation known to the curators of the biennial and they were enthusiastic.

I told them that in my opinion they had missed out some important artists for the biennial, and so I put them on my website. I did not need to go to Berlin to see the event. It was enough to follow the tags and the hashtags of the Berlin Biennale on instagram (#berlinbiennale2016 #bb9)  … I noticed that the information appeared following certain patterns, certain formulas. So I took a ride on Instagram and saw a picture of the opening with Klaus Biesenbach who was dressed in what seemed to me almost a Klein Blue, this left an impression on me. So I put a Like on it. That colour, for me, became the colour of the biennial, and of the North, #KlausBlu. With that blue the biennial continues to communicate, now come to think of it, it is also a blue that alludes to the flag of the European Union. Following  Klaus’ Instagram profile, I noticed that he always wears blue and I reckon he has become an artist in this way, he introduced his own colour! So I decided to include him among the artists on my website, and this was approved by the biennial itself.

From here I started creating a new form of painting made from ‘likes’: it starts from the fact that on Instagram you can find a collection of your likes on a dedicated page and from there you can rearrange them creating what I call #paintingswithlikes, with a juxtaposition of colours similar to that practiced by Seurat, becoming an chronicler of your likes.

Then something magical happened: I saw a young artist at the biennial who portrayed Rihanna without a head in one of his pieces, On Instagram, I saw a #bb9, followed by a collection of green dots … it was Rihanna who had had a photo taken of herself glad in green taken next to the piece representing her. After this episode, the hashtags continued to produce this green on other unlinked photos but that came with hashtag #bb9 … a dance made up of this green was created, and then followed by a dance of a purple red introduced by Amalia Ulman and so out of this came a number of red works and so the network synchronised on these tags …

I realised that this was the most important exhibition after Jeffrey Deitch’s 1990 exhibitions “Cultural Geometry,” “Artificial Nature” and “Post-Human”. Being so important and prolific, I felt that as long as the tags were produced, this exhibition had to be continued. So I continued to include artists despite the biennial being over: I inserted Piero Gilardi, for example, who I had seen at MAXXI.

These same significant patterns or formulas did not take shape during Documenta. The tags did not say or respond to anything, on the web the exhibition practically did not exist … I brought this up with Documenta but, once again, they didn’t answer.

So for the Athens Biennale I proposed a continuation of the project which had started at the Berlin Biennale 2016 through my site biennale.net. Obviously this project was also discarded until they made me understand that they did not want my true participation in the biennial. They were interested in my older works, those in which I painted cables ….and to display them they had chosen a place that is sacred to me, where my parents had worked, the Greek telephone exchange skyscraper. My father repaired the cables, while my mother was a receptionist from the 60s to the 80s. And that’s where my painting imagination was born. So, well, I congratulated the curators of the Athens Biennial for choosing that location, I suggested to go there to fix some set-up stuff, but I was rejected by them, I could be wrong but it felt like they did not even want me setting foot there.

Finally I decided to visit the exhibition in Athens virtually… and I started to find the tags # athensbiennale2018 #ab6 and #ANTI . They had blue and red patterns, creating certain leads and so I started working on what I had originally proposed for the biennial, continuing on the project on Instagram that I had initiated at the Berlin Biennale. https://www.instagram.com/berlinbiennial/

Today, art makes artificial intelligence that is not artificial intelligence in a technical sense but as a composite of real elements. It was a blessing in disguise that Athens kept me away, because this allowed me to bring life to my project. The network started talking …

So here, my project for the biennial in Athens is the continuation of the project that I started with the Berlin Biennale 2016. This is my actual

work which represents me, not my old works that have been exhibited and attached to the walls without my cooperation, however that said I am grateful to Poca Yo and his team who gave me the opportunity to contribute and above all where they put together a dynamic exhibition where in contrast to the misfortune of #Documenta14 not only do we encounter mountains of patterns but these mountains also move!

Mara Sartore

  • Miltos Manetas Looking at Athens Biennale. Courtesy of the artist Miltos Manetas Looking at Athens Biennale. Courtesy of the artist
  • Montenero, Sabina Montenero, Sabina
  • Miltos Manetas, 2016-2018: Miltos Manetas, 2016-2018: "Berlinbiennial", pagina instagram. AthensBiennale 2018, Athens, Greece
  • Miltos Manetas, Miltos Manetas, "Berlinbiennial", 2016-2018, Instagram page (www.instagram.com/berlinbiennial), updated for ANTI, the 06th Athens Biennale
  • Miltos Manetas 2018: PaintingwithLikes for the Athens Biennale Miltos Manetas 2018: PaintingwithLikes for the Athens Biennale

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