Athens”Ancient and Modern: Athens in the Twenty-First Century

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... baths, and playgrounds; literary and theoretical works; a proposal for a mobile cinema set on ... aim of enabling marginalized populations to enter into dis-course about urban space in Athens. ... Papadimitriou had a video of Magas playing the
           PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, PAJ 92 (Volume 31, Number2), May 2009, pp. 11-44 (Article)      For additional information about this article  Access provided by Harvard University (7 Apr 2016 10:55 GMT)   ATHENS—  ANCIENT  AND MODERN Opening Ceremony of the Athens Olympics of 2004 in the stadium designed by Santiago Calatrava.  12   PAJ 92 (2009), pp. 12–44. © 2009 Marina Kotzamani  ATHENS IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY  Marina Kotzamani S ituated at the Eastern tip of Europe, modern Greece has partaken of both Eastern and Western cultural elements. Te presence of an Eastern heritage along with a Western heritage has been notoriously difficult to negotiate for Greeks. In modern times, Greece became a state in 1834, having been under the Ottoman Empire for four hundred years. Since its inception, the modern Greek state has been anxious to claim a position in the European family. o this end it has strongly emphasized its hereditary, cultural, and material connection to ancient Greece, the cradle of Western civilization. Identifying modern with ancient Greece and establishing continuity between ancient and modern culture has been the most significant ideological project of the modern state and instrumental in forging national identity. Tis effort has had pervasive influence on all aspects of Greek life from the nineteenth century to the present. Establishing historical continuity for Greek civilization has also largely involved homogenizing it and purging it of vibrant Eastern elements, primarily those asso-ciated with folk and popular arts. A firm polarity was thus put into place in the nineteenth century with the Western heritage, classical Greece, and “high culture” on one side and the Eastern heritage, folk, and popular culture on the other. In spite of ideological manipulation, Eastern elements survived and developed in parallel  with, or in assimilation to, official high culture. Contemporary Greek culture then is a hybrid of Eastern and Western elements. Since the 1990s, the arrival of new immigrants in Greece from Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa has been reinvigorating Eastern influences in the culture in new ways. It is easy to ascertain the hybrid character of Greek culture empirically by taking a  walk in the historical center of Athens, especially the downtown area surrounding the central marketplace of the city, the Varvakeios. Tis is the busiest and most vibrant shopping center of Athens, catering to a lower middle- and working-class clientele. Te flavor of Eastern elements in the culture is prominent here. One can buy anything at the market area from herbs to a whole lamb, including intestines, or a wedding dress. One can get shoes, clocks, and lamps repaired. Indeed, the area has also traditionally been settled by craftspeople. In recent years, the Varvakeios has  KOZAMANI /  Athens in the wenty-First Century      13 rapidly been turning into a multicultural center with the new immigrants flocking to the area to find work, set up a business, or socialize. Newcomers to the neighborhood, however, do not only include downtrodden Easterners but also high culture art sophisticates of a Western polish who frequent the art galleries, theatres, trendy restaurants, and bars that moved there over the last decade and continue to grow in number. Obviously these enterprises are on the side of Western “high” culture. Te same applies to state institutions focusing on modern and contemporary art, which have recently opened in the wider area extending below the Varvakeios such as the Benaki Museum of Peireos Street, a lively museum housed in a stylish new building, and Gazi, a former gas factory turned into a complex of exhibition spaces.Besides westward-looking contemporaneity, ancient Greece also has a strong presence in the neighborhood. Te entire area around the Varvakeios extends to the south of the Acropolis and the ancient agora, offering stunning views of the archaeological sites. Indeed, the ancient agora of Athens geographically forms almost a continuum  with the modern agora. Classical Greek theatre also has pride of place in the neigh-borhood through street naming. Directly below the Varvakeios, in Psiri, there is a complex of narrow, small streets bearing the names of all the illustrious ancient Greek dramatists. Tese streets surround Plateia Teatrou (Teatre Square), facing the Varvakeios from the west. Te strong connection between theatre and the agora that existed in ancient times is also in place in contemporary Athens. In antiquity both the theatre and the agora  were broadly participatory and popular public institutions where all sorts of exchanges happened, making for great spectacle. Tis is true as well of the contemporary marketplace in Athens, a quintessentially theatrical space, featuring a formidable mixture of Eastern and Western influences, high and pop cultures, classical and contemporary elements, the mainstream and the marginal, the native Greek and the multicultural. rue to their function as signposts, the streets of the ancient dramatists guide us to approaching antiquity in a contemporary spirit as a living culture, exuberant and chaotic. In a great coup de théâtre  , Teatre Square is not a square in the traditional sense of an open urban space; most of it is occupied by a stately, Bauhaus-style public building that leaves little room around the edges for use by city dwellers. On the south side of the square is Menander Street, a favorite meeting place of Pakistani immigrants who frequent the numerous ethnic barber shops in the area. Menander Street ends at the neoclassical building of the National Teatre, an emblem of high culture. Te sharpest antithesis between high and low, though, is on Sophocles Street. At the beginning of the street is the landmark building of the Athens stock exchange which recently moved to another venue, in the middle of the street there is a stylish expensive hotel, and at the end is a municipal shelter for the homeless. Dominating Aeschylus Street is a derelict neoclassical building with gaping doors,  windows, and a collapsing roof, looking like a scenic design for tragedy. On the  14   PAJ 92 opposite side of the street among dark alleyways and passages there is a building that is used as a mosque. In a delightful touch of irony, where Aeschylus converges  with Aristophanes Street there is a steak house and across from it a warehouse for marble statues, with a set of classically inspired specimens in the show window contemplating the smoke and smell of charred meat. Indeed, Athens emerges as a most theatrical city, a city where, at the heart of its historical neighborhood, art and life inspire each other. Drama is played out in the streets, combining elements from East and West in sharp antitheses or bold syntheses.  Yet, at least in mainstream or official culture, Greece is still not entirely comfortable  with the hybrid character of contemporary culture. Tis became clear once again  with the hosting of the Olympics in Athens in 2004, a landmark event concerning Greece’s relation to Europe. Greece was able to organize the Games successfully and to silence critics in the international press, who prior to the Games had criticized the country’s (Eastern-flavored) organizational competence and expressed doubts about whether Olympic preparations would be completed on time. Te hosting of a successful Olympics boosted the prestige of the country internationally. Te Olympics proved to be a test that Greece was able to pass concerning whether the country, a longtime member of the European Union, actually forms part of Europe in an integral way.  While Olympic preparations relied on, and showcased, hybrid contemporary Greece in its Eastern and Western guises, official policy promoted the Western aspects of Greek culture. Te Opening ceremony of the Olympics, designed by director Dimitris Papaioannou, predominantly emphasized the ancient heritage. Indeed, the slogan of the Athens Olympics was that the Games return to the country where they  were born. Ideologically, the ceremony aimed at reaching global audiences through the traditional, commonplace way of approaching Greece as the source of Western civilization. Papaioannou relied heavily on images based on pre-classical and classical art, recognized worldwide as Greek. In an impressive scene of the Opening ceremony history paraded in floats, showcasing masterfully executed tableaux vivants   modeled after ancient Greek art. Te parade led from ancient Greece through Byzantium to modern Greece, attesting to the enduring relevance of the continuity thesis. Te historical expedition ended in the early-twentieth century, marginalizing the pres-ence of contemporary Greece. No wonder—the continuity thesis presupposes that contemporary Greece has an identity primarily through its hereditary connection to ancient Greece. 1 Tis special PAJ section on Athens comes at an opportune time after the Athens Games to complement the anemic presentation of contemporary Greek art and culture at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. It features some of the best and most dynamic work produced in Greece post-2000. Te works discussed reflect themes and formal explorations current in global culture, while also responding to central concerns in Greece today from non-mainstream perspectives. Te selections set up complex discourses, jointly employing a great variety of media from high tech to handicraft. Contemporary culture in Greece emerges as less claustrophobic than
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