by Georges Salameh

The title of the main exhibition of the 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (curated by Katerina Gregos) is inspired by an aphorism invoked by the Marxist thinker and politician Antonio Gramsci in the Prison Notebooks (Quaderni del carcere) written between 1929 and 1935. Gramsci wrote: “The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned […] I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” The exhibition takes Gramsci’s aphorism as a point of departure to reflect on the current crisis that governs much of the Mediterranean region, the geographic focus of the Biennale. Gramsci defined crisis as a situation where “the old is dying and the new cannot be born”. “Pessimism of the intellect” entails a critical view of things as they are. “Optimism of the will”, evokes the imagination, and the call to action necessary to overcome adversity. It is precisely between these two mental poles that much of the Mediterranean finds itself today. The artists in the exhibition explore the multiple manifestations of this duality, engage in critical, oppositional cultural practices, and exercise the freedom of the imagination, thus symbolically engaging with Gramsci’s aphorism to look into and beyond the current crisis, allowing for what Ernst Bloch has called “forward dreaming”.

© Installation view 'Depression Era' at 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art

The Depression Era “Room” was curated by members of the collective: Fysakis Pavlos, Gioti Marina, Kapsianis Kostas, Langis Tassos, Prinos Yorgos, Salameh Georges, Tsoumplekas Dimitris, Voulgari Chrissoula.

Artists: Charisis Giorgos, Fysakis Pavlos, Hadjiaslanis Yiannis, Hatziyannaki Zoe, Hatziharalampous Eirini, Gialidou Korina, Giselidou Vera, Gripeos Giorgos, Doumpenidis Konstantinos, Drivas George, Kakoulidis Harry, Kafkas Yiannis, Kapsianis Kostas, Kiamos Panos, Kokkinos Akis, Komini Lena, Langis Tassos, Massouridou Mari, Mavropoulou Maria, Michailidou maria, Michalakis Dimitris, Moutafis Giorgos, Nikitaki Margarita, Paraskevopoulou Asimina, Pliatsikas Andreas, Prinos Yorgos, Rapakoussis Dimitris, Rozi Anthi, Salameh Georges, Spagouros Vassilis, Staveris Spyros, Stathopoulos Kosmas, Stefatou Olga, Tatsis Vaggelis, Theodoropoulos Yiannis, Tsagkarakis Marinos, Tsagkatakis Sotiris, Tsoumplekas Dimitris, Van Versendaal Harry, Vasilikos Lukas, Vorgia Pasqua, Vourloumis Eirini

Design: Βabasikas Petros | Production: Tsagkarakis Marinos | Development live feed: Dimitris Marlagkoutsos

© Installation view 'Depression Era' at 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art

The 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art under the title “Between the Pessimism of the Intellect and the Optimism of the Will’’ will take place from June 23, 2015 to September 30, 2015. Forty-four artists and the collective group Depression Era, from 25 countries all around the world will show their artworks, new and old productions.

The Depression Era collective presents a group project, installed in a room of 8x9 metres, forming a common thesis about our place and time. When in a constant and deep crisis, one loses mainly two things:  ones sustenance – work, food, capital, basic resources – but also ones visibility – the possibility for a person’s story to exist and be heard or seen by others.  Depression Era makes some of these lost stories visible and heard again, presenting them in the public sphere as a new network of stories:  a mosaic of images, video and texts taking us past the age of happy endings.

© Installation view 'Depression Era' at 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art

The installation features works of the members of Depression Era and projects produced through the collective’s year-long collaboration with emerging artists in a series of artistic workshops.

The project has no beginning, middle, or ending.  It creates intersections and continuous entanglements on the room’s vertical and horizontal surfaces, against a digital live image feed by all who participate in the exhibition, running for the entire Biennale summer – a constant, autonomous flow without pause or turning back.

© Installation view 'Depression Era' at 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art

The installation is organized around a rotating square-within-a-square.  The ensuing discontinuity creates a paradox, filled by accumulation, correlations and sequential voids.  Different points and modules align with either of the two squares, on the bays or protrusions created by the rotation.

Our collective project remains in a constant state of becoming, its readings changing along the different tracks of the audience.  The project’s points and modules collide, unite or set themselves apart as they encounter the Biennale’s constituent states, between the optimism of the will and the pessimism of the intellect.


Depression Era