Two exhibitions at the Accelerator about borders – from antiquity to the present day
Vultures toil in a piece of meat. A voice says. Loukia Alavanous VR work “Oedipus in search of Colonus”, which was shown in the Greek pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale, opens suggestively. The work is only 17 minutes but feels much longer, perhaps it is due to the frequent scene changes, that the variations are so great. But the vultures never return, they are just the endowment. Death, the flesh, the place.
The narrative is based on Sophocles late tragedy “Oedipus in Kolonos”, a continuation of his much better known drama “King Oedipus”. Here is the now blind king on his journey from Thebes with Antigone, who is both his sister and daughter. He reaches the city of Kolonos outside Athens where he will somehow find a refuge and peace.
Loukia Alavanou places the drama in a Roman shanty town, Nea Zoi, which is quite close to ancient Kolonos. It took the artist two years to gain so much trust that the residents wanted to participate and act in the film – a parallel to how Oedipus is received in the drama.
The environment is barren, poor. There seem to be no heroes here. The gods may also have left the place. The viewer is thrown into a 360-degree environment (where one cannot be sure that the vultures really do not return), in a story full of symbolism in layers upon layers.
In Sophocles’ dramas, man does not rule over his lives and actions, and, as Thure Stenström so beautifully expresses the matter in an underscore: “In the end, just like Oedipus, we thus become toys in the hands of fate, everything ultimately rests in the knees of the gods.”
The theme is immigration, how suspicion of the stranger can be expressed and, perhaps, overcome. In ancient Greece, hospitality was a strong norm, but Oedipus is not just anyone. He comes as a deposed king, a suffering exile. In Sophocles, in Kolonos he becomes almost divine, while Alavanou’s version is a drama with a more human atonement.
It’s about acceptance, absolutely, but also about the territory, the power over the place
The conflicts are still a few on the way. It’s about acceptance, absolutely, but also about the territory, the power over the place. Which puts this work in tune with Accelerator’s larger theme and Elgaland-Vargaland’s World Exhibition. Time, then, for the recurring conceptual manifestation of the oddities of the idea of the nation. The exhibition is a two-stage history, a first room acting as a retrospective, with the history and regalia of the kingdoms, correspondence and other documents. Also a small passport office where the visitor, at least at certain times during the exhibition, can become a citizen of this worldwide nation.
The Elgaland-Vargaland project has been going on since 1992, and the kingdom includes not only all geographical border areas, even at sea, but also the digital and mental ones. From here into eternity – citizenship does not end with death.
This wide-ranging project is like 360-degree VR film, raised to any high number and paradoxically more real. I’ve always been drawn to the humor of it all, the rather nerdy tinkering with everything from constitutions to stamps that is so elegantly woven together with sharp contemporary analysis. It is enough to listen to the radio and SD representatives talking about illegal people to understand that the thing about country borders and citizenship, it must be problematized again and again.
The World Exhibition itself, which is presented in the larger of Accelerator’s halls, is a mix of homages to Leif Elggren and Carl Michael von Hausswolff – for example, the two perfumes produced by Chandra Shukla – and artistic representations of the Elgaland-Vargaland idea – such as the sounds from the other side recorded by Michael Espositopresented as the seven deadly sins.
These two exhibitions complement each other well. From antiquity to the present, from the dead in eternity to the haunted environment of Nea Zoi – with royalty everywhere! – we see the boundaries more clearly and thus, perhaps, a hint of how they can be dissolved.