Between the Pessimism of the Intellect and the Optimism of the Will

Exhibitions, art events, a performance festival, workshops, symposia, meetings, guided tours and educational programs, consist the program of the 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, which will be held from June 23 till September 30, 2015, in Thessaloniki, Greece.

This is the last segment of a three part program which began back in 2011 with main focus in the Mediterranean sea, under the general title “Old Intersections-Make it New”.

The 5th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art is funded under the Operational Program Macedonia-Thrace 2007-2013, co-financed by the European Union (European Regional Development Fund) and Greece, and is run by the State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki. Legal Representative of the Project Beneficiary is Prof. Miltiades Papanikolaou, SMCA President.

Katerina Koskina, former president of the SMCA Board of Administration, art historian-curator, holds the General Directorship of the 5th Thessaloniki Biennale. Katerina Gregos, art historian, freelance curator and writer, is the curator of the main exhibition

The program of the 5th Thessaloniki Biennale, main and parallel, the collaborating institutions and the venues, will be announced in detail ςwith a future press release.

Main Exhibition

The main exhibition bears the title “Between the Pessimism of the Intellect and the Optimism of the Will”, which was given by the curator Katerina Gregos, inspired by an aphorism by Antonio Gramsci. It will be housed in Periptero 6 (venue into the premises of the Thessaloniki International Fair). 43 artists, one artists’ collective group from 25 countries all around the world, will show their artworks, new and old productions, making the title of the exhibition more up to date than ever.

Participating artists

Carlos Aires (ES), Can Altay & Jeremiah Day(TR/US), Ivan Argote (CO), Marwa Arsanios (US), Bertille Bak (FR), Taysir Batniji (PS), James Beckett (ZA/NL), Adelita Husni Bey (IT), David Brognon & Stéphanie Rollin (BE/LU), Depression Era (GR), Ninar Esber (LB), Mounir Fatmi (MA), Peter Friedl (AT), Mekhitar Garabedian (SY/BE), Ganzeer (EG), Marina Gioti (GR), Piero Gilardi (IT), Hamza Halloubi (MA), Nick Hannes (BE), Sven Johne (DE), Annika Kahrs (DE), Eleni Kamma (GR), Hayv Kahraman (IQ), Mikhail Karikis (GR), Chrysanthi Koumianaki (GR), Erik Van Lieshout (NL), Thomas Locher (DE), Angela Melitopoulos & Angela Anderson (DE/US), Tom Molloy (IE), Nikos Navridis (GR), Qiu Zhijie (CN), Pavel Pepperstein (RU), Antonis Pittas (GR), Theo Prodromidis (GR), Meriç Algün Ringborg (TR), Anila Rubiku (AL), Marinella Senatore (IT), Nedko Solakov (BG), Nikos Tranos (GR), Thomas Weinberger (DE), Olav Westphalen (DE)

Extract from the curatorial note.

“The title of the 5th Thessaloniki Biennial is inspired by an aphorism invoked by Antonio Gramsci in the The Prison Notebooks (Quaderni del carcere) that he wrote between 1929 and 1935 while he was imprisoned by the Facist regime in Italy at the time. In these voluminous writings which he composed during his eleven years incarceration Gramsci repeatedly cites this phrase; in one of the letters he writes: “The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned… I’m a Pessimist because οf intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” This duality constitutes a point of departure to talk about the current situation of Crisis – and how to overcome it – that governs much of the Mediterranean, which will once again be the focal point of the next biennial.

As a diverse blend and composite of cultures, religions, ethnicities, languages, traditions and norms, it becomes very difficult to define the Mediterranean area, except in geographic terms. Indeed there is much debate on whether we can even speak of a Mediterranean identity, culture or even region; and equally, it is impossible to treat the countries of the area as an undifferentiated group, nor arrive a singular understanding of what constitutes ‘The Mediterranean’. It is as much a real as an imagined space, whose perception has been determined and coloured by idyllic as well as negative stereotypes and misperceptions. But what many of the 26 countries seem to face today are a series of serious ongoing crises (whether social, economic, or political) as well as several zones of armed conflict. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to call the Mediterranean a crisis zone of sorts. Greece, Spain, and Italy are all in the throes of economic crises, Turkey is in the midst of a political crisis, while a large part of the Southern shores of the Mediterranean simmer with political and social unrest as democracy is being challenged, and the Eastern shores remain mired either in armed conflict or decades long unresolved political, religious and territorial disputes.

So while the Mediterranean cannot be defined in terms of a common identity, it constitutes a hotbed for some of the more burning issues of the moment including social and economic equality, democracy, civil rights, migration and mobility, and personal autonomy, the overall area treading the fine line between order and disorder. (…) Gramsci himself defined crisis as precisely that situation where “the old is dying and the new cannot be born” and added that, “in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” (…) It rests with artists, cultural practitioners and grass roots activists to exercise the creative and radical imagination, in order to critically dissect what is happening right now (thus engaging the pessimism of the intellect) as well as to envisage or allude to another way of being (by harnessing the optimism of the will). (…).

In light of the general fatalism that governs many aspects of politics, economics, and public life today, as well as the dominant view that capitalism is ‘inevitable’, Gramsci’s phrase seems as relevant as it was when first written. It is the optimism of the will that when implemented finally sparks change and can sow the seeds for a better future. (…)

The main exhibition of the 5th Thessaloniki Biennial will explore the multiple meanings of this dual phrase as well as that grey zone in between.

Gramsci’s aphorism could also provide an inspirational point of departure for looking beyond crisis, at a time increasingly characterized by apathy and a general defeatist attitude in relation to the intensification of capitalism, growing social and economic inequalities, and the threat of socially oriented programmes and protections, not only in the Mediterranean, but throughout Europe in general. The Biennial will thus shed light on some of the critical issues affecting the Mediterranean region so far, but will also allow room for what Ernst Bloch has called “forward dreaming”, so essential to move beyond the impasses that humanity faces at the moment. In this case, art has a seminal role to play as a form of emancipatory praxis.

The artists in the 5th Biennial will thus engage in critical, oppositional cultural practices, and exercise the freedom of the imagination thus symbolically engaging with Gramsci’s aphorism. (…).