text Penetration by Yannis Constantinidis
PENETRATION DAY / 09 SEPTEMBER 2007 ATHENS BIENNIAL
text by Yannis Constantinidis:
A penetration chronicle
The truth is there were certain things I did not understand, or more importantly was not able to assess, which is why I decided to email Thierry Geoffroy with the hope that his answer could help me resolve my query. I thought of listing in my mail the “areas” that remained “dark” in my mind regarding the “penetration” he organized at the pre-opening of Athens’s first Biennale. But then I decided not to do so, as I didn’t want to impose a prejudice in his answer by disrupting his frame of mind and putting him into a defensive flow of argumentation. So, I simply asked him “What would you tell a reporter you had never met before about the Biennale penetration?”
His response was:
“In my opinion, the penetration on September 8th was a huge success. It was simply beautiful. The penetration was dignified, indispensable, respectable, natural, authentic, and most of all true. It retired after 24 hours. It almost certainly played with the poetry and not the vulgarity. It’s as if it did a low bow at the Biennale, an unexpected generous offering, like a bouquet of flowers. And to clarify myself, there were many artists who participated. Our meeting point was at the exit of Kerameikos metro station. Everyone arrived on time, as if they were attending a baptism. The atmosphere was serious and serene, and something special was uniting us: group energy. We were not the individualistic 21st century artists- of a century where individualism reaches its zenith-, but a community. The artists brought in their works just like someone brings pastries and sweets to a party. All the components of a sacred ritual were there. The artists dressed up for a special occasion. They shone of honesty, passion and beauty. The passage was more than successful, it was magical. It was the act of a unified group and not that of a selfish onenist. It was a wave that brought in its own rich lot of beautiful seashells.
Friends, such as Enrico Lungi came from abroad. There were no violations or feelings of resentment, only respect. All the works were necessary. It was so beautiful and so simple that I almost wept. It was such a generous act, so communal- they dedicated time and effort, and made their works with love. The pieces were still fresh and hot. Unsifted, and unrecycled by ideas, untouched by the art retailing system.
Setting up the work went quickly and smoothly. Their every move was determined and accurate. They were considerate of their neighbor’s space- everyone seemed to discern their spatial area even though it was their first time there. Magic was in the air. An instinctual sensitivity, like a mother has for her son. Natural simplicity.
Yes! The penetration went really really well. Life is worth living!”
I then wondered why I was not aware that all of this took place. So, I decided to reread the email. When half way through I get another email from Colonel asking: “Was my text alright? Most probably it was fine, right? Come on…I am saying the truth, it was a beautiful moment!”
This urged me to read the first mail for a third time, since I felt that I was failing to grasp something of utter importance. But still, I did not get it, as I was absorbed into enjoying the witty and delightful word play (the original mail was written in French) around the sexual connotation of the word penetration. And right when I was about to read the email for the fourth time I realize the farce Colonel was setting me up to: with that email he was trying to penetrate into the “journalistic stiffness” of my initial question.
He was “pushing” me to acknowledge that the fabric does not have one good side, but that it is double sided.
Before I could laugh about his escapade (even though I was slightly angry with Colonel, who was in a way defying my right as a reporter to ask whatever it is I like), I get a third email from him, explaining to me the theoretical construction that supports the “penetration” and all his other “interventions” as a “Biennalist”:
“I believe it was a necessary act. It is very important for artists to circulate in exhibition spaces, just like the underwater currents flow in the sea. It is essential for artists to express themselves directly in the place they want to be in. Without lowering his/her head. Carrying on with dignity, pride and their works. Not like a rat in a sewer.
It is significant for the artist to be in his circle, to have access to it and to demand it. Show rooms should not be sterile and rigid, but flexible. Artists must throw passes to one another -just like rugby players - with strength, precision and dare. An artist, who has given birth to a work, should not have to wait to expose it to the public. The work must start living without delay, and provoke immediate implications. It must live. It must exist.
New mechanisms, new systems must be born. And whatever obstructs the artist’s expression must be stomped on immediately.”
After this email, I began to settle in with the idea that when an act, such as this one, is able to hold up its symbolic load it doesn’t necessarily have to encounter a real collision in order to be successful. But that day, every other email was a turnover. Just as I was about to ingest my own theory, I get an email from Maria Ikonomopoulou, who also took part in the operation, and wanted to express a few thoughts on the matter. She notes the following:
“The way we penetrated and set our works seemed excellent to me, plus it had all the elements of a collective act.
The locale proved to be ideal; it’s as if the works were tailored for this space. As for when the public entered the space, the “Emergency Room” wall exerted a higher magnitude than the “Kimberley Clark” work. This created a problem for Kimberly Clark; our works were becoming too integrated with theirs. We were also fortunate because of the fact that (by chance), the Biennale’s description of K.C.’s work was placed right after our wall. Even though the penetration went smoothly and nicely, it turned out to be a noticeable invasion. I would have personally preferred to get a response from the Biennale organizers than from the Kimberly Clark artists who welcomed us in their space. The K.C. artists were happy that we at least mentioned (in a text) their compliance to accommodate us in their Biennale space.
As I write this text today (ten days after the penetration), I believe that what I retained the most from all this, is something Maro Michalakou whispered to me: “I would normally never do this, because it’s not me. But I really like the fact that I did do it. This was a breakthrough for me.”