Paintings, children's drawings, random postcards and newspaper clippings hung on chipped walls; a simple wooden table and a chair look forlorn in one corner; two bicycle rest against shelves full of magazines; jars of pickled olives, bottles of detergents, tools and shopping bags are scattered around; enclosed in wooden partitions, there is a small office, inside it a sofa, a desk, a piece of furniture with several folders, family pictures and a map of the world on a wall.
Everything in this space - that could be located anywhere in the world - seems ordinary, and maybe a bit antiquated and dusty. Yet there are some disquieting presences around it: skinned animals such as a hare hang from a hook; while a perilous staircase leads to the discovery of an elevated section with a brown bear with splayed paws hanging on a wall and a stuffed wolf.
Outside the shop a sign reads "αγριμικά [Agrimiká]", a Greek term, that means local wild game, but this is not Greece.
This space has indeed been recreated by artist Maria Papadimitriou inside the Greek Pavilion at the 56th Venice International Exhibition (until 22nd November 2015).
Papadimitriou discovered this shop belonging to 83-year-old tanner Dimitris Ziogos in the Greek city of Volos in Thessaly, and decided to dismantle and recreate it in Venice as part of the project "Agrimiká. Why Look at Animals?"
The "Agrimiká" shop occupies part of the Greek Pavilion that also offers the chance to watch two videos linked with the project, "Reminiscences of an Unprocessed Leather Technician" (written and directed by Menelaos Karamaghiolis) and "Folk Festivals".
The remaining space of the pavilion hosts remnants from previous editions of the Biennale: the bits and pieces and debris represent disorder and waste of materials, resources, energies and possibilities. Ultimately, the remains also point at the precarious economic and social conditions Greece has been facing in the last few months.
Yet there are further and more intricate meanings behind this installation that has also got a strong link with architecture (Papadimitriou teaches visual arts at the Department of Architecture at the University of Thessaly, Volos) as the artist uses this microcosm of objects layered by time to question several topics and issues.
The shop is the natural habitat of its owner and it has therefore witnessed innumerable conversations, becoming a social space. Yet ,transplanted inside the Greek Pavilion, the store assumes a psychogeographical value, it is indeed a place where humanity does confront not just death, but faces "the other", that is the animal and brutal side hidden inside each and every human being.
In a nutshell, the shop looks at the more bestial aspects that characterise all of us, attempting to explain issues of power, violence and subjugation perpetrated by human beings over other human beings.
The beast therefore becomes the embodiment of diversity and the pavilion prompts us to think about other topics and issues at times linked with the current news. We have seen for example in yesterday's post how another installation at the Venice Biennale assumed different meanings after a Summer marked by intense migration flows and an Autumn of terror in Paris.
The shop inside the Greek Pavilion could now be seen as a way to ponder about the brutality and violence of human beings, but also about the way we diminish "the others", those ones who look different from us, depriving them of subjectivity, objectifying and criminalising them.
Through this espace trouvé that is also an espace double at the same time (the actual shop still continues to function to this day), Papadimitriou addresses therefore profound archetypes and ingrained stereotypes, questioning differences and discriminations, marginalisation and brutalisation, fear and freedom, human and civil rights, solidarity and fellowship.
The curator of the pavilion, Gabi Scardi, very aptly calls the shop an "immersive theatre of contradictions": the memorabilia and personal cabinet of curiosity of the tireless and resentful owner are indeed micrometaphors focusing on human beings and their relationship to economy, death, and animals.
History and identity can also be considered as satellite themes of the installation: having experienced various events from the Civil War to the period of gradual economic development of the '60s to the more recent years of prosperity and financial meltdown, shop owner Dimitris Ziogos is also a symbol of historical and social struggles, an observer of life who has built around himself his own theatre of memories using the shop as his stage and archive.
His microspace acquires therefore a greater significance since it can be read as a microscopic view of the world, a place suspended between museum and abattoir, full of allegories and symbols that prompt visitors to ponder on the human/inhuman ontological dilemma.
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