Before the biennale: Geoffroy set up the 'Biennalist Headquater' in Karlsruhe. © Thierry Geoffroy
When, on 29 October, 2010 the third Athens Biennale published a video spot on YouTube entitled “What Happens in Athens in October 2011”, the crisis-rocked future of the country was barely foreseeable. Bearing the title Monodrome, Greek for one-way-street, the team of curators around Nicolas Bourriaud planned a film and a large-scale exhibition conceived to depict the present. Not trusting their plans, the French-Danish artist, Thierry Geoffroy, adapted their concept and himself filmed for the Biennale on the streets of Athens. He later went on to explain that one question especially imposed itself on him: will the contemporary fail on the present?
The press release of Monodrome featured a man astride a moped with helmet and mouth protection gear while the background depicts a highly explosive situation where occasional demonstrators can be seen on the street. Geoffroy sent me the link via Facebook explaining via his laptop camera, “The curators conceived of the Athens Biennale as a tool for understanding contemporary Greece. The press statement suggests that the Biennale reflects the current crisis and its global context – but, ultimately, the curators planned an exhibition on last century Athens.” The core of Geoffroy’s Biennale projects is fish out glittering phrases in marketing jargon, before testing their truth content and countering them on location with critical formats. “I wanted to use the language and rules as prescribed by the Biennale, which is why I myself did the filming. My critique turns above all on the contemporary application of the contemporary. According to my understanding, the concept of the present defines the here and now.”
Geoffroy was, therefore, entirely serious about the concept, shooting by day editing by night before then placing the finished product on to YouTube. “I attempted to keep up a certain pace with a view to showing the real Athens as it is today. One realizes, when producing at this pace that art cannot keep up with this. So, why do we not just give up dreaming of the contemporary and instead call what we do flea markets, library or history?” What interested him was the contrast between the Athens as presented by the Biennale, and that which was playing out before him on-site. “But”, he commented, laughing, “we will anyway only see the Biennale film in two or three years”. On Youtube, one can see Geoffroy with film flap and tropical helmet in discussion with demonstrators. Monodrome opened on 14 October a few days prior to the violent protests against the austerity package which, for all intents and purposes, entirely paralyzed public life. As Geoffroy himself sums up: “I was carried away by the real situation in the city, not the artificial representation of the real situation at the Biennale.”