National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens


5/12/2012 - 24/02/2013


Ivan Grubanov and Vangelis Vlahos

Current Pasts

Project Room
5/12/2012 – 24/02/2013
Curated By: Daphne Vitali

Current Pasts is a collaborative project that brings together Greek artist Vangelis Vlahos and Serbian artist Ivan Grubanov; it is a joint presentation of new work by the two artists. In their visual research both focus on an exploration of history and of the role of memory, recording latter-day sociopolitical and historical developments and attempting to offer relevant interpretations. They are often seen to probe their native country’s recent historical past aiming at a reexamination that may yield alternative narratives.


Vangelis Vlahos’ Foreign archaeologists from standing to bending position (2012) comprises fifty three portraits of archaeologists who have worked in Greece over the last sixty-odd years, which the artist discovered in the archives of various foreign schools of archaeology that are based in Athens. Vlahos focuses on images whose chronology places them within the bounds of modern Greek history, which depict archaeologists on the job, studying, measuring, examining, surveying the progress of work on the excavations carried out in Greece. The work’s title references the actual flow of the images: the posture of the images’ subjects –from standing erect to bending down to standing upright again– is the basic element upon which a chain of movements is built. In this notion of the foreigner coming to Greece to undertake and supervise work on a certain project Greece’s current status as a nation under scrutiny by foreign technocrats, economists, and politicians is mirrored. Putting together the pieces of Greek history and culture is compared to the country’s contemporary economic restructuring. On the other hand, Vlahos’ work is a study on the nature of the archaeologist’s labor –which is indeed so integral to the meaning of the past itself– as much as it is an evaluation of the weight attached to archaeological sites as signifiers of Greek identity.

Smokescreens (2012), the title of Ivan Grubanov’s new series of drawings, is a military term describing a cloud of smoke used to conceal the movements of troops from the enemy. The visual effect of the drawings is achieved through a use of liquid acrylics to saturate the paper, which is in turn exposed to thick black smoke. Each drawing comes with a short phrase, usually of a sociopolitical content, quotes which the artist has excerpted from the press or from non-institutional blogs, which are in some way related to the current global crisis, and which attest a revolutionary spirit. Moreover, the work’s title can also be seen a comment on the mechanisms of repression used against current expressions of social malcontent, as well as on the tactics of deception political leaders employ to sway public opinion. In this archive of images Grubanov compiles the abstract meets the real, the poetic meets the critical, and the intuitive meets the intentional.

Also featured in the project is Grubanov’s Dead Flags (2011), an installation consisting of the old and faded flags of the communist party in what was formerly the republic of Yugoslavia, as well as those of other former socialist republics, which the artist collected through various institutions for culture and education dating from the days of socialist rule. Over and above its implicit reference to the failure of communist regimes, the work comments on the demise of political ideologies, the inadequacies of contemporary democracy, and the range of possible repercussions these have had. An archaeologist of the present, the artist unearths those long obsolete, ‘buried’ flags in order to reconstruct history and deal with the current crisis.

The two artists offer critical commentary that serves to highlight the complexity of the historical moment, carefully avoiding to take a stance on current events, and seeking instead to make the creative process a vehicle for understanding and to help launch an open dialogue on the issue of politics. The works on show create a platform for debating the relationship between politics and archaeology, starting from classical archaeology in Vlahos’ archive to arrive at Grubanov’s notion of a political archaeology of the present. It is a common repertoire of notions and concerns regarding the relationship of past and present that the two artists seem to tap into, while the title Current Pasts points to how a reading of the present may be possible through the past and history; to the importance no less of history reinvented.

Daphne Vitali


Left: Ivan Grubanov, From the ‘Smokescreens’ series, acrylic and smoke on paper, 40x30cm, 2012
Right: Vangelis Vlahos, Foreign archaeologists from standing to bending position, 2012
(detail) 53 framed photographs on a wall mounted shelf (dimensions variable)
Courtesy of the photograph: British School at Athens