The Mediterranean region is center stage for the production and dissemination of culture. Its strategic location and pivotal role as a crossroads of trade routes meant that the Mediterranean has always been a center of cultural exchange, playing a leading role throughout the history of human civilization. However, the region has also been plagued by natural disasters and political crises. All those elements continue to shape the cultural palimpsest of the Mediterranean, raising the issue of redefining the region’s identity.
This exhibition revisits the timeless question concerning the acquisition and control of knowledge. Knowledge is seen as a dynamic, multifaceted product, traveling in time and space, with both artifacts and people serving as its hosts; knowledge is also seen as essential for the existence, identity, and preservation of human life at both the individual and the collective level.
The exhibition invites us to a dialogue between two cultural derivatives from different times of the same region. The dialogue is between Europe’s oldest surviving Greek “book”, the ancient Derveni papyrus, and three contemporary works of art by artist Dimitris Xonoglou. The Cross and The Logos installations, share the patio of the Archeological Museum of Thessaloniki with the Derveni papyrus, while the Mediterranean Miracle is displayed in the adjacent room. The papyrus exhibit is closely juxtaposed with the Logos installation, a three-part composition consisting of melted kitchen utensils in the upper row, black broken plates in the middle, and burned texts with wax residues in the lower plane; the texts are written in Chinese, Greek and Arabic language along with mathematical equations. This latter artwork is a reference to the Derveni tomb’s co-founded objects while at the same time epitomizes the legacy of the past cultures and alludes the long-quested need for a universal language.
The Cross touches upon the relationship between institutional power, in its role as administrator of knowledge, with the products of culture and civilization, while the Mediterranean Miracle examines the issue of individual responsibility towards knowledge – it comments on the choices everyone makes as one selects from the multitude of cultural information the pieces one will use to build one’s personal cultural palimpsest.
A destructive process (the pyre for the cremation of the dead) is transformed unwittingly, yet also inescapably, into a valuable solution to the problem of preserving the fragile material of the papyrus roll. The fire reshapes the papyrus and alters its content. Fire, an element of decay, but also a symbol of purging and rebirth, recaptures its promethean role as a conveyor and creator of knowledge. It also serves as a link between the past and the present.
The surviving remnants of the papyrus’ text serve as the starting point for a contemporary work of art. The complex outcome of this union between the doctrines and knowledge of an ancient civilization fuels the creative imagination and scrutinizing power of the artist, whose work has persistently focused on the themes of material and spiritual decay and incorruption, inviting us to observe the depository of collective and individual experiences and knowledge.
The issues raised by this dialogue between past and present include the natural or intentional processes of decay, corruption, and rebirth; the dialogue also touches upon the themes of necessity and contingency in the endless process of cultural life.
The Derveni text represents a palimpsest of information on cosmological, religious, and eschatological issues; it is the product of a distant era; a riddle whose enigmatic nature is intensified by the fragmented state of the roll.
The works of Dimitris Xonoglou also feature surprising combinations of diverse materials, challenging the audience to participate in a “wager” of mysterious deciphering and recomposing. The dipole of matter and spirit is redefined in a circular process of symbol creation and assignment. What is created, destroyed, and preserved from the dynamic interaction and coexistence of people?
The exhibition brings together the derivatives of different cultures in the present-day Mediterranean under the roof of the Archeological Museum of Thessaloniki; the Museum, in its double role as a conveyor and guardian of knowledge about the past, becomes the means that allows them to converse in the present.
Dr. Themis Veleni