Alpha to Omega of Our Athens Nostalgia: S is for Stories

You had meant it as a brief stop on the way to somewhere else, but it ended up being the story of your day and perhaps your whole visit. Your main destination was the Benaki Museum Pireos Street Annexe, but you wanted to plan a route via quick visits to the Museum of Islamic Art (Benaki Museum), the site of Plato’s Academy and the Agricultural Museum of Athens. At your first stop, you encountered Mounira Al Solh’s tent of refugee’s stories, the hand-sewn testimonies within and then represented visually on the outside. Inside the tent you read the brutal tale of the woman who sold flowers on the border of Iran and Iraq, who at 15 was forced by poverty to marry a man 30 years her senior who abused her and caused her to miscarry her baby, who fled to Greece, where she had vivid dreams about her unborn child, imaging him as a snake, as a tiger and even as “a winged king surrounded by funny houses”. After reading this, you started speaking to the documenta guide at the museum, Vicky Tsirou, whose pointing finger you see here in the photograph, a still from a video in which she talked about the work. Vicky told you that the stories inside the tent were reproduced visually on the outside, pointing to the flowers the girl used to sell, the snake and the tiger, and, here, the winged king surrounded by funny houses. (At the time you were reminded of the Tablet of Cebes). You thanked her for telling (and showing) you all of these stories and suggested to her that when documenta closed in Athens (in a few days time now) she should write down her own story – as the guardian and interpreter of Solh’s artwork, connecting the artist’s stories with visitors like you. You then confessed to her that it was actually a story that brought you to documenta. You had read Enrique Vila-Matas’ The Illogic of Kassel, and even though you had not experienced the 2012 exhibition itself, his story had transported you there and that was why you were in Athens, to see documenta for yourself, and why, when you visited Kassel after Athens, you would search for the remnants of Vila-Matas’ story as much as engage with art of the present exhibition. Who, when its done, will we tell our story to?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *