A jun­gle on Hill of the Nymphs

Adrian Vil­lar Ro­jas hon­ors Greek his­tory, cul­ture at Na­tional Ob­ser­va­tory in Athens

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY SONG LINGFANG

This sum­mer, cel­e­brated Ar­gen­tinean artist Adrian Vil­lar Ro­jas has trans­formed Athens’s Hill of the Nymphs into a “jun­gle,” pos­ing ques­tions to lo­cals and for­eign tourists about dis­ap­pear­ance and ex­tinc­tion, as well as the pas­sage and volatil­ity of time.

Ro­jas’s im­pres­sive in­stal­la­tion on the Hill of the Nymphs ti­tled “The Theater of Dis­ap­pear­ance” is the first project he has been al­lowed to set up in an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site world­wide, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Greek non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion NEON, which com­mis­sioned the work, told Xinhua. It is also the first time Greek au­thor­i­ties have given the green light for such a ma­jor project at an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site.

The Athens Na­tional Ob­ser­va­tory, with a re­mark­able view of the Parthenon, is a land­mark in the his­toric cen­ter of the Greek cap­i­tal. It was es­tab­lished in 1842 and was the first re­search in­sti­tu­tion in modern Greece. The Ob­ser­va­tory is part of the city’s his­tory. It’s tried re­cently, through var­i­ous events, to high­light the link be­tween science and art, ac­cord­ing to its direc­tor Mano­lis Pleio­nis.

“Open­ing up to a dif­fer­ent kind of art and host­ing ‘The Theater of Dis­ap­pear­ance’ was a chal­lenge. Through his work, Adrian Vil­lar Ro­jas re­vealed the po­ten­tial of the his­toric site of the Hill of the Nymphs,” Pro­fes­sor Pleio­nis noted.

Vil­lar Ro­jas is well known for largescale sculp­tural in­stal­la­tions that rad­i­cally dis­turb the sites he en­gages with. He cre­ates un­pre­dictable set­tings for the vis­i­tor to ex­plore.

He’s worked for months to sow 46,000 plants – 26 species, in­clud­ing bam­boo, ar­ti­chokes, watermelons, pump­kins, ar­ti­chokes and as­para­gus – across an area of 4,500 square me­ters. The veg­e­ta­tion grad­u­ally took over the hill and will to grow un­til the ad­mis­sion-free ex­hi­bi­tion’s end on Septem­ber 24.

Since June 1, vis­i­tors have been able walk through nar­row paths to ad­mire this “jun­gle” and dis­cover the sculp­tural in­stal­la­tions Ro­jas has hid­den in vit­rines among the plants as well as a bar­ren zone which points to a war-torn site.

Vis­i­tors can also see a replica of the Vic­tory of Samoth­race – a statue of a winged fe­male fig­ure un­earthed on the is­land of the same name and now housed at the Lou­vre in Paris – which lies hor­i­zon­tally in­stead of up­right, or a replica of NASA’s un­manned space rover that ar­rived on Mars in 2012 to as­sess whether the planet has ever sup­ported life.

“What does it mean to have the soil be­neath our feet?” Vil­lar Ro­jas asks vis­i­tors through this in­ter­ven­tion which also ex­pands into the in­door spa­ces of the Ob­ser­va­tory. “I come from Ar­gentina, where es­sen­tially soil is a means of pro­duc­tion... The strong­est fea­tures of our na­tional iden­tity are our crops and cat­tle,” the artist told the or­ga­niz­ers. “When I ar­rived in Greece, I im­me­di­ately un­der­stood that for Greeks what is be­low their feet was as con­sti­tu­tive of their na­tional iden­tity as it is for Ar­gen­tineans, but in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way. What was be­neath their feet was cul­ture: thou­sands of years of hu­man civ­i­liza­tions,” he said ac­cord­ing to an NEON press re­lease.

“The trans­for­ma­tion of the Na­tional Ob­ser­va­tory by Vil­lar Ro­jas shows his vi­sion and com­mit­ment to over­turn the sta­tus quo. It also shows NEON’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to bring con­tem­po­rary cul­ture closer to the pub­lic with in­no­va­tive and bold ideas,” NEON’s founder, col­lec­tor and en­trepreneur Dim­itris Daskalopou­los, said. Founded in 2013, NEON aims to show that art is a key tool for growth for a coun­try which has faced dif­fi­cult times in re­cent years due to the debt cri­sis. The project on the Hill of the Nymphs is part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s cam­paign to es­tab­lish a link be­tween con­tem­po­rary cul­ture and the his­tor­i­cal and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal her­itage of Athens.

The in­stal­la­tion is also an um­brella ti­tle and part of four sep­a­rate ex­hi­bi­tions tak­ing place in un­til early 2018 across Europe and the US.

Vis­i­tors to the Athens Ob­ser­va­tory this sum­mer will see ‘The Theater of Dis­ap­pear­ance,’ cre­ated by Adrian Vil­lar Ro­jas.

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