Europe: Ancient Future
Halle für Kunst Steiermark
Graz, Austria
April 23 – August 15, 2021

Artist and ACT Professor Renée Green’s works Space Poem #4 and Walking in NYL are being shown as part of the group exhibition Europe: Ancient Future at the Halle für Kunst Steiermark in Graz, Austria.

For a long time now, the European Union, which is primarily seen as an economic and political association of nation-states, has been criticized for its shortcomings, predominantly in its practice of democracy. What is increasingly overlooked, however, is the origins of the idea of Europe, which can be discovered within the field of culture. This perspective seems all the more important during a time in which nationalism and populism have regained strength, putting pressure on the European Union from individual member states.

For this reason, the common focus of the artists featured in Europe: Ancient Future, is ​“the history of ideas.” The myths, values, and breaches of a — now rather guardedly — united Europe, which is studied beyond its economic and political developments and contextualized within the history of culture, allows for a more positive and at times utopian potential. The exhibition rejects a Eurocentric reception and forces us to thematize and broaden the usual and often restricted gaze, in order to revive and intensify the conversation about and for Europe with a critical emphasis.

Since 2007 Green has been working on and off on a multipart series of installations titled Space Poems. These installations are characterized by fabric banners in brilliant colors hanging above the heads of the visitors and printed with texts. The artist separates language from its ordinary context and uses it as reference material that she subjects to a spatial, graphic, and color recontextualization. The linguistic material thus becomes part of a poetic system and opens up viewers to a spatial situation in which they can use the gaps between the expressions for themselves.

In the installation Space Poem #4, the artist employs forty double-sided banners bearing Italian names. The names are those of famous personalities from various fields, such as the sciences, literature, philosophy, the visual arts, and film. But what do these names represent within the work? To get at the artist’s intention, it helps to consider the original context of the installation.

Space Poem #4 was created in 2013 in the context of an exhibition in a stately classical building in Rome that presented the artists shown as ​“representatives” of the city of New York. Green’s contribution can be seen as a critique of the whole premise which reduces the artists to their origin and in which they, like the symbolic status of the architecture, serve to express a nationalist consciousness. For whereas one’s initial impression of the names is that they are those of Italians by birth, it turns out that this is false. It quickly becomes clear that they have Italian names but are part of an Italian diaspora. Green is thus alluding to ideological restrictiveness concerning the theme of origin and counters it with the power of cultural diversity and pluralism. She also points out that cultural achievements are not tied to a specific nation.

The exhibition also includes Green’s film Walking in NYL; NYL refers to the cities of New York and Lisbon.

Green lives primarily in New York and has a personal connection to Lisbon. She has dedicated several videos to her interest in the city of Lisbon, the earliest of them dating from 1992, part of her extensive project Tracing Lusitania. The project’s title exemplifies Green’s historical approach: Lusitania was the name of a Roman settlement that corresponds roughly to today’s Portugal. This implies that Green’s study is interested in themes such as the settlement of territories, the meeting of cultures, and the intertwining of present and past.

The artist refers to New York and Lisbon as ​“cities by the water,” thus focusing on sea travel and the associated transportation of people and goods. For this topic, Green connects various historical aspects to the present: streets in Lisbon named after African countries, religious processions on the streets of New York, people of different skin colors shown constantly moving. All these suggestions give a sense of the complicated makeup of cultures. Green looks at how historical relationships live on in the present, as well as at transnational connections between cities, pointing towards the hybrid essence of cultural identity.

Other artists included in the exhibition are Jimmie Durham, Shahryar Nashat, Steve Parrino, James Welling, and Franz West, among others.

More information: Europe: Ancient Future