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2291

2022

The work was commissioned in the context of the 2022 programme "All of Greece, One Culture" which was dedicated to the centenary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe (1922). Through the reversal of the digits the Catastrophe’s date, the work invited the Greek and international public to position the events of the Catastrophe, as well as what led to it and what followed it, within a historical context of constant change, like the one that characterises par excellence Greek history and the Mediterranean. The neon installation in the garden of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki created a changing public space, as it constantly oscillated between light and darkness. This happened not only through the succession of day and night, but also through the 24-hour cyclical alternation of the installation's illuminated phrase, which occurred at midnight of each day. The artist was inspired by the personal memories of his grandfather, who was 11 years old at the time of the Burning of Smyrna (Izmir) and fled with thousands of refugees to Greece. Through the title of the work, Balaskas focused not on his grandfather's descriptions of the trauma inflicted by the uprooting and the persecutions, but rather on his descriptions referring to the future: the anticipation of the voyage of salvation, the hope of arrival and, later, his continuous belief in building a better future for himself, his family, and his new home. The neon installation presented two phrases that are axiomatic and "self-evident", whose combination created a sense of repetition and superfluity: of course, there is no sea without land and, equally, no land without sea. Through this poetic and "oxymoronic" use of language, the installation emphasised both the volatility of history and the inherent contradictions of the emotions that characterise any kind of migration, whether this is at its beginning (the point of departure / the lost home) or at its end (the point of arrival / the new home). Such contradictions are timely given the existential threats that Greece and the whole of humanity are called to face today – from the re-emergence of the danger of global conflict, to climate change and the violent displacements that it already causes. In the case of '2291', the "cycles of history" are not just a figure of speech, but an emphatic reminder that every action is followed by a reaction, as well as that these "cycles" can acquire different readings and usefulness depending on the time distance that we have from them. In the end, 2291 becomes an imaginary date that refers not only to 1922 or to the timeless and universal character of refugee disasters, but, above anything else, to the hope that these will disappear sooner rather than later.

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