In taking as its inspiration an example from Greek antiquity, STOA169 itself sets the bar high for the entire project; for what began roughly 2000 years ago under the roof of a columned hall as an important forum for thought (regarded now as model of success in our intellectual history) is to be transposed into a contemporary stoa.
Once a centre for philosophy, now a centre for art. The idea, to link this art project with the intellectual world of stoic philosophy, has naturally not been chosen at random. On the one hand, it is a matter of the hall as such. Stoae, covered foyers, walkways or halls, lined with colonnades, were built by the Greeks in ancient times. From around 700BC onwards, this typically Hellenistic form of construction evolved into a characteristic element of urban development and planning. Surrounding and enclosing the agora, stoae provided the framework of public life in larger cities. In Athens alone, over the course of centuries, nine stoae were erected; only one, the Stoa of Attalos, was reconstructed in the modern age – of the others only the foundations have survived.
STOA169 comes closest to the Stoa Poikile (Painted Porch), as the latter had been used up to a certain point as both exhibition space and picture gallery; around 300BC, with the arrival of Zenon of Kition, the Athenian Stoa Poikile then became the birthplace of stoicism, and, with it, the creation of a space for thought in which teaching and learning occurred publicly, for everyone. The stoa’s effect was not that people gathered together in a hall and suddenly became enlightened, but, rather, that through argumentative reasoning they could acquire convincing, that is to say truthful, insights.
Such persuasive sagacity would ideally then lead the participant of any given discourse to a form of knowledge, one related to the destiny of man, to wisdom. Wisdom, in turn, would be the basis for a serene, ethical attitude on the part of the individual, which would then elevate them to a state of emancipation and ‘ rapture‘. The duty of the Stoics was also, of course, to defend wisdom on logical, i.e., rhetorical and dialectical, grounds.
At its core, stoic thought is concerned with the familiar ‘peace of mind‘ of the individual; a certain composure or tranquillity stemming from the self-awareness that humans belong in an order, a cosmos, where everything is interconnected, created from the same matter, and which follows the same one truth or logos. The stoic individual only experiences rapture, however, through a natural way of life, one that runs distinctly in counter to the notion of hedonism. The ethics of the Stoics were groundbreaking, for ‘the good life‘ was available to everybody, to women and slaves and even to ‘barbarians‘ – in other words, all non-Greeks; in principle, the Stoics were the first cosmopolitans.
Today, we see an increasing thirst for quite the opposite. Wisdom and self-knowledge are notions that barely seem to play a role. Instead, self-preservation scenarios are popular. The call for delimitation, ostracism, disharmony, and the radical rejection of a ‘whole‘ that connects everything and everyone finds many a sympathetic ear. The negative political and societal consequences produce headlines on a daily basis. STOA169 takes the ancient model for itself and conceives of a modern version of the Greek halls in order to interrupt and frustrate today’s slogans. In this way, it extends to everyone an invitation to join it, offering a unique locus of diversity within a single body. STOA169 aims to be just that: a free, cosmopolitan space where knowledge about the entirety of nature and man can be accrued, inspired by artists who allow their columns to speak.
The number 169 emanates from the idea of arranging the hall in a square of 13 by 13 columns; within this lies the symbolism of the prime number, which can only be divided by itself and one, thus forming, like a circle, a closed unit, always referring back to itself. To that effect, STOA169 is an artistic squaring of the circle.