4 November 2011: guided tour of the exhibition project Hotel Ariston with curator Thouli Misirloglou
It is perhaps not surprising given the continuous attention garnered by “Hotel Ariston” – realized as part of the parallel programme for the XVe Biennale de la Mediterranée – over the course of its month-long programme of performances and events that no one showed up for our guided tour of the exhibition space on the eve of the closing party. Admittedly, I was probably one of the last souls in the art community to have visited the hotel. But in spite of the low attendance - in keeping with her tireless dedication to the project in the face of countless difficulties - curator Thouli Misirloglou nonetheless generously agreed to take me on a 2h private tour of the six-floor building.
What immediately struck me as I clambered up the circular staircase winding its way to the attic was the sheer scale of the project. The latter occupied more space than most contemporary art institutions and presented a range of works by 80 local and international artists as well as practitioners from various fields. As with another guided tour of peers that I attended later that weekend of the International Young Artists’ Workshop “Domino” (Thessaloniki Biennial 3), the visit became both an opportunity to see the exhibition, and a chance to engage in a somewhat private conversation about the underlying issues, problems and freedoms that emerged around this particular project.
Curating a site-specific project in an abandoned hotel is not a particularly new idea (those who know me will recognize here that I have never been a big proponent of novelty for its own sake). But the project still raised a series of urgent questions and concerns for artists and curators alike in terms of when, where, why and how to develop projects in the current economic climate. Indeed, despite being part of an international biennial, “Hotel Ariston” used its allocated resources to develop a more experimental project rather than a minutely controlled exhibition. Participating artists were encouraged to, and in many instances (to my pleasant surprise) used the project to daringly experiment with their practice in an in situ context, which yielded some exciting results including the installations of Lena Athanasopoulou (better known for her photography and collages work) and Stefanos Agalianos (strongly affiliated with painting).
Arguably some of the most compelling works in the hotel remained the more understated and restrained interventions, such as Zoe Giabouldaki’s work, which elegantly drew out multiple readings of the loaded space. Such interventions generated an interesting discussion during the visit around the legibility of in situ exhibitions, and the questionable use of wall texts and labels in such an environment. Labels were generally omitted from “Hotel Ariston” as Thouli felt they would affect the reading of the unusual space by imposing an institutional logic in the form of a designated path through the labyrinth-like layout of the rooms. The occasional wall text did accompany specific works. But despite providing significant and often necessary details regarding these work, the texts also had the adverse affect of drawing attention to certain pieces’ apparent incompleteness or perhaps out-of-place-ness within the site, strategically arranged so as to generate a sense of disoriented discovery, as though one were stumbling upon the deliberately staged works.
We would like to thank Thouli Misirloglou for her generous guided tour of “Hotel Ariston”.
 If I qualify the conversation as somewhat private, it is not only that this kind of backstory isn’t typically part of the official public discourse, but also that in Thessaloniki and perhaps in all of Greece, information surrounding art world events circulates far more by rumor than in any other place I have ever lived or work, due in great part to the more intimate rather than more professional nature of most relationships in the local art scene.