Author Archives: lydiachatziiakovou

MY SITE IS YOUR SITE

28 May 2012: guided tour of the exhibition “Michalis Katzourakis – Site-Specific Works” at the Cultural Foundation of the National Bank of Greece (MIET) in Thessaloniki 

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Our visit to the exhibition agreeably blended with interesting details on the history and architecture of the space –a wealthy bourgeois family house built in late 19th century– given by the director of the MIET Thessaloniki Centre, architect Giannis Epaminondas. Thanks to this, the discussion moved across issues such as site-specificity, minimalism and the relation between art and design on the one hand, and the building’s rich history, on the other.

Curated by Christophoros Marinos in collaboration with the artist, designer and sculptor Michalis Katzourakis, the exhibition was a retrospective of the artist’s public and site-specific works. Commissioned by public bodies or private individuals and enterprises, most of the works presented were produced as interior design for private apartments or public spaces, such as the state television building in Athens or a line of popular cruise ships – including decorative and functional elements, lounges, wallpapers, reception areas etc. With strong graphic elements, the works’ patterns and colors are vividly reminiscent of the years when they were created, the late ‘70s-early ‘80s, and built with an impressive variety of materials, to serve their function, such as soundproof material or tapestry. Fitting their original purpose, some of the sculptures were installed outside, in the building’s courtyard, eliciting an interesting dialogue with the natural and built surroundings – the building’s eclectic architecture, the traditional sculptures permanently exhibited in the courtyard, and the tall tress around them.

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From the oldest to the most recent work –the latter being the 2006 neon lights installation commissioned for Panormou metro station in Athens– the exhibition presents the case of an artist who uses design to transgress space and time, translating the aesthetic movement of a certain period –70s minimalism– into works to be consumed by the masses anywhere, anytime, then, there, here, now. (Characteristically, many of the works reminded Stéphanie of Montreal metro’s decoration.)

Attico Metro, Panormou Station, boarding platform (2006)

Attico Metro, Panormou Station, boarding platform (2006)

The exhibition was particularly valuable in showcasing works that have been destroyed, due to their site-specificity, preserved now only through photographs, preparatory drawings or smaller works and models. Even so, the installation did succeed in conveying something of the works’ scale and liveliness, especially thanks to their dialogue with the space, a building with strong history and aesthetic identity, very far from Katzourakis’s works’ minimalist aesthetics – the distance of taste, time and visual language producing an engaging effect. Also relevant to another interesting point of discussion: the future of the only site-specific work created for the exhibition – a large print on canvas installed in front of the monumental staircase window. Should the work be preserved or removed, thus destroyed, after the exhibition closes? Will it interestingly interact or annoyingly interfere with future exhibitions?

Bank of Crete, teller area - wall, composition on wood with acrylic colors (1976)

Bank of Crete, teller area – wall, composition on wood with acrylic colors (1976)

Lydia

NOTES

1. Huge thanks to the Director of  the MIET Thessaloniki Centre, Giannis Epaminondas, for showing us around the exhibition and the building.

2. This is a long-due post. Despite the long silence, société anonyme has not been inactive… a few more posts will follow soon  to bring us to the present!

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“Mysteria” – Chryse Tsiota, Vasilis Zografos

4 April 2012: guided tour of the exhibition “Mysteria” at the Contemporary Art Centre of Thessaloniki with the artists and curator Anna Mykoniati

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The exhibition’s starting point is a series of photographs taken in the late 19th century at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris, by neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (teacher of Sigmund Freud) to depict the symptoms of hysteria; a condition, which Charcot studied and identified as a –mostly female– psychological disorder. The photos, supposedly the proof and unbiased record of a certain psychological disease, are more accurately described as staged representations of the symptoms of hysteria bearing a clear sensual and sexual quality where the female subjects under observation play the role assigned to them. (Hysteria was anyway connected to sexuality since antiquity, when it was considered a female sexual dysfunction.)

The two artists, Chryse Tsiota and Vasilis Zografos, use the specific photos and other archival material included in the show as a starting point to convey their own, contemporary “hysterical” reactions to issues connected with a variety of themes, that appeal both to the wider public and the specialized audience, such as the female and male stereotypes imposed throughout history or the comparison of methods that both medicine and art use to document, represent and interpret aspects of reality. The later takes on particular dimensions when associated with Charcot’s photographs, taken at a time when photography takes its first steps as a tool for the exact documentation of reality.

Even though the greatest part of the works has been created especially for the show, those who are familiar with the two artists’ previous work will recognize certain recurrent themes and possibly interpret the whole process of creating the exhibition as a psychoanalytical exercise; a valuable exercise for both artists that seem to have devoted themselves to the process, especially through experimentations, mostly in the elaboration of the archival material. Chryse Tsiota uses photography to create uncanny scenes in which she, or an infinitely cloned version of herself, is the star. Her images could be scenes from a movie; a movie, which no one knows if it’s a comedy, drama or horror. Vasilis Zografos depicts (macho) male symbols and objects through an almost monochromatic painting, which renders everything pale and hazy, ultimately feeble and uncertain.

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The two artists conceived the overall installation as a theatrical environment, having in mind CACT’s space. The ground floor, with its main hall painted black and the corridor around it white, hosts the two artists’ works, while the archival material is presented in the upper floor –essentially an indoors balcony which “crowns” and overlooks the ground floor.

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Apart from the Salpêtrière photos, the archival material includes news photos from the BBC archive (taken to document events such as the launching of the first zepelin) and photos of men and women posing as ideal male/female models from a variety of time periods; a sound and video installation (in a separate, completely dark room), where a selection of readings from literary and poetic works (by authors such as Sylvia Plath, Dimitris Demetriadis, Edgar Alan Poe, Roald Dahl and Haruki Murakami) are heard, while video images of the 1940 bombing of Coventry are projected. Finally, the archival material also includes a screening of Adam Curtis’s BBC documentary “The Century of the Self” (2002), which discusses how those in power (corporations and governments) have used Freud’s thories to analyze and control people; archival videos on war neuroses from the Netely Hospital in Southampton and an excerpt from the documentary «Carl Jung: Wisdom of the Dream» (1989, directed by Stephen Segaller, with Carl Gustav Jung and Max von Sydow).

The archival material is used to highlight the extent to which artists and spectators have been affected by the symbolic language of psychoanalysis and how, in Slavoj Zizek’s words “we have the tendency to treat aesthetic artifacts as symptoms of the culture in which they were produced. Whether or not one employs the vocabulary and methods of psychoanalysis to do so, this approach to aesthetics has become so widespread in the humanities that it qualifies as a contemporary critical norm”.

The dialogue between the artists’ works and the rich archival material becomes fertile, offering the viewer a series of useful tools to interpret the works and the possibility to form connotations that permit the viewer’s more personal engagement to the show – especially since the spectrum of issues with which the exhibition engages can be both personal and wider-socially oriented.

Unfortunately, my rather laconic writing can hardly convey the pure poetry of the exhibition that seems to have all the qualities that I (at least) look for: works that you can both see and feel, combined with useful information, presented in what seems an effortless installation but in reality is a very well thought-through scenography of the artists’ intellect. Through this masterfully arranged whole, the spectator can truly connect with the artists and have an experience that is valuable both aesthetically and intellectually.

Lydia

Warm thanks to Chryse, Vasilis and Anna for the great show and for speaking to us about it. All exhibition view photos by Chryse Tsiota.

Disappearing act

Discussion on Peggy Phelan’s essay “The Ontology of Performance: representation without reproduction”, from her book Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (Chapter 7, pp. 146-166)
Thursday, March 8, at Ideal

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The essay’s two main topics revolve around the definition of the nature of performance and its documentation (mainly through writing), as well as performance’s gender connotations. I will try to sum up some of the main points, in an attempt to convey the text’s spirit, without however giving a detailed account of all the text’s fascinating and carefully elaborated twists and turns. Thanks to them, Phelan’s writing becomes itself performative (putting her own theory into practice), as she introduces her main points, sets out her rationale, goes on to the next point, comes back to the first one… a kind of choreographed, intertwined, concentric writing.

Phelan identifies performance as the (subjective) Presence of living bodies (here and now), as negation of representation, disappearance of the object, rejection of the economy of reproduction, escape from art’s commodity dimension… Performance artists –“Maestros of the Ephemeral” as Phelan calls them during her talk at Tate’s Live Culture Symposium: Performance and the Contemporary (2003)– invite spectators to fully consume performance, so that no trace is left behind and value is given to nothingness and emptiness (the ever-repeated cycle of life and death). To remain faithful to these inherent characteristics, performance inevitably rejects all kinds of documentation – the only documentation possible being the recounting of performance in one’s memory. Performance’s tense is always the present – even if repeated, in reality or in one’s mind or writings, it will never be the same, always affected by the distortions of memory and personal perception.

The examples of Sophie Calle’s series of works where specific art works, mainly famous masterpieces, are replaced by their viewers’ description, materializing Presence through memory, clearly and poetically illustrate the point. They also highlight the “performative quality of all seeing”, as a purely interactive experience that can be revisited through memory and ultimately resist the omnipotence of institutional authority and control over art’s reception and interpretation.

Coming back to performance’s resistance to documentation, a question is raised: how can someone write about performance if documentation is excluded? The answer is found in J. L. Austin’s “performative utterance”1: instead of writing “toward preservation”, one should write “toward disappearance”, re-marking the performative qualities of writing. Roland Barthes’s texts are called upon as examples; I can mainly refer to the intimate “Camera Lucida”, where indeed the author investigates the nature of photography through personal, sensitive writing that reveals his personality, leading to the experience of a shared subjectivity between writer and reader.

Phelan’ description of Angelika Festa’s performance “Untitled Dance (with fish and others)” (1987) might also serve as an illustration of performative writing. She comes back to it again and again throughout the text –giving us various (but in a way always the same) fragmentary descriptions and interpretations of it– as a whole and for its various elements, as if the reader is actually watching the performance and becomes gradually aware of its various elements and their significance, as if her thoughts unravel while she watches the performance. (Perhaps indicative of this is that after a few references to the performance, Phelan switches to the present tense and the first person –“as I watch…”.)

Phelan uses Festa’s work as a starting point to demonstrate also performance’s rejection of the metaphor of gender – metaphor identified as a vertical hierarchy, which negates difference and dissimilarity, in contrast to metonymy, which creates a horizontal relationship of contiguity and displacement. (“The kettle is boiling – the kettle is boiling because the water inside the kettle is.”) In this sense, performance artists disappear during the performance – the performer’s body becomes a metonymy of Presence, disappearing into a representation of something else (movement, voice, action), even if seemingly it is the protagonist. But the “mute body” is the female body, so the performer has no choice but to always assume the female quality; a quality that renders her weak, regardless her overpowering disappearing Presence, since the speaker/performer is always in a disadvantaged position in relation to the listener/spectator (reference to Foucault’s “History of Sexuality”). Performers are therefore called upon to redesign the dominant power relations’ model – through the redesign of the theatrical exchange model.

Interestingly, our last (for the moment at least) discussion on Performance happened a few days before Tate launched its new program BMW Live: Performance Room, a series of performances created specifically to be broadcast live online – a format which certainly raises a series of questions, among the most significant perhaps this: if performance is the “Presence of living bodies” (as Phelan puts it), how is it affected when the “living” is abolished? And can the redesign of the dominant power relations’ model be achieved if the medium is  so dramatically affected?

Lydia

1. In “How to Do Things with Words” (1962), J. L. Austin, attributes to speech a constative element (it describes things in the world) and a performative element (saying something is to do or make something – I promise, I beg, I bet).

“When you don’t have access to power, poetry replaces science and performance art becomes politics.” Guillermo Gómez-Peña*

26 January 2012: Presentation by artist and doctoral candidate Fotini Kalle on the performance workshop with La Pocha Nostra & Guillermo Gómez-Peña that she attended in San Francisco (Summer 2011) at Cinque Terre

Our series of three meetings around Performance was initiated after Fotini’s suggestion to present her experience with La Pocha Nostra. The discussion generated turned out to be very interesting and engaging – especially because it touched upon aspects relevant to both theory and practice.

For Guillermo Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra, Performance is Activism. Their performances refer to issues such as racial and gender identity, physical and cultural borders, immigration, language… Teaching Performance thus becomes synonymous with teaching activism, therefore inherent to the group’s practice. In fact, Gómez-Peña and Roberto Sifuentes have recently published the ‘Pocha Nostra handbook’, titled “Exercises for Rebel Artists. Radical Performance Pedagogy”, a guide book for teachers and performers with a “focus on producing the kind of challenging performances, which transcend the boundaries of nation, gender and racial identity” (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415549233/).

This being the focus of the 12-day workshop that Fotini attended, it certainly had an impact on the material generated by the participants. The workshop included daily improvisation exercises, individual and collective, which corresponded to recurring themes in La Pocha Nostra’s work, as well as to the main elements of their practice. Participants would start by exploring their body within space (the body as sculpture) and they would later engage in jam sessions – performative dialogues appropriately borrowing their name from music – where one initiated an action and the others would observe or intervene at any moment they felt appropriate or necessary, exploring the nature of performance as both a personal and interactive experience, without a definitive scenario, where co-performers or spectators have the right to intervene and shape the final outcome. Another point of investigation, the vocal aspect of performance and its vocabulary, was also explored through daily exercises on improvisational poetic/performance texts, that the participants were invited to experiment on. Finally, the use of props – which the participants were asked to bring with them from home – and music as tools, was also investigated. The workshop culminated in an event open to the public at the Performance Art Institute, during which participants realized individual and collective performances, which led to a jam session. This final event underlined the distinction between performances in a gallery/museum and public space, where interaction sometimes makes it hard to distinguish between performer and audience.

Since the participants’ improvised performances (and choice of props) were, understandably and unavoidably, largely affected by the themes recurrent in Pocha Nostra’s and Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s practice, the resulting performances were seemingly uniform – which raised discussion on the true democratic nature of such workshops. However, the whole experience certainly gave participants the tools to explore their own vocabulary and develop their own performance persona, highlighting and promoting understanding on the value of Presence as a quality inherent to Performance.

Therefore, our discussion raised interesting questions around the function of Performance Art workshops and the extent to which it is possible to train performance artists.
– Is it possible for Performance Art –understood as a multi-media, activist and ultimately anarchist form of art – to be taught?
– According to which criteria do instructors make decisions on the steps of the training process and on the participants’ progress?
– How can we understand and identify the collective learning process? Can it be perceived as a finished work or as an open process: a preparatory stage for something else?
– How does a group of performance artists work together? Can it produce performances collectively when each of them needs to be individually “Present” – physically and mentally? Is a collective composition possible? Or do the performers simply collaborate on a continuous exchange of “Presences”?

Lydia

We warmly thank Fotini for sharing her experience with us and for providing photos of her performances during the workshop, as well as her input in the documentation of our discussion.

* From the artist’s Philosophical Tantrum, performed on 14 June 2011 in the framework of the New World Theater symposium at Hemispheric New York. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74ajLA7MFDw

10 December 2011 – Visit to the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale; Part 2: Alatza Imaret curated by Marina Fokidis and Bei Hamam

Continuing our tour to the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale exhibitions, we visited the exhibition curated by Marina Fokidis at Alatza Imaret. As Colombo and Urieta did, Fokidis also used the building’s history as a starting point for the exhibition. Alatza Imaret stands for “the colorful soup-kitchen” (“soup-kitchen” referring to the public soup-kitchen, often part of mosques in the Ottoman empire, and “colorful” due to the mosque’s particularly colorful minaret – sadly not preserved). Fokidis used this history as a loose framework for a selection of works that aim at manifesting art’s “colorfulness” – which according to the catalogue essay stands for its ability to offer possibilities for alternative realities. The main space of the monument is occupied by a platform, approximately 1 meter high, designed by architect Andreas Angelidakis who designed the exhibition environment for all the main program exhibitions. Climbing the steps that lead on the platform, the viewer encounters one of the exhibition’s most interesting works: the publication “Molla Nasreddin” by Slavs and Tartars, containing a collection of caricatures from the satiric periodical that used to circulate in the Arab world in early 20th century. Two copies of the book are placed on two lecterns, in turn placed on a low platform covered by a carpet. The installation is an obvious reference to the environment of a Mosque – doubly highlighted here since the space used to be one. The sacred scriptures though, are substituted here by the  highly satirical publication, while the double elevation of the installation (the lecterns on top of the carpeted podium on top of the 1m high platform) reinforces the play.

On the other end of the platform, another eye-catching work: a series of framed spider webs stuck on paper of various colors by Pae White and in a separate room, the intriguing 1980 film “Petunia” by Austrian based Greek artist Penelope Georgiou. Even though the exhibition does include some interesting works, it lacks cohesion, in the sense that the works’ engagement, one with the other or with the space, is not really visible. It succeeds however in creating a kind of colorful polyphony.

Our tour concluded in Bei Hamam, which functioned as a kind of information point – with collections of books and archives of works by artists collectives or other groups. The selection included some interesting initiatives, such as prism tv (http://theprism.tv/home3.php) – a collective documentation of Greece the winter of 2010, a series of short documentaries on Greek reality shot by a number of authors, and IkonoTV – a Berlin-based TV production company which only works with films on visual arts and in 2010 launched the art channel IkonoMenasa, running in 24 countries throughout the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Unfortunately, the installation could not actually be described as user-friendly, since there is very little to none information for most of the material presented; a lot of it is in different languages not commonly spoken in Thessaloniki, so the viewer finds himself looking at selections of books that s/he has no idea what they are about. On top of that, the sense of labyrinth that the old hamam anyway creates, is further enhanced by the display method used, which hides most of the monument.

Which brings us to the architecture devices conceived by architect Andreas Angelidakis for the various main program exhibitions. According to his catalogue essay, Angelidakis came up with a system of fortification-reminiscent constructions, as a reference to the city’s landmark – the White Tower, and as a device that disconnects the exhibition both from the city and from the space it takes place in. More a conceptual fabrication than an actual experience, Angelidakis’ interventions have been more successful in some spaces, less successful in others. The idea found its most efficient application at the State Museum of Contemporary Art – Moni Lazariston. The former convent has always been a difficult space, with its spacious halls covered in red tiles. The stage-like platforms used in this case succeeded in breaking up the space without turning it into a white cube (which was not similarly achieved in Casa Bianca for instance), but created a space-within-the-space effect, which enhanced the dialogue between the contemporary and Russian avant-garde works featured in the exhibition.

Overall, it is obvious (and a fact) that a lot of efforts were put into the organization – time wise, money wise, personnel wise… As in all large-scale events, some spaces have been more interesting than others, some choices have been more successful than others. The main exhibition was divided into small, easy-to-manage units, so that the viewer was not overwhelmed by the concentration of a great number of works in one single space, which is often the case in similar large-scale events. At the same time though, the project seemed to lack coherence and inspiration; it did not manage to convey a vision of the world, present or future. Isn’t that what biennales are supposed to do?

Lydia

26 November 2011 – Visit to the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale main program exhibitions curated by Paolo Colombo (at Casa Bianca) and Mahita El Bachta Urieta (at Yeni Mosque) – guided tour by assistant curator Anna Mykoniati

Yeni Mosque

The 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art’s main exhibition titled “A rock and a hard place”, curated by Paolo Colombo, Mahita El Bachta Urieta and Marina Fokidis is installed in 12 different venues around the city. The three curators co-signed the exhibition taking place in 9 of those venues, while they decided to separately curate the exhibitions taking place in three of them: Casa Bianca, the Yeni Mosque and Alatza Imaret.

Curator Anna Mykoniati who assisted them (with Domna Gounari) was very kind to offer us a guided tour to two of these exhibitions, giving us plenty of useful information on the event and the curators’ rational. Having secured EU funding for this and the two editions to come in 2013 and 2015, the Thessaloniki Biennale is focusing on the Mediterranean area – following the funding’s prerequisite, but also the geographical focus of the previous two editions, with the 1st mainly focusing on artists from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean and the 2nd on artists coming from Latin America and Africa. However, even though the first two editions’ concepts were formulated as a reading of/dialogue with and ultimately reinterpretation of texts and concepts –the 1st one discussing Michel Foucault’s concept of “heterotopias” and the 2nd Terry Eagleton’s book “After Theory”, the 3rd edition did not really engage with a particular theoretical concept. Rather, the curators decided to address the current events unraveling in Southern Mediterranean and the Middle East –rather simplistically called the “Arab Spring”– and its ramifications. This intention acts as a loose framework for the exhibition, since the selected works do not necessarily address the issue. I am not sure if this inconsistency between the stated intention and the final outcome was deliberate, but it certainly was  fortunate for the Biennial, since more often than not, ambitious plans to tackle current political issues can backfire, if those involved are not really coming from the area in question and could mishandle the whole situation – see the Cyprus Manifesta that ended quite abruptly, before its actual launching. (Even though from the three curators Mahita Urieta is actually active in the Middle East, Fokidis and Colombo, regardless of their experience and curatorial vision, do not share the same insight in the area’s circumstances).

For his curatorial, Paolo Colombo chose Casa Bianca –an early 20th century mansion located on Vasilisis Olgas Avenue. Setting out from the fact that the building used to be the home of one of the city’s wealthiest families and referencing reading as one of the urban elite of the time’s favorite pastime, Colombo selected works that deal with literature as a source of inspiration, creating a bond between the intimate ritual of reading and the intimate process of creation. The exhibition includes an interesting selection of contemporary and modern works, among which visual art works by writers (such as a series of photographs by Andreas Embirikos), as well as sketch books by artists (such as a series of diaries by Makis Kyriakopoulos including drawings combining image and text). Central in the show is the selection of works by Alberto Savinio (1891-1952), Athens-born Italian artist, writer and musician stationed in Thessaloniki in 1917. The dialogue between modern and contemporary art works –even though as Anna Mykoniati reported received some negative criticism– is a feature that adds an interesting twist to the show and follows a rather popular trend of the latest years.

Mahita Urieta curated a rather more political show, that took place in the Yeni Mosque – built in early 20thcentury by the clan of Dönmes – Jews converted to Islam, later used to host the city’s archaeological museum. Urieta used the building’s history, first as a space for prayer and later house of the historical memory of a city/people, as an ideal backdrop for a selection of works that deal with issues such as immigration, dictatorial regimes, faith and rituals. The works are installed in the space in such a way that attributes them sobriety and presence, which is a great achievement considering the space’s elaborate  decorative elements.

Both shows were modest, not in their quality or scope, but in their actual size, and I must confess that this is quite refreshing – to see exhibitions that avoid the standard of super-ambitious large-scale exhibitions that expand in endless square meters, but do not lack in interest and essence.

Lydia

A warm thanks to Anna Mykoniati for generously devoting her Saturday morning to guide us through the exhibitions. 

For info on the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale go to www.thessalonikibiennale.gr

An exciting new season

It has been a rich and exciting start of the season for Thessaloniki: September saw the opening of the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale and Action Field Kodra – annual visual arts festival; October welcomed the XV Biennale de la Mediterranée , followed in November by the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.

The start of the season was similarly exciting for Societe Anonyme, which received three invitations to present its activities through projects here in Thessaloniki, but also in Turin, Italy.

The latter was the first and from one perspective the most significant (due to its international scope) proposal. It came from “The Others”, an exhibition project dedicated to showcasing the activities of alternative, non-profit, collective initiatives from around the world within the framework of Artissima art fair in Turin. “The Others” was hosted in Le Nuove, a former prison now transformed into exhibition space. Participating projects were selected by a Committee composed of Andrea Bruciati, Director of la Galleria Comunale of Contemporary Art of Montefalcone; Claudio Composti, Director of Mc2 Gallery, Milan; Alessandro Facente, a young independent Curator and Michele Lupi Director of Rolling Stone magazine, partner of The Others. Societe Anonyme was honored to receive an invitation – nominated by Ilaria Gianni, co-artistic director of Nomas Foundation, Rome – to participate to this interesting initiative as an innovative practice among other similar collectives from around the world. And even though it would have been a great opportunity to showcase SA’s outlook and the work of its participants, sadly we could not accept the invitation, due to the financial demands that this would entail. Continue reading