Author Archives: Stephanie

Composition–Construction–Production

View of the exhibition with works by Delight, Georgia Sagri and Yiorgos Efstathoulidis

18 March 2012: guided tour of the exhibition “Composition-Construction-Production” at The State Museum with the curators Theodore Markoglou and Angeliki Charistou

Conceived before the last edition of the Thessaloniki Biennale, which garnered part of its critical acclaim on account of The State Museum’s novel juxtaposition of contemporary artworks with pieces drawn from the Costakis Collection, the exhibition “Composition–Construction–Production. The Russian Avant-Garde and Contemporary Art” is the first show to explore this seminal collection’s “dynamic influence” on a younger generation of local artists and designers. As the curators Theodore Markoglou and Angeliki Charistou explained in their guided tour, the project began with a workshop that gave selected artists and designers – whose practice already shared certain affinities with this historical movement – the opportunity to learn more about the collection through seminars, lectures, visits as well as a privileged tour of the vaults. Following the workshop, participants were asked to produce new work to be exhibited alongside selected pieces from the collection, as well as existing works by a handful of contemporary Greek artists who have engaged with these historical pieces.

From the onset, one of the first questions asked during the tour regarded the selection of participants for the workshop. Some of the visitors noted the absence of a few artists and designers – including Kostis Velonis, whose internationally renowned work overtly references the Russian avant-garde – which prompted queries as to the curator’s unexpected choice of participants, given the commonplace tendency to recycle predictable names from one project to the next. Theodore and Angeliki clarified that their selection was not motivated by a desire to deliberately include less visible but no less significant emerging artists and designers from Thessaloniki ­– as other local curators and artists have tended to do of late in reaction to a perceived monopoly by Athens of the resources allocated for the arts. They simply invited artists and designers in whom they saw potential with regards to the project’s brief.

View of the exhibition with works by Kornelios Grammenos and 157+173 designers

Walking through the show, the curators explained how they organized the exhibition according to three terms of particular significance for the Russian avant-garde: composition, construction, production. In keeping with this idea, they deliberately chose to include lesser-known and more experimental works from the collection – namely, studies and sketches – to avoid, on the one hand, overshadowing the new works by including famous masterpieces; but also, more importantly, to emphasize the experimental side of studio practice.

In this regard, perhaps the most interesting aspect of our visit and conversation with the curators came about through our discussion of the pieces that resulted from the workshop. When asked if anything had surprised them at the outcome of the project, the curators answered that they had anticipated a much less “artistic” response to the brief. Although the majority of participants came from a design background, most of them created finished artistic installations that focused much more on the aesthetics, than on the ideological and political aspects of the works in the collection.

Of course, this might have been due to the fact that they were aware that their works would be shown in the context of the museum and enter into its permanent collection. It might also have been connected to the knowledge that most Russian avant-garde artists worked for the communist regime, thus perhaps calling into question, for some, the ideological and political dimension of their work. Alternatively, as one person suggested, this response to the workshop might also have resulted from a misguided but nonetheless widespread misconception that politically engaged art today must necessarily pass through a participatory intervention in the public sphere. Or perhaps, more significantly, given the current economic and political crisis in Greece, participants might have been particularly careful and inherently weary of claiming such ground for their work. Regardless of the reasons, the workshop and the exhibition’s attempt to further examine the possible influence of an important art collection on local culture as well as the significance of revisiting historical works today cut across to a number of urgent issues beyond the immediate scope of the collection, which we hope will lead to subsequent editions of the project in the near future.

Stephanie

We wish to thank Theodore Markoglou and Angeliki Charistou for generously agreeing to give us a private guided tour of their exhibition, especially on such a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  

On gravity and performance

21 February 2012: Presentation by  Eirini Papakonstantinou on the Thessaloniki Performance Festival at Lydia Chatziiakovou’s house

At the last meeting, artist Foteini Kalle’s thought-provoking presentation regarding her workshop with La Pocha Nostra seemed to unsettle, for many of us present, our understanding and expectations of performance art, raising a number of questions around the medium and its culture of liveness, which prompted us to organize another meeting around the subject. For me, the conversation crystallized a disquieting, and up until then, unarticulated apprehension regarding performance. Following the unmitigated success of Marina Abramovic’s recent solo exhibition “The Artist is Present” (2010) at MoMA New York, I suspected (albeit based on a limited knowledge of the medium and its history) that performance might rest, more than ever, on an idea of authentic presence, unavoidably slipping in and out of spectacle. Like others, I sensed that the medium’s agitating capacities, rooted in an encounter marked by unformatted spontaneous experience, might all too easily feed into our mainstream lifestyle culture.

In order to further explore some of these questions and issues, we invited Eirini Papakonstantinou, who initiated and curated the 1st and 2nd editions of the Thessaloniki Performance Festival, as part of the parallel programme for the Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art. Eirini’s presentation of the Festival touched upon its origins and evolution, outlining its structures and motivations while providing us with concrete examples to nourish our debate.

Following her Masters degree in Museum Studies with a focus on Curating Performance Art, Eirini explained how she envisioned the Festival as a platform that would not only present the works of Greek and international artists, but would also create a local audience for performance art by promoting greater awareness of the medium among a wider public. In this way, she specified that since its inception, the Festival always included a programme of forums, tributes and master classes alongside live performances, as a means of generating cognizance and appreciation for the medium and its history, in an approach that she described as “creating a local context for performance”.

Eirini explained how the various tributes to historical figures associated with performance art, including ORLAN, Karavela, Chondros & Katsiani and Theodoros, served as tools to introduce and emphasize performance’s historical background, thus enabling the public to discover an extended and diverse range of disciplines and practices. In a similar way, she clarified how the Festival’s master classes and workshops were not only addressed to art students, performers and professionals, but were rather opened to the general public, encouraging a wider audience to embrace these practices. At the same time, Eirini also stressed her belief in performance’s unpredictability ­­– its element of surprise – often deliberately withholding information in the accompanying material as a means of inciting the public to formulate its own interpretation.

Following her introduction of the Festival and its significance for her practice as an art historian and curator, questions quickly fused regarding the particular selection of artists and the notion of “creating a context for performance”, picking up where the previous meeting had left off, with participants eager to better understand the contemporary forms and stakes of performance art. Eirini explained that the works included in the Festival were not chosen around a particular theme or subject, but rather out of personal interest and a perceived urgency in relation to current issues and events. As for “creating a context”, she clarified that this primarily involved staging much of the performances in the public sphere as opposed to institutional spaces, as a means of engaging a wider audience by contrast to the traditional museum-going spectator, in line with the Festival’s educational mission. She thus described the Festival as a celebration of the city that also aimed to generate a quality of unexpectedness, rupturing the monotony and normative interrelations proper to everyday life.

From there, the discussion turned to examining this quality of the unexpected – of singularity within the everyday – which did not seem, to some, to fully account for performance’s particular function and significance, given the commonplace nature of surprises within our daily existence. One participant proposed that beyond this quality of “extra-ordinariness”, performance might establish a particular pact with the culture in which it is staged, as well as the audience present, drawing an analogy of sorts with the pact that live theatre entertains with the play’s original text. In this way, she suggested that this break with banality coalesces in a recognizable pattern or image, which establishes just such a pact with the performance’s immediate cultural context.

This idea led us to reexamine our previous discussion of “true” presence versus narcissistic posturing (the calculated and interested spotlight characteristic of lifestyle culture) through the idea of gravity, following a lengthy discussion of performance works by Georgia Sagri and Tris Vonna-Mitchell among others. By contrast to dance, which generally seeks to break with gravity by creating the illusion of suspended bodies, performance suddenly emerged as a practice firmly rooted in the gravity of the human condition: gravity here understood as a cost to self, a cost to the ego, thwarting the cheap sensational theatrics of effect and affect. It appeared as a practice that enacts a transgression that bears a price, thus differing in all ways from the transgression of the rebel– the ultimate Individual – by being located instead in bodily expenditure perhaps even harm, or in the threat to one’s reputation, or in the suppression of self in favor of the text. Though the discussion left many unanswered questions, in many ways it redeemed for me Abramovic’s work and renewed my own understanding and appreciation of performance art by enabling me to move beyond the troubling idea of authentic presence.

Stephanie (in collaboration with Eirini Papakonstantinou)

We wish to thank Eirini Papakonstantinou for generously agreeing to present the Thessaloniki Performance Festival as part of our initiative and look forward to the next edition of this important event.

What smells like teen spirit?

16 November 2011: guided tour of the exhibition “Teenage Angst – Part II” with curator Apostolos Kalfopoulos; selected readings on curator Jean Clair’s practice 

As critics and curators, we often lose sight of how telling the logistical aspects of curating a project can be with regards to the particular socio-political context in which it is realized, owing to the fact that such concerns are rarely recorded as part of the official exhibition narrative.  What remains of a project is usually what is put on display, erasing the trials and setbacks that might have drastically altered its outcome for better or for worse. In presenting “Teenage Angst” ­– a two-part exhibition project fully conceived, developed and realized in house by DYNAMO project-space as part of the parallel programme for the XVe Biennale de la Mediterranee – DYNAMO Founder and Director Apostolos Kalfopoulos reminded us of this fact by outlining some of the practical challenges that the project faced from its inception, due to the particular situation in Greece earlier this fall.

“Teenage Angst” was organized as a nation-wide open call addressed to teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18, who were invited to submit some form of production related to their personal passions. The open call was sent to schools throughout the country; but despite being funded by the General Secretariat for Youth and presented as part of an international biennial, it was met with a great deal of obstacles and suspicion from both teaching staff and students. The open call was circulated at the beginning of the fall term, at a time when the economic crisis in Greece hit the educational system so hard that there were no schoolbooks to speak of. Nominations to teaching posts were delayed, and most students were involved in nation-wide protests against reform measures. A number of peripheral educational authorities who were in post at that time refused to promote a project that was not directly sanctioned by the Education Ministry, while many students, in squatted schools that members of DYNAMO visited in order to promote the open call were met with great suspicion due to reasons ranging from the fact that students are not accustomed to such project, to the possibility that members of Dynamo could be covert police forces trying to infiltrate the squatted schools. After a great deal of exchange and discussion primarily orchestrated through social media and aimed at building trust with teachers, parents and students alike, DYNAMO managed to collect 150 applications from all around Greece.

From out of these applications, 50 were retained and later divided into two exhibitions of 25 participants each. Most of the submitted work consisted of crayon and pen drawing with the occasional video or photograph. In collaboration with the participants, DYNAMO selectively framed and installed the material in its white cube space alongside a few custom-made installations, including a blackboard, a display case filled with hand-painted Converse sneakers, and a desk covered in drawing materials and knick-knacks assembled into rainbow-colored clusters. Aside from a short wall text outlining the project’s working process, the works were accompanied by a series of open-ended lists detailing the participants’ fav bands, movies, books, etc. After the openings of Part I and Part II – the first of which featured a performance by local teenage band “Chinese Basement” – the participants attended a workshop with Thessaloniki-based artists, which provided them with tools and information to help them develop their practice.

“Teenage Angst” initially raised two fundamental questions or perhaps concerns for me, which Apostolos addressed during our exchange. The first concerned how the participants might feel about being put on display: in other words, whether they self-reflexively understood that the project was aimed at exhibiting a certain dimension of their youth culture as opposed to simply displaying their works. Based on his research, Apostolos explained that one of the characteristics of youth sub-cultures is that they construct their symbolic system consciously, but not strategically. The latter does not emerge out of a specific conceptual agenda but is nevertheless produced with absolute consistency. In this way, the critical distance between these two distinct display situations would not apply in terms of the specific object.

Which led to a second question regarding the choice of the rather conventional white cube display mechanism, that first struck me as being somewhat at odds with the subject of the exhibition, seemingly calling for a more immersive or participatory environment. As Apostolos clarified, the choice was deliberate and carefully considered. Given that the works were not the outcome of a “mature” practice, they risked inviting the public’s condescension. So rather than simply pinning them up half-hazardly as they arrived, DYNAMO strategically framed certain pieces as a means of lending a calculated authority to these works, while contributing a few choice installations as scenographic markers inciting viewers to immerse themselves in memories of their youth. According to Apostolos, the approach paid off. The public immediately connected with the exhibition and the participants along with their friends felt so at home that they hung out in the space on weekends. In this way, despite being conventionally hung, the exhibition naturally invited a more participatory response.

From there, our conversation segued into a discussion around different curatorial approaches, namely focusing on Apostolos’ own practice, informed by research-based approaches that combine various fields of inquiry from the arts, humanities and natural sciences into their exhibition projects – hence, the suggested readings around the work of renowned French curator Jean Clair (“The many colours of black bile: the melancholies of knowing and feeling” by Aris Arafianos and “Esprit de Corps” interview between Jean Clair and Lauren Sedofsky). This discussion became an opportunity for us to collectively acknowledge an unspoken local reticence to affirm a particular position or approach, driven by a fear that it might limit already scarce opportunities. In some ways, it was a startling revelation – ironically not all that different from the incapacity for self-reflection mentioned earlier, in a local scene that produces much in the absence of criticism – but also hopefully the beginning of a useful process.

We would like to thank Apostolos Kalfopoulos for his generous time and openness as well as highlight the amazing work of DYNAMO project-space

Hotel Ariston

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. Continue reading

Biennial Fever

Installation view: entrance to Warehouse 15

18 October 2011: Discussion of the XV Biennale de la Mediterranée and Carlos Basualdo’s text “The Unstable Institution” at Warehouse 13

Two international biennials taking place simultaneously in a city of roughly one million inhabitants sounds strangely like an art world parody. And yet this fall, amidst sounding alarms of Greece’s imminent financial ruin, Thessaloniki was the stage for just such an unheard-of occurrence, hosting both the Thessaloniki Biennial 3 and the XVe Biennale de la Mediterranée (also commonly known as The Young Artist’s Biennial), in conjunction with the city’s world-renowned Film Festival, still going strong after over 50 editions.  To underline this unusual (one might almost say cosmic) cultural alignment in a city with a somewhat less than dynamic art scene, Société Anonyme chose to dedicate its fall programme to visiting various biennial projects as a means of researching, discussing and documenting to a certain extent and from a particular vantage point the impact of this confluence on local practitioners. Continue reading

Education, practice and collage

2 June 2011: Presentation by artist Lena Athansopoulou on her series of workshops “Syllegontas // Synthetontas” at Cocktail Bar

Over the past few years, it has become increasingly common practice for museums and art institutions to invite artists to realize a project as part of their educational programme – not just the perennial artist talk but an actual workshop, performance, activity, tour, etc. that might lead to some form of collaborative creative output in relation to the museum’s collection or series of exhibitions. To my knowledge this practice is still far from commonplace in Greece, so I was quite intrigued when I heard that the Folklife and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia-Thrace in Thessaloniki had invited artist Lena Athanasopoulou to develop an educational project that would somehow bridge the museum’s collection with contemporary art.

Given her ongoing interest in collage, Lena chose to focus her attention on the museum’s extensive photographic archive, including 19th and 20th century family portraits, and documentation of the museum’s collection of objects and heirlooms. In response to this archive, she devised a series of workshops on collage, addressed to both artists and the public alike, using material from the collection. For a number of different reasons, the workshops were indefinitely postponed. So we decided to invite Lena to come and discuss how and why she developed the workshops, as a means of opening up a conversation on both collage and the ways in which contemporary artists might develop educational projects as part of their practice in response to a given institution’s collection or programme. By inviting her to speak as part of Société Anonyme, it was also our intention to keep a record of her compelling research should the project not be realized in the end.

Lena Athanasopoulou. Untitled, 2011. Collage, inkjet print, variable dimensions.

Lena began by describing how she conceived of four 3h-long practice-based workshops structured around a series of inter-related themes. These workshops aimed to create greater awareness around images’ formal, metaphorical, symbolic and allegorical dimensions, while circumventing the folkloric aspect of the source material. Continue reading

The voice of the people


5 May 2011: Screening of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Mieville’s film Ici et Ailleurs and discussion on Hito Steyerl’s “The Articulation of Protest” and Simon Sheikh’s “Positively Protest Aesthetics Revisited” at Dynamo Project Space

One of the on-going discussions that we have been having for the past 3 years as part of Société Anonyme (and previously Art Night) has focused on the various demonstration movements in Greece since December 2008 (the initiative was founded that fall), and how as members of the art community we might position ourselves in relation to these movements, and articulate protest. This on-going concern has stemmed in part from the local media’s observation of artists’ and intellectuals’ notable absence from the front picketing lines for the first time in the country’s modern history. Given the recent uprisings around the Mediterranean and the contested economic measures in Greece, we chose to take a closer look at artist and filmmaker Hito Steyerl’s text “The Articulation of Protest” (2002) along with Simon Sheikh’s article “Positively Protest Aesthetics Revisited” (2010), which reconsiders Steyerl’s significant essay. In order to further examine Steyerel’s text, we also organized a screening of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Mieville’s film “Ici et Ailleurs” (1975), on which the article is based, with the kind help and support of Dynamo Project Space. Continue reading