May 13, 2015

In dialogue with Maria Papadimitriou and the magical Greek Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2015

One of the most discussed national participations at the Giardini during the 56th Venice Biennial is the Greek Pavilion: why looking at animals? AGRIMIKÁ is Maria Papadimitriou’s installation, a shop that sells animal hides and leather, transferred from the Old Town of Volos to the Greek Pavilion in Venice.

It is not only the precise cut and paste thereby Maria Papadimitriou managed to bring this taxidermy shop to the Biennale and fascinate the visitors who stay in the room watching full of curiosity the documentary about its owner, but also the series of questions that what we would call “The remanider” effect brings to the surface, thus “that range from politics and history to economics and traditions, ethics and aesthetics, and our profound anthropocentrism that allows us to define ourselves as non-wild, different from all other animals”, as the artists explains.

 

During the opening of the Pavilion, we helped ourselves to the Greek products (cheese, olives, sundries tomatoes and rusks) that were laying on the long table set up for the reception, and with a glass of tsipouro in hand, we had a brief conversation with Maria about her project.

 

Ms. Papadimitiou, congratulations for the show, it is amazing. Could you tell us some words about this work and the idea behind it?

 

I discovered this shop in the old town of Volos, the city where I teach – (Maria Papadimitriou teaches visual arts at the Department of Architecture of University of Thessaly in Volos). On my way from home to the faculty, I came across the shop, which at first I thought was an abandoned place, and then I saw the sign: Wool Leather Agrimika.

Agrimika means wild animals, even I did not know back then what it meant. After reading the sign, I approached the shop and tried to see from the windows if there was any kind of business there. The picture was fascinating, I was looking at an espace trouvé. I walked inside the shop, where I met two old men sitting at the table talking about the past. I asked them if this shop was any kind of business and if they were working there. One of them, the owner of the place, informed me that the shop had ceased working due to the crisis, and added that he keeps the place just to refresh the old memories with his friends, considering it more or less as his living room.

I think that this shop is a real historical finding. What at the first sight may look like a shop dealing with wild animals, if you start paying attention to the photos and the extracts from newspapers hanging on the walls you realize that this place is about the whole post-war history of Greece and Europe, and its consequences on the entire world.

At the beginning my idea was to make a workshop with my students and examine the relationship between human and animals. So I started a course and we all worked on the research, with the help of the shop’s owner who is a sharp-witted man with an admirable memory.

 

How did the owner of the shop perceive the whole idea about having his shop moved to the Greek Pavilion during the Venice Biennial?

 

First of all, I had never applied for a national participation with the Greek Pavilion before. I did it this year because I agreed with my team that this would have been the right piece to present if considering the moment we are living in. When I asked the owner to give me permission, I told him what the Biennale is about, and I pointed out that many people from all over the world would visit the pavilion. Initially he thought that I was just joking. “Who is going to care for the fragments of my life and the disaster of Greece?” Then I explained him how the narration of art is working and after a month he said: “Ok, take it, I understood everything.”

The first thing I did when I came to the Pavilion, was to clean up the basement. This represented  a very important step in my process. Once the foundations were ready, I started building the whole installation, which in the end turned out to be exactly how I had planned it to be when I decided to apply.

 

How did this experience affect you on a personal level?

 

I met a lot of people during my time here in Venice, some important people and some simple and ordinary ones. Each of them somehow helped me to better understand my own piece by sharing with me their knowledge. For example, on one of the walls of the shop, there is a drawing of a kid crying, made by the grand-child of the owner. Looking at this, a young lady informed me that there is a famous Italian painter whose main theme in his life was drawing children that were crying.

My entire work has to do with the human condition; I am working with communities, of the Romani people specifically, as well as with the notion of hospitality and with that of immigration. Ultimately, I am always looking at people.

 

Would you tell us some words about the curators of the show?

 

I met the curator, Gabi Scardi, in 2003. We had a common project at the Lyon Biennial, and she liked my work. So we started collaborating and since then we have done numerous shows together. I admire her work and we understand each other very well, so it came naturally to work together for the Greek Pavilion.

The deputy curator, Alexios Papazacharias, is an upcoming curator, a very intelligent man whom I was very happy to work with.

I am also very grateful to all my team for the help in realizing this project, and also to our sponsors that helped financing it, without them we would not be here now.

 

A day later, we came across the Greek crowd having a farewell prosecco at Florian, since most of the people in Venice for the opening were about to leave the city. There, we managed to have a brief talk with the curator of the show Gabi Scardi, and we asked her about her experience curating the Greek Pavilion.

 

It was incredibly challenging and stimulating at the same time because it was a work in progress until the end. We really built it together with the whole team, and we saw it constantly growing. There is a perfection in disorder; Until the last moment we were working on details, that were all important and meaningful for the whole project and this is why it is really interesting. It is not that you work only on the conceptual part, we have a very precise project but the actual work goes on until the last moment.