In the day of Tsipras’ victory what is better than peeping into the blossoming of Greek art residencies?

Stamatia Dimitrakopoulos

In the midst of a political and economical crisis that keeps aggravating day by day, people in Greece feel the urge to collaborate and address social issues in response to the current situation.

After a two-year-creative hiatus, the local art scene introduces initiatives based on synergy and new projects blossom all over Greece. Art residency programs are among the newcomers; relying on the diverse topology of Greece and the distinctive features of its culture, they operate with a minimum budget and the support of the local communities. What they offer is a marvellous location to live and work with boundless creative potential, temporary communities that create the perfect environment for fermentations among people.
Petros Touloudis founded Tinos Quarry Platform this summer, based on the island of Tinos. His vision was to create a getaway that would help artistic discourses blossom among thinkers, artists and the audience, during a period that nightmarish political conversations with intangible conclusions and results were taking place in the country and abroad.


The sealing of the artistic concurrence that happened in Tinos, was the group show Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana, curated by Valentinas Klimasauskas. “His writings, the exhibitions he has curated and his sense of humor, made me curious to work with him” said Petros Touloudis about the Lithuanian curator. “Also, and maybe this sounds a bit exotic but it’s true, I would love to work with a thinker who came from a place where the last Pagans of Europe were Christianized quite recently, Lithuania. Eventually he responded to the proposal with enthusiasm and here we are.” Many of the artists-in residence were also Lithuanian (Eglė Kulbokaitė and Goda Budvytytė among others) and their works “mostly orientated towards process practices and not material based approaches” as Mr. Touloudis put it, reflect the inertia of the program’s isolated location.


While Tinos is well known for its devoutness and the queues of pilgrims crawling every year their way to the church as an offering to Mary, only five miles away is located the infamous island of Mykonos, known for its celebrity visitors and the wild party life. This is where Marina Vranopoulou, manager of the Deste Foundation’s slaughterhouse project space in Hydra, decided to open Dio Horia, an art platform and gallery that inaugurated its program last June with a group show by Greek and international artists and two solo shows by artists Vassilis H. and Selma Parlour.


Over the luscious full course dinner hosted at Thea Restaurant in Belvedere Hotel at the night of the opening, Mrs. Vranopoulou explained why she chose to host her new project in Mykonos: “First of all, for all the contradictions that characterize Mykonos, as well as the high and low culture associated with the island. Also for its accessibility and finally, for the international crowds that visit it.”  The platform has adopted a restless program; currently Dio Horia is presenting its third two-person show by Alexandros Tzannis and Olga Migliaressi-Phoca while the main group show Dio Horia From Mykonos that is set on the main floor of the gallery is constantly under transformation, following a Merzbau’s installation aesthetic. Dio Horia is probably the lone art residency/platform based on a Greek island that met also great sales; most of the works exhibited are already sold-out.


The rough landscape of Nisyros and the enthralling energy of the active volcano with the fumes from sulfur lingering in the atmosphere, shape the background of the Sterna Art Project, an initiative of Greek artist Greg Haji Joannides. Mr. Joannides is the owner of the most iconic tower house in the village of Emporios that also functions as guest house for some of the project’s residents.


Xenia Kalpaktsoglou of the Athens Biennale is the curator of the program and of the group show that followed, titled At The Baths. Her selection consisted only of Greek artists, some of those we have seen many times working close to the Greek curator. “I have been collaborating with Poka-Yio and Dora Economou since many years, they are artists I can trust” stated Mrs. Kalpaktsoglou as we were waiting for Alexandra Bachzetsis performance to take place on the night of the opening. “Xrysanthi Koumianaki, Paki Vlassopoulou and Kosmas Nikolaou are emerging artists who also work as a team. The fact that they know how to work collaboratively, under situations like this, is something I like about them. The group show is located in the ruins of the Municipal Baths of Nisyros, the perfect place to host a performance; Alexandra Bachzetsis, an artist well-known for her distinctive practice, would be the ideal artist to participate. Undress, the performance she chose to present, is in stark accordance with the space and the vibe of indolence that prevailed during the last days of July.”


Apart from Sulfur, Poka-Yio’s lustrous video filmed in the crate of the island’s volcano featuring spectacular takings by a drone that was flying on top of it, most of the works conveyed an abecedarian take on craftsmanship, as if they had been executed through recreational summer books for children.


After the audience attendance reached the peak and a serious quantity of alcohol was consumed, music director Lies Vanborm started her DJ act and everything seemed like a normal post-opening party, until some people from the crowd got undressed and swapped their clothes. For those who did not understand immediately what was going on, this was the start of Alexandra Bachzetsis performance, Undressed, that gradually engaged everybody. As the evening wore on, it could be associated to a Dionysiac Mystery; sweaty bodies exchanging clothes while dancing their hearts out under the moonbeam that was getting in through the ruins of the baths.


Back to Athens, there have been some sporadic pop ups of art residencies over the years: Caribic Residency, a mysterious nomadic two-days residency program and Κappatos Athens Art Residency – that hosts a residency every now and then although it is the only residency program in Greece subsidized by Greek and European Union public funds – are some of the art residency initiatives that have appeared in the city.


The most prominent step towards setting an art residency program with imminent benefits for both the artist and the host, has been realized so far by The Breeder Gallery.
The Athenian swank gallery added another project to its already bustling program, by providing a solid showcase to international emerging artists. The first artist in residence was Ben Wolf Noam from Los Angeles who lived and worked in Athens for a month before presenting his solo show The field of Ares at Romantso Cultural Center. Wolf Noam invited to Athens musician-performer-activist Mykki Blanco who gave a fierce a cappella performance in the jam-packed space. The second artist-in residence is Rade Petrasevic from Vienna who is already in Athens preparing his upcoming show that will be presented in the Breeder Playroom in October. The Breeder Gallery residency program will be introduced internationally for the first time during Frieze London 2015, featured as a separate section in the gallery’s booth.


The last art residency program that will be featured in this article is also the most special: The Eternal Internet Brotherhood/Sisterhood was founded in 2012 by Greece-based artist Angelo Plessas, as a contact zone among artists, writers and other creative beings that he is friend with through internet. Plessas’ artistic practice examines the internet psychogeography, so this residency seems more like the artists’s study case for on-line and offline communities – if this separation can exist any more- rather than a typical art residency program. Eternal Internet Brotherhood/Sisterhood is a nomadic project; the first version took place on the Greek island of Anafi as the perfect 70s reminiscent place for free camping and nudism, the second version was organized in Las Pozas semi- abandoned surrealist park in the jungle of Mexico the following summer, the third was held at the shores of Dead Sea in Palestine and this summer the Eternal Internet Brotherhood/Sisterhood travelled to Castello Malaspina, a castle in the north of Tuscany. “Dante spent a lot of time in this Castle.” explains Angelo Plessas “Due to the dramatic economical condition in Greece, this was the most esoteric and dramatic Internet Brotherhood/Sisterhood. I felt the transitions from Paradiso to Inferno and Purgatory many times during my stay, I left a country devastated with a financial embargo and I arrived to a total another world. Moreover, when I got there the internet was very hostile to me. I had to pay for my server and my credit card was not working because of the capital controls, so my email and my website would die. Eventually the “brothers” and “sisters” paid everything and I avoided my online death.”


All of Angelo Plessas “brothers” and “sisters” organized smaller projects during the brotherhood. To name a few, Greek artist Danai Anesiadou made temporary inflatable sculptures, consisted of personal objects she collected from the residents’ rooms, along with objects she found in the castle; Berlin-based artist Santiago Taccetti collected marbles from Carrara, he painted them with hallucination sprays and placed them all over the castle, while Ylva Ogland made a dinner ritual in the main room of the castle where all the ceremonies are taking place, with objects and masks she made for the occasion.


When Angelo Plessas was nominated this year for the Deste prize, he chose to represent the Eternal Internet Brotherhood/Sisterhood with a multimedia installation that is currently on view at the Museum of Cycladic art in Athens. The immersive system of objects comprised of a fort made by aluminum foil, a hammock made out of found wood, other furnitures, bizarre objects and of course the documentation of the past four versions of the Eternal Internet Brotherhood/Sisterhood projected on the wall and the screens that were installed all over the room. During the reception that took place on September 7, Angelo Plessas was awarded the prize, and now he has 10.000 euros to enjoy the next brotherhood with his internet friends.


Besides this fortunate fact, it’s unlikely that anybody from the artists participating to all those temporary communities will make any money out of it and if the economical stability will ever come back to the local scene. What is certain though, is that coming together, relying on new friends, and staying connected gives a lift to the spirit and helps people keeping strong so that they can endure these hard times in Greece and everywhere else.

January 28, 2016