text by Charlotte van Winden
This review covers my most interesting experiences during a study trip with a group of artists and curators who are involved with an art initiative in The Hague. The trip was organised by Stroom Den Haag and aimed at getting to know the artistic climate of Athens. The following is a selected overview of our visits with initiators, curators and artists.
- State of Concept (photo by Connie van Driel)
In a city like Athens with 5 million registered residents, little money, thousands of refugees, poverty and large income differences it is a challenge to survive. Despite a little bloom of the crisis, there is no money in the state, nor are there intermediars similar to Stroom for artists in The Hague or Mondriaanfonds for artists and curators on a broader scale.
Greek artists seem to be handed over to foreign art scenes, which has been happening for years now. A lot of Greek artists and curators with experiences abroad get stimulated to build up their own art initiative and create an exciting and fresh platform for both Greek and foreign artists. “If you make a show here with only foreign artists, people don’t come. We always mix with Greek artists” says Iliana Fokianaki from State of Concept, a platform that aims to be a bridge between Athens and the international contemporary art scene.
- Iliana Fokianaki, founder of State of Concept (photo by Rob Knijn)
While visiting the venues of Documenta 14, we had an insight in the art school and the classes are very conservative. To apply for the academy, the students have to paint a landscape and make a drawing after a Greek sculpture, as opposed to visualising their personal fascinations. During the education, there isn’t any focus on conceptual art nor are there any teachings on contemporary art. State of Concept is also operating as an independent space for artist consultation, focused on Greek art students, in order to stimulate the contemporary art scene of Athens.
- School of Fine Arts
Although the art education in Athens is very conservative, the climate to initiate project spaces by artists who have been all over the world is very much alive. More than just a few Greek artists and curators, that already experienced art scenes abroad, have decided to start project spaces in Athens. A comparison with Berlin in the eighties is not that strange to make, when there is crisis and poverty there is ingenuity, too. A lot of great buildings are empty with low rents compared to other European capital cities and the cost of life is low as well. The buildings are empty on the inside but decorated on the outside with all different types of street art, mostly full of irony and cynism.
The Icelandic artist Gylfi Freeland Sigurðsson said that he ‘worked for 8 months in his own country to be able to live as an artist for four months in Athens’. In collaboration with the Icelandic artist Geirþrúður Einarsdóttir he is doing a residence at A-dash project space. The entire house is turned into an artist-led initiative where residents can stay and work, as well as present their work at the same time. Zoe Hatziyannaki, one of the founders of A-dash, explains that there isn’t any funding structure possible in Athens: “Government doesn’t give a shit”. Even if there was money, they would not invest it to stimulate the art world nowadays. The tourists are mainly interested in the historical Greek attraction before they hop on to the islands. Artists used to stay silent about being an artist, because it was not something to do for a living. “If you say you are an artist for a profession, it sounds like a joke. People will laugh or respond like ‘yeah sure’” explains Hatziyannaki.
- (photo by Anke van den Berg)
Another very exciting result of all the empty buildings is Enterprise Projects that is based in an old car parking. As a site-specific installation the founders Danai Giannoglou and Vasilis Papageorgiou curated their exhibition “Car Service II” with six artists who are a mix of Greek and foreign nationalities. Every work had something to do with cars or parking and I experienced the whole exhibition as its own work which was vastly interesting. The curator (Giannoglou) and artist (Papageorgiou) presented the works of each artist individually, yet they also added some subtle set design details like a simple table with dirty magazines, an ashtray and coffee spills.
- Enterprise Projects, left Danai Giannoglou (photo by Connie van Driel)
- Enterprise ashtrays are for sale (photo by Anke van den Berg)
From selling ashtrays we ended up somewhere else where grey sweatpants were sold for a bit of funding. Life Sport is both a sweatpants shop and an art space based in Athens. The collective had long been documenting people wearing sweatpants as a way to engage with the city and they are doing a continous visual study of a previously unknown environment. The collective soon moved on to producing its own sweatpants as a way to fund art projects.
- (photo courtesy of Life Sport)
I experienced the art climate as very inspiring, also for my own artist run space in The Hague: Moose Space, I would definitely recommend it to you. State of Concept created a map of all the project spaces in Athens: Athens Independent Art Index with 21 initiatives.