With kind permission we are republishing this video essay by Julia Tulke from our partner Aesthetics of Crisis, as a very accurate presentation of a unique aspect of a very special city.
"In contemporary Athens the performative practices of street art and graffiti have gained new significance as unsanctioned mediums of public expression and dissent, a development deeply entwined with the transformations of the material and social landscapes of the city in the context of the ongoing crisis. This video essay reflects on how Athenian artists mediate everyday life with crisis and austerity, and claim the walls of the city as sites of subversive political speech and imagination.
This video essay was produced for the "Art, Expression, and Democracy" seminar at the University of Sheffield: bankstreetarts.com/events/art-expression-democracy-seminar/
List of Featured artists: Achilles, Angel, Bleeps, Borondo, Cacao Rocks, Dimitris Taxis, EX!T, Hope, Jupiterfab, Mapet, Mora, N_Grams, NDA, Noir, Oré, Paul, Scar One, Sidron, Wild Drawing (WD)
"The only terrorist is the 8'o'clock news" courtesy of Kostas Kallergis, all other photographs author's own." -Julia Tulke
By early summer 2015 it was becoming common knowledge that the big art event documenta was to take place in both Athens and its native Kassel in 2017, and that this was somehow a big deal. Exactly how it was a big deal was unknown and predictions ranged from positive to negative. However, years of crushing political and economic crises combined with uprisings and defeats, fascist wet dreams and waves of refugee influxes had by this point seen Athens move from hot to forgotten a few times. That art and creativity existed in a unique and inspiring way in Athens felt like a well kept secret, far from the mainstream and even invisible to the imagination of many locals who would rather dream of the ghost of Berlin past.
Though the conditions are ripe for experimentation and allow for creative infrastructures due to a broader disintegration of economic stability and a solid state, lack of income in the form of art funding and a market also counter the emergence and solidification of art currents. It is very possible to create various kinds of art spaces and live in Greece with a certain form of economic freedom due to the relative low cost of living, but of course this is balanced by the lack of money. This is not a new condition for artists however, as artists tend to be poor and therefore have often congregated in pre-gentrification or pre-development areas, so a location in a limbo of multiple crises fits as an artist habitat.
I believe this to be the main reason for an influx of international artists in Athens in the last years, especially young ones, who can have breathing space and contemplate their future moves, a luxury not offered by the expensive capitals of north-western Europe such as Paris, Amsterdam and London. And so it should perhaps not come as such a surprise that documenta appears in Athens, seemingly out of the blue but drawn by those very same conditions that have disappeared in many European capitals. One can also speculate that this old giant of art events came here to gather some kind of relevance as whatever post-WWII rejection and renewal laid at its foundation had long ago become dated, and Kassel as a location feels obsolete.
As part of our research, we at the Holobiont Project have often taken up this impending influential art event with artists, academics and other cultural workers both within Greece and internationally, in order to try to understand it but also to gather impressions and expectations. Our findings have almost been entirely negative, with expectations being expressed through terms such as exploitation, exoticisation and colonialism, painting a picture of a massive art market monster invading Athens, feeding itself on voluntary work and subsidies for the benefit of a few strong art powers whilst giving nothing back but empty hope. It has been suggested that looking at the aftermath of documenta might be more interesting than speculating about the event itself, as a retrospective perspective would allow for clearer analysis of the real impact.
An early insight into these feelings was well represented by a stencil that we first spotted at the walls of Circuits and Currents, a space run by students from the Athens School of Fine Arts and a product of a cooperation with the Academy of Fine Art in Munich. The stencil said: “DEAR DOCUMENTA: I REFUSE TO EXOTISIZE MYSELF TO INCREASE YOUR CULTURAL CAPITAL. SINCERELY, OI I8AGENEIS”. The translation of the signature means The Indigenous. More than a year later documenta had established itself more thoroughly and after the opening of an office in the historically important Polytechnic University in Exarchia, Athens, and several smaller talks and presentations, the more significant 34 Exercises of Freedom began in September 2016 in a building at Parko Eleftheria (Park of Freedom). The events that started to take place there, and are still ongoing, opened up a multitude of themes and infused both international and local perspectives into a forum for art theory and issues about representation. The inclusive and diverse nature of these talks offers a surprising countering of the initial expectations of documenta that we gathered from a broad range of discussions. This seems to indicate that the documenta team are not entirely cut out from the local reality and critical voices, and that the theme of this specific edition of documenta, ‘Learning from Athens’, is more than a phrase but rather an actual approach.
-Some images from the initial exhibition.
We are very happy to be welcoming the Finnish artists Salla Lahtinen and Kirsikka Ruohonen in early December. They are working towards creating the next step of their exhibition FANTASIA=IKKUNA (which means FANTASY=WINDOW) in Athens and will be researching various opportunities for the realisation of this. The themes of the first exhibition are described by the artists as:
"Salla Lahtinen & Kirsikka Ruohonen are the components of an open collective that arranges exhibitions and other creative events and acts. The foundation of the work is visual arts, and it centers on topics of identity, sexuality and contemporary communicational tools. The collective's first exhibition FANTASIA=IKKUNA combined painting, drawing, sound art, video, and events. Some of the notable events included, an evening of discussion about sexuality in connection to images, and gigs performed by the artists that collaborated with Lahtinen & Ruohonen on the exhibition.
The first exhibition took place in January 2016 at Asematila in Helsinki."
The next phase of the exhibition will involve installation, painting and sculpture/performance, and will lead to an overall installation through the creative process. The exhibition will consist of Lahtinen’s work “You should smile more”, which is an installation made of organic cotton canvas with repetitive prints of Lahtinen’s own smile. Ruohonen’s new series of paintings, displayed under the term “Rakastan” (“I love”), depicts penises from pornographic sources. She studies the absence of female gaze in pornography and how it urges the women consuming porn to identify with penises of the male actors. Ruohonen will continue with the same style as in the paintings of butts that were a central part of the initial exhibition, using acrylic, mineral pigment and Japanese paper.
The first FANTASIA=IKKUNA exhibition was about individual experience derived from sexting and self-representations of sexuality, whilst this continuation will focus more on general representations. Lahtinen’s work will circulate around the topic of keeping up appearances and the pressure of cultural conventions that individuals need to follow in western society (combined with the personal experiences of being demanded by strangers to smile more). Adding to this will be Ruohonen’s phallic paintings that will add an absurd and strange sexual atmosphere. The collective will open up to include works and participation by the Athenian artist Antigoni Tsagkarapoulou, who will complement the themes through her own work. Furthermore, Ruohonen will perform as her rap alter ego “Adikia”, in what we hope to be a series of events taking place around the exhibition and including local artists.
This visit will be based on meeting partners, collaborators and identifying spaces suitable for the realisation of this next phase of the exhibition.
For more info about the artists and their work, click on photos below:
Last winter and spring we met the Finnish artist Lucas Vogt in Athens and ended up hosting him in our office and exploring Athens and creativity with him whilst assisting him with a few projects.
He had been traveling in a camper van through Eastern Europe and the Balkans for several months doing research for a documentary film; interviewing artists, organising workshops, urban studies, and discussing with locals about local news and global phenomenon. Currently he is on the road In Europe again. We asked him to write some words about his Greek adventures for us as an insight into his artistic travels.
One series of workshops I have been organizing involve local artists painting on my van somewhere in public. Elements of music and performance are often included as well. When I started on my journey from Finland the van was completely white like a blank canvas. Throughout Eastern Europe I ran into graffiti writers and street artists who all added to what is now accumulating into a very colorful and layered collage of different aesthetics. As far as direction, I’ve tried to emphasize this collage aspect by encouraging a new piece to comment on or somehow interact with what is already there.
I believe it is important to promote more room for creative expression in the urban public space. What I've noticed in the Eastern Bloc countries is that practicing street art and graffiti is still loaded with a counter-culture mentality, and that practicing it openly on your own property, but in the public space, leads to interesting reactions from people passing by. Athens, on the other hand, is the most painted city I have ever seen. This over-saturation completely neutralizes the art form in the eyes of the public space. Instead I invited two groups of children to participate in the workshop.
The first round was held on the ancient battlefield of Thermopylae, where there happens to be a refugee hotspot. Mohamed, a refugee himself, volunteers as a teacher at the hotspot and he helped me coordinate an action together with a group of around thirty children, who ecstatically scribbled, colored, drew, and wrote on the van with markers.
Greece has been in the news a lot lately due to the influx of refugees from the on-going civil war in Syria. But immigrants and refugees are certainly no new phenomenon for Greece. Within what is being described as BlockArt in the neighbourhood of Psirri in Athens one can find the Galleries Sarri 12 and Exit and The Holobiont Project offices, as well as lots of street art. Furthermore, the area offers free drama classes for local kids every Saturday and I had the pleasure of organizing a workshop with nine first-generation migrant children aged 4-9.
Johan, Abdel, Tahrim, Mohamed, Jodi, Mariam, Mona, Alexander, and Franklin were given a short pep-talk about creativity and encouraged to decorate the van however they saw fit. Besides acrylic paint markers, they were equipped with a megaphone and a video camera. Almost all of the shots in this video were filmed independently by the children themselves.
Photos from the artworks put together by Hop Louie & Hello Banana for the exhibition 'Caged City' which opened on the 7th of July at the Sarri 12 Gallery in Athens. The exhibition was produced by the Holobiont Project in collaboration with the Sarri 12 and Momangen galleries.
Hop Louie and Hello Banana are two street artists based in Stockholm, Sweden. On the 7th of July they will have their first exhibition in Athens, Greece, a location which offers a very different reality. Until recently, Stockholm had a zero tolerance towards graffiti and street art, promising to remove anything appearing on walls within 24 hours and prohibiting advertisements that could be seen to promote graffiti, such as posters for street art exhibitions. The artists have been actively resisting these policies and have taken part in wider struggles concerning public space in the urban environment. This can be contrasted to Athens which appears to offer the polar opposite reality, with an abundance of imagery littering the walls.
We're organising an exhibition in Athens together with our partners Momangen and Sarri 12 and curated by Dora Vasilakou. facebook event is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1714721298787922/
The official text follows:
Sarri 12 Gallery is pleased to announce the first exhibition of the street artists Hop Louie & Hello Banana in Athens, “Caged City”, curated by Dora Vasilakou. The exhibition is jointly organized by Sarri12 Gallery, Momangen Gallery and Holobiont Project.
Here, they encourage you to answer to the Wolf’s Commandments to kill what you eat and eat what you kill.
Urban architecture, industrial zones, modern housing development and landscape gardening are an integral part of the structural reality of a metropolis with chain reactions, rapid changes and apocalypses. Living creatures cohabit in this cityscape in a paradoxical way. The metropolitan environment and the everyday confrontational characteristics of a modern city are at the core of the exhibition theme of the street art duo Hop Louie & Hello Banana.
Fusions of wild animals and buildings, cages and birds, dealing with the notion of personal and collective freedom, unfold as vibrant visual stories of special creatures that flirt with the impossible. A new interpretation of life is presented through constant coexistence and conflict, with contradictory imagery of industrial technology merged with life-forms and emancipation contrasted with restriction. Yet, the world of Hop Louie & Hello Banana is not a dystopian one. It rather combines contradictions and as Camus developed in his philosophical theories of change, “the Paradox of Absurd”. Human beings are caught in a constant attempt to derive meaning from a meaningless world. This is the floating point where the two artists critically stand their voice.
Using mixed media techniques and working playfully on several surfaces (wall, wood, cardboard) the two Swedish artists produce a roster of stencils, collages and wall paintings, a blend of urban and industrial landscapes with organic life-forms into continuous transformations that draw inspiration from nature, human manufacturing and alternative ecological dynamics.
The exhibition title concentrates on the paradox itself, life trapped in the capitalist urban milieu, the city as a cage full of life. Black and white contrasted with solid colors and detailed textures are used to explore the attraction of today’s consumerism, along with the madness of a more and more non-viable world.
HELLO BANANA started with political stickers 10 years ago. In the last couple of years her focus has been on combining patterns, colours and shapes of different animals and weapons. Her style is evolving and often work with bright colours and gritty backgrounds. For this exhibition her focus is on stencils, birds and the contrasts of freedom. On the streets, she works mainly with posters but also with stencils and spray paint.
HOP LOUIE has worked with street art in one form or another since the late 90s. He is a well known name in Stockholm street art environment. With spray paint, stencils, wheatpaste, posters and stickers he spreads his art in the public space. His art embraces current political topics and puts his finger on the social climate and the question of who owns public space. With creativity and integrity as weapons, he creates subjects that colour and question the relentless cityscape.
Opening : July 7th Thursday, 20:00
Duration: 8th July- 1st September 2016
Opening Dates & Hours: Wednesday to Sunday 12:00-19:00
Contact info: email@example.com, +30 697 648 4135
Press inquires: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarri 12, Psyrri
Athens 10553, GR
Our friends in Denmark made this great teaser trailer for our upcoming talk in Aarhus this coming Wednesday. It captures the randomness and chaos of the Athenian streets very well. Check it out!
We are very happy to announce a new partnership in Århus, Denmark, with the Mødestedet Gallery. We will be presenting our findings and thoughts about Nordic/Greek collaborations and interactions and starting a discussion about the possibilities and paths towards working together.
Like their FACEBOOK PAGE,
follow them on TWITTER,
and if you're around, drop by on the 6th of April at 19:00.
INSTITUT FOR X (by Godsbanen),
SKOVGAARDSGADE 5, 8000 C, AARHUS
BTW BUILDING A AND B
In the last months we have met many interesting artists, actors, cultural producers, collectives and more. We have also participated in discussions with academics from Germany and the United Kingdom and most of the conversations have been centred around social impacts of art, economic impacts on art and ways of organising and producing. Whilst these aspects are extremely interesting, we noticed at some point that the focus on art itself was not so prominent.
Therefore we are posting a piece of art, produced by Teemu takatalo of the project, and relevant in a sense due to the recent discussions about censorship in Greece, but also in other parts of Europe. And also relevant because of the topics in the film itself.
Teemu's blog is: http://www.yleisradio.net
For more videos by Teemu, please visit:
A description of the film can be found below:
In September 2011 Teemu Takatalo's consumer critical mural The Absolution of the Enlightened Consumer was censored and destroyed in a gallery, in Tampere, Finland by the producers of the exhibition. The painting consisted of painted company logos of nine business enterprises, having their shops in the same shopping mall with the gallery, and texts about negligence of their social and environmental responsibility programs.
Read the full description by clicking HERE
We had the pleasure of welcoming Georg Eichinger and Heiner Legewie on the 22nd of February. Teemu was interviewed and photographed as part of their research towards an exhibition on Greek and international artists working in Athens. The discussion concerned crisis, economy, research methodologies, the future of art and Athens as a place of contradictions and creativity. Teemu was photographed as part of the material for the upcoming photographic exhibition. We greatly appreciate the richness of the conversation and exchange of ideas and expertise in research approaches and analysis.
Georg Eichinger and Heiner Legewie also interviewed and photographed Athenian street artists WD and Lotek, amongst others. More about this upcoming exhibition in the future.
Please like their Facebook page about the project to find out more: https://www.facebook.com/arttistsinathens
Here are some of their own words about the project:
As a photographer (Georg Eichinger) and a social scientist (Heiner Legewie) we want to explore the interaction between arts and economic crisis in Athens: How does the crisis influence artistic work formally and regarding the content and objectives of art work, how do artists and gallery owners cope with the situation, what kinds of cooperation and production models do they develop?
The art scene of Athens has become one of the most interesting places in Europe - as was Berlin in the years after the unification. We are convinced that artists are part of the vanguard in society and sort of seismographs to analyse social problems and develop visions of the future by their work. Therefore we share the motto of Documenta 2017 "Learning from Athens".
We want to interview and photograph Greek and international artists, gallery owners and curators of the Documenta team to document in our exhibition the social and artistic kosmos of art in Athens.
On the evening of Thursday the 18th of February, we presented the Holobiont Project and the research project '2Extremes' to our partner gallery in Stockholm Galleri Momangen. The discussions were open to the public and took place in various stages. The research project has been carried out during the last 5 months and has led to the practical creation of the Holobiont Project, a partnership with galleries and artist projects and will result in a publication which is due to be released in the coming months.
We discussed themes such as social sustainability, gentrification, militant collective methodologies, the dilemma of nationalism in relation to funding, economy and international collaborations. We also talked about differences and similarities between the realities in Stockholm and Athens and the available resources and infrastructure we can offer each other. These discussions will be continued in person in Stockholm in March and we will be working towards more exchanges and the possibilities for members of Momangen and their artists to visit Athens for exhibitions, meetings, workshops and whatever we might want to create.
The Holobiont Project's research project publication will be available at the Momangen Gallery once completed.
The Holobiont Project is a Nordic art and cultural research project with a special focus on Athens, Greece. It is the result of a research project called '2Extremes', funded by the Nordic Culture Fund, and carried out by Teemu Takatalo and Niklas Karlsson. The research has focused on the reality for creative and cultural production and dissemination in the Greek capital, a place shaped by recent political and economic crisis and with a long history of conflict and turmoil. We were interested in looking at this unique city at the other end of Europe and have worked towards gaining a greater understanding of the complexities it offers, whilst exploring themes such as social sustainability, urban transformations, public space, identities, alternative ways of organisation and production and international collaboration.
Findings from this research, and questions that have arisen from it, will be discussed via a Skype conference between Athens and Stockholm this coming Thursday at 21:00 at our partner gallery 'Galleri Momangen'.
Galleri Momangen, Kocksgatan 23, Stockholm.
Talk will be held in English and is free.
Meeting at Holobiont Project office: The Urban Politics and Governance of Social Innovation in Austerity
We had the pleasure of meeting up with Joe Painter and Antonis Vradis from Durham University, and filmmaker Ross Domoney, who are working on the project The Urban Politics and Governance of Social Innovation in Austerity, and Dean Hewitt from Boutique Athens and Sarri 12, to discuss art and cultural creativity in modern day Athens at our office in Psirri. The research project is a part of Urban Transformations, connected to University of Oxford and the Economic & Social Research Council.
We discussed issues such as the social impact of art, urban transformations, gentrification, social sustainability, poverty and crisis. Dean Hewitt shared his insights into the transformations of central Athens, and Psirri specifically, and the growth of street art in recent years. The research project looks at Athens, Berlin and Newcastle as case studies and 'aims to identify the roles of alternative finance, grassroots mobilisation and community provisioning in meeting the needs of their citizens as traditional forms of authority are disrupted and competition for public services increases'. Read a full description of the project HERE.
We will keep in touch with this research project and hope to exchange ideas and research in the near future.
Impressions of Athens by Julia Heslop, UK artist and writer, republished with kind permission from https://unofficialculture.wordpress.com
The first of some reflections I am writing about a recent trip to Athens. This article goes through feelings of hope, disillusionment, and then (tentative) hope again for a country at the hard end of extreme austerity. I hope that I have managed to illuminate the state of things over there for folks in the UK. Thanks to everyone that helped me out, everyone who was so welcoming, honest and open when I was there.
Debates about censorship of the arts came to light again as a controversial theatre production came to an abrupt end at the end of January, days before it was set to finish officially, after pressure from politicians, NGOs and the American Embassy. “The Nash Equilibrium” (Ισορροπία του Νας) had been performed at the Greek National Theatre’s Experimental Stage (REX) since the beginning of January and had attracted controversy since it contained excerpts of texts written by Savvas Xiros, a convicted member of the group November 17 which carried out 23 assassinations and more than 100 attacks between 1975 and 2002. The leadership of the play decided to cancel the production due to fear for the safety of the staff and the withdrawal of the main sponsor.
Many artists, cultural workers and activists who visit Athens ask us about the situation with the neo-nazi organisation Golden Dawn, an organisation which has gained power and notoriety in recent years. Today we dropped by the offices of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Athens and picked up several copies the new book 'Golden Dawn on Trial' by Dimitris Psarras, which they have published, and which gives an insight into the background of the group and the current trial against them. We also picked up several copies of the info-graphics pamphlet from Golden Dawn Watch, which visually lays out several of the key aspects of the trial and the events and people related to it. This pamphlet is also available online HERE. We will be helping with distributing both the book and the pamphlet to international visitors who we have contact with.
If you're in Athens and you want copies, get in touch and we can get them to you, or contact the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, who are based in Exarchia, and pick some up there. The publication is free.
A significant aspect of the Holobiont Project concerns expanding our already existing networks. We are currently looking for new partners in Iceland and Norway specifically, though our interests are not limited to these two countries.
Back in 2012 the art project Angeli Novi produced the film 'You Can't Stand in the Way of Progress' as a part of a larger solo exhibition in the Museum of Living Art, Reykjavik, September 29 - December 2, 2012. Much of the footage in the film was shot in and around Athens and the topics are just as relevant today as in 2012. The project brought together local, international and Icelandic individuals and artists and is representative of the kind of collaboration and networking which the Holobiont Project wishes to accommodate. Nik Karlsson worked on several logistical aspects of the film.
More info about the project from the artists can be found below.
The big art event documenta, which takes place every five years in Kassel, will for the first time exist in a new location. The event will start in Athens in 2017, then start in Kassel where it will also finish. The publication South as a state of mind will act as a as a publication from within which documenta 14 will provide "research, critique, art, and literature paralleling the years of work on the exhibition overall, one that will help define and frame its concerns and aims". It would be fair to assume that the art and cultural worlds of Athens will be affected by the presence of such a big and well known occurrence and we will be looking into this effects and what the possibilities are for collaboration or parallel artistic and cultural work.
Please read below to see the introduction to this upcoming collaboration:
We often imagine our place in the world—or others imagine it for us—via loaded directionals like North and South, East and West. Or it might be said that one's movement in these directions is paramount. What does it mean, then, in 2015 for documenta—a German institution firmly rooted in the global North, begun, as it was, as an exhibition dedicated to “Western European art” in 1955 in the city of Kassel, which once looked toward West Germany’s Eastern frontier– to publish a magazine called South? Further, what does it mean for documenta 14 to be hosted by an already-existing Athens magazine called South as a State of Mind? These are some of the questions we have asked ourselves as we spent the past several months editing the first documenta volume of South in Athens. In its new, temporary role as the magazine of documenta 14, South arrives late this October, a year and a half before the exhibition is scheduled to open, first on April 8, 2017, and then in Kassel two months later, on June 10.
this is our first blog post for the new initiative, The Holobiont Project. It is the realisation of an idea which has existed for some time and which has come into being through the combined work and initiative of Nik Karlsson, Teemu Takatalo and Matina Pantelaki.
Born out of a combination of art, travels, culture and an interest in different ways of organisation and living, the project aims to take advantage of already existing connections to explore possibilities for cultural cross-pollination. We are not interested in the art industry, but rather in free and ever changing creativity. The project has a Nordic dimension due to the countries of origin of two of the members, but we are more interested in challenging and de-constructing national identities than romanticising them. There is also a Greek dimension since this is where we all met and because we have a great interest in this country, at the other edge of Europe, which challenges many of our own assumptions whilst at the same time inspiring us in new ways.
We wish to facilitate and develop an already loosely connected Nordic network and also connect it to the creative fertile environment of Greece, and in particularly, Athens. Therefore we are creating a clear network and developing visits, exchanges, discussions, meetings and events. On this blog we will present our findings, thoughts, projects and ideas. We see this as the very beginning of something which will grow and spread into various initiatives and projects.
We are currently having several production and research meetings in Athens, exploring neighbourhoods, writing texts and meeting local artists and cultural workers.
Check this blog for further developments and please follow us on Facebook & Twitter.
If you wish to contact us, please feel free to fill in our contact form HERE.