Anyone who follows international art news probably wholeheartedly agrees that ‘the title of last year’s Venice Art Biennale – ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ – has turned out to be truly prophetic. Whether we like or not.
Indeed, due to Covid 19, traveling for art has become a luxury, which simply increases our longing to get away – let’s say to Greece, perhaps even to the island of Lesvos, the location of the K-Gold Temporary Gallery, a project space known for its enthralling exhibitions and consistently exceptional curation by its young and visionary director Nicolas Vamvouklis.
We would so love to go and visit the gallery’s seventh summer show this year.
But the pandemic makes this next to impossible. As Vamvouklis says when asked about the challenge of going ahead with this year`s program:
“We were forced to modify the initial planning of the event as a consequence to the restrictions and safety measures for Covid 19
[…] we never thought of canceling the show”.
Nicolas Vamvouklis, Photo: Danae Melina Klara
In this particularly difficult time of social distancing, when all human relationships and activities are severely curtailed or tend to become virtual, visiting art exhibitions and gaining cultural education is essential for the positive effects this has on our emotional state and even mental health.
So we asked Greek curator, writer and art mediator Vicky Tsirou to take us along and share her observations and reflections on the artworks at ‘Sleeping with a tiger’, K-Gold Temporary Gallery’s summer’s exhibition this year.
Because everything you can imagine is real, and we are so ready to travel to the island of Lesvos, even its just in our imagination.
Curator Vicky Tsirou
The Wellbeing of Things during quarantine
The exhibition “Sleeping with a tiger” investigates the relationship between human and animal societies by looking at the dynamics of coexistence, domestication, relocation, dominance, and exclusion. One by one the participating artists are moving towards possible interspecies connections through history, politics, ethics, and tradition.
All these make me recall how I perceived the world during the quarantine: enclosed in a house, trying to understand my relation with the external world creating links between known, unknown, or forgotten elements.
One of those is our exposure to the external conditions, nature, and animals.
So I enter the gallery space with a kind of intimate sensation. Walking into a house that used to be a family home, I have a feeling of being in a secure and inclusive space.
In the ground floor, the first artwork I see is the one of Konstantinos Kotsis, whose practice is lately related to nature.
Kotsis’ “Survival Hacks” are influenced by an image he saw a few months ago from the refugee camp on the island, in Moria: refugees were reinforcing the exterior part of their tent with sleeping bags as an attempt to protect themselves from the external weather conditions, from nature.
We arrive in nature armed and camouflaged. As if we try to occupy a territory that has never been ours.
As if we have been exiled in an unknown land and we struggle to survive by creating “Survival Hacks”.
Discussing with the artist, he draws my attention to an argument that has become a subject of debate. “GDPR law is applied only among human beings, while we are free to invade animals’ habitat arrogantly and violently?
We observe them (bird watching*, coral watching, etc.) without taking into consideration the impact of our activities on their environment.
*Lesvos island is a famous destination for bird watching in the Mediterranean.
Little by little, I start realizing the multiply ways that human and animal life interweaves to each other. What makes the man differ from the animal? Is it the speech, the thinking process, or the ability to be organized in community and leave harmonically in society?
If we try to find the quintessential of all these, sooner or later we conceive that humans are not the only privileged beings on earth and that the similarities among animals and humans do exist, and they are more than evident.
Tigers, horses & killer whales
In the main hall, the site-specific work, by Oliviero Fiorenzi who articulates a myth or story in his work, accumulating elements drawn by his personal visual language with a particular reference to the life of Agia Paraskevi in Lesvos.
Tigers, horses, and cowboys in orangish and bluish background create a gestural storytelling connecting the past with the present life of the village, constructing new architectures of meaning.
The locals pointed out that the horse is a reference point for the village.
Walking around the village one will come across men wearing cowboy boots riding beautiful horses.
They let me know that every summer a horse racing festival takes place in the village that attracts visitors from all over the island.
Oliviero Fiorenzi, Courtesy Ivan Grianti
In the center of the room, Cosima von Bonin’s installation of plastic inflatable killer whales nested in a pod, as a mention to how these, so-called “dangerous” mammals live, travel, and socialize.
Consequently, it is apparent that either we talk about a troop, a shoal, a swarm, a pod or a school of fish, a crowd, a mass, a club, a constellation or a group of people we all share common social behaviors.
Why look at animals?
Continuing my walk in the exhibition, I enter a video room with projections of works by Ana Mendieta, Mike Bourscheid, and Maria Papadimitriou, which explore the symbiotic relationship between people and their surroundings.
The latter presents the video-installation “Agrimikà: Why Look at Animals?”, which poses questions regarding the present time and cruelty, the Savage Mind, and the political allegory reconsidering the archetypical relation between humans and animals.
To me, it was very moving coming across this work given that it represented Greece in the 56th Venice Biennale (2015) curated by Okwui Enwenzor, the Nigerian influential curator who remapped Art World.
This leads me to the next room, where I found the work of a young but yet very prominent Italian artist Virginia Russolo.
Russolo has already been presented to the Greek audience in 2019 with her participation at K-Gold Temporary Gallery and at the 7th Thessaloniki Biennale.
Her artwork, In Carne Azione (The Draughtboard), is born out of her intention to bring together video and photographic research surrounding spirituality, archeology, anthropology, and folk culture, to create ritualistic spaces.
She has been focusing on material like beeswax, fur, and fat.
Virginia Russolo, In Carne Azione (The Draughtboard), 2018_Photo Olga Saliampoukou
Horses in trance
“A reoccurring motif in my work is the image of a horse rolling on its back and peeing. I see the horse, through a Western eye, as an extension of the physical and political power of the person riding it. Because of this, I define the horse as the most architectural animal. With this logic in mind, a horse rolling on its back is automatically subverting this project of power.
I present the horse in a trance-like state and in this extra-ordinary space, the action of peeing is elevated to something sacred. I’m fascinated with the animal language of marking territory, of asserting one’s existence in space.”,
In the next room, Sasha Streshna presents two paintings from the series Dark Age. Streshna took inspiration from the Pergamon’s frieze Gigantomachy, which features cosmic battles including human-animal hybrids.
Streshna deconstructs the narratives of traditional representation painting repeatedly the canvas until the latter gains a grotesque effect.
Queer hybrid bat
Going up the stairs I get into the last room of the exhibition with a kind of pop and pleasant mood. Fluffy surfaces, giant paws, and a queer bat evoke my inner child. The artist Antigone Tsagkaropoulou states:
To be hybrid and fluid; To be a soft beast, a fragile monster, a vulnerable cyborg; Fluffy means to mutate; To have the choice to be genderless, ageless and speciesless; To not define but redefine and create new narratives together.
And it wasn’t only my interpretation. I saw children visiting the show being happily surprised by and connecting with the work, having an intimate experience.
Becoming with animal
The opening night was an overwhelming event with two performance acts. The audience, having adapted the new precautionary measures, and wearing masks, enjoyed a dynamic acoustic live performance by Ody Icons, and Iro Vasalou’s ecstatic dance solo.
The latter, having as a starting point the Italian practice of tarantism, presented the work “Becoming with Animal”, an ecofeminist approach, a process of changing nature and being in contact with.
“It is a practice of unselfing, perceiving the body from a distance to deepen in its functions”.
From my point of view, this year, the curator intends to make us listen to our inner self, our inner Tiger, and its instincts.
The General Secretary for Contemporary Culture of Greece, Mr. Nicholas Yatromanolakis, visited Lesvos a few days ago, and he admitted that:
“Lesvos is a perfect example of how culture can become a driving force for an area’s growth, employment and social cohesion”.
The abovementioned assumption confirms Vamvouklis decision to insist on the realization of the show as well as for the presence of contemporary art in Lesvos.
It seems that not only “the tiger decided to stay” but it also actively contributes to the island’s cultural repository and potential.
Author: Vicky Tsirou
Sleeping with a tiger
August 7 – September 20, 2020
Daily, 11:00-14:00 and 19:00-23:00
Agia Paraskevi, 81102 Lesvos, Greece
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