ZT: How has your diverse cultural intake shaped you and/or influenced your work?
G.K: Positively! Only positively. I often say that I am the product of three different educational systems and cultures. The unknown has become the familiar and the quest is everlasting. Boredom is a notion I am not versed in. Have become an alert observer – had to learn fast – to adapt on different occasions, thus the skill naturally has been integrated into my work. Luckily have learned when to lay low; when to peek through and when to forge ahead. Relocating as a practice itself feels wonted. Learning to be at a new place is what I love the most and is central to my life, as it continuously informs my work.
ZT: Your practice is conceptual and its manifestation interdisciplinary. In three points please sum up your practice.
Let me try to divide my work into three separate gestures and appetites then. All underlined by a wit that is not always apparent… perhaps it satisfies an internal dialogue and the kind of spectator that taps right into that zone.
- In my on-going core practice for nearly fifteen years, I critique the conformity of seeing by studying, proposing and practicing liberating and anarchic approaches of looking at art (and beyond, let’s just say the world) in an effort to support that seeing is site-specific and spectatorial emancipation the source of our art knowledge. Through a research-based practice, I encourage speculative and subjective approaches on how knowledge is and could be produced.
- Also, I particularly seek out opportunities for site-specific research projects that require longer-periods of commitment, always with a socially sensitive agenda that is not obvious at a first glance. Often I collaborate and I specifically and intentionally create cross-sector collaborations by bringing in people from fields non-related to art. That exchange is a drive-force on its own right.
- I go on mental-holidays. All the time!
ZT: What are your thoughts on formal art education, what has your own experience been like? What other factors have influenced your interdisciplinary practice and versatile journey?
G.K: Have been quite fortunate in that area. In regards to art schools, in my opinion the most valuable lesson one can walk away with from a degree in the arts is the ability to envision another take on the world as we know it; to trust one’s own creative decisions/solutions, and to take responsibility for them afterwards no matter the outcome. The second is not to let Nos or critique to immobilize oneself especially early on – or better to let critique rule one’s own mind; and third and most importantly is to be able to find joy in our peers’ successes.
So to answer your question beginning at the Durban Institute of Technology, yes I learned the first lessons next to Andries Botha, my advisor back in Durban. The integrity, convictions, ethos, activism, contribution-to-change and vast creative and conceptual appetite of all of my professors was unparallel and non-negotiable. In 1997, seventy-two students were accepted to the BFA program at the Durban Institute of Technology, in the process only seven of us graduated with a BFA degree. That was NOT a cookie-cutter!
In addition, it was a particularly potent moment socially, politically, historically… that served as a daily reminder of what it really takes to shape a hopeful future. Three years after the abolition of apartheid there was no room for messing up this highlight. Thus since then there is always a sense of urgency, a kind of a luculian appetite for high moments.
Before, I had ever considered of applying to a Master’s program abroad, Carol Becker’s books had already become part of my inner dialogue. When I found myself at SAIC (The School of the Art Institute of Chicago) I naturally advised with her and that inner dialogue found its voice; empathy and space for us to exist in a friendship I cherish the most to this day. Most importantly, she is a mentor, an internal echo that is always present – as a constant reminder the art world can be an arena where women are active agents of change and empowerment. Independent curator Mary Jane Jacob, held my hand creatively and intellectually since my first day at SAIC by investing hours of her own personal time nurturing my inquiring nature. Every conversation and moment we shared was art in the making. With the help of these two figures, I learned lesson number two and three, and many more that have nothing to do with institutions per se but with individuals who pave paths of light for themselves and their peers.
But I found creative peace outside the art school, when I met Georgia Kakourou-Chroni at the time curator of the National Gallery of Greece in Sparta. In her face I recognized what I aspired to find in Greece if I ever returned. The truth is, we found each other in the States, it was a love at first sight, her contextualized Greek feminine intellect is an academy in its own right. A journey that came full circle, she completes that niche nobody else could quite satisfy.
Luckily, not everything can be taught at school. What does one see when he secludes from the institution? That is just as important! What does one hear at home? That, is just perhaps most important!
So on that note, other than the aforementioned figures, myriad factors that deal directly with my upbringing have informed my practice, one of them being playing with my dear friend, Georgia L. throughout our childhood and adolescent – by always inventing a game, rules and tricks over the summer months in the coast of Northern Greece. It was my dad taking me with him to business meetings since I could remember myself, just so he could ask my opinion of the prospect client or partner afterwards. A practice that started before I went to elementary school in Greece and it continued all the way till I left to go to the States from South Africa in 2002. It has been seeing my mother’s love and passion for rags and textiles weaved on a loom and then seeing her design carpets for the longest part of her professional life with her dear friend Alex D.R. – it was inspiring to watch their creative commitment. Standing by my beloved sibling – and seeing her rise above all struggles in an effort to make her queer path – as fulfilling as she ever dreamt of. My grandmother’s crochet work was unparallel, a gifted witty and sharp story-teller from Asia Minor, who spoke in metaphors, idioms, and proverbs caught between two worlds. Every encounter I had with my grandfather, his genteel demeanor taught me something with grace up to his very last moment at the age of 104. A highly aesthetic package, I hold close to my heart of what a gentleman really looks and acts like. Having seen that has been highly educational for my personal life. He raised the bar – exactly where it should be.
Meeting with art in-person is an invaluable part of what I make and think as an artist. What I have seen, is what I am made out of. But looking at the world is equally mind-boggling. All begins with the encounter, that is the core of what I study – first impressions are invaluable. Reading is my refuge or keeping records of everything from first meetings to attendance… constantly counting people, observing their choreography or how they rest their weight and existence in the world. Looking at others – looking at art is my schooling, timing their glances with a stop-watch at hand… rather trivial time-consuming activities and tedious researches are some of my preferred pastime.
And last but not least, listening to my peers and friends.
Z.T.: What role does art education play now in your life now at the Frances Rich School of Fine and Performing Arts at Deree, the American College of Greece?
G.K.: Thank you Zeta for this question. Deree, is an established institution with a great art history department so when the Visual Arts Program was founded by artist, Effie Halivopoulou a few years earlier it was an honor to be called in to undertake the sculpture studio and courses. This baby was literally built from scratch. It is remarkable how much we have accomplished as a team the last couple of years in accommodating the needs of all disciplines along with artist, Jennifer Nelson and Dean of the school, Dr. Katerina Thomas.
Teaching is never one-sided. It’s an odd relationship, seeing my students grow, blossom or having that aloof look paired with a subtle frown – is the best indication of a young adult re-thinking his ways. I have no doubt my students know very well, I care a great deal about what they do or how they do. I care they do not get hurt out there afterwards, so I let my voice be the one that makes – the ones yet to come, sound angelic. I let my students in on the fundamentals by informing them about a world of inequalities; for a world of happenstance; by encouraging them to lead paths of integrity; by opening up creative windows and doors for them; to be critical thinkers and active citizens; to not step on the toes of their peers; by emphasizing their right to dream – to have a vision; and right to get furious; to laugh and dance like it’s going outta style; by shaking the hesitation of taking numbers out of them; and whether they decide to become artists or not… to accept, forgive and love themselves, yet to never settle for anything less than their best. The rest is entirely up to them!
Z.T: What serves as your stimulus?
G.K: Established answers, conclusions, that – that is not longer looked at, or talked about. There is a certain degree of tenacity on my part invested in an effort to remove periods (.) further. To find the loophole, or better the space that could serve as the departure point for an inquiring journey. A curiosity about the world that sometimes is satisfied simply in silence. Being aware of myself – of how small I really am as in the space I take up in the world.
But above all, conversations or better as I call them «mental-holidays». To satisfy my itch for dialogue, with a recorder at hand since I could remember myself, I sat down with people I wanted to talk to. I learned from all of them something about art, and the world. But also by initiating the dialogue, the prerequisites for a healthy exchange were clearly defined. Arguments are always welcomed. Had to train myself how to formulate questions; listen carefully and pick on the moment when one stops talking about work and begins talking about the person who made the work happen – himself. To my surprise, I learned about question marks by only watching for nearly 10 years in the States Howard Stern and Charlie Rose. Howard Stern’s questions exist within the body, he sneaks into the collective mind unsuspected. His questions are purely a physical process – as he speaks, the words cast a question that was not entirely thought with his mind. Charlie Rose on the contrary is the master, the lord of the mind question. A true wizard of eroteme. The degree of his intellectual empathy is magical. How does he do it? Both serve as an inspiration to this day in regards to their craft.
Listening is a huge part of what I do too, even when I do not understand. Looking is harder, as a highly-sensitive viewer, I am extremely selective. I reduce the visual intake and stimulation to the minimum – so when I happen to find myself confronted with a good art moment, it’s a retina party!
Above all my friends, there is another world of absolute freedom I get to indulge in. Only friends can create this kind of conditions. Only this sense of freedom helps me rest.
Ζ.Τ: May you please mention some collaborations, figures, exhibitions, or works that have marked your path along with a few highlights, and/or learning curves?
G.K: For sure and I’ll look directly into the past as it still feels quite fresh. Well, independent curator, Storm Janse van Rensburg has given my first group and solo shows at the NSA Gallery in Durban, an invaluable beginning into the art world. A chivalrous curator towards young female artists. I took special notice – to remember. Also, the !Xoe site-specific 31° 52’S/24° 33’ E collaboration in Nieu-Bethesda at the Great Karoo. Four of my dearest peers and I collaborated on building a site-specific installation for one-of-a-kind ambitious endeavor in South Africa, alongside established artists very early on. The terms of the collaboration, were once again a prelude of how things should work within a group. Working next to Adam Brooks, curator of the REFCO photography collection, which was at the time the largest broker company of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. A spectacular moment, surrounded with some of my favorite works. Given the opportunity to meet and work for my first exhibition in Greece with curators, Elpida Karaba, Sotirio Bahtsetzis and Anne-Laure Oberson for SITE/ΘΕΣΗ in 2006, was a delightful introduction.
The Boots Contemporary Art Space in St. Louis and Boot Print was a big part of my life, it was all I knew of my life for five years. My affiliation and collaboration with COLLABORATION on more than one occasion in Munich, is certainly a rewarding engagement. How can I forget the support Bernd Fesel, Chairman of the European Creative Business Network showed for the transformation of Maximilians Forum into the OPEN ARTISTS STUDIO FOUNDATION, his generosity certainly resonates with me. The on-going collaboration with Social Innovation Strategist, Mehul Sangham is opening doors and windows of creative opportunities for both – the kind, we could never enter without one another. Working with artist, researher and writer Carolina Trigo on KLIMA, is a thrill. I am addicted. Re-uniting with Kutloano Skosana Ricci of Black Rage, by joining forces on Sirens to be and waves to come.
My participation in the FIELD MEETING at the Asia Society in NY and later in Venice last summer is a moment I treasure cause Leeza Ahmady accomplishes the impossible – her soothing presence tenderizes the beast of the art-ego. Every exchange, collaboration and contact I have with artist and activist Joulia Strauss of Avtonomi Akademia, and founder of Theatro Entropia, Marilli Mastrantoni in Athens is the epitome of creative freedom. They are so many good moments with so many people.
Of course, there have been some dark moments too, hard lessons, immensely difficult decisions, and I learned that in everything we do, we primarily focus on making an entrance, but it’s equally important to wish to perform an equally satisfying exit. In everything we do, we should be able to locate at all times the exits or go as far as establishing emergency ones for ourselves. Artists should never feel creatively trapped in their collaborations.
Z.T: Why did you make Athens your base and what were your expectations initially?
G.K: At first, for personal reasons. Some people are content responding with a no to a marriage proposal, I thought it was wiser and safer to change continents. I began spending time in Greece, in 2006 but I made Athens my base formally in 2010. Up to that point, Johannesburg was still considered home, but in reality I spent most of my time in Chicago and St. Louis. As for my professional aspirations, primarily was to discover professionals to engage in affective and constructive dialogue, fed and motivated by a solid creative vision.
It’s my cave, it’s a beautiful city and although we tend to neglect acknowledging the liberties we enjoy here, I never take them for granted.
The sun is blinding bright here. Sometimes the city looks as if it’s made of silver.
Rain does not suit Athens, though!
Z.T.: Is Athens or better Greece an art destination today?
G.K.: Yes it is. The traffic is very exciting – yet the route known. For more than one reason especially Athens is currently being looked at. The art world seems to be fascinated by alternative economies, the exoticism of a lived economic crisis, and of its demoralizing effect on society etc etc. safely shedding light on areas that are not necessarily surprising in any way – but Many relocate to Athens too from abroad, it’s a heaven really …. There is certainly a sense of a spotlight selectively and nonetheless serve their cause.
It is a good moment, it’s a rich terrain – no question about that. Very curious how this chapter of art history is being currently scripted. There are myriad versions of the same story – depending on both the narrator and the listener.
Somehow I get a sense perhaps the experiment is letting down the lookers, perhaps we are not as exotic as expected… or perhaps we are just as exotic as they anticipated and we are staring right back at the light. That story has not been told yet!
You ask me about art, and I respond back to you about art but what I ask myself on daily basis is the role art plays in Greece right now, what voice does it really have? What does the record tell us on how success has been measured? How can art contribute towards an unorthodox historicity of our present? What if only fragments and pauses, long ones, stoic ones are more telling of our times than any words or works anybody can cast? How can we protect our realities from being capitalized on and from being sensationalized if we willingly pour them into a system of spectacular rises, leaps and falls? How was the curtain pulled back early, expecting the protagonists to improvise, possibly exposing them to weak conditions or to unforeseen opportunities? What are the means for pushing beyond the roaming troupe of ideas, ideologies and idiosyncrasies? Why the traits of the small-scale communities – seem more dramatic once magnified? What could the solution be at last: a) co-existence by cutting the pie so small – everybody gets some crumbs or b) by making more?
Personally, I would let the reflections tell the story rather than the projections, the distortions they are subject to may lead to new heights.
Z.T: What shall an artist do in order to have an international presence?
G.K: I will quote an infamous line from a Greek film «μεταξύ κατεργαραίων – ειλικρίνεια”, which loosely translates “among tricksters – integrity” by adding: transparency, punctuality and vision.
Z.T.: What’s your motto?
GK.: In case of cabin pressure, please put your own mask first before helping the person next to you.
Z.T: From all the countries you have worked at, where have you found the healthiest creative conditions?
G.K: We, meaning artists create our own conditions of health. Artists are very much in charge of the practices they lead. It’s relative, really.
Ζ.Τ: May you please refer to creative highlights, ones you have experienced as a spectator?
G.K: The first encounter with Felix Gonzalez-Torres work, in 1997 at the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale and every single one that followed since then. I believe in his metaphors, or better what I see settled with me forever. That Biennale «Trade Routes» to this day has not been topped – and I doubt it can. The planets aligned for a moment for Okwui Enwezor along with curators Octavio Zaya, Colin Richards, Hou Hanrou, Gerardo Cosquera, Yu Yeon Kim, Kelley Jones only three years after the abolition of apartheid to created an earthquake. They shook our world forever and I am still shaking to that beat.
«Kandisky Malevich Mondrian – The Infinite White Abyss» at K20 Kunsthalle Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf in 2014 curated by Marion Ackermann, Isabelle Malz, the level of curatorial precision and excellence was simply jaw dropping, unlike any exhibition I have ever seen. The curatorial thoughtfulness, planning and staged experience from all positions held in the room as an audience member, I could not leave that exhibition. I was escorted out at the end of the day…
Encountering in person in 1999 the works I was told about in art history classes. That year changed me, and the process of undoing began. Forgetting that was. We are always told to remember this that and the other! Forgetting, is actually harder.
Ζ.Τ : What does not settle well with you this days?
GK: Apathy and the noise it makes. The normalization of dehumanizing and demoralizing conditions presented as a new reality. Getting accustomed and immuned to the world as it is today. Giving up on it!
The industry of fear, does not settle well with me; the rising borders, do not settle well with me; the role of women in today’s society, does not settle well with me; but this interview could take a rather downbeat tone if I continue this way.
It was 8 o’clock in the morning about two months ago, I was sitting at the back seat of a cab on my way to work when the first notes of a song on the radio were heard, and instantaneously the driver turned up the volume to listen to the lyrics sang by Vicky Moscholiou “I stayed sleepless at your door and I’m singing | Here it is the paradise and the hell is here too | I stayed sleepless at your door and I’m singing | Here it is the paradise and the hell is here too | Here they are rich and poor | Humans and weaklings | Here is the sun and the rain | Loves and poisons”. Lyrics by Giorgios Kanellopoulos and music by Giorgios Hatzinasios. The driver sang along as if he had written those words himself… and I simply watched him sing. It was a celebration and a mourning at the same time. Quite a sacred moment, equal to that of a prayer.
There was a time, I would get furious with the wrong doings and injustices, the pain and the suffering. Now I have to admit I also get hurt, I retreat – compose myself and rise again and again by taking action within and beyond my capacity.
Just take a good look at every single one of us. Our faces are our billboards, skin especially is like paper – every single mark is permanent. It is one of the reasons I began working with goatskins in 2007 up to now… it’s the only materials where the everyday can be inscripted, it dictates its own time and feels to the hand, and to the nose very much rooted here.
Z.T.: What are your thoughts of our current political landscape?
G.K.: «Message in a bottle» sums it up. So, I am sending out an S.O.S. …
Interview by Zeta Tziotti