The Documenta 14 Head of Artistic Office Athens on why the Exhibition is Good for the City

 

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Marina Fokidis, image by Panos Davios

 

Documenta is one the largest and most prestigious art events in the world. Taking place every five years in Kassel, Germany, its 14th edition will be split between the traditional location and Athens, Greece. Yet the news hasn’t pleased everyone, with some critics likening the move to poverty tourism. Marina Fokidis is the director of the documenta 14’s Artistic Office in Athens, and she certainly doesn’t think so. Sleek talked to Fokidis about her long involvement with documenta, and why she thinks the event is good for Athens.

SLEEK: You’re also the founder and artistic director of the yearly exhibition project Kunsthalle Athena. How did it all start?

Marina Fokidis: The idea was conceived in 2009 and was initiated and announced to the public through an artistic ritual involving the distilling of an alcoholic drink. That lasted around six days and nights and was open to the public.

By 2010, we were “installed” in a building. It was the middle of summer, during the “Greek problems”, that Kunshalle Athena became active in a magnificent wreck of a building, which became its body and soul. We treat Kunsthalle Athena as a living entity. In its initial five years it hosted more than 30.000 people. Operating only from May to October, the institution came from the need to formulate a new perception of our lives and actions: a new ontology. We needed a space to co-exist, different from that of the ever-arid social landscape developing around us.

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Kunsthalle Athena, image by Robert Pettena

We wanted the chance to build networks, communities and new organisations so as to face a new completely “stateless” reality. Through a set of over 40 projects, our desire was to emphasise the constant transformation of “the polis” as a symbolic location for the production and dissemination of contemporary culture worldwide.

We lost our building because of several reasons associated with the crisis, but we are planning to have a new one by the summer of 2017. In the meantime, we are raising money for a publication on interdependency. This will feature texts relating to independent institutions from around the world, accompanied with records from five years worth of our seeding period.

 

“Younger artists and curators from all over the world have started coming to Greece since the beginning of the difficult years”

 

You created “South as a State of Mind” magazine in 2012. By November 2015 its first issue as the formal document 14’s magazine was launched. Could you describe the way this collaboration works now?

“South as a State of Mind” began in 2012. We think of it as the “winter” Kunsthalle Athena. We could not operate from our building during the winter months so we thought of a publication which would help us to continue our exchange with the world. Our mission statement reads: “Possessed by a spirit of absurd authority, we tried to contaminate the prevailing culture with ideas that derive from southern mythologies”. We have also created a bi-annual arts and culture journal, which is published in Greece and is distributed internationally.

Our idea was to stimulate a dialogue among neighbourhoods, cities, and regions, so “South as a State of Mind” functioned both as a publication and a meeting point for shared interests. For the next four issues “we host documenta 14” as we like to say. The magazine has temporarily reconfigured as the documenta 14 journal, and it is now edited by Quinn Latimer, documenta 14’s editor-in-chief of publications, and documenta 14 artistic director Adam Szymczyk.

This was one of the magazines larger experiments. The first of the four special issues look quite different to the original publication and it is really spectacular to follow this transformation which was needed to accommodate the voices of the new team. After June 2017, “South as a State of Mind” will continue to run independently from documenta.

 

“The economic crisis was a stimulus both for the artistic creation and also the attention towards Greece”

 

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South as a State of Mind #6 [documenta 14 #1], Cover
What is your opinion about Greek contemporary art nowadays? Do you find it interesting despite the country’s financial struggles? Is it attractive internationally?

I think Greece has always produced interesting art. It also has influences from East Asia, Greek antiquity, Ottoman Empire, Europe. Greece lies on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea and the Arab world and this variety of influences usually triggers very interesting hybrids.

In the absence of State support and strategy for the contemporary culture, and in the absence of a strong public institution for contemporary art, like a museum, Greek artists were struggling to communicate their ideas. Greek artists have been somewhat unknown in the international scene, but not rightly so. The economic crisis was a stimulus both for the artistic creation and also the attention towards Greece. As it usually happens with “places” in major turbulence people finally looked toward us. I guess it is the human nature. So yes, I see a lot of interesting art around, which seems to lean towards performativity. I see a bunch of independent spaces opening, non stop gatherings for lectures and discussions. Younger artists and curators from all over the world have started coming to Greece since the beginning of the difficult years. Since the announcement of documenta 14 this incoming movement has taken different dimensions, it is a very happy event.

 

“with such difficult living conditions and the exchange between people internationally create new synergies, which look quite interesting”

 

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View from Kunsthalle Athena, Matthieu Laurette, Let’s Make Lots of Money, photo by Robert Pettena

Living here is difficult and it can never become a political void or a comfort zone or a protective bubble to no one, even to its new “arts” citizens. Yet, the exposure and the close contact with such difficult living conditions (economical, humanitarian, migration crisis) and the exchange between people internationally create new synergies, which look quite interesting.

If this continues as such, it might become beneficial not only to artists and art related professionals locally but also globally. I agree with Adam Szymczyk’s idea to share the broadcasting of documenta 14 between these two particular localities, which at this moment is very courageous and productive.

Sometimes I tend to think that this documenta has started from the moment of its announcement. Its preparation period between the two locations seems to me an integral part of its overall conceptual framework. It is really wonderful to see it all developing.

Documenta14 will take place in Athens from 8 April 2017 and Kassel from 10 June 2017

 

Text by Kiara Souganidou

 

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