The beloved city of the classical world, Athens offers much by way of modern creativity. Writer, editor and researcher Cat Lachowskyj, who’s based in the Greek capital, shows us why
For anyone interested in photography, Athens is a place where endless creative manifestations coexist in kinetic harmony. People love referring to the city as ‘the new Berlin’, but for me, Athens is Athens, and there is so much accessible experimentation flowing throughout its art scene.
Its artistic communities are less medium-specific, so when photography arises, it is often presented as a fine-print acknowledgement instead of the title track. Installations, workshops, public programming and other events emerge from the city’s agitated atmosphere; each neighbourhood projects its own persona, deeply intertwined with the spaces cropping up within them. Meanwhile, the city’s vastness provides a comforting sense of anonymity in daily life, retaining familiarity and intimacy for happy run-ins at events and openings across its countless artist-run spaces.
By way of photography, the Greek names exported throughout Europe and the rest of the world are often slick documentarians and photojournalists – mostly male, mostly older – which is not at all representative of all that occurs in the capital. But there’s something about the ephemerality of Athens’ creators, who self-publish and organise pop-up spaces, events and mentorships without necessarily producing lasting documentation, that reflects the city’s protean energy.
It often feels more like art for art’s sake – an antidote to the iconographic histories propped up by the institutionalised Doric columns that Athenian artists have been problematising for decades. Without having to list the reasons why, it’s been a tough year for the (art) world, but Athens’ phoenix-like foundation makes its next unsuspected resurgence feel part and parcel of the city’s pre-existing acknowledgement of chaos and impermanence
Situated in the city’s Koukaki neighbourhood, Void was an immediate success as an outlet for local artists when it broke onto the photobook scene in 2016. Its rapid evolution since then feels more rooted in a lifetime of experience, rather than half a decade’s growth. Void’s co-founders, Myrto Steirou and Sylvia Sachini (plus third member João Linneu, who lives in Lisbon), learned about paper stocks and bookbinding through YouTube and forums in the internet’s niche pockets. These days they put together shows and programming while assembling books in the loft looking down on the exhibition space below.
The outfit is responsible for a number of major photobooks, including Paul Guilmoth and Dylan Hausthor’s Sleep Creek and Bérangère Fromont’s Except the Clouds. It is constantly searching for new ways to work with materials and innovate design – from zines, hard and soft-cover assemblages, newsprint, and special editions.
Void hosts a number of workshops – which shifted online throughout Athens’ numerous pandemic lockdowns – and the consistent attention to detail invariably results in attendees expanding their creativity. It is one of the only publishing houses in Athens focused exclusively on photobooks, and the high quality of the work also means it is a staple at art fairs around the world. You can drop into Void’s space to browse and purchase books – and you might even get a glimpse of the latest pages they are putting together
Assembling a collection of publications from around the world, The Athens Zine Bibliotheque is run by architect Panayiota Theofilatou and graphic designer Tassos Papaioannou [below], who operate a showroom and studio under the moniker These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things. Founded in 2014 with an Athens-based grant, the initiative maintains the accessibility of the duo’s evolving project by offering visiting hours to browse the expansive collection, which contains around 1000 titles and counting. In 2019, the pair relocated the library to their studio, itself representing the creative chaos of works-in-progress.
Papaioannou and Theofilatou have a particular affinity for photo- zines, so it is a great spot to visit and sift through publications you might not necessarily find at carefully curated photobook fairs. They also host zine-making workshops throughout the year, collaborating with other Athens- based collectives to put on exhibitions and promote self-publishing. Additionally, each summer the AZB exhibits its collection in Sikinos, an island in the Aegean where Theofilatou was raised. Post-lockdown, they will be gearing up to invite other collectors to exhibit in the city space.
This residency and commission programme for visual artists takes place at the Lucy Hotel in Kavala, a short flight from Athens. It is a good opportunity for photographic artists to complete a project and talk through their work with other specialists, who attend the event for several days of programming.
This independent bookstore is a firm favourite of book-lovers throughout the city. It stocks pre-loved titles, alongside self- published zines and art books.
A jam-packed bookstore that also functions as a beloved gallery, Fotagogos hosts exhibitions and launches for local publishers and artists.
Founded just a year before the pandemic hit, Zoetrope is an interdisciplinary artist-run space with photographic roots, established by creators Alexandra Saliba and Yorgos Yatromanolakis. Open calls for workshops and programming invite artists to venture outside their comfort zones, pitching idiosyncratic ideas that disregard the confines of white-cube precision. Zoetrope is most interested in engaging with artists’ ongoing works, holding gatherings on manual printing processes, research groups, and even hosting a makeshift radio show. It has a particular interest in forging a connection with the local area of Kypseli, and in breaking down the pretentious barriers to access that so many art institutions insist upon.
Zoetrope also contains a comprehensive and steadily expanding library of Greek self-published artist books. After engaging with a wide selection of artists, printers and collectors to gauge the self-publishing networks of the city, the organisation recognised the need for a physical reference space for this type of work. So they began gathering single and small-run books that had been hidden away in drawers, houses and private collections. This art book library is available for visitors to view in the space, either during a workshop, exhibition, or simply while passing through the friendly neighbourhood.
This newfound publishing project explores the Aegean archipelago through experimental writing, engaging with Greece’s imagery and landscapes through a
Little Tree Books & Coffee
If you need some respite from the Acropolis hordes, venture through Koukaki to Little Tree, a bookshop selling vintage publications, Greek books, English translations of Greek titles, plus delicious coffee and snacks.
Below artist Nikolas Ventourakis’ studio is a small cave, where he and his close friend Christian Oxenius curate one-person shows that connect with the city’s subterranean universe. Since 2019, they have invited young and mid-career artists to engage with the space, brought together in thematic groupings. Exhibited creators have included performance artists and choreographers, sound and visual artists, film and video practitioners, as well as photographers from Greece and abroad. The confinement
of the cave gives artists the opportunity to reimagine their work, confronting how contemporary materials might interact with the natural world.
So far, Ventourakis and Oxenius have curated two series, containing four artists each. The first, which included Markella Manoliadi, Vahit Tuna, Jeanno Gaussi, and Ventourakis himself, engaged with the problematic effects of urbanisation on the imaginary, under the title The Smith and the Cave. The second series, Nurseries of the Unconscious: Desiring-productions and Group Fantasies, allowed artists Augustus Veinoglou, Kostis Velonis, Hera Büyüktaşciyan, and Viktorija Rybakova to inhabit the space for one day each – a nod to itinerant communities and refuge.
As with the other initiatives listed throughout these pages, the pandemic has problematised tight spaces. Nonetheless, A Hollow Place is planning its next programme for whenever the lockdown permits, and it will include photography. The immersive experience is like a journey to the underworld, and only one person can fit in at a time, so once work is installed, visits are by appointment only.
In the lead-up to their graduation from the Athens School of Fine Arts in 2015, Vasilis Papageorgiou and Danai Giannoglou found themselves rethinking the expansive garage storage they were slowly filling with artworks from the school’s studios. Many of us are familiar with the post-graduate uncertainty of art world jobs, but Giannoglou and Papageorgiou used this instability to lay the foundations of Enterprise Projects (EP), an exhibition space and publishing initiative that engages with criticism and creativity
in the Greek context. Their online journal is available for download via the website, free to print out, use and interpret. Reading groups and events are similarly immersive, always including participatory aspects that distinguish them from passive installations.
While the programming might include photography, EP is a perfect example of Athens’ prioritisation of message over medium. After living in a number of different cities, both Giannoglou and Papageorgiou assert that their space’s resistance to narrow categorisation could only exist in Athens. Situated in a predominantly residential area, Enterprise Projects is not a place that a visitor might chance upon, making planning a necessity. It is, however, only 500m away from The Athens Zine Bibliotheque, so a trip to the neighbourhood offers a brace of attractions.
Athens Museum of Queer Arts
An ever-changing initiative with a heavy focus on performance and public programming, AMOQA places Athens’ vibrant queer community centre stage as an integral part of the city’s art scene.
Athens Art Book Fair
The pandemic has stalled the potential of bustling events, but in normal times the Athens Art Book Fair takes place each summer, shining a spotlight on Greek book publishers, as well as others from the Balkans, including many mentioned on these pages.
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