By Deligina Prifti.
Have you ever noticed the fascination most of us have when it comes to artists’ homes or studios? People flock each spring to see Monet’s home in Giverny or wait in lines to walk on the unmistakable drippings of Jackson Pollock in East Hampton. When Vincent Van Gogh found his “perfect” Yellow House back in 1888, he refurnished it, made it “appropriate for working indoors” and invited his friend, Paul Gaugin to join him. Little did he know that he set the foundations of what is now known as an artist residency.
Nowadays art residencies have become a vital component of the contemporary art scene whose design and function is widely varied: from a residency at Cern to an effort of creating a dialogue with Syrian contemporary artists, the concept of the art residency seems to be more present and fertile than ever before.
Why do we connect though the architectural and decorative environment of an artist with his work so closely? In the case of art residencies what difference does it make to an artist’s production to inhabit a foreign space and how much is a residency affected by the presence of each artist?
Let’s us discuss about a singular non-profit arts organization which acts, among other things, as an artists’ residency, ARCH.
ARCH was founded a few months ago and is located at the heart of Athens, in an even distance between Syntagma Square and Acropolis. Its name was partly given due to the Arch of Hadrian that is right across the street. Personally, I cannot help myself and point out the ingenious hint of the organization’s multifunctional disciplines. Allow me to elaborate.
It was not long ago when we visited ARCH and came across a concept somehow unheard of in our Athenian reality; a threefold concept, to be precise, whose diverse functions are reflected in the building per se. Each of the floors houses a different space: on the ground floor there is the exhibition space and an outdoor area, on the first floor we find the library and the lecture rooms and, finally, the second floor operates as a fully equipped residency for guest artists.
It was a sight to behold on many different levels. First of all, the historical townhouse, which stands as a remain of the modernist golden era of the 1930’s, turned into an insightful case study of harmonious coexistence among diverse time periods and materials. Concrete, glass, metal and clay are some of the elements which create an architectural coexistence of light and functionality. The architects responsible for this innovative design where Katerina Vordoni and Fania Sinanioti of VOIS Architects in Athens.
Overall, whilst each floor bears its own aesthetic ambience, there is a strong sense of coherency in its structural entirety. The exhibition space welcomes the visitor in rooms of contemporary minimalism and tranquility, where the eye can wander both horizontally and vertically thanks to the high ceiling and marble floor. The first resident artist is Kelly Akashi featuring a show called “A thing among things”.
Her works came as the outcome of her two-month residency in Arch. A multidisciplinary array of objects made of wax, brass, stainless steel, marble, blown glass, accompanied by a selection of photographs, stimulated a dialogue around notions of time and locality. The Los Angeles-based artist creates an intricate, yet diverse, environment of forms and gestures through an interplay between her distinct stylistic expression with Greek traditional materials and techniques she discovered during her stay in Athens. Frankly, we thought the selection of the artist and the curation of the show allows the visitor to introduce himself to the space and to find triggering points of discourse with the artworks.
After having a moment or two in the gallery we decided to step outside. The outdoor patio helps the construction to “breathe” and features some bright notes of colour thanks to the ceramics commissioned by Andreas Melas. Overall, you are left with a sense of easygoing transition between indoor and outdoor space, both drenched in white bright light.
None of the above give the visitor a clue for what welcomes her/ him on the first floor. The library and lecture rooms are aesthetically beautiful. It felt like being invited to the loft of one of our idol curators or art historians somewhere in New York or Europe. There is indeed a sense of homeness provided by the wooden floors, the cozy armchairs and a mellow orange light which is diffused by the blinds. It is also worth mentioning the impressive collection of over 1.000 books and catalogues that solely concern modern and contemporary art.
These two floors left us considering issues of social identity: the public and anonymous role of a gallery visitor vs the eponymous and intimate guest of a residence. It made us feel mindful of our presence and even our posture which seems to slightly differentiate for the better.
ARCH managed to evoke questions focusing equally with the content of the exhibitions we visit, but also with the spaces that host them. I find that when the environment of artistic creation becomes the incubator of sincere practice and remains clear but not imposing in its intentions something profoundly personal and social awakes. To recite Le Corbusier this is when “Art enters in”.
Many thanks to ARCH and Myrto Kyritsi for their time and help.
5 Gkoura Street, Athens
Tuesday to Saturday (11am to 6pm) or by appointment