Photos: Marianna Verigaki
Your work always seems to bear a commentary on current affairs, what’s going on on politics. Do you do some research before you visit a country? Do you read the newspapers, or watch the news?
Usually I don’t do research beforehand because I have no time and I cannot focus. But during the last ten years I’ve been doing the same practice and I was watching what was going in politics and economics, so I am familiar with the majority of the European issues. And of course in this particular case, Greece, I knew beforehand a lot of the staff because it was all over the media, all the time. However, I am just using the news and the quotidian facts as a pretext, like food for thought. My mission is not to transform every event into some kind of image. Some of my drawings are related to a specific event, but some are more general. The 'news' are very ephemeral. Like, you publish something today and the next day nobody cares.
We are all in a flux of events and we go along with this flux. I try to extract some topics or issues for reflection that are here to stay for a while. Half of my drawings are from older projects but I re-draw them because they are still at stake. My sources of inspiration sometimes come from the media, tv or newspapers, and sometimes from discussions I have with people or from simple observation in the streets. But I’m not obsessed to get all the news, I’m not obsessed to be right. I simply select some topics and transform them to what might be labelled as contemporary art.
You say that everything changes and is ephemeral. Your drawings too are ephemeral, as they are 'destroyed' after every exhibition. Is there a relation between these two?
Yes, they're part of this idea. Everything is ephemeral, everything comes to an end. For example, nobody remembers the news from 4 years ago. But some events have timeless elements, or something that still applies today. That’s why I re-draw sometimes a drawing that I first created in 1995, for example. What I want to say is that even if everything is changing I can still 'recycle' a thought or an idea. Every place I draw is different, it provides a different context, there are different walls; so even if I do the same drawing it still will be unique. My idea of permanence is different, I don’t create masterpieces to be stored in a museum, I create 'situations'. I do not present facts, I present opinions. I try to establish a practice that gives me the freedom to act. There is no composition here, there is no list of things that I have to do. I don’t know if they refer more to Greece or the whole world. I don't know how many drawings I will make when I start working, I just work. My work is like jazz.
Your work is based on improvisation then?
Yes, I try to have a different kind of approach. People come to art spaces and they expect to see art. Art is a term which 50 years ago was defined in a different way. 50 years from now it will be different again, so about what are we talking?
The purpose of art is not to decorate a hotel or a living room, but to change the way that people think. I believe that's what I do, it is a very difficult mission, but also necessary.
You’ve been in the greatest art museums and galleries and now you are in a small space. Is it different for you? Is there a challenge?
In a way it is different, in a way it is not. Theoretically you are more free here. For example, in a museum you have to take into consideration that families with kids might also be coming so your discourse has to address a larger audience. And all art institutions have a lot of regulations. Here theoretically I can do whatever I want. But there is a different kind of responsibility, because this is a new place, they want to have a mission and this is a big responsibility for me to be part of it. This not only a space for art, this is a space for reflection and creativity. And it is really necessary in a city like this. It’s really essential. So this is not easy to have it on your shoulders. I really like to be part of the 'beginning' of this idea. These people have dreams, they want to do something…and you can’t get this feeling in big museums.
I noticed that since you came here you started posting photos of different aspects of Heraklion on facebook. Is this part of your project?
This is another part of my project: it is the fb part of my project. It is part of my research too. The pictures I take when I walk around are different from my drawings, but if you look at them together they make sense.
The things you observe in the streets also serve as an inspiration for your work?
Yes of course, some of them will translate into drawings. Sometimes – because I work only in black and white and this is restrictive- I like to photograph things that are colorful. I also notice the graffiti in the city. Almost every week I am in a different city, so I compare things. I let my self be visually impressed. And some of these impressions will be transformed into a drawing, not all of them. It is like language.
Social media give me the chance to post some things from the place I am and share them my friends, or people who follow me. In this way they can also see Heraklion, for example, through my eyes. And I don’t photograph the touristic attractions. I try to give another impression than the one you can see in travel guides.
'Mesogeios' is not just an art space but also a space for reflection and creativity. I really like to be part of the beginning of this idea...you can’t get this feeling in big museums.
So do you view social media as another mean to communicate with your audience?
It is another world and I like it very much. I think that what I do here with my drawings is a school of ideas. On facebook it is a school of 'seeing'. Perhaps I assist my friends on facebook to see things, in my own way.
Nevertheless you often criticize facebook in your drawings.
I criticize myself, the art, I criticize everything. I like facebook and social media very much, I think they offer a platform that was not available before. There are revolutions that sparked with social media. So you have the opportunity to either post a photograph your cat or you can start a revolution, it’s up to you how to use this tool. (and here we laugh as I tell him that I belong to the category of people who post cat photos!)
I see what people post on facebook, instagram and there are great images and extraordinary creativity everytwhere. So we should benefit from this. I am fascinated by technology, even though I am an 'old school' artist.
Is there elitism in art?
Art that costs 100.000 euro is elitist. Sometimes even entering a museum costs way too much. And I think there is a general need for art in society. I don’t understand why tv news only speak about politics, economics and football. That’s life? Fuck football! Give me books, shows, thoughts. We have to rethink the way we live.
There is a unique sense of humor in your drawings. Is it another tool to communicate your messages?
I don’t think the intention is to provoke laughter necessarily. Some of my drawings are really sad. I mix some which are funny with some which are more 'brutal'. I use humor sometimes because I was trained as an artist in a dictatorship and had no freedom to express. Humor was one more way to cope with the political situation. Furthermore, I find humor to be a valuable 'tool' just because most people think art should be 'serious'. Everything humorous, like for example a comic book, is often considered 'second class art'. I am against this logic. I use humor as a 'formula' to liberate myself from this kind of pressure imposed on artists.
Apart from an artist you are also an activist.
I don’t call myself an activist. My drawings can be activists. I am just a commentator of the world. I am not part of the action, I am outside and I observe it. I do not describe my self as a political artist, but perhaps as an artist with a political agenda. I am just observing society through a moral stand, I try to say what is good and what is wrong but I don’t try to impose my perceptions to anybody.
Your city is like my city, you have to defend every old building, you have to defend the right of communities because otherwise they’ll put hotels in your garden, so you have to defend the thinking of a living which is not for today.
Do you think that art can play an important role in societal change?
If I can change something in the way you think, that’s it. Don’t put on my shoulders as an artist the task to change the world completely. I will be happy if the people of Heraklion find my art interesting or if it will give them some ideas, it is enough.
You took an active stance against the gold mines of Rosia Montana in your country, a similar case as in Skouries, Greece (Chalkidiki). After the widespread reactions of the people and the recent developments on the matter, would you say you are an optimist or a pessimist?
Rosia Montana is a big problem in my country, probably here too. The facebook generation took the issue to the streets and it was one of the most effective protests I’ve ever seen in my country. I am an optimist and for example I think that the way people organized for Rosia Montana was absolutely fantastic. I am proud that I was a little part of this. Twenty five years ago I was part of the student occupation of the central square of Bucharest that lasted 3 months. But we stayed there and nobody cared about us. Now the protesters against the mine in Rosia Montana they occupied the center and marched every day in the neighbourhoods. That was fantastic because somehow they involved the rest of the society. We might succeed in this battle, but there will be other battles that we might lose. However, if you as a country don’t have the courage to resist they will come and steal everything from you.
What are your impressions of Heraklion?
I have mixed impressions, because they are filtered through the people I met. Heraklion is a mixture of old and new and it is quite interesting for me but I have to admit that everywhere I go is interesting for me. If you look around, even the most boring german town can be interesting. You just have to look.
In other words, you tend to focus on details – maybe because you are an artist.
Details make the big picture. I don’t only see the city, I meet people here, I drink raki with them, talk. All these experiences filter what I see. It is also a city with problems. The mélange of the past and the present is really complicated. But I see a lot of potential. Your city is like my city, you have to defend every old building, you have to defend the right of communities because otherwise they’ll put hotels in your garden. You have to defend a way of life that is not ephemeral.