Dimitra Chanioti

Interview: Evanna Venardou | Photo: Nikos Zappas

Haven’t you just had enough of art illiteracy?

Dimitra Chanioti, one of the most interesting visual artists of the new generation, spoke to Parola about art ant the experience of teaching. Daughter of an art-loving confectioner and mother to an eight-year old girl who often joins her in her painting sessions, Dimitra Chanioti has aspired to become an artist ever since she can remember herself. “I was influenced by family friend Nikos Katsouros. Paintings by him hung in our home and I used to watch him labouring away on his canvas in this very studio for hours on end,” she remembers.

An established visual artist today, the Parian painter and school teacher is preparing for Art Athina (4-7/6) working on her new project entitled “Power” that is due to be displayed in Technochoros Gallery: a giant monobloc plastic chair covered with a doily casting its shadow on a sheet metal fenced-in Greek parliament.

What does the anonymous, cheap monobloc chair stand for in present-day Greece?
The common garden chair is in constant flux; it has no home base. In a sense, it embodies the opportunism of the Greek political scene, and, certainly, the self-interested office-seeking mindset that has been so pervasive in our society. In another work entitled “Diaploki” (illicit interweaving of political and media interests), I wonder who is pulling the strings in this country – and it’s not just politicians.

The feminine is ever-present in your works…
I find it intriguing as a symbol. I was very much inspired by Gorgon – an outstanding archaic sculpture exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Paros. With her dreadful gaze, Gorgon turned those who beheld her to stone, thus averting wrongdoing. I’ve also worked on the Nike concept – the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Paros sculptor Nikos Perantinos’s Nike. I’m interested in establishing a dialogue with the past; I also like Parian folk art, embroidery, the koufardikas (giant fennel – from koúfios, meaning hollow), a plant growing rampant in many parts of the island. I remind you that Prometheus stole the fire and carried it away hidden in the hollow of a fennel stalk. In Paros we say that when they are in full bloom, rain is on the way.

Is there anything at all about the island that is not quite to your liking?
In my work entitled “Landing” I was inspired by the dispersed settlement pattern all too prevalent today. One can see new houses popping up in the open fields across the rolling slopes of the island. This grieves me deeply. You know, Cycladic architecture has been all about moderation. It respects the landscape; it is integrated in its environment and does not abuse it. Fortunately, things are now more under control due to the crisis. The crisis is not necessarily a bad thing…

Are there many artists based here in Paros?
Yes, quite a few. Coincidentally, the subject of my thesis was “Visual artists who have been active in Paros from 1950 until today.” I registered 99 artists: 48 foreigners (mostly Europeans, some Americans, plus one Asian) and 51 Greeks (who have been living on the island for at least the last ten years). The ’50s and the ’60s were challenging times. But from the late ’60s, when the Aegean Center of Fine Arts was established, onwards, there’s been a real buzz going on.

You teach art in public schools. What do you think of art education today?
Currently, I teach in a primary school. I just love working with young children. We must do away with art illiteracy. In the past, they would give the kids a photocopied handout and ask them to fill in the spaces. So, in year 1 of secondary school, we had to start from scratch. Fortunately, for the past two years, a welcome breeze of fresh thinking has been blowing in, and art, music and theatre studies made it into the primary education curriculum. And this is very important because, when you’re so young you’re more receptive.

You’re also into photography. I’d say you’re even more daring in your photos.
I’ve made a series of photographs entitled “Body games.” Indeed, some of them display female bodies alongside snails and lizards. I play with the armpit and the navel, in ways that make them appear threatening sometimes, or wake up the senses.

Summer 2015