Interview: Evanna Venardou | Photo: Nikos Zappas
Things are not only good to use, but also good to think about
For Natasa Biza, all it takes is a minor detail that would go unnoticed by the rest of us to stimulate an aesthetic insight, which in turn disrupts life’s balances, and awakens thinking. The distinguished artist studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts (under Professor Yannis Psychopedis) and the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. Her work has been featured in a number of solo and group exhibitions at home and abroad. Recently, she has been collaborating with the Visual Arts Workshop run by the Municipality of Paros.
Where do you draw your inspiration from in Paros?
Paros is my home place. It’s not easy to talk about a deeply-rooted love.
1,320 glasses mechanically vibrate, producing sound. What idea or feeling do you wish to convey to the public with this work?
You’re talking about Dexion 245-268, the sound installation presented in the Athens School of Fine Arts Master of Fine Arts Graduate Exhibition. This work could be described as follows: two tall rows of dexion metal shelves form a narrow corridor that invites you to wander in. Glasses of various sizes and shapes line the shelves. As visitors pass through, the glasses vibrate… This mild yet annoying tinkling sound awakens the senses, warns of the breakage limit of fragile objects, and blends with the visitors’ footsteps. The alien feeling of finding oneself in a space made up of finely-tuned balances arouses thoughts about personal relationships, about our very existence.
You’ve recently taken over the Visual Arts Workshop run by the Municipality of Paros. What are your expectations?
The purpose of the workshop is to bring people of all ages in touch with contemporary visual art thought, and give them proper motivation and guidance for their own creative vision. Apart from the pleasant respite such activities provide, they also offer people the opportunity to enhance their critical thinking skills, and open up new channels of communication and dialogue in our country in a way that only art can.
I’ve been working in the Visual Arts Workshop since 2003. From then on, very important steps were made by the whole team, until two years ago, when its operation was suspended. This year, although we got started in mid-year, the response we’re getting from the people is really great.
I hope the workshop will keep up its dynamic pace and creative growth.
What was your experience of the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts?
The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts is an excellent school that has been operating in Paros since 1966. Some very important work is done there, and, for me, participating in their team was a very creative experience.
What’s the purpose of contemporary visual art as you and your fellow-artists serve it – to shock, to impress, to sensitise?
None of the above, and yet all of them, probably. We, artists, have our own ways… Personally, I prefer to grapple with delicate balances (or, rather, imbalances), searching for truths that lie before our eyes, unsung everyday heroes, forgotten stories. If some awareness is raised, so much the better for all of us.
What’s it like to create and install a work of art in a village like Marpissa?
Three years ago, I had the pleasure to get in touch with the remarkable initiators and organisers of Routes in Marpissa and to engage in their endeavour.
The Routes is much more than a creative festival; it’s a good way to get people acquainted with the real Paros.
The work I created in Marpissa last year was entitled “Things are not only good to use, but also good to think about.”
In the small storage room/kitchen of a derelict house in the village, I put to use the methods of archaeology. I set out to bring to light information about the lives people led in the past, as attested by their material remains. To this end, I gathered, listed, indexed and archived the material at hand. Practices of everyday life, traces of every modest or massive yearning were found recorded in fragments of objects, newspaper clippings, calculations for a potential purchase, a travel ad, a lucky charm…
Survival anxieties of generations gone, dreams for a more comfortable, a bourgeois life, and opportunities for a better future emerged from the Marpissa “excavation”. The past had a familiar, and possibly topical, ring to it.
The group exhibition “Innocent categories. Suspicious narratives” has recently been hosted by the Contemporary Greek Art Institute (www.iset.gr), motivated by its archive. You were inspired by the first international sculpture exhibition held by the Greek National Tourism Organisation in 1965. What triggered your interest?
The Contemporary Greek Art Institute aims to record the development of visual arts in Greece from 1945 to present day.
I was invited to take part in the exhibition “Innocent categories. Suspicious narratives – Archive Rights III,” by curator Elpida Karaba in order to study the Institute’s archive and, through my research, produce a project which would, in turn, find a place in its archive.
I was intrigued by the First International Sculpture Exhibition held by the Greek National Tourism Organisation in Filopappou Hill, Athens, in 1965, and curated by Tony Spiteris: an ambitious cultural project in a turbulent sociopolitical environment.
During my research, I found myself faced with an art archive’s failure to document the manifold facets of historical events in their full entirety. So I turned to other archives: the daily press and the Library of Parliament archives. The unstable political climate of the era was recorded, both in the Parliament minutes and in their absence – minutes were missing for the fifteen-day period (the July Events) during which the Parliament remained closed.
With the work I presented in the exhibition, I focused on data discontinuities such as the above, which I made up for with material from other sources to fill in the inevitable gaps of archival documentation.
With this strategy, I tried to approach questions, rather than answers, as to how history is written and received.
Can you give us a brief tour of the archaeological park of the Athenian Agora, where you presented the installation “Planting Plan”?
In recent years, my works have been triggered by archival research.
“Planting plan,” was based on the archive of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.
As it’s well known, its archaeologists undertook the excavation of the ancient forum of Athens, which necessitated the demolition of 400 houses. As soon as that project was completed, the American School embarked on landscaping the archaeological site in the 1950s, through the restoration of the ancient floral landscape by planting endemic species. On one of my visits to the park, I saw new plants that had found their way into Greece centuries later, so I came up with the concept/desire of this project. On later visits I made accompanied by a specialised agronomist, I identified their names and origins. I then went on to enact a performance action on the site, during which I placed plaques bearing their names, thus restoring their identity.
At the same time, I made similar interventions (“data planting,” so to speak) in Garden Lore of Ancient Athens, a book published by the American School in 1963 and still available for purchase by visitors, which maps the flora of the region in classical times, as documented in historical records. With this project, the issues I explore relate to the concept of identity, the power of the institutions, and the policies of classification, archiving and identification they adopt.
This work was presented in the exhibition “The Other designs. Historical authenticity as artistic project” held at Beton7 Art Centre in Athens last October, and curated by Heiko Schmid and Kostis Stafylakis, under the auspices of the Swiss Embassy in Greece.
Would you like to tell us about your future plans?
Currently, I’m working on a project for the Onassis Cultural Centre, a parallel action that is to be presented in the exhibition “Strange cities”, co-created with Zafos Xagoraris, teacher Magda Dasakli, journalist Argiro Bozoni and director Emilia Milou, in collaboration with the art department of Kaminia Secondary School, dealing with the importance of “strange” cities.
I’m also preparing a project for the exhibition “Twisting C(r)ash,” due to be held in Geneva in October under the curation of Stafylakis, Vana Kostagiolas, Séverin Guelpa and Madeleine Amsler.