THE ΤΕΛΟΣ SOCIETY speaks to Joulia Strauss, Founder | Organizer of AVTONOMI AKADIMIA
Georgia Kotretsos: When AVTONOMI AKADIMIA first appeared in Athens, there was no other alternative educational platform of analogous light. Three points sum up the nature of your program a. free access, b. interculturalism, and c. an adisciplinarity. A university positioning itself opposite the traditional institutionalized academia. It stripped academia of its walls, it acknowledged the empirical knowledge of its faculty, and entered the garden of Akadimia Platonos with a cohort of local and international students. What motivated founding such a university in Athens and how has it evolved over the years?
Joulia Strauss: I moved to Athens many years ago to participate in the riots and to perform Ancient Greek hymns. I have been making 3d sculptures, which embody the pre-Socratic structures of knowledge; and the adisciplinary unity of art and science.
To be honest, it is not easy to step out, to abandon the appropriating principles of the illiberal democracy and to take the responsibility of creating a space for unity of art and philosophy. I am grateful to THE ΤΕΛΟΣ SOCIETY for uniting initiatives beyond the obvious schism of dispositive zombifications, towards a new world worth living. I’ve been driven and motivated by the environments created by others for me, and as a result I’ve grown as an artist through participatory experiences. What I am referring to is an educational initiatives beyond the known public or private commercially driven institutions, but about The New Academy of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. It was the first and independent Post-Perestroika queer community and art work – an unofficial community of the so-called “Berlin media theory”, where art and science formed a unity beyond the university, but in relation to the Cultural Studies Chair, the philosopher Friedrich Kittler. My initiation into this model was by running a space on art science, and by participating in artistic forms of protests around 2012 (often unified under the American term “Occupy”), but in its unique Berlin specifics based on the revolutions of 1968 and 1990s. On a more romantic note, in 1994, I opened my first exhibition in the Summer Garden in St. Petersburg. My sculptural portraits were exhibited next to copied of Ancient Greek statues. Luckily somebody mentioned to me that in Ancient Greece, an Academy took place in the garden. Teachers and students walked under the trees and shared knowledge. This image of an educational process has been with me for 20 years. In Athens, I've learned about the existence of Akadimia Platonos. Can you imagine the sense of wonder I experienced when I found out the garden is still exists, and that it hasn't been turned into an archaeological site? Of course, I had to start Akadimia there. One day, a tourist came and sat down with us, during a lecture by Prof. Leopard Luca Di Blasi. After the lecture, I've asked him how he found out about the lecture. His response says it all: “I looked at the map of Athens and saw “Akadimia Platonos”, so I went to the lecture.”
GK: The adiscipline aspect of your program interests me the most. What is primarily the curriculum content and focus of AVTONOMI AKADIMIA and what are the alternative methodologies you have already introduced to its courses?
JS: The curriculum of the Akadimia writes itself. It is based on the areas of knowledge the professors carry with them. Akadimia's epistemology is a vital narrative of surplus of political and artistic energy of a community of scholars who contribute lectures, seminars and workshops. The idea of free education and of the adisciplinary nature of our model has reached protagonists from all disciplines. We, ourselves embody the curriculum by adapting, by remaining flexible, and spontaneous, – we are an indispensable part of the curriculum of a university fit for the unprecedented times we are currently undergoing.
In the recent years, Akadimia has shifted its focus towards exemplifying an educational organisation in times of climate chance*. Two years ago, the “biggest shadow bank on earth”, BlackRock assets manager, attempted to turn the entire site of “Academy Gardens” into a shopping mall. Movements and communities around the garden, as well as the Athenian community at large, has been able to resist the proposed development. During the “BlackRock Protest Semester” we have been focused on environmental issues and on marginalised knowledge of indigenous communities all around the world. During the past two years, Akadimia focused on decolonising the Western concept of education towards indigenising the academy. Akadimia intertwines shamanic knowledge and occidental philosophy, rediscovers ancestral art practices and activist art.
Akadimia is not a pedagogical system. It sees learning as a mode of existence. Being together, in a refugee camp, whether at a museum, or in the jungle; in a demonstration and/or otherwise – our goal is to share modes of knowing and knowledge.
GK: Undeniably this endeavor calls for one to continuously adapt in an effort to remain apropos. After nearly a decade of operation, what are some of the lessons AVTONOMI AKADIMIA can contribute to this discussion from its own distinct pedagogical exercise?
JS: “There is no right life in the wrong one”. We know that we cannot escape the wrong life. We all depend on the switch from the perception of nature from a resource of an endless rape and destruction. Each of us can live in a transition to the world in which the humanoids re-integrate themselves as part of Gaia, the living zone of our planet. We can be the change, be down to earth, and respect natural world. I wish we could have started a perma-cultural farm together with the educational practices, and have combined it with the urban garden of Akadimia Platonos. We are now creating a legal entity of the Garden – to be best understood as a natural person under an gentrification attack. In Greek, the garden (ο κήπος) is of masculine gender. Therefore, we had to update it into the much needed jungle (η ζούγκλα), which is feminine.
Avtonomi Akadimia was called into existence to transform the educational system of Europe. It is a free access intercultural adisciplinary university in Athens. Akadimia is a constitutive form of protest and a perma-sculptural work of art.
The word “Akadimia”, now used to signify educational institutions, was originally just a public space in Athens. It was later given Plato’s moniker because he was teaching there. Plato’s “Politeia”, the militarised state, has pre-conditioned the Empire we still live in. Its invention of nations and borders remains the main tool of oppression. By re-writing the “Politeia” we enact a surgical intervention to overcome the political ideology of binary oppositions precisely at the spot from where it all went wrong. After more than two thousand years of exclusion, art gains its role of a compass for society anew.
It practices the sharing of knowledge by inviting artists, philosophers, scientists, shamans and activists to be involved in a long-term deep exchanges with a world-wide community of participants. This continuous action of the so-called activist art is a constitutive form of protest as university. It aims to transform our educational system from the regime of punishment into joyful experience of enfolding our creative potential.
Seminars, artist talks, lectures, gatherings, screenings and spontaneous activities are instigated in the Akadimia Garden, as well as within exhibitions, festivals and public spaces of Athens, Berlin, Kassel, Bergen, or Kyiv, and more.