THE ΤΕΛΟΣ SOCIETY speaks to Evi Roumani, Director of ammophila
Ammophila contemporary art exhibition is a yearly visual arts project located in Elafonisos island, Lakonia. The exhibition aims to function as a living organism that constantly expands and at the same time promotes contemporary artistic creation. The exhibition is open to all artistic practice (painting, sculpture, installation, video art, performance, lectures etc.) and encourages experimental approaches in a creative context. Ammophila is an invitation to meet, discourse, exchange views between artists, writers and the public in an idyllic location whilst recreating its character. Invited artists, young as well as established, will present their work to the diverse audience of a Greek island during summer. Our main scope is to create an environment, a ground, where artistic practice meets no limitations and a new cultural place of reference.
Ammophila takes its name from a genus of plants with most common amongst species, ammophila arenaria. It grows from a network of thick rhizomes which give it a sturdy anchor in its sand substrate and allow it to spread upward as sand accumulates. The rhizomes tolerate submersion in sea water and can break off and float in the currents to establish the grass at new sites. As implied by its name, Ammophila aspires to establish contemporary art discourse in a new site, under new circumstances that are always reconfigured and expanding.
Georgia Kotretsos: Ammophila grass’ xerophytic adaptations allow for it to thrive under conditions most plants could not survive. Please discuss the process of transplanting to the Island of Elafonisos, artists who are called to make their natural habitat an arid contemporary cultural landscape? What sort of landscaping gesture has Ammophila been for you personally as well the participating artists?
Evi Roumani: Ammophila’s xerophytic nature implies great tolerance under difficult circumstances. Elafonisos has never hosted before a contemporary art exhibition and this can be challenging, triggering and liberating also. It is always, I believe, refreshing for an artist to be part of something new that is being formed by the artworks and the texts that accompany this gesture. And from the point of view of the director of this gesture, it can be frustrating not to have an already established background to fit into but mostly it is really productive and fruitful to create the circumstances, to discover how to make it, to not know what the outcome will be. Also, another very refreshing element was that the process itself and the circumstances we faced where the ones that guided us through the needs of the project. I mean that in a way that the experience of the making of it led us through what we should do for the ground to emerge, for the exhibition to fit in and challenge the daily routine of an idyllic and popular island. The arid contemporary art landscape was in a way very fertile because it created a field where almost anything can be possible.
GK: Ammophila involved the Municipality of Elafonisos, and secured financial support, which shatters pervasive stereotypes among the art community of how authorities of the periphery may respond to such endavors. Furthermore, Ammophila’s extrovert nature took place at the local school directly assuming the aesthetic and context of the island’s every day life. What are the required conditions for creating a symbiotic environment from the get go?
ER: The first step for attempting such a symbiosis is just the attempt itself. By trying to create the right and symbiotic environment between the island’s local communities, the diverse and wide contemporary art communities one is facing a configuration process, a field of endless possibilities that for our case were always full of pleasant surprises. On the one hand all the participants were more than eager and enthusiastic for this initiative and on the other hand the local authorities were more than hospitable, supportive and embraced our initiative in various ways. Starting from practical support, providing the space, to being present and interested in exploring the exhibition and engaging in the discourse initiated by the artworks and texts. Overall, it was a great moment seeing the students of the school coming by and watching their very familiar space (of the school) being transformed into an exhibition space. Also, in this manner, by setting up the exhibition in a public space as this of the school, the gesture of attempting an symbiosis of the aforementioned communities becomes all the most direct. It is a space lived as well as connected with personal and collective memories on behalf of the local community, and by seeing it being transformed into an art exhibition space new images and memories are generated that are shared between the people of the island, the tourists and the participants. What we have then, is a new ground shared and common, a common experience that is travelling in a way, as an image does, within all the people involved that opens up the potentiality of a new collective.
GK: It takes trickery to make it all appear easy. Is there always a bigger dream, a greater mission, and an ambition to keep this stubborn creative flora alive? What will it take to keep Ammophila in their place?
ER: Ammophila will continue first of all thanks to the artists and writers that are willing to engage in this initiative. Another very important part is the support of the Municipality and local authorities. Although, we have to say that Ammophila’s xerophytic nature, as we discussed, suggests that Ammophila is here to stay and grow under any circumstances. Of course, our ambition is not just to continue but also to expand. We aspire to expand in any possible way, as ammophila plants do, and form a cultural landmark of the South. For this context we are looking towards many collaborations with other initiatives as well as engaging all the more the very fresh, the underviewed and also the well-established artistic production in a way that they all together form a unique experience.