THE ΤΕΛΟΣ SOCIETY speaks to Kostas Prapoglou, Founder | Creator of artefact athens
artefact athens is an independent non-profit arts organization and the brainchild of Dr. Kostas Prapoglou, archaeologist-architect, contemporary art critic and curator. Having developed a keen interest in notions of transnational and transhistorical perspectives, his curatorial practice investigates the ongoing discourse of socio-political parameters that are embedded in continuously emerging paradigms of ancient and contemporary cross-cultural mythologies.
artefact athens engages with the work of artists based in every corner of the world, whose practice channels innovative ideas echoing the temporality of human consciousness and investigates the landscape of multifaceted socio-cultural environments. Reflecting upon the world and our relation to it, each project is a survey of corporeality and ephemerality under the prism of our subjective perception of reality, the volatility of quotidian balances and information warfare.
We place emphasis on paramount issues that constantly reshape our present and future self such as ecology and climate change, technological transformation and advancement, economic meltdown and hardship, pandemic crises, food politics, interpersonal relationships, human mobility, facets of heritage and functional linguistic perspectives.
Site/time-specificity and context-responsiveness lie within the immediate interests of artefact athens. While we are interested in independent artistic practices, we simultaneously embrace the possibility to see these move forward, further develop and play a key part in a new-born concept; like an organ within a living organism, a single move in a choreography that redefines the architecture of life itself.
We believe that activating an abandoned building or a muted location progressively renders a gaze that focuses both backward and forward, inward and outward. It unfolds the ability to re-think beyond the boundaries of a conventional or institutional space and liberate the creative spirit. We also give a new pulse to those living entities and a second chance to breathe and speak about their history through the language of artistic praxis.
Our concepts and modus operandi surface and are defined in relation to the emergencies of our current time and the narrative each hosting venue conceals. Artists are invited to respond utilizing their cross-disciplinary visual vocabulary through installations, video, soundscapes, sculpture, painting, photography and performance. We envisage their work as an agent giving birth to a taxonomy of possibilities with human existence as the protagonist, undergoing a constant battle with time and space.
Our mission is to acknowledge and address the significance of contemporary art in today’s culture and empower its presence as a tool for viewing, reimagining and experiencing life. We seek to collectively unpack its true meaning layer after layer, devise a mental territory for limitless and unconditional dreaming and mediate the dialectics of emotion and desire.
We support knowledge production and critical exchange that disrupt and expand the margins between disciplines. At the same time, we focus on diverse frameworks that interconnect the arts, humanities, technology and social sciences.
Georgia Kotretsos: On the one hand, you have written for an array of international art publications on established artists whose work is shown predominately in venues around the world, yet when you put on your curatorial hat in Athens, you bring to light the creative potential imbedded in site-specificity. Why do you elbow your way away from the pervasive institutional white cubes available in the city? What motivates this methodical effort of carving out ‘space’ by introducing new sites of and for creative contemplation in the 3D?
Kostas Prapoglou: I have an ongoing interest in engaging in dialogue with numerous artists around the world, whose diverse mediums, practices and materials reflect their diverse perception of contemporary reality. Focusing on their practice and the ways international audiences understand their visual lexicon, I explore aspects of socio-cultural narratives and [inter]personal mythologies. Whereas the work of these artists has predominantly been exhibited at institutional venues and commercial gallery spaces, I tend to relate to those, whose vision also involves site-specificity one way or another and to those who have also exhibited (or express the interest in exhibiting) at alternative non-institutional locations at some point during their career. This unfolds a pivotal meaning for my own curatorial practice, and I guess my background in archaeology has much to do with that. Athens is a unique terrain, whose situation in the last decades has left behind a large building stock of architectural gems, ranging from neoclassical buildings to fine examples of industrial and modernist heritage. With their majority being abandoned and left to the merciless forces of time by their owners as well as the state, I instantly realised that several of these locations may well transform into temporary exhibition spaces. Such ephemeral reactivation through contemporary artistic praxis plays a principle role in the understanding of our urban surroundings, the remembrance and the re-realisation of our collective cultural and social past. By introducing ‘new’ sites not only to the Athenian but also to a wider –international– scene, we (the participating artists and me as a curator) give voice to muted entities, which get their second chance –even for a brief moment in our contemporary reality– to breathe again and speak about their past and history through the visual language of contemporary art. Site-specificity and context-responsiveness are paramount elements in my curatorial exercise, which I principally see developing within architecturally and historically charged domains.
GK: Pardon me for only catching up with your vision two years ago on the occasion of the [un]known destinations, Shell // the politics of being, at the 15th High School of Kypseli, Athens; followed by the [un]known destinations chapter III: reconnection – a second chance, in 2019, at St. George Square, Kypseli; and culminated in the pre-pandemic era with the +9 in 2019, at 18-20 Iera Odos, Kerameikos, Athens. May you please walk us through the aforementioned exhibitions and especially the +9, which seems to be the most layered in terms of historicities corresponding to different eras?
KP: The series of the [un]known destinations exhibitions embarked in 2017 in Kypseli, a historical area of central Athens characterized by architectural magnificence, which sadly in the past decades became the victim of the socio-economic and cultural crisis that hit Greece. This includes, amongst others, outstanding examples of urban architecture that were once associated with individuals and events of significant historical and social status. The first chapter of this exhibition series took place at a former 1924 residence –sealed off for over four decades – with the participation of seven artists. [un]known destinations chapter II: shell // the politics of being came about in 2018 at the astonishing eclectic building of today’s 15th Athens High School with the participation of 21 artists. This massive structure was initially founded in the early 20th century as an Italian nun’s convent school of the Dominican Order, transformed into a hospital for the German occupation forces in 1943, while two years later the building was handed over to the Greek Air Force to become the General Hospital of the Royal Air Force until 1976. In 2019, [un]known destinations chapter III: reconnection -- a second chance occupied five different venues (a 1924 residence, a former grocery store, a former furniture shop, a 1950’s apartment and a Catholic church) with 29 participating artists. The imprint of the passage of one century over the bodies of the buildings reshaped an existing conceptual background, through which I saw all of them as a shell of a narrative that lends its inner self to the ravages of time and human mobility. The surfacing of spatial interference or disruption is primarily linked to human will, inscribing noetic and ontological processes. At the same time, this series of exhibitions generate a noetic thread, interlinking all buildings together and re-introducing them all back on today’s map as fragments of a bygone era. It emerges as a survey embracing aspects of our own existence and its ability to activate self-healing mechanisms. In 2019, another large-scale show took place but this time in a different –more layered– district in Athens, that of the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos. For +9, I chose an industrial building functioning as a Greek pop-culture music venue situated on the axis of the ancient Hiera Hodos (Sacred Way) linking Athens with Eleusis, where the Eleusinian Mysteries happened in antiquity. The area of the exhibition building lies nine metres above the funerary monuments of prominent Athenians (translated into ca 2,500 years of history). My concept negotiated notions with clear references to antiquity yet liberated from an obsessive fixation on the ancient world. It took into consideration every single metre of evolution but also speculated on all possible nine metres of history that could follow. The surfacing of a utopian condition brought forth the imaginary, flirting at the same time with the idea of passage and transition. A dialogue between 16 artists emerged between realities and it was activated through a crack in spacetime, a crevice that [inter]connected the worlds in one breath; that role was vividly played by the exhibition venue itself. The transformation of the urban habitat through literal and metaphorical backfills embodied ideas of [dis]semblance, voidance, disdain, corrosion of memory and the empowerment of an [inter]personal mythology and fiction as well as the fabrication of an in-progress identity. The repertoire of an ever changing political, religious and cultural condition was inscribed not only within the historical continuity of the chosen locus but also within a flux of a conscious construction, deconstruction and conflict. Our ancient roots always lying underneath our feet are embedded in our own identity and that was one of my main exploration objectives for this show.
GK: How has the crisis of 2020 affected the program of artefact athens? What will your next move be, where will the next curatorial carving occur in terms of time and site?
KP: The pandemic crisis of 2020 bizarrely caught me right in the middle of working on a new large-scale project that negotiates notions of the inside and the outside, and the multifaceted ways we observe and understand ourselves through time and space. All invited artists –some 35 of them– were astounded by how such a concept was introduced months before the pandemic hit us and we all eventually ended up in lockdown. Although the scheduled time for the show was September 2020, moving it to 2021 seems now more topical than any of us could ever imagine back in January. So, I would dare to say that for this particular project, the crisis has actually accelerated artistic process towards further understanding the meaning of mental and corporeal confinement, filtered through the identification of actual space.
artefact athens currently explores options and possibilities involving an overseas project related to cultural heritage sites, associated with the ancient and more recent past. Covid permitting, the end of 2021 will also see the fourth edition of [un]known destinations, engaging once again with site-specific works by artists from all generations responding to another thought-provoking concept that will connect Kypseli with its –perhaps more– distant past.