THE ΤΕΛΟΣ SOCIETY speaks to Iordanis Kerenidis and Piergiorgio Pepe, Co-Founding Directors of Phenomenon
Aggelika Mitsiou, Director Greece
Myrto Katsimicha, Project Manager
Phenomenon is a biennial project for contemporary art held in the Aegean island of Anafi, Greece, that includes an artist residency on the island as well as an exhibition and a series of public programs, such as performances, lectures, video screenings and other events throughout the island. It is organized by the Association Phenomenon and the Collection Kerenidis Pepe. According to Apollonius Rhodius’ “Argonautica”, the island was named Anafi because Apollo made it appear to the Argonauts as a shelter in a dark night, using his bow to shed light (Aνάφη is derived from ανέφηνεν, "appeared”, the same root as phenomenon). The first edition of Phenomenon explored how notions of visibility/invisibility are formed through light, language and memory. The second edition looked at how histories, collective and personal, are socially constructed and constantly renegotiated. The third edition investigated the role of art in times of political urgency.
The invited participants of the first three editions are: Ignasi Aballi, Eva Barto, Kostas Bassanos, Gregory Castera, Alejandro Cesarco, Jason Dodge, Theodora Domenech, Daniel Gustav Cramer, Angela Detanico.Rafael Lain, Haris Epaminonda, Paul Feigelfeld, Dora Garcia, Mario Garcia Torres, David Horvitz, Kostas Ioannidis, Florence Jung, Lenio Kaklea, Stelios Kallinikou, Margaret Kenna, Chrysanthi Koumianaki, Jochen Lempert, Eileen Myles, Deimantas Narkevičius, Julien Nédélec, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Nina Papaconstantinou, Vittorio Santoro, Wendy Tronrud, Paky Vlassopoulou.
Georgia Kotretsos: It is one thing to collect art and another being invested in art; its creative process; and the stage where it is unveiled to the public. May you please discuss what propelled Phenomenon to ‘appear’ in the first place and then to ‘re-appear’ over and over again in the midst of an economic recession in Greece? What are the factors sustaining its growth and your interest?
Iordanis Kerenidis and Piergiorgio Pepe: Initially, the idea of Phenomenon appeared to us while we were in Anafi for holidays in 2014, discussing what it would mean for collecting contemporary art, and in particular art that plays with the notions of (in)visibility through light and language, to become a more public and socially engaged practice. At that point, we read about the myth of the Argonauts and Apollo rendering Anafi visible through his arrow to save them from the dark night in the Aegean. Somehow in that moment, things started taking form, and have kept going on since then. We have started researching on all the (in)visible histories of Anafi, from the antiquity, to the exiles, to the current socioeconomic state of the island. There are so many stories to unearth, to render visible, to renegotiate together with the locals that we feel this journey has just begun. Anafi has always been the starting point for all our inquiries and research, which of course starting from local considerations delve into more general questions about visibility, marginality, histories, and how art can be seen as a strategy to reimagine a more just society.
GK: Anthropologist, Margaret E. Kenna’s work on Anafi, seems to have informed Phenomenon 1, 2 & 3. Her work is an invaluable asset and tool for artists working in-situ and also one you wisely assumed into the conceptual framework of what Anafi as a site was, is or could become. In a Bergsonian sense the virtuality of becoming is a durational manifestation of each Phenomenon stretched out in re-modulated compressed layered time. What are some of the stages of becoming you have encountered over the years in the participating artists in relation to the site?
IK|PP: We are very interested in the notion of becoming, not as a linear progress towards success, but as a constant reshaping of the past, the present and the future. Becomings are potential, contingent, never fixed, as are the connections, the entanglements that are created between the participants of the project throughout the years. Many projects that occur during Phenomenon have to do with the local histories and geographies, that get explored anew, looked at differently, becoming unstable, reinvented, and constantly evolving. There are also many projects, exhibitions, artworks, collaborations that spring from Phenomenon, especially because the dichotomy of time for work/time for leisure gets bruised and opens up to new creative temporalities. In the end, Phenomenon acts as a catalyst for people to imagine new ways of being and of working together, counteracting notions of productivity, and progress, towards new economies of sharing, caring, desiring.
GK: Please pardon my assumption, but a creative gesture of this scale without the blessings of the local authorities and community, could have been indeed short-lived. In your case you have chosen to closely work with the Municipality as well as to engage through your program with every sector of the island. Phenomenon literary breathes new life into the landscape and its people. What does it take to synch up all parties involved and what goals do you set after each Phenomenon for the next?
IK|PP: Our constant questioning from the beginning of the project was how to ensure that Phenomenon becomes a project where the locals, the visitors, everyone, would find worth interacting with, in differing and creative ways. By working directly with the artists, by taking part in the events, by talking to each other about it, by helping Phenomenon, ignoring it, questioning it, liking/disliking parts of it, etc. We wanted to avoid any notion of us being there to “teach” the locals (about contemporary art), or to “learn” from them (about the island life). Phenomenon brings together a heterogeneous group of people that share this common experience at a given place and at a given time. In this sense, there is nothing to synchronize, there is just the need and the will to be open to experience and experiment. Our goal, at a personal level, is to continue growing and caring for a community of people, including locals and participants, that has made this journey the brightest one we could have imagined.