THE ΤΕΛΟΣ SOCIETY speaks to Greg Haji Joannides, Founder and Creative Director of STERNA
STERNA, founded in 2014 by artist Greg Haji Joannides, is an interdisciplinary non-profit organization whose purpose is to foster and nurture the creative expression of artists while challenging perceptions of what constitutes contemporary visual culture. The Sterna Art Project is designed as an active site, a space for artists to converge through its residency programs, workshops, meetings and exhibitions throughout the whole year in various spaces around the island. The organization places a strong emphasis on the location of the residency in Nisyros and works actively to make a compelling connection between the resident artists and the island, its residents and the existing cultural events.
Georgia Kotretsos: STERNA is situated at the volcanic island of Nisyros in the Dodecanese, that in itself is enough of a contextual turn on fated to arouse a contemplative-state-of-being in any artist. What are some of the unforeseen poetics of STERNA in regards to being in-place, thinking in-place, and creating in-place?
Greg Haji Joannides: I would say it is always the “behind the scenes” situations connecting with the locals either for the production of a piece or an exhibition, or, participation, influence, sharing etc. Some big dinners organized by the artists as a thank you to the locals, or taverna gatherings organized by the locals to say goodbye to an artist leaving in a few days. I am sure that each artist gets different things from such events but I personally get the connection with the community.
GK: Over the years, STERNA’s commitment of producing all artworks in Nisyros, or otherwise engage with the local community for the realization of its projects. This practice brings to mind a personal favorite, Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach. STERNA seems to serve as the adhesive between the land, the artists and the local residents. An adhesive so strong, artists return upon the culmination of the residency to work in Nisyros on their own. What are you doing right? And, how are you sustaining both STERNA and the interest?
GHJ: I would say it is Nisyros that makes it right and sustainable. I am just here to share it. Meaning, that the environment, physical/natural and human/local society create an inspiring and unique experience that most of us haven’t had before or if we have we tend to forget drawn in a city’s routine. I admit that sometimes I stick to the classics; an artist-in-residency program used to be the idea that an artist is spending a period of time in an environment completely different than his/her routine and was mainly related to the periphery, the countryside. In an era where artist-in-residency programs can happen even for one day wherever in the world (more and more in the city lately) I understand the importance of clearing up our mind from the routine, minimize destruction and connect to the place and the time. A kind of empathy for our own self.
GK: How does a residency program evolve? And, what does it evolve to? Over the phone you put emphasis in creating time – χρόνος for the artists-in-residence, in a time-capsule sense where one is wedged between the now – life, and contemplative time. How important are environments and programs that act as intellectual havens and mental rest-stops for the creative process? How could this ever be communicated to an object-driven and outcome-driven art world? What will it take to introduce new habits of doing to the already not-so-well-oiled public or/and private funding Greek mechanism?
GHJ: As I mentioned before, nowadays, residency programs can have any format with huge deviation on the duration or the environment that take place. I am not sure if this is bad but I am not sure if it is good either. Unfortunately, in our fast way of living there isn’t much time and availability for mental rest-stops as you perfectly mention. At the same time, the production oriented world requires to see the results of a residency right away. I think (and I have practically seen) that in any case, an artist that would be in residency whichever amount of time, wherever in the world, is going to create out of this experience. It doesn’t matter if it is going to be right at the end of the residency period or six months later. The outcome will come for sure. So, in this fast way of living and producing I would say that these mental rest-stops could result and produce a more concrete, different result that could even be a luxury “product” at the end. Since everything is going to become the same, hopefully STERNA will stand out…