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Artemis Alcalay takes her houses out for a stroll in Athens

A great artist who studied under Yiannis Moralis and Dimitris Mytaras talks to Propaganda about her latest project which transubstantiated into a book.

by Giota Panagiotou

Translation: Celia May

Not long ago, one summer afternoon a conversation flared up amongst friends on the subject of the archetypal role of the ‘home’ in the lives and memories of people (or more simply why do we unconsciously draw this shape which joins a triangle with a square and then a chimney). This conversation was stimulated by a book- a visual tribute by Artemis Alcalay titled “Home: a wandering”. Artemis, is an artist who studied Painting at the Athens School of Fine Arts under Yannis Moralis, Dimitris Mytaras and Vassilis Vassiliades and in an interview she gave to, was happy to answer all the questions posed at that friendly gathering, since her work revolves around the ‘home’ in a very profound and personal way.

Would you like to tell me about the course of your work?

I was born in Athens and studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts. I continued with post-graduate studies in studio art in Venice and New York, at New York University, while also taking classes in photography and weaving. I have collaborated with modern dance groups as set designer and costume designer and with a digital architectural magazine, as producer of art programs for television. At the same time I design hand-woven carpets but also take part in international animation festivals. My work has been exhibited both in Greece and abroad.

What led you to embrace the ‘home’ as a means of artistic expression?

By 1999 the subject ‘home’ had appeared dynamically in a series of pieces I made titled “Memory”. In 2010 however, I had an exhibition at Gallery 7 titled ‘Home: an installation”. Here I focused on the specific shape and collected 25 ‘pieces-houses’ in frames, about one meter each, placed on a carpet, like grass, referring not only to the exterior of a house but also to the interior, as it would with any carpet. And this is how the game between interior and exterior began, with what is revealed and what is concealed within each house and its facade. This was also a retrospective of all the techniques I had used in my work. For example, there were woven houses, embroidered houses, wooden or painted houses and houses using photographs and animation. The ‘home’ encompassed everything I had done up to this time.

From the exhibition how did you arrive at the book?

The exhibition was the incentive which led me to leave my studio and use the ‘home’ as a means of exploring the outside world, as well as take a leap into my own inner world. Essentially, first I settled and then I wandered. During the exhibition I took the houses for a tour all over Athens and Attica photographing them in the process. I found I was very interested in the interaction of the visual object, the ‘home’ in this particular case, with society as a whole. I was strongly motivated to do something more interactive. In this way the ‘home’ was incorporated in the natural environment (land, sea etc), the animal kingdom (cats, dogs and sheep) and of course the human element. From all this extensive material (over one thousand photographs) I chose the most characteristic ones relating to my personal journey but which ultimately narrate a story.

Do you believe that this process was a powerful experience?

Definitely, because in the process of communicating with people, you had to get close to them, explain exactly what you wanted to do with the photographs and why. I was invited into various homes, entered churches, synagogues and cemeteries. I went all over the city, even to the places that drug addicts frequent.

Does your work also contain elements of a social message?

This is in accord with the spirit of our times. The ‘house’, for example, that commits suicide or the one that self ignites. Or another inside a dumpster next to “FOR SALE” or “FOR RENT” signs. Or the ‘house’ that hopes, that plays, is an ode to life. They give a stigma. In this book one can find elements relating to the dimensions of the contemporary urban milieu. Generally speaking that is the framework of the book. For me it worked like a shield which helped me get closer to people. The archetypal ‘home’ proved to be something very strong.

How did people respond to your approach?

With pleasure. They showed an interest and were accepting. I believe that all this is related to the fact that wherever you live, be it a village or a town, in a hut or a New York skyscraper, what you first draw on a blank piece of paper is the ‘classic’ house with a slanting roof and a chimney. It has now been documented. Even with the most fragile groups of people I met there was no problem. On the contrary we had very beautiful conversations showing mutual respect and interest. Everyone helped in their own way (some embraced the ‘home’, others placed it behind them like a backdrop, others just looked at it) and added their own perspective, their own personality to the undertaking, making it a genuinely interactive project. It was a very fruitful and touching experience. In reality it is a work in progress with each new day bringing new approaches.

The book is in both Greek and English. What is the reason for this?

At one point I had visited exhibitions in a Balkan country. Though the artists were known to me I needed further information. Regrettably everything was in their language and that had frustrated me. Then I thought that here in Greece we make the same mistake, as there are people who do not speak Greek but who want to read, to learn more about an artistic creation. You deny them this when you don’t give them information in a language they can understand.

Where has your book ‘travelled’ so far?

It was launched with the pieces which created it at Beton 7, as part of the Athens Photo Festival, in 2012. I believe it has travelled all over the world by means of the friends who already have it in their libraries. Last winter I also presented it at an exhibition which took place in “Pyrna” in Kifisia and there are plans for this fall in a space in Athens.

Do you believe that the book has influenced your life significantly?

It made me rediscover things that we take for granted, with a childlike enthusiasm. A flower, the façade of a house, a color, but mainly human contact. This is very important to me. I had not experienced such happiness in a long time. I saw the world afresh. I saw the seasons or how light falls on objects, large and small changes… And I am very happy it worked positively for all ‘three’ components of the project. For me, for the people who took part and supported my endeavor, to whom I am very grateful, and of course the public who are the final recipients.

What are your plans for the future?

I have many things in mind, amongst which is another weaving-fiber art exhibition (I am very drawn to this material) in December, in Florence, to be curated by Giuliano Serafini.

What is your motto?

“Wherever my legs will take me, concerning future projects. But, for a visual artist what is paramount is “where my eyes take me”, my inner and outer eyes.



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