ART, MUSIC & PERFORMANCE MAKER, CHANGE FACILITATOR
Katerina Barampouti discussed with CITY CODE about her art making including the current exhibition at “The Koppel Project Hive” gallery in London, and her music projects.
You studied at Goldsmiths University of London (UK), at the Universidad de Barcelona (Spain) and at the ASFA – Athens School of Fine Arts (Greece). According to your experience of studying at all three Universities, could you see any similarities in the teaching processes and the way each University approaches the Arts?
The thing all three University Departments/Schools have in common is that they are full of artists! The work schedule is exhausting for the students who take it seriously. I feel lucky I got in touch with various and valuable experiences and methodologies.
With regard to content, for all three Schools the main point of reference is Western Art – however, there is a difference in the particular way each University approaches the act of art-making. These different approaches derive from each county’s particular culture, aesthetic philosophy and history. In the North there is a more conceptual and ‘less is more’ approach while the South appears more plethoric, emotive and appreciative of a high standard craft/technique. In terms of quality, I consider all three Schools equal.
I consider the Greek strictness -and maybe obsession- with regard to technique (seeking drawing and colouring perfection as well as encouraging an architectural understanding of spatial arrangements) an extremely helpful thing. Also, in ASFA, I had the great luck to study under an exquisite artist, Professor Rena Papaspyrou – she has a brave and open mind and encouraged me to evolve my own way. This was not the case for everybody.
Another very important element that helped my artistic development is the multiculturalism of both Barcelona and London; and the appreciation of diversity I experience in London, in particular. This environment allows for and supports experimentation and blending and therefore helps in widening one’s perception.
With regard to things practical, there is a significant financial difference: In London studies cost a lot, in Barcelona cost enough while in Athens from little to nothing. At least in London the Universities are able to help the students with their post-studies job-seeking process. Anyway, I believe that Academic studies should be free for everybody and this must be seen as an investment – because educated people benefit the society they live in.
You are currently exhibiting your work in London. Would you say that the position of the artist in the market is the same in all countries you have lived in?
The world of art is challenging everywhere. No matter if the market is small or big; the ‘elites’ remain ‘elites’, trade is relentless and human wickedness is arduous – therefore, if you don’t come from an established family, it needs a strong gut and focussed action in order to make it. In my view, it worths honouring your authenticity as this will make a difference in the end. But, of course, you need to really love what you do in order for you to endure.
Perhaps in Greece you can feel safer. When you come out into a huge market, such as London, there are another 10,000+ worthy artists to compete with. Therefore, you need to insist and really evolve in your work to have a chance. Also, you need to get involved with people and build a support network. On the other hand, the world of art can be wonderful everywhere! My treasure chest includes amazing collaborations with Greek and foreign artists and inspiring Greek and foreign Cultural organisations.
What made you stay in London, in the end?
Mainly, because I keep learning new things. Also, I do appreciate the fact that this city is, for the time being and in comparison to other places, quite open to diversity – in terms of culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, ideas and aesthetic proposals; During the last fifteen years, London has chosen to open up, instead of closing down. I don’t mean there is a perfect condition here but is definitely better that anywhere else. A highlight is the coming of so many immigrants, from so many different countries in London – this has created a rich and invaluable aesthetic and intellectual landscape.
By all means I would wish to return to Greece at some point because it is my homeland and this means a lot to me.
What it takes to be an artist in Greece and is it any different in London?
Obviously, there is greater competition in London (for some this is considered ‘antagonism’ but this is not my way of seeing it because I believe in the power of movements rather than of individuals) and this creates more opportunities to meet very different skillsets and viewpoints and therefore open up your mind. In Greece, on the other hand, it might be a bit easier to survive: due to the Mediterranean culture and because Greece is less expensive a country, it is easier to find space to produce your work and manage to survive even with the sparest of means. In addition, time runs at a slower pace and this is a blessing. However, the tax system in Greece was and is completely unreasonable and the tax-payer ends up consuming huge amounts of their energy and time; the system is unclear and badly-organized and continuously creates obstacles for an artist with regard to job opportunities. In any case, regarding the essence of living experience, it is each artist who finally shapes it through the choices they make in terms of mindset, collaborators/partners, friends, and development opportunities; marked by each artist’s ethos and passion for what they do.
I want to emphasize that there is a lot happening in Greece right now with regard to art, dance-theater and music productions – exceptional events supported by independent bodies rather than the official ones. Greece is buzzing: creativity, innovation and passion mark out, in cultural venues and online. It keeps fascinating me, every time I come and see and hear things. Unfortunately, there is no official support for these productions to reach to a bigger audience. In fact, Greece has never promoted her ‘worthy children’ – even before the ‘crisis’. It is not only due to the ’elites’ we mentioned before but also because of a number of uneducated and barbarian people in key positions of power.
In your view, why many Greek artists seek artistic opportunities abroad? I am not referring to numbers and things financial.
Greece is a small market and therefore tends to be ‘limited’: meaning refuses to open up to innovations and fresh ideas. Often, people who hold respectable positions fight against new ideas and emerging minds because they are afraid of losing their own power/positions. It is precisely this denial of evolution that makes us as a rapidly aging country. Many important Greek artists have been leaving the country since decades now, because they felt accepted and welcomed abroad… it’s a shame because this is Greece’s national wealth that remain unexploited. Also, Greece is still a deeply conservative country. In reality, the challenge of the New is a blessing because does not allow for stagnation – one needs to become better in order to keep going and thus facilitates the development of themselves and others.
Alongside your brand as a visual artist you have been a professional performer and singer. How did music sneaked into your life, what steps have you taken towards it and what is your ardent music passion?
For me, everything is part of my creative state. I hear an image, design a sound and walk a pattern. In general, I share ideas and stories, employing most of human senses. Music has been part of my life since childhood – including piano and singing. Vassilis Tsipidis (from the legendary Greek music scene ‘Tο Baraki tou Vasili’) was my mentor and the person who pushed me to sing professionally when I was still studying art at the ASFA! For many years, I earned my living by singing – from traditional Greek to jazz, rock and ethnic/world music. The other luck of my life: I studied vocals and theater beside the colossus teacher Mirka Yemendzakis. I have played and jammed with many great musicians in Greece. For several years, I collaborated with my favorite percussionist and artistic genius Soli Barki – we created the 4Lizards improvisational duet, appearing in Greece and London. I feel I am lucky enough to be able to chose and involve myself in collaborations and music that intrigue me and feel meaningful.
I find you in the peak of installation works for your new artwork, at «The Koppel Project Hive» gallery, in the framework of an upcoming group exhibition. What this exhibition is about? What was the selection process for the participant works?
The gallery presents 16 emerging artists who are lucky enough to be hosted in The Koppel Project’s creative arts studios. The Koppel Project is a new, dynamic arts organisation in London, located in the City and showcasing in two gallery spaces. We met with the curators quite some time ago. The curator Alice Bonnot has chosen the Minotaur Birth artwork for the exhibition.
What is that you want to communicate through this particular artwork? How come and the myth of ‘Minotaur’ is referenced? What meterials have you used?
My job is concerned with memory (personal and collective) and the unconscious. I am interested in the paradox of human perception and the mechanism that generates emotions; the thoughts behind the thoughts. I like stories, myths and fairy tales – these genius ways that human mind employs in order to speak in simple words for complex things.
So, since many years now, I explore the concepts of the labyrinth and wandering. This time, I wanted to talk about the creature who lives inside a labyrinth. Not for its dark side – I am rather interested in what this creature was before becoming a monster. Because nothing is black & white in reality; there are processes leading to transformations. Therefore, I worked on the birth of the Minotaur, taking a view that he/she was a child like any other – perhaps it was you and me.
In practical terms, I want to involve the spectator in all possible ways – by visuals, sounds, as well as kinesithetically. This is why, while I am painting a lot, I always end up creating installations, environments and large sculptures! Also, light is an important element of my work, so I studied lighting design. I love lightweight materials in general and I’m a crafts-woman – I make almost everything by myself, like the handmade paper I made and suspended in space for this project. In terms of material effects, I am intrigued by the juxtaposition of volume/impression of weight with unexpected lightness.
An artist who makes the choice of living abroad, brings along elements of their country of origin and culture – what creates the need for this? Does this need arise when one moves away from their own country, because if they express themselves in their own country it could be possibly perceived as ‘folklore’?
I believe this is not created by any need. We do carry our culture and the key elements of our origin with us, throughout our lives, either we like it or not. In the same way that we carry the music we’ve been listening as teenagers (which may not be the traditional music of our homelands), the flavors we’ve enjoyed and all of our experiences. Now, the choice to accept our culture, to honour it and explore fresh and original ways to communicate it – ways that allow for other people to relate to it as well, besides us – is another story. When one honours what thay are, then one might say something worth hearing.
What are your future art & music plans/projects?
I am working on a solo exhibition (in UK, by the end of 2017). Also, in Greece, I keep collaborating with Skironio Museum Polichronopoulos and the International Comics Festival of Athens – both with pride, because the people who run these institutions are remarkable – they do have integrity and vision. I hope and will do my best to help in presenting valuable works in the near future, despite the current economic difficulties.
In the music field, I have embarked on an amazing adventure with the composer Jenny Tsili and a group of fine musicians, preparing an album and a show in 2017. I will say no more here – this is a surprise – details revealed in a future interview! I will only emphasize that this collaboration honours me and gives me joy.
Thank you very much for your questions, George, and the warm hospitality!
The Koppel Project Hive Artists Exhibition: http://thekoppelproject.com/the-hive-studio-artists-exhibition-2016/