METAXI, Close To Me Installation / Talk at The Breeder, Athens
The presentation of the installation METAXI: Close to Me by Marlene Hausegger took place on April 27th on the roof terrace of The Breeder in Athens, as the outcome of the residency program for the Province of Styria/Austria in cooperation with The Breeder. In the context of the site specific work, Marlene Hausegger invited associate curator of BoWB Artemis Papageorgiou for a conversation.
Conversation between Marlene Hausegger and Artemis Papageorgiou in the context of the artwork METAXI: Close to Me.
MH: Hello everybody thanks for coming! It’s my pleasure to share tonight the output of my residency between the province of Styria and the Breeder Gallery in Athens. To my special guest tonight: Thank you Artemis Papageorgiou for joining me tonight for this conversation about some of our common interests: textiles and public space. You are working as a media artist and associate curator at the Biennale of Western Balkans, last year focusing on the Textile Month: Artist-Community Synergies which was part of the annual Art Pluriverse programme.
AP: Thank you for inviting me Marlene. I am very happy to know more about your work. Would you like to let us know about the title of your work?
MH: The title of the installation is METAXI: Close to Me. Metaxi means silk in greek and it refers to the neighborhood where we are right now, Metaxourgeio, which means silk mill. The district is called like this because here was the former silk industry. Close to Me is inspired by a song by The Cure.
Which are for you the fascinating aspects of artistic heritage and cultural knowledge around textiles?
AP: I am particularly interested in many aspects of textiles and textile heritage, but I want to focus on one aspect that I discovered through my curatorial practice. As an artist I have also worked with textiles in urban space, but from the standpoint of the curator I was really intrigued by the patterns that I discovered through research. I find the semiotics of patterns very interesting in the way they carry stories of communities of women, very often women’s groups carrying intergenerational knowledge. Patterns carry stories, they portray them or even obscure them sometimes. They create this code, this new language that you need to learn and discover, in order to really read through the patterns. I am also fascinated by the ‘extensions’ of patterns: the tools that they employ, from looms and traditional tools, all the way to computational tools. As we know, the first jacquard loom used the punch cards and this technique was used in the first computers. I also like the way patterns are transferred to e-textiles and how the material, the textile itself, can afford to become anew the computer in some ways, by embedding sensors and software on it.
What about your own interest in textiles and your approach to them?
MH: Talking about patterns I would like to explain the printed fabric above us: The first layer represents painted mulberry leaves, the typical alimentation for silkworms. On top of the leaves you can see some cocoons in comic style adding different bodily gestures. Some of them look insecure, some relaxed, all of them a little bit isolated. But they are all embedded on the common ground of the mulberry leaves.In general I am interested in non-monumental gestures when I work in public space. Textile offers the opportunity to create a setting which is temporary and you can also work on a large scale. It’s very easy to handle. I am equally interested in the idea of “soft architecture.” For me weaving or a piece of textile are a metaphor for society. Different parts of threads form one connected piece. I am interested in the concepts of coexistence, the togetherness between living beings. I would like to share this question by Audre Lorde with you: “How can we redefine the way our differences bring us together and to celebrate them?”
For me it would be very interesting to hear from you what are your thoughts about cultural coexistence and weaving for the social fabric? You are mentioning on the website of the Biennale of Western Balkans the concept of pluriversality. How have you embedded in your project concepts of pluriversality?
AP: First of all I like your mention of soft architecture. Apart from textiles (that are literally soft), soft architectures remind us that the urban space is not so rigid or fixed, but rather malleable and that experiences are what we propose and construct; they are what we make of urban space. So I think that textiles can take part in these experiences and contribute to the coexistence of cultures.In the curatorial work for the Biennale of Wastern Balkans, we have tried to inscribe textiles inside the concept of Art Pluriverse. We were inspiredby the book Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary (Kothari et al.,2019). I think it is important to mention it because in order to allow the coexistence of cultures in our programme, we needed to create a platform where different communities and textile practitioners would feel free to express their voice and to collaborate within safe spaces. We wanted to make sure that the framework we used was not the one of ‘progress’ and ‘development’, a model that has led societies to different dead-ends, but instead to make sure we based the work on a collective structure. That’s how we used the concept of pluriversality. So, if we want to talk about coexistence especially on a neighbourhood level, it is important to consider platforms where practitioners and communities express themselves and ‘break open’ their cocoon, because communities sometimes do not open easily to the public, or the public does not have the right key to enter and get acquainted with their work.
Talking about the key to open certain spaces, I see that through your work you are actually creating an enclave for yourself, you are ‘closing’ a little bit yourself within this work. Can you talk about how this cocoon, this gesture was created throughout your residency here?
MH: The installation speaks very much about my personal experiences here in Athens. In the beginning it was a very isolated period because of the pandemic, but I also enjoyed that! The cocoon is a metaphor for the current time where everybody is a little bit concerned with themselves. Nevertheless I met three people in these three months and you are all here tonight! Due to the nationwide lockdown in Greece I spent most of the time in the district because the official distance to move from your home was 2km. It is very fascinating for me that the silk thread of one cocoon can reach the length of 2km! At the same time, there were many moments which really touched me. For example, I was living on top of a kitchen for refugees and every day there was a waiting line of people more than two blocks long. Austria is still refusing to take in refugees from the greek camps. It’s a catastrophe for humanity. In german we have the expression: “Es geht mir Nahe”. Nahe means Close. Something is affecting me. So, I started to build this emotional architecture around myself with material I found in the area within the 2km.
AP: Can you give us some insight on the research you performed during the residency?
MH: Yes of course, I would like to share with you what I discovered. Like silkworms, which are in a constant state of transformation inside of the cocoon, also the district of Metaxourgeio is known for being a neighborhood in transition. I will start with the history of the former silk factory: It was constructed in the early 19th century on Avdi square, very close from here, where more women than men worked. It is one of the oldest neoclassical buildings in the city and now houses the Municipal Gallery. For me it is interesting that the architect of the building is Hans Christian Hansen, a prominent danish architect who also built for example the University of Athens. His brother Theophil Hansen was also an architect and built many important buildings in Vienna and Athens like the Austrian Parliament and the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna as well as the National Observatory in Athens. So there is this connection with Vienna on Avdi square where I spent many hours during the lockdown.
When I came to Athens in 2017 to see Documenta 14, I was impressed by the artwork of Sanja Iveković on Avdi square. Monument to Revolution reimagines Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Monument to Rosa Luxemburg as a public stage. The foundation made out of bricks is still there to see. For Documenta she installed an audio installation with different voices for workers’ rights, women’s rights and class struggle. At that time I first learned about the silk production in Metaxourgeio. The silk factory did not operate for very long and closed down in the late 19th century. A long long period of abandonment in the 20th century followed. Nowadays the place where silk is still being produced in Greece is the city of Soufli.
Today the neighborhood of Metaxourgeio is known for numerous gigantic asian clothing outlets. The flat where I lived during the residency was next to one of these big textile warehouses. That was a very strong impact for me. Every day I woke up with the sound of wrapping tape. During my stay I observed the arrival of huge volumes of transport boxes containing the upcoming spring collection. In times where everything stands still, the stream of goods kept on going and going. The threads around my cocoon are all materials I collected from packaging around the area. I combined old traditional basket weaving with trash material. Specific details on the cocoon are talking about my reflections on fast fashion, mass consumption and global trade.
AP: Wow, that is a great story behind the work. It shows all the forces that shaped it and reveals its source of inspiration. For me there is a very interesting contradiction as you mentioned, between the slow process of silk production during the industrial era that lasted less than a century in Greece, followed by the decline that led to the post-industrial era and then in the last twenty years to this boom of the global markets, where textiles keep arriving in volumes.
These neighbourhoods that have this past can maybe revive the model of the small factory unit, and by that I also refer to the wider cultural industries and spaces such as fablabs, co-working spaces, shared ceramic labs, artist-run spaces, that are already here for the past 10 years. In the current moment -a late post-industrial moment- the way these spaces sprout, allow neighbourhoods to discover new kinds of smaller scale production processes. This is a personal thought, maybe not directly related to your work, but at the same time I am always looking at
it change or be scaled if it were installed in the urban space of this neighbourhood?
MH: Thank you for this question. I think it’s very crucial. I think the context would be very different. Originally my first intention was to engage with the public sphere. But an official event wouldn’t be possible due to the covid-related restrictions. That’s why we decided to organise the event here on the roof terrace of the gallery. But I have to say, I also really like this terrace! It was interesting what you mentioned about the history of Viotechnia here. Because the building of the gallery is actually also a Viotechnia, a former ice-cream factory. The whole research is for me a starting point and I would be interested to make a second step out of the cocoon, out of the comfort zone and into public space!
AP: And have you imagined what it would look like or is it really an open question?
MH: When I work in public space, I really like to engage with structures I find. Maybe the fabric could hang for example between trees on Avdi square. In general, what I like about working in the public realm is the adventure and the surprises. It signifies for me an open system. There are always elements you can’t control, like weather conditions, reactions by people, police etc. But you have to be in a certain state of mind to work like this, you have to get out of the cocoon!
AP: I am tempted to imagine a new version. I imagine a larger scale, the explosion of the cocoon or even a performance?
MH: What I try to create is some kind of atmosphere, where people can come together and something can happen. An interesting condition about working in public space is that you have different and mixed audiences.
AP: So this goes back to the coexistence of people and cultures in urban space and also the idea of urban space as an open structure. Also in my view, textiles themselves are open structures. They propose an open- ended structure and not a finite object. I found a parallel in the work I did for the Biennale of Western Balkans: open structures from a curatorial standpoint. These structures are not directly related to textiles but to textile communities and artists, aimed at exposing the way they worked side by side during the Artist-Community Synergies, not only in relation to the visual outcomes of their work, but also in relation to the different conceptual frameworks and technological tools that they used throughout the residency. This ‘open structure allowed us to critically look at the artistic mediums and their potential. Another open structure that we tried to embed in this programme were the Open Diaries: an open, online archive where artists would upload their sketches, images and notes on a weekly basis. This was intentional, we wanted to make this material open and accessible to the public and to place equal value to the process and the outcomes. We considered these instances as objects of knowledge, important to open up to the public. So, this is another take on open structures.
MH: Thank you for this insight from your practice and for joining us tonight!
AP: Thank you for the opportunity to open up these issues together.
Between February and April 2021 Marlene Hausegger was part of the residence program of Province of Styria in cooperation with The Breeder. During her stay in Athens she developed a site-specific installation on the roof of the gallery dealing with the former silk industry in the district of Metaxourgio. The installation functions as a platform for a conversation about cultural heritage, coexistence and transitional places with Artemis Papageorgiou.
Marlene Hausegger lives and works as a visual artist between Austria and Slovenia. She is particularly interested in the public realm. Her interventions and installations have been shown among others at Museum Belvedere21, Vienna; Vernacular Institute, Mexico City; Biennial Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Biennial for Architecture, Belgrade; Stedelijk Museum, s´Hertogenbosch; rotor, Graz; Projektraum Viktor Bucher, Vienna; Museum LENTOS, Linz; BJCEM Biennale, Skopje. She teaches at the Art University Linz and since 2019 she is part of the Public Art Committee Lower Austria.
Artemis Papageorgiou is a media artist and curator based in Athens, exploring the convergence of natural and computational systems inside the urban landscape. Her work includes interactive installations, e-textiles and playful architectural devices. She is currently Associate Curator at the Biennale of Western Balkans where she focuses on bridging contemporary art practices with weaving communities and learning experiences. Artemis has led numerous learning programmes on art, architecture and technology and has spoken in various symposia including a recent TEDx talk.