EXTREME LAND — Interview with Andreas Angelidakis

[nemus_slider id=”45850″] This is the first part of EXTREME LAND, a research project developed by Luca Marullo (Parasite2.0) devoted to understand the moment of transition architecture is experiencing. It stems from the belief that today’s architect can’t fully explore the...

[nemus_slider id=”45850″]

This is the first part of EXTREME LAND, a research project developed by Luca Marullo (Parasite2.0) devoted to understand the moment of transition architecture is experiencing. It stems from the belief that today’s architect can’t fully explore the complexity of the present through the classic mediums of his practice, i.e. the architectural project or the built object.

Through a series of dialogues and interviews Marullo investigates the practice of some of the main key figures that cross the boundaries between art, architecture and social sciences.

The first interview is with Greek architect Andreas Angelidakis.

Luca Marullo: What led you to develop this hybrid practice, to move beyond architecture’s boundaries to encroach upon other fields? What were your main sources of inspiration?

Andreas Angelidakis: I was always curious and lost in my worlds, so it was a natural thing. But also, when I was studying in Los Angeles, I met the artist Jim Isermann and his then partner David. I was thing funny opinionated gay kid from Greece, I guess they found me amusing and kind of took me under their wing. Jim too me along to art openings and performances that his friends were doing. The first art event I ever attended was a Mike Kelley performance at Beyond Baroque in Venice beach. Jim’s friends included Cathy Opie, Jim Shaw, Jefrey Vallance, Mike Kelley, Lari Pittman and Hudson, of Feature Gallery. So while studying architecture I had this parallel education on contemporary art, and it was clear to me back then  that architecture gave you a very interesting set of tools, but the way artists responded to questions of creativity was much more sophisticated. It helped that the school I attended, Sci-ARC was not at all conventional, but really a kind of school that opens up your possibilities. I remember a night when there was supposed to be a Chris Burden lecture at Sci-ARC and everybody was saying that he always cancels lectures at the last minute but shows up incognito to see whats going on. Of course the lecture was cancelled but the evening was really charged with rumor and speculation. Another pivotal class was the seminar that Mike Davies was teaching, based on his preparatory notes for the City of Quartz book. We got to see parts of LA, like the abandoned subway tunnels running underground downtown, and the LA prisons. We also got to look at public space in ways that we could not imagine. And then after graduating and returning to Greece, I was lucky to meet Adelina von Furstenberg. Having just graduated from the then hippest school of architecture I knew everything that was new at the time. Adelina on the other hand was one of the first curators, maybe the first, who exhibited Architecture in the context of contemporary art. Being the eternal radical that she always is, she also saw something in me, and really provided another level of education on the understanding of art but also the possibilities of architecture. Of course these were educations based on friendships, its not like these people decided to educate me, it was that I learned a lot just by being around them.

LM: In your work is present the classic perfection of your ancestors and Athens brutal modernity of Polikatoikia. Tell us about this short-circuit where you mix these two elements, creating your own personal poetics and grammar? In Troll you transform a symbolic building of the Athens modernity into a sort of mountain, a living, moving, Acropolis.

AA: Instinctively I always saw polykatoikies as kind of mountains, the way that their balconies are overflowing with stored summer junk, clotheslines, small illegal additions to the interior german shepherd dog locked out, as if in a yard. They are quite different the typical european modernist building, because they are structures that are organic, they keep changing, their fabric awnings get torn by the wind and nobody bothers to fix them. This Greek typology is based on the folklore identity of Greece, as it developed under the Ottoman Empire. It is a way of building that uses whatever is available, no plan, no organization, just fantasy solutions found on the spot. On the other hand there is another greek identity, which relates to antiquity, the perfect example of organized and thought through architecture, where every millimeter of marble is accounted for, and it stands for centuries like an ominous perfection. These two systems collaborated in the inauguration of the Modern Greek State, in 1821. The folklore was represented by General Kolokotronis and his kleftes and armatoloi fighters, the ancient by the neoclassically europeanized Kapodistrias and his Filiki Etairia. Once they liberated Greece from the Ottoman Empire, with the approval of Europe of course, these two groups could not come to agreement as to who would have the most ruling power. This led to the murder of Kapodistrias by Kolokotronis, a series of failed governments, and an eventual bankruptcy of the Greek state in 1893.  At that point France, England and Germany stepped in with a rescue package. They also formed an organization to supervise the enormous Greek debt. The organization eventually grew into todays IMF.

So I was always fascinated by these two conflicting systems, and I guess my work is informed by both. There is a constant duality and I end up against, maybe because I come from two radically different cultures, I’m Greek and Norwegian, digital and real,   artist and architect etc. The mountain by the way is definitely a Norwegian influence.

LM: ”Every end is a beginning” is the title of your exhibition in Athens EMST. Tell us about this title and where does it originate? Does it also have to do with the political and economic phase Greece is experiencing?

AA: I kind of just thought of the title, but I think it existed before in Buddhist sayings, and propably has been used so many times, its a catchy but somehow meaningful phrase. It also was a perfect reflection to what I was going through at the time, in reality it was very personal, evn though I presented it as being about the Greek condition.

In the summer of 2010 and in a period of three weeks my father passed away, I was diagnosed as HIV+ and the bank took the family home, following past problems in my fathers company. So it was a barrage of loss, and continued when my mother decided to end her life. Dealing with all this has been extremely difficult, but focusing on my work was something I escaped to. Eventually all these feeling found their way into the work, because that is something that happens subconsciously really. Thats why I think the show ended up so funereal and melancholic, but calling it Every End is a Beginning was a way to take control of the situation. Even though I’m clearly a Stoic, I am also from the North so I know when to grind my teeth and continue. Of course HIV is not a very big deal anymore, its like diabetes, you take your pill every day and you are fine. But there is such a stigma still attached to it, and that is what we need to overcome.

But making the show appear as if it were about the Greek crisis was not superficial, its just that I really know what it is like to loose your home, I know what its like to find your past belongings fro sale at a garbage collectors flea market. So it was an honest choice, and a way to develop my work further. After 2010 I decided to do away with all the aspects of my practice that were not fun or inspiring or challenging, and fell into the category of “job”. I decided to take a chance with curating, and to really expand towards all the things that I ever loved.

LM: What brought from the ruins of the real to the ruins of cyberspace?

AA: I was always fascinated by archaeology, and the ways that fragments are supported or completed with new parts. Then in the late 90’s we started with Miltos Manetas to make online communities for artists and architects, the world Chelsea. I was building like a maniac, staying online for hours and hours, this was before broadband. Chelsea became a place where I could use as a sketchbook, try out building ideas and invite people to walk through them with me. When the financing for Chelsea was stopped, the server hosting expired and everything was lost. Approximately 50 buildings were gone forever, and because it was all built in what today we call “the cloud”, there was no backup, just a few screenshots. So when we started to make Neen World in 2002, I had to find a solution about how to not loose my work again. 3D printing had just arrived as a technology at tech fairs, and I thought this was a more direct link from the digital to the physical, rather than making paper models or drawings. The 3D print was a quasi digital object, so it was perfect for documenting my online buildings. The prints back then were monochrome, they came in a off-white, so I called them Ghosts of their digital self. And the first time I exhibited the prints was with Breeder Gallery in 2003. One of the arrived totally broken from the transport, but I decided to show it anyway. So they became Ghost Ruins.

Thats how I started thinking that online buildings don’t grow old like physical one, which might not be a burning questions for our civilization, but to me it was fascinating. Going to expired webpages became like a Grand Tour for me, and the internet grows old so quickly.

LM: Tell us about the experience of the online community Neen World and its virtual city, which you made on Active Worlds for Electronic Orphanage?

AA: It was one of the most exciting times, Angelo Plessas and I had just moved to New York, Miltos was living in Los Angeles and running Electronic Orphanage. He would visit often and we would work on projects like Neen World and What we believed in was that there was an art that came from the time of the internet, and we were fighting for it. Many of the things we were saying, like, that the internet is not a piece of technology but an emotional landscape, you can see today in what we call Post-Internet art. I guess being 10 years early doesn’t really pay, because Neen has never been properly evaluated in the history of contemporary art. For me is was exciting because I was in the process of devising architectures for avatars, and their social habits are so different from real people. Avatars had short attention spans, they browsed quickly, they abbreviated. All these notions found their way into the work I did for Neen World, and I consider that an almost heroic period.

Its not that I don’t appreciate the work of the post-internet generation, quite the opposite, I’m thrilled and I love a lot of it, its just that I think Neen is their ancient acropolis.

SI Fin de Siecle
SI Fin de Siecle

LM: In the video Building an Electronic Ruin, where you build using your avatar in Second Life, you discuss about the state that characterizes architectures of the virtual space, not to suffer the effect of time, to be eternal. Perpetual ruins. The words backing this video, as in Domesticated Mountain, seem to reveal a criticism on the progressive migration to the virtual space.

AA: Well I never was one of the people who thought we were migrating to virtual worlds, as I said before the work we did at Neen really was the first footsteps of post-internet, not the last steps of technology art. I was in the virtual communities as an observer, looking at how people behave differently online, how buildings are perceived differently. Building An Electronic Ruin was a way to romanticize expired social media sites like Friendster, which was the ancient version of Facebook, and now of course it is abandoned. I was also looking at my own work and thinking that these online buildings began to look dated after a few years because time did not leave any signs on them. And on Friendster my profile from 2002 was still there, with all of my 32 friends, abandoned of course. So the video was a musing on the nature of ruin in the electronic age.

LM: In your work for the Biennale of Thessaloniki, the Deste Foundation and the New Institute in Rotterdam, you seem to play provocatively with the “white cube” and its contemporary hegemony in art spaces. You build scenery objects, and then reveal the back side, the fiction, the raw structure, what is hidden. Can you tell us about these works?

AA: I’m a strict believer that exhibitions should be experiences as well as displays, and that the exhibition itself is a medium to work with, not a set of steps to execute. I started working on exhibition design, though design is really a horrible wrong word, in the early 90’s, and each exhibition was an opportunity to try out different way to arrange a space. Thessaloniki Biennial was a great challenge because the venues were not only museums in the city but historical venues,   hamams and dome mosques. When you want to have white walls inside a historical space, its kind of sacrilege to just try to turn that space into a white cube, its more fun to pretend that a white cube spaceship landed in the middle of the space, and the distinction between the ancient and the temporary has to be played up. And the you get all sorts of in between spaces that are surprising for the visitor. Some spaces where really inappropriate for art, others good but just ugly, so it was maybe the first project where I got to test so many ideas at once. This happened also because the curators Paolo Colombo and Marina Fokidis were super smart and fun to work with, and that is always crucial.

System of Objects was different, it started because Maria Cristina Didero wanted to propose a show of my own work, but I thought that didnt make sense for Deste, so I just told her “I want to play with his collection”. When we met Dakis, I said “just tell him I want to destroy his foundation”, and of course Dakis being a smart guy was intrigued instead of kicking us out.

Honestly Maria Cristina curated me into DESTE, it would have never happened without her.  There I decided to change the perception of the building completely, to “destroy” Deste, because already a few shows had taken place with similar spatial configurations. Also it was a change to look at the dark side of the Joannou Collection, seminal works a bit forgotten since the 80’s, Greek artists, furniture, fashion and mix everything together in this kind of absurd narrative that I always seem to do. It’s I think my favorite project, because I had access to this amazing collection that I knew and had followed its exhibition history over decades, and the resources to arrange works in ways completely unexpected to the audience.

Period Rooms was again different, because it was an exhibition without artifacts, just exhibition rooms on display, a show about the history of exhibitions really, going from the period room to the white cube to the rough industrial cliché but following a hallucinogenic course.

LM: In Cloud House, or Hand House, you work on domestic architecture, transforming it into an element with a strong architectural and formal symbolism. How do you use architecture to convey meanings? Some of these works recalled me the Ledoux’s “Talking Architecture”.

AA: Most of these projects come about subconsciously, and I will look at them later and say, oh look there’s me escaping to New York, or me just falling apart. Ledoux could be a reference, a lot of my work could just be City of Chaux for the internet. I’m also always interested in early, radical postmodernism, but mostly I’ll be falling asleep and I’ll think of another one of these buildings. Its much quicker to do them when you don’t have clients to discuss them with, which is why I guess I turned more artist or whatever one wants to call what I do. More and more these buildings become my way of dealing with reality.

LM: In the last years you designed architectures, curated exhibitions, written books. What are your future projects?

AA: Right now I’m getting ready to go to Vilnius where I’m doing the space for their 12th Baltic Triennial at CAC, which is an incredible space. Right after I’ll be showing a series of “buildings”  at the 1st Chicago Architecture Biennial, its a project called “Fantasy Ruins: Bags, Body Parts and Bibelot” with buildings made from supermarket bags, downloaded body parts and bibelot that I find on flea markets. Then I’m co-curating a show called Supersuperstudio at PAC in Milan, where I selected contemporary artists whose works function as potential answers to the questions and enigmas posed by Superstudio in the 60’s and 70’s. So I great variety of projects, and super happy to be coming back to Milano.

Every End is A Beginning,   photo by Iris Ermidou
Every End is A Beginning, photo by Iris Ermidou