The other Greeks at Venice
Stelios Faitakis stands out at Biennale’s Danish kiosk, curated by Katerina Gregos
The 54th Venice Biennale, titled “Illuminations” and which will be open to the public from June 4 to late November, features a Greek presence beyond that of Diohandi, the country’s official representative at the prestigious event.
Another Greek, Katerina Gregos, has been put in charge of the Danish kiosk as she has been working abroad for years as a curator, mostly out of Brussels, and has built a solid international reputation.
The Danish kiosk is expected to be among the most fascinating, as it comprises the work of 18 artists of different nationalities and representing different generations, one of whom is Stelios Faitakis, who is best known for his large mural on the outer wall of the Elais olive oil factory on Pireos Street near Piraeus.
The artist, who likes to blend street art with the colors and motifs of religious icon painting, has created a large mural on the wall of a neoclassical building for the Danish representation. “Imposition Symphony” is among the most impressive works on display at the Biennale this year, and, like the other artists showing their work at the Danish kiosk, it is a commentary on the central theme, which is freedom of speech.
“Faitakis’s piece, which has been completed, is already beginning to draw attention,” Gregos told Kathimerini in a telephone interview earlier this month. She added: “Right across from the Danish kiosk is the one representing the United States. There, an art duo from Puerto Rico, Allora & Calzadilla, have placed a tank from the Korean War. So, what you get between the two kiosks is a stimulating dialogue on the differences between American and European culture, on the issue of violence, suppression and censorship.”
Other than Faitakis’s “Imposition Symphony,” the Danish kiosk will be showing works by internationally acclaimed artists aged be- tween 29 and 77, including Jan Svankmajer, Robert Crumb, Han Hoogerbrugge and Zhang Dali.
Why did Gregos decide on a political theme for the biggest art event in the world? “Ever since 2001 a dialogue has been continuing on the issue of safeguarding human rights and freedom of speech, not just in autocratic regimes, but also in the West, where we are seeing increasing signs of digression, from the rise of the extreme right in many European countries, to the issue of the Muhammad cartoon and to the tension created by the cultural and religious differences that have arisen due to immigration,” she said. “The shift to conservatism and the power of political correctness are issues that directly concern art, so this is the time to pose such questions, through a medium in which freedom is one of the most significant components.”
Gregos explained that she selected the artists based on the fact that they had addressed such issues in earlier work and also because many of them come from countries where this debate is critical, such as Iran, the Netherlands, China, the US and the Czech Republic.
“Faitakis,” said the curator, “is a political artist and an activist, and the issue of freedom of speech is central in his work. Unfortunately, his piece will be destroyed at the end of the Biennale. I think that it will be noticed for its Byzantine-inspired scenes that are rich in symbolism.”
Most people have some sort of dream or aspiration that they pursue in life. This is the case of the main character in the short film “The Fiddler.” Written and directed by Stelana Kliris, the film is based on a true story and is set in Cyprus in the first half of the 20th century.
Kliris, a Greek Cypriot born in South Africa, started out her career in journalism. Speaking of her transition to filmmaking, she told Kathimerini English Edition, “Film has always been my first love, but when I was studying in South Africa, a proper film school had not been established yet, so I ended up studying journalism, which was the next best thing for me and which I also really like.”
As a journalist, Kliris worked on a variety of projects and directed two documentaries – one based on the Olympic Truce and the other on subcultures in South Africa. When she moved into filmmaking she began as an editor, progressed to production, and now writes and directs.
“The Fiddler” is based on a story told to the director by her grandfather. When describing who the story was about, Kliris said: “It was his story. He always wanted to become a fiddler; to do that he had to have his own fiddle and life just kept on getting in the way of that – he got married, he had children, and he had to keep putting it aside.”
Explaining the circumstances surrounding how she learned of the story, Kliris said, “Before [her grandfather] passed, he had to have his leg amputated from the knee down.” This stirred up memories of when his leg was injured when he was a young man and inspired him to tell her the story.
Kliris elaborated that her grandfather “had this accident with his leg when he was very young. He had to go to Athens for an operation and [at the time] they were very poor and the village put money together to send him over. On his way back he had a little bit of money left over and he ended up buying another instrument similar to the fiddle, which he found at a vintage store.”
Much more than just a short film, “The Fiddler” is a product of Kliris’s family history and hard work while having also served as an important learning experience for her. She explained that the production process went smoothly because they were really well prepared. “We had a small crew and very limited time to shoot. It was a six-day shoot and should have been eight days, but because we were really well prepared we made it [in six].”
Of all the things reinforced for her during the course of production, Kliris stressed that filmmaking “is a collaborative process and it is all about the people you work with. The biggest thing is to surround yourself [with] people that you trust and people that are passionate about the project.”
“The Fiddler,” which was produced in conjunction with Green Olive Films, will be featured at the 8th Annual San Francisco Greek Film Festival on May 29.
Looking toward the future, Kliris said: “Right now my next goal is to do a feature film; a short film is always a sort of steppingstone toward making a full featurelength film and that is what I am working on at the moment. I have completed the script and, hopefully, if all goes well, I will be shooting by the end of next year, that is the next goal.”
When describing her next film, the director said that “it is a contemporary comedy based in Cyprus. It’s a cross between ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding.’ It is a comedy that incorporates a lot of the little unique things that make Cyprus what it is.”