The other Greeks at Venice

Ste­lios Faitakis stands out at Bi­en­nale’s Dan­ish kiosk, cu­rated by Ka­te­rina Gre­gos

Kathimerini English - - Life - BY MAR­GARITA POURNARA

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.”

JARED TALKIN

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