Virtual Residency Chronicles: Alexandra Papademetriou
Virtual Residency Chronicles: Alexandra Papademetriou
The beginning of March has marked the start of wendy.network’s first online residency. The virtual residency will culminate in the presentation of six creative projects, each different and exciting in their own way!
In this installment of the Virtual Residency Chronicles we take a moment to appreciate our six resident artists. We discuss their inspirations, their life, their practice and of course their project idea for the wendy.network residency.
Alexandra Papademetriou is a Greek and English artist based in Gothenburg Sweden. Much of her creative process revolves around producing work that makes academic theory accessible to a broader public. By grounding her artistic projects in thorough research, Alexandra is interested in delving into uncomfortable themes and instigating conversations mapped by humour.
Her project for the Virtual Residency introduces the concept of Degrowth as a method of sustainable artistic production. Her work will culminate in the publication of ‘The Degrowth Toolbox To Artistic Practice’; a ‘handbook’ for creating within the field of sustainable artistic praxis.
Your project is based on the concept of degrowth. How do you define this concept and how do you relate it to the artistic practice?
Degrowth is a translation of the french décroissance, a term firmly rooted in environmental activism. As a term it’s been often seen as negative or off-putting, as it is understood to mean “recession” or “decline”; on the contrary, degrowth refers to a conscious and collective commitment to significantly reducing production and consumption, to finding alternatives to our current organisational models, and to proactively transforming society. The prefix de- signifies a complete rejection of the concept of growth and all the expectations that come with it – production for the sake of production and consumption for the sake of consumption. Degrowth questions the capitalist understanding of “more” as “better” and instead proposes that we need to construct our world around the values of well-being, conviviality, autonomy, inclusion, and care.
In my project I’m attempting to formulate a framework for the application of degrowth in the arts. In regards to the art world, the events of 2020 have served to expose the inefficacy of common artistic and exhibitionary practices to respond to a world that is rapidly changing, as well as the disinterest of art institutions in earnestly addressing the emerging issues of our time. My interest in degrowth lies in its potential as a tool through which we can radically rethink our practices and our relationship to our communities. I am, of course, not aiming to be didactic, or in any way dictate to artists what methods are appropriate for their contexts – I’m trying to formulate a set of questions for art workers to ask themselves while designing a project, and to invite people to re-evaluate what really matters; who their projects are for and what they actually want to achieve through their artistic practices.
When you question in your statement: who are the artists’ projects actually for? What are you implying? And how does your project express this reflection?
As professional artists who need to rely on private or public funding to survive, we are always called to toe a fine line – we are expected (or perhaps imagined) to be questioning, innovative, radical even, while still supporting the markets, galleries, museums, funds and developers who do not have the best interests of society at heart. In our complicity, we are often instrumentalized. For example, it is a tried and true tactic of property developers to first set up artists’ studios in low-income neighbourhoods they have marked for development: the presence of artists makes a neighbourhood “hip”, raising its value and priming the area for gentrification. Or, in Sweden I have often seen artists setting up public or community engaged artistic projects in “troubled” (read: immigrant) neighbourhoods with the financial support of state-funded art institutions: the artists are deployed both to “integrate” those living there while also providing an alibi for the institutions in question, distracting from their own less-than-inclusive practices. What is actually wanted by the communities for whom the works are supposedly for is almost irrelevant.
On the other hand, artists themselves feel the pressure to stay active, to have a strong portfolio, to chase opportunities, and as such often work half-heartedly on projects and exhibitions which merely exist to be a line in a CV. And I am guilty of this myself – I am not saying these things to point fingers or to judge, and I am not naïve enough to think that we as lone individuals can change major faults in the art system and in society more broadly. What I am proposing through my project is a set of critical questions we can ask ourselves and each other; and some starting points around which we can eventually organize collectively, building communities and discursive spaces in which human and environmental well-being is the chief priority.
You are both Greek and English, but right now you are living in Sweden! What did you learn from being an international human? And what has your experience as an international artist taught you about sustainability?
I’ve grown up very aware that there can be multiple, conflicting understandings of the same thing from different perspectives, including cultural and geographic perspectives, and all of them can still be right. In relation to this, my experience has also taught me that nothing should be taken for granted – there is always an entirely different way to approach an issue and as such we owe it to ourselves to be open to and even seek out other perspectives. Regarding sustainability, I can definitely say that, after growing up and starting my career in the Athenian D.I.Y. scene during a prolonged financial crisis, I always approach my projects thinking: Okay, what resources are available and how can I use as little as possible? I’ve always endeavoured to be impactful through the words I choose or the images I paint, avoiding dressing anything up unnecessarily.
Is there ever a completely sustainable artistic practice?
I would say that there are different aspects from which one can understand the concept of “sustainability” in regards to artistic practice, which are not limited to our everyday understanding of sustainability as an ecological concern. For example, an artist who works with socially engaged art may need to ask themselves: Are the relationships I’m trying to build here sustainable? Or perhaps, we can all ask ourselves: Can I sustain this level of output? This pace of working? Rather than a box that needs to be checked before anything can move forward, I’m trying to pose an expanded understanding of sustainability as something for art workers to critically reflect on and perhaps strive towards.
Do you think the artistic sector is relevant to human well-being or do you think that is one of the sectors that should ‘degrow’?
The artistic sector is absolutely relevant to human well-being and that is precisely why it should “degrow”. We need to ask and honestly answer what it is about art we value, what it is about it that enriches our lives – keep that, and move aside all the rest. Is, say, the standard white cube experience pleasant or even accessible to many? Are we making work to respond to market demand, or out of genuine interest in a subject and the belief it should be brought to light? Some questions have, perhaps, idealistic answers; but if we can’t be idealistic, then who can? It is our unique position as artists that allows us the space to question the status quo and propose radically new visions of the future.
What did you change in your perspectives in the last year and how does that translate into your art?
I’ve definitely become more critical of “standard” artistic practices and the expectations of the art world – I’ve become very critical of the western capitalist work ethic and the expectation of constant productivity, to ceaselessly produce work, to market ourselves, to hustle to the point of burn-out even as the world around us is cracking at the seams. This is a problem permeating society as a whole and not just the art world, of course. The last year has exposed several major weaknesses in the infrastructure of western society and, to put it bluntly, things are not going to get better any time soon. It’s like a mask has been dropped: the valuing of capital over human well-being (as seen in governments’ responses to the pandemic and recent natural disasters); the valuing of capital over non-human well-being (as seen in the continuing ravaging of the planet and the undeniable signs of climate change); the precarity of democracy (as seen in the unabashed displays of police brutality across Europe and the USA and the continued rise of the alt-right).
I say all these things not to be a doomsayer, but rather to say that now is the time to actively search for alternative ways of being, of organising our society. Throughout this past year I have felt overcome with a sort of nervous energy. For a long time everything I had already done felt pointless and I was at a complete loss at how I, someone who chose to train in the arts, could be useful in any way. I don’t think I’ve settled on a satisfying answer to that anxiety yet – but I think this project is a step along the way.
How are you planning to adapt your practice into the online format?
Even when I was primarily active as a painter, my works were very text-based – and text has almost overtaken my practice over the years, as I now find myself mostly writing. Additionally, what particularly interests me about the internet is the ease with which texts and even entire books can be reproduced and shared to anyone around the world with a connection (and perhaps a little technical knowledge). So now, for this project, I’m making a digital publication which can be shared, viewed, and even edited and expanded by anyone who is interested in the subject of degrowth in the arts. What I’m looking into now is how to make a digital publication that fully utilises the format and interactivity of online media, rather than simply making a standard book which happens to be digital.
Why did you choose the wendy.network residency?
I was drawn to the wendy.network residency because of its focus on critically re-thinking artistic practices online. The pandemic has forced us all to move away from the white cube and into the virtual space, and this move in itself has raised a barrage of questions which have yet to be fully addressed by the artistic community as a whole: What does this move do to our (as a viewing public) experience of art? How well can we translate physical artworks into the digital space – do we even want to attempt such a translation? How can we foster new relationships and build communities online? These questions cannot be, of course, answered, let alone exhausted, within the course of a month-long residency; but it’s a great opportunity to simply be able to ask them, and to think and discuss with a pool of talented artists and curators from around the world.
What are your expectations for the virtual residency?
What I’m mostly looking forward to over the next few weeks is the opportunity to discuss with artists and curators whose work and backgrounds are entirely different than my own. I expect to be challenged and questioned in ways I cannot foresee, and this input will be absolutely invaluable for my practice – and I hope to be able to contribute in a similarly constructive way to the other residents’ projects. I’m also looking forward to opening up my artistic practice to yet more people through the wendy.network, and invite them to critically engage with my work, fostering an exchange of ideas.
What do you expect as a result of the collaboration with 5 other artists?
I am very curious to see the result myself! As we all come from such different backgrounds and work with different media, I’m looking forward to seeing how we will all engage and interact with each others’ work. I see that collectively we have a vast well of knowledge to share with each other, and I sincerely think we can have some very rich discussions during the course of this residency.
For more details about Alexandra’s work, the virtual residency, our guest faculty and the other five artists in residence, stay tuned on the wendy.network!
Alexandra Papademetriou (Alexandra’s page is currently under construction, so we include a digital archive of her older work)