The Snehta Residency: British art finds a home in Athens
Snehta, a new residency programme for emerging British artists has recently been established in Athens. The founder, Augustus Veinoglou, a Greek artist who studied at Edinburgh College of Art and now lives and works in Edinburgh describes it as, ‘an opportunity for artists to develop their practice in a new and inspiring city.’ Artists participating in the Snehta programme apply through an open call and work in the city for up to three months, in this time they are expected to produce a solo exhibition and a public event.
Residency programmes have a reputation for being important periods of development for artists, offering them time to think and make work within a new cultural landscape. Whilst it is possible to read the Athens-based residency as drawing upon the 18th and 19th Century traditions of the Grand Tour, where swarms of British artists descended upon the city as part of their Enlightenment education, Snehta is keen to shake off these archaic associations in practice. As is implied by its name, (Athens spelled backwards), the programme seeks to initiate new readings and cultural responses to the Greek capital.
The artists selected for Snehta are, ‘gregarious, exciting and well-versed in contemporary art,’ according to Veinoglou. ‘They are chosen because of their potential to find original ways of expressing and presenting Athens as it is today not through the lens of history.’ Despite the tradition of artists from overseas seeking inspiration from Athens Snehta is the only international residency currently operating in the city.
The recent initiation of the programme is greatly influenced by the current climate in Greece: ‘I wanted to produce a residency for international artists for a long time,’ says Veinoglou: ‘My own experiences of working across two cultural climates, both in Greece and the UK informed my practice so richly that I felt compelled to give other artists the same opportunity, keen to see how their practice would also grow. Following the economic crisis in Greece I could see the potential for a residency programme to be founded that would not only inspire the artists involved, but to contribute to the cultural economy in a broader sense.’
It is important to Veinoglou that the programme is accessible and open to the city’s artistic community. The Athenian art scene has welcomed the project with open arms; ‘local architects, writers, curators and critics have attended talks and openings and our social networking sites continue to grow as more people learn of what we are doing,’ he claims.
Snehta is a new addition to an already dynamic grassroots art scene in Athens, one that continues to flourish amidst crisis. Much like in Britain, over the past year the Greek capital has seen its empty shops occupied by pop-up exhibitions. It has also witnessed public art interventions, particularly in politically charged areas of Athens. A recent exhibition titled ‘Thermopolis’ staged by Athens School of Art and Madrid School of Art showed students tied up in police tape and ‘Home Sweet Home’ Welcome Mats strewn across Syntagma Square. There have also been some bold, democratic projects from international artists such as Berlin-based Florian Thalhofer’s work, ‘Money and Greeks’ at Athens art space Beton 7. In this exhibition the public are encouraged to ‘rate’ Thalhofer’s work and by sharing their opinions the viewer influences its direction. They may also win a trip to Athens for the opening.
While the value of contemporary art within economic crisis is often overlooked and usually contested, the emergence of vibrant underground art scenes in such climates is hard to dispute. However, Veinoglou is confident that these underground communities can exist outside of a cultural bubble, emphasising their prescience at this time even further: ‘The local people of Kipseli, the district where the residency is based and many of whom are usually isolated from the contemporary art scene have also shown great support for Snehta. People are generally interested in what we are doing and want to see the residency succeed, regardless of whether they regularly attend galleries or not,’ he says.
It seems it is not only the spelling of Athens that Snehta readdresses but the various forms of artistic production, cultural collaboration and public accessibility that are available to the city’s local people and Britain’s own ambitious young artists.Tagged in: Athens, Augustus Veinoglou, Encephalon, greece, rts, Snehtaa
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