Close Up: Stephanie Bertrand
Stephanie, hi! How did you come across Chryse’s work?
SB: When I first moved to Thessaloniki, I teamed up with Lydia Chatziiakovou from Artbox to initiate Art Night, a discursive platform addressed to the arts community, which later became Societe Anonyme, in response to a perceived void. It was a way for me to become familiar with the local scene while putting myself to good use by contributing in a reactive way to whatever need came up through discussion. That’s how I met Chryse. She turned out to be one of the most active and present members who took part in an ongoing conversation that spanned almost five years.
You are Canadian, living in Thessaloniki. It seems that these days – with the current situation in Greece, there is a wave of art professionals moving to Greece; especially Athens. What is that like for an international curator to be in Greece at the moment? Has that fact affected your work or how you are perceived abroad?
SB: My reasons for moving to Greece are different, I imagine, from those that have motivated the recent influx of art professionals to the country. I arrived in Thessaloniki in 2008, at the very beginning of the financial crisis, long before the media storm, the refugee crisis and any thoughts of Documenta in Athens. The fact that Greece has been ‘trending’ naturally creates opportunities: international interest that brings its lot of projects, funding and high profile collaborations. As desirable as those may be, and they are, along with the welcomed inflow of creative thinkers offsetting in some small way Greece’s massive brain drain, at the end of the day, I think public resources and solid visionary institutions, which are sorely lacking, are far more desirable than hyped up precarity. The reality is that unless you are independently wealthy, or have outside funding, it is very difficult nowadays to be a curator in Greece. It’s a hustle. And the same goes for artists, several of whom have had to put their practice on hold to struggle to survive day to day due to the economic downturn.
In terms of how being based in Greece may have affected my work or my perception abroad, I have generally tried to avoid capitalizing on things, and have done what people do when there is a job shortage, which is to pursue higher education, in my case, doctoral research.
Tell us a bit more about your experience in Thessaloniki
SB: In spite of the economic climate, Thessaloniki is a brilliant city with a comparitively high standard of living. My experience here has been akin to an extended residency. After two years spent studying in London, it has been a great place to step back and delve into research without the constant distraction of openings and events, and the pressure to conform to academic fashions. It can feel isolated at times, but whenever an invited artist or thinker is in town, there is much more informal access and exchange than in a larger center. Ultimately, my time here has amounted to a highly productive period in my practice in terms of study and research towards more long-term projects, which may not correspond to the way curatorial output is generally quantified – i.e. as a cumulative tally ¬– but which better suits my designs.
Close Up: Chryse Tsiota
Chryse, tell us a bit more about this body of work.
CT: The installation I present at the gallery is part of a new body of work which is not completed yet, so it would be hard for me to be very specific. It has autobiographical elements, as most of my work up until now, even though I do focus less than the past on the narration of a story and I find myself to be more interested in the relationship of the photographical surfaces and their processing as three dimensional materials.
You are an artist with important participations in festivals and biennials, not only in Greece but abroad as well. How easy is it for you to achieve that while being located in the periphery of Europe and of Greece.
CT: The difficulty depends on the target. It is true that by living in the periphery one is less visible in the important centers, but if one is determined to do his job, and is obsessed with it and doesn’t hesitate to make sacrifices, he might not become a ‘rock star’ but will at least manage to communicate the work.
Where would you choose to live?
CT: A few years back, I would have answered differently and would have chosen important mega-cities. We have all fantasized living in New York. Through the years, I have realized that it is more interesting not to have a permanent base but invest in flexibility.