Sozita Goudouna: A Greek woman who excels in New York
ARTS & CULTURE
Culture has always been the starting point of her wanderings
BY DIMITRI STATHOPOULOS PUBLISHED DECEMBER, 2021
Top curator and assistant professor at New York University CUNY, Sozita Gudouna talks to Travel.gr about her personal journey in art, her recent collaboration with the Municipal Theater of Piraeus, and the importance of a trip from Gavdos to Beirut.
Culture and travel. How interconnected?
The predominant form of urban wandering, flâneurship, can not be understood without culture or travel. My wandering always starts with culture. As an avid collector of images and travel impressions, I wander the boundaries of the arbitrary but always aiming to discover uncharted cultural sites. More specifically, a recent trip led me to design a new program that focuses on synergies between Greek and Caribbean visual artists and performers. The artistic program entitled “Greece-Caribbean Cultural Exchanges” was implemented in September 2021 on the occasion of the Mykonos Biennale and the invitation of the artist Lydia Venieris.
Tell us a few more things.
In collaboration with the Ateliers ’89 Academia de Bellas Artes Aruba and the director of the foundation Elvis López, I nominated the following 10 artists to be presented at the Biennale: Chelsea Peteson, Irvin Aguilar, Jess Wolf, Ken Wolff, Romelinda Maldonado, Samuel Samiento, Velvet Zoe Ramos, Wilfred Jansen, Alydia Wever. Efforts to connect the arts locally and regionally go hand in hand with efforts to connect Caribbean art and artists worldwide, supporting contemporary art and artists on a regional and international platform, and strengthening art organizations. One of the difficulties is the cultural, economic and physical isolation that separates different parts of the Caribbean. I also invited the artists Shayma Aziz, Adham Hafez, Luigi Ontani, Lola Schnabel, Steven C. Harvey, Nikos Charalambidis, Peter Schuyff and the musician Max ZT to the Mykonos Biennale.
Greece in USA. A cultural journey during the Covid-19 period, a very special and at the same time difficult period for everyone. How did you see this idea of yours being implemented. Are you satisfied with the reception and management?
We can not overlook the fact that the pandemic can be an opportunity to redefine every aspect of social life. In the field of contemporary art, I think there is a paradigm shift. Technology and the internet are changing the perceptions we had of art and its production. We saw that Crypto Art and NFT skyrocketed at the auction houses during the pandemic. The mega galleries may end up controlling these markets through their selective processes, however, at the same time there is a democratization taking place and we can not yet predict the impact it will have on art production.
Art should be a common good and the opportunity given to us by a pandemic is to realize the social power and impact of art, expanding the ways it is projected in the public sphere, whether it is the virtual world of the internet or preferably the real world and the public space.
“GREECE IN USA” was founded in March 2020 in New York, at the beginning and during the pandemic period. The sleepless city had been transformed into a ghost town like all metropolitan centers. The only similar experience for New Yorkers was 9/11. In this “atmosphere of fear” and following years of experience in promoting Greek artists in London and New York, I remembered the founding principles of the Performa Biennale.
Performa is the organization to which I owe my settlement in New York in 2015, which was founded in part against the fear caused by the terrorist acts of 2001. For a month, Performa changes the way New Yorkers experience the city and especially the downtown, after 9/11, which as a traumatic event transformed the relationship of residents with public space. The Biennale aims to “reclaim” public space and locations that have changed use due to the dominance of Real Estate. Performa takes place in different parts of the city, from Times Square and New York Customs to museums such as MoMA, Whitney, Guggenheim, BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music and Dance), galleries and other cultural venues.
In this context, I envisioned GREECE IN USA as an organization that does not align with the modern phobias of distancing and complacency, but that “reclaims” the importance of art in everyday life in public and that primarily gives a voice to a specific nationality that has no substantial or influential impact and presence in American cultural events.
Several years ago you decided to live in New York. How much does your life change?
I settled in New York in 2015 and it really changed my life completely. It was like turning a page or more specifically like changing the narrative for my life since this settlement was not exactly a conscious decision. It came from a professional application that was the catalyst for my subsequent decision to stay in the city. Usually most Greeks who settle in New York have studied here and have another type of connection to the city. For me the course was more unorthodox but I hope it turns out to be just as stable.
Tell us about your most vivid image during your initial installation in the city?
I will not forget that from the window of the first apartment I settled in, I saw the famous Armory building that took place in 1913, the International Exhibition of Contemporary Art “Armory” and that shocked the country, changing our perception of the concept of the “beautiful” in art and marked the dawn of Modernism in America. It was the first time the phrase “avant-garde” was used to describe painting and sculpture. The city’s direct relationship with the “avant-garde” remains a catalyst in all areas: culture, entrepreneurship and science.
Your career progresses significantly in New York, however you manage and maintain a contact with Greece. How is this experience balanced?
I try to balance my relationship with the two countries through a professional perspective because otherwise it would not be realistic. The United States is very different from Europe in terms of distance and culture. Therefore, the non-profit platform I founded helps me to bridge the two countries more practically by bringing Greece to America and America to Greece through culture.
Are you the inspirer of the “Artport” program, which takes place at the Municipal Theater of Piraeus, how did this project start?
In July 2020, while we were still in the insecurity of the pandemic, Mr. Lefteris Giovanidis, artistic director of the Municipal Theater of Piraeus, invited me to design the visual arts program of the Theater. With great generosity, the board approved the proposal for an interdisciplinary program, which focuses on the dialogue between Greek and international artists focusing on the symbolism of Piraeus itself as a port of cultural exchanges. A port that can take off through a real modern cultural development. We know that the silo buildings have been transformed internationally into exceptional museums as was the goal with the competition many years ago for the Museum of Underwater Antiquities in Piraeus. I remember that the experts thought that the museum would not be implemented any time soon. The program we designed attempts to fill this cultural gap and complements the private initiatives of galleries that have opened annexes in Piraeus as well as some institutions. The work of Andres Serrano in the Stone Warehouse, which is for the first time granted to the Municipal Theater by the Port Authority, underlines the creatively subversive character that we seek to accomplish.
The video “Airport” that inspired “Artport” has been conceived as a meditation on the history of Greece and its recent financial crisis. The project focuses on the landscape of Southern Greece and the abandoned former Hellinikon airport that is being transformed. The film is inspired by the work of two films by Stanley Kubrick (1928–1999) and Theodoros Angelopoulos (1935–2012). The resilient sense of time of the film refers to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), while the technique of continuous movement between the camera, the characters and the locations of Angelopoulos is also used in a poetic result.
When was the first time you felt ecstatic about a work of art?
The younger we are, the more art is reflected in the ability of art to change our lives. One performance that will be unforgettable for the unique collaboration of the visual and performing arts is “Aeschylus Oresteia” by Dimitris Papaioannou with music by Iannis Xenakis and sets by Lili Pezanou, which I attended in the summer of 1995 at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus. Recently, I felt ecstatic in a production curated by Nectarios Antonios entitled “Celebrating Arvo Pärt” at The Met that was presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, under the auspices of Greece in USA. We collaborated with Nectarios S. Antoniou, a member of our board of directors, to present the world premiere of Arvo Pärt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
What is your favorite destination? What are the key elements to include?
When you are an immigrant, favorite destinations often become the most intimate destinations. I love all our islands, and especially Hydra, thanks to my relationship with the island since the 80 ‘as a member of the ecologists of Hydra. But the islands that calm me the most are the farthest, the ones that take me to the Minoans, the Mysteries and the bridges in the Middle East, such as Kastelorizo, Samothrace and Gavdos. The favorite destination combines the Aegean landscape with modern architecture and art, such as the building complex designed by Xenakis since 1966 with the composer Francois-Bernard Mache on the slope of a hill in Lefkes near Katapola on Amorgos. Due to nostalgia, a favorite destination would also be a trip from Cyprus to Kastelorizo and Gavdos, as the liner once went, continuing to Cairo and Beirut. Cities with cultural ties to Greece that would be good to strengthen as we seek our hybrid identity between “east” and “west”.