This summer, Athens-based curator Eleni Tranouli presents a series of events at the award-winning Dexamenes Seaside Hotel in western Peloponnese inspired by the location’s history, the hotel’s monastic concept and the artistic input of three young contemporary Greek artists. Designed by K Studio, the hotel occupies the site and structures of a former winery originally built in 1920 on the beach of Kourouta, close to the town of Amaliada. To come up with her concept, Tranouli studied the rich history of the site: from a busy outpost of the once thriving Peloponnesian wine and raisin industry to a decadently derelict complex and now a luxury destination of weathered concrete, understated design, sand and sea.
In a balanced mix of ancient references, mythology, modern history and the present, Tranouli conceived a series of wine tastings at Dexamenes designed by artists Panos Profitis, Despina Charitonidi and Paky Vlassopoulou. Taking up the challenge of bringing very nuanced site-sensitive work within a commercial hotel context, Tranouli aims to bridge the worlds of hospitality and art through the common denominator of experience, both as something that is shared and emerges from the everyday. The choice of artists is far from random, as all three delicately engage with the essential aspects of human experience, interaction and public coexistence, each using different media and methodologies but with a very present performative element.
In the following interview, Eleni Tranoulli talks to und. Athens about these cross-disciplinary art gatherings, her own process in dialogue with the location and her vision behind the project.
What is Kantharos Gatherings and how did the idea come about?
Kantharos Gatherings is an original series of wine tasting events designed by contemporary artists, that intertwine with Dexamenes Seaside Hotel’s story as a postwar winery turned into a barefoot luxury resort.
It all began when visionary hotelier Nikos Karaflos approached me to imagine a bespoke art concept for his award-winning Dexamenes, opening this season on Kourouta Beach. Captivated by the hotel’s signature architecture, designed by K-studio, and by the site’s omnipresent industrial past, rooted in wine production and trade, I thought it would be interesting to connect current artistic practices with the wine culture, inherent to the hotel’s identity.
That’s how the idea of Kantharos Gatherings came along. During summer, handpicked creatives are invited to explore Dexamenes as residents and stage multi-sensory, site-conscious wine tastings with offerings sourced from selected local wineries. By means of performance art, installation, sound, and media, they will afford guests a transformative journey through sound, visual narratives, performative objects, costumes, and flavors.
Kantharos Gatherings builds community through connecting creative minds with a diverse local and international audience. On a larger scope, it reflects on how people inhabit and traverse the space of Dexamenes and plays with their ideas and fantasies about this head-turning seaside resort, as well as the wine tasting process itself.
As a curator, what challenges have you encountered in terms of bringing together contemporary art with the hospitality industry?
The number-one challenge when trying to implement a fresh contemporary art project in a hotel setting is putting it on the agenda. Speaking of Kantharos Gatherings, since it doesn’t involve the all-too-familiar strategy of hanging a few pieces on the wall or hosting an exhibition, it requires boldness and insightfulness in order to fully commit. Luckily, Nikos Karaflos had both so he jumped right on board.
Since this is a project with many moving parts, several challenges needed to be faced along the way. The main question was how to transpose a purely artistic vocabulary in a hospitality setting while keeping both curatorial integrity and a mindful brand strategy. Selecting the right artists was crucial and the produced works needed to maintain their function as wine tastings without compromising any artistic principles. We also had to simultaneously think on both a temporary and a long-term basis, and examine, in advance, what permanent traces these art happenings could potentially leave behind.
The residency component of Kantharos Gatherings is also tricky, especially during high-season, since the artists’ presence on site had to be in harmony with the hotel’s operations. Another challenging curatorial choice was to explore Dexamenes as a living organism instead of using it merely as a hosting venue. For example, we wanted to engage the hotel staff in the events and incorporate, in the artworks, elements from the hotel’s everyday life. Last but not least, there is also the question of reaching a wider audience, both communication- and location-wise.
Maintaining a balance between all these factors imposes, among other things, a number of “creative restraints” that end up co-defining the final outcome.
Your curatorial practice involves the experience of art on a personal, everyday level. Can you tell us more about this?
Over the years, works by artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Lawrence Weiner, Sophie Calle, Petros Efstathiadis and many more, have exerted a strong influence on me and have deeply affected my life. I was particularly interested in how art can enhance one’s emotional experience towards things, situations, and the other, on an everyday level. What we call the “everyday” can be defined as a lived experience, shaped by the relationship we fabricate between all that surrounds us. The way we rearrange, combine, fragment and restitch the stimuli we perceive, is a mental process that produces meanings and narratives, and provokes distinctive and subjective feelings. The deeper one is able to sense and delve into daily life, the more everything becomes essential, satisfying and poetic. And art, in my opinion, helps us perceive things “lavishly” and access this elevated sphere of “emotional refinement”.
Today, more and more people wish to escape the daily grind by seeking authentic and transforming experiences through travel and tourism. And they do expect from hotels to operate as their entry point to local culture. What we are trying to do at Dexamenes is to meet this demand by using art as experience and inspire people to reconsider how they perceive the everyday when returning back home.
What is a kantharos and why did you choose this as the name for the project?
The name for the events derives from the ancient Greek cup kantharos, a typical vase with distinctive high handles used for drinking wine. In ancient times, it was both an everyday object as well as an attribute to the god Dionysus that was used for offerings. This twofold aspect of kantharos as well as its connection to the Greek past and the history of wine, made it an appropriate name for the events.
The word “gatherings” that follows hints at the symposia (sympotic gatherings) of ancient times, centered around collective thinking, philosophizing, and drinking wine. Despite symposia being a cornerstone to ancient Greek society, they were, in fact, held in private for prominent male guests. On that account, Kantharos Gatherings celebrates togetherness and, at the same time, reflects on the notions of exclusivity, private versus public space, subversive art versus entertainment. All these opposed ideas co-exist in this project.
Tell us a few things about the two upcoming Kantharos Gatherings. What are the artists of each event going to present?
During summer 2019, the artists headlining at Dexamenes are Panos Profitis, Despina Charitonidi, and Paky Vlassopoulou, each of whom will bring their creativity and insight to the table.
On June 29 and July 13, Panos Profitis and Despina Charitonidi are joining forces for a moving wine tasting experience engaging with performance, site-based sculpture, sound, and organic-industrial scenography. Profitis and Charitonidi have separate bodies of work, but they often collaborate as a duo. On the one hand, Profitis’s practice is rooted in movement, rituals and body gestures. He often works with industrial materials and fabricates unusual objects that are activated through performance. On the other hand, Charitonidi is interested in the properties of various raw materials, and in what these materials evoke to the viewer. Many of her works introduce notions of weight and balance and she often uses matter to explore larger issues such as the relationship between intimacy and power. Together, they make a great match for Kantharos Gatherings.
Paky Vlassopoulou was also a great fit, as her work often revolves around the service-providing industries by questioning the role of care and hospitality. Her practice is informed by the dialectics of traditional sculpture-making in relation to spatial issues, objecthood, functionality, and bodily experiences. On August 17 and August 24, she will be staging a nomadic journey inside the hotel, tackling questions of cleanness, proper etiquette and good manners, in a wine tasting turned into a catharsis ritual of body and mind.