Text by Lorina Speder
Approximately 7 km northeast from the city centre of Athens one can find the vibrant suburb of Nea Ionia. The neighbourhood was constructed for the refugees that came after the Greco-Turkish War, which ended in 1922 and led to a population exchange between Greece and Turkey right after.  The arriving population from Asia Minor was given small houses with equally small gardens, in which they started their lives from scratch, often founding family businesses at their door fronts.  Today, the area is still known for its focus on the textile industry that came with the new population. But the architectural landscape of the area has since changed into a mix of the original small houses and typical polykatoikias that have taken over large areas of Athens.
Close to the Nea Filadelfeia park, one can find Yellow Brick, an ongoing project and space by artist and researcher Vasiliki Sifostratoudaki. She grew up around Nea Ionia and remembers a feeling of togetherness from her childhood years, and that people were still talking in Turkish as well as in Greek at the shops. “The people that came here somehow created this whole universe within the neighbourhood. The stories about poverty are of course very dominant, especially after the war, but there was also a community”, she says. After studying in the Netherlands, she decided to return to Nea Ionia and take over the former house of her grandparents. It was supposed to be made into a company, but she saw the opportunity and redesigned the space with a befriended architect to create a studio and exhibition space as well as a living area on the second floor.
Now the main area of the house is a white cube-like space with unusually high ceilings and a lot of natural light coming in from new windows. The second floor only takes up a part of the building, so that the exhibition space uses two floors in height. Behind curtains on the ground floor one can find manual printing machines, a kitchen, and bathroom, as well as a small library with a seating area. Upstairs there is another bathroom, a bedroom, and an office.
After living in the house to test out its possibilities, Sifostratoudaki started to “think of it as a choreography or movement that can grow — not in a monumental way, but as an ongoing project.” Pursuing the ideas of community and hosting, she began to invite artists from all over the word for a residency. Each residency is documented as a numbered STEP on Yellow Brick’s homepage, suggesting the ongoing quality of Sifostratoudaki’s project as well as its interconnected nature.  “Artists can try out things that they maybe wouldn’t in their home”, she says and explains the residency concept that is active since 2016: “I want to give artists an opportunity to experiment, think, or rest. Nobody must present an exhibition, but we’re asking for documentation throughout the process.”
When asked if the artists have been affected by the neighbourhood in their artistic practices during the residency, Sifostratoudaki pauses and says: “I feel like they are influenced, but they don’t ask to be influenced.” Her residency concept, the Yellow Brick project, is open to all kinds of artistic undertakings and does not have to deal with the surroundings, even though one of the open call questions asks about Nea Ionia. “If you do a gesture and you place a space like this in Nea Ionia, which has quite a strong history only by its name, of course it will include the whole history of the place”, Sifostratoudaki explains and mentions that some artists of the residencies have indeed dealt with the neighbourhood, and inspired her to engage more with it as well.
Just recently, she started a long-planned education project for young students, the Yellow Playground. “I love education and I hope that this is becoming more part of the project”, she says. Wishing to include different layers into the educational project, Yellow Brick is also part of the SHAPING PATTERNS European Erasmus Programme. With this programme, Sifostratoudaki’s aim is to broaden the understanding of art and education.
But also personally, Yellow Brick and its surroundings have influenced her artistic practice: “Somehow the fact that I was staying here more because of the project has created a different level of curiosity. It invited me to connect more with my personal history”, she says while talking about her project 'Portraits of Trees, small notes of History', in which she researched the history of the city through trees. “A lot of specific trees are out of the norm in Nea Ionia, because they were put here by the people after the exchange of the population. I asked around and was told that they brought several seeds with them, specifically seeds of the mulberry tree from Turkey to Greece for growing silk.” Even though she started and executed the initiative and was planning an exhibition of it, Sifostratoudaki acknowledges the interdependencies of her projects: “In the end I wouldn’t consider it my work only. Yellow Brick is a polyphonic work and I cannot differentiate it from my practice.” For her it’s about doing things together, which is why she would never call Yellow Brick her artist-run space. “It’s a unit and it involves more than me, it’s a lifelong project”, she says. Going back to growth and the trees, she finds the perfect metaphor for her role in Yellow Brick: “I’m like the gardener who brings the seeds.”
Upcoming event: STEP 39W, The time and space we create in togetherness | Open Doors. With Juan Duque. Friday 26 May, 19:00-23:00. Saturday 27 May, 13:00-16:00.
 Sandis, E. E. (1972): The Asia minor refugees of Nea Ionia. The Greek Review of Social Research, 14, p. 186.