Residence CAP

In his work Arik Visser shows a focused interest in social structures and social systems. He analyses the underlying processes in which hierarchy, power but also desire are important. From this, works emerge that have no particular form or order. In 2014 Visser stayed as artist in residence at the Corinth Art Platform in Corinth, Greece.

Visual artist from the Netherlands
I was sitting at the head of a long table in the yard of a soap factory. On either side of the table sat many people, a large family consisting of several families. The sun was shining brightly and the atmosphere was joyful. Above a fire five sheep and a goat were roasted. I was introduced as a visual artist from the Netherlands, after which there was a friendly nod and no questions asked; I was welcome. It was crisis time, but not during Easter, the most important feast in conservative orthodox Greece.

Three months earlier, at an opening in De Service Garage, an Amsterdam-based artists' initiative with an exhibition space of which I am a member, I had been asked if I would be interested in a short-term residency in Corinth, Greece. A new initiative had been set up here, the Corinth Art Platform, CAP for short. CAP had been developed at the beginning of 2014 by Kali Nikolou, a Greek artist who lives and works in the Netherlands, Germany and Greece. CAP aims to explore the social role of the artist in society and to make the cultural life in the city more diverse, and to this end invites a foreign artist once or twice a year for a two-month work period in Corinth.

Corinth is a small provincial city with currently 70,000 inhabitants and a limited cultural life, but a very rich history. During a war with the Romans, the city-state was destroyed, but out of admiration for Greek culture, Corinth was rebuilt by Julius Caesar and became the most important city in southern Greece. The remains of the ancient city are today a major tourist attraction. For the majority of today's population, art begins and ends with a classical sculpture of a Greek God or Goddess.

I was immediately excited by the idea of working in Corinth. My interest in social structures and systems is a constant element in my work. I analyze the underlying processes, of which hierarchy, power and desire are important components. I was very curious to work within the social structure in Corinth. The financial crisis affected mainly the lower strata of the Greek population and its social effects had to be visible in Corinth, where mainly workers live.

Corinth Art Platform
Upon arrival, Kali assured me that nothing was expected of me. My stay was for orientation, after which the initiative could be further developed. This free role was in contrast to the large number of people involved in CAP, people who had heard about the initiative and wanted to get in touch with me quickly. All of them directly or indirectly asked the same question: "who are you and what are you going to do for us?" This interest came from a curiosity about contemporary visual art. The city has a large number of architects and a number of musicians who make up its cultural elite, but the residency was something entirely new. And something new could lead to change and thus possibly improvement.

It was election time, a mayor had to be elected. Since a Greek mayor appoints all aldermen, the mayor (or mother) has a lot of power during the five years in office. There was a wide interest in the elections, as the promises of improvement appealed to many. Complete political independence is very difficult to achieve for a company, institute or institution in Corinth. Entrepreneurs, administrators and initiators are constantly asked by political parties if they can do something for their candidate with the promise that they will get something in return after the victory. So around the candidates walk a lot of yes-men and followers around. They would like to know the result before the election so they can move in the direction of the winner.

CAP is independent, and therefore not financially supported by local politics, otherwise there would have to be a return for a political party. The initiative is entirely funded by private individuals, the apartment by a local patron, the airfare by a number of companies, and the material and production costs by suppliers and donors. The studio is located in a small cultural center that is a remnant of the Occupy movement in 2012. In this center, language courses and photography workshops are given by volunteers and there is a weekly movie night. The center is located in a small building where also a very friendly Afghan refugee is waiting for his residence permit. Residing at CAP is therefore a very social affair, there are constantly people around you and they have high expectations, although they usually don't show this explicitly. Because of this, I had a constant feedback on my ideas and projects.

Social Institute
After a week of wandering around and through the city, I decided to organize the input I received from my new surroundings. I set up the Social Institute. This institute was located in a small, unused house of the local taxi service on a central square. For four days, I transformed it into an office where the Corinthians could express their opinions, ideas and expectations. Central were general questions like: what do you think of the city? Where are you proud of? What has changed in recent years and what should be changed? What function can art have for the city? On the first day the two local television stations, belonging to the political right and left, immediately devoted a news item to the presence of the institute, which meant that the following days there was a lot of traffic at the office, which looked like one of the many election booths.

There were discussions about politics, about the economy, about Europe - Merkel was detested, past and present were compared and also the weather was discussed. Many people thought that employment could be improved by more tourism and that an independent cultural platform for music, dance and visual arts could enrich the city. I found it striking that almost everyone felt the social differences were stronger because of the crisis and that people only discussed (financial) problems indoors out of pride.

During my walks through the city I found it very striking that the streetscape in Corinth contained holes. There were three kinds of holes: the absence of a building where a building had obviously once stood; the start of new construction where a concrete skeleton was all that was left due to a lack of money; and (semi) finished concrete skeletons where one or more floors were completely finished. There was a general sense of shame about these urban imperfections that were clearly the result of the economic crisis. I wanted to name and reduce this shame.

Building signs
At three locations in the city I placed signs that resembled the billboards that can be found at the edge of a building site and on which the client, contractor, financiers, and the function of the building to be constructed are mentioned.
and showing an impression of the completed object. The three buildings I proposed were modelled on the unfinished concrete skeletons and contained, respectively, a text about a Tourist Information to be built, a Creative Cultural Centre and an Institute for Social Interaction and Mutual Understanding.

In addition to the building signs, I photographed all the solitary concrete skeletons in the city. Many were beautiful; like gigantic modernist sculptures they stood on squares, plains or along the beach. I edited the photographs of some of these skeletons, placing the concrete structures on pedestals in large European squares, thus presenting them in an exhibition context. I presented the edited photos on top of the photographed buildings. Neighbours reacted with surprise but mostly enthusiasm to the new view.

While Greece's financial status went from a C+ to a B- during my stay, partly because civil servants received 40% percent pay cuts and a worker's hourly wage remained at four to five euros, while the price level of daily life was at Dutch levels, my presence was appreciated and widely supported both financially and in time offered. However, I sometimes felt some embarrassment when I spent these precious donated euros on my work.

The energy, hospitality and commitment I was surrounded with during my time at Corinth were fantastic. If you are looking for a residency where you can develop your work well funded and in peace, you should choose somewhere else. During the residency at CAP, I experienced constant interest, enthusiasm and criticism from those around me. The work was made by and for these people. The expectations and involvement were great. Never before did I feel so urgently the question: what is the social function of art, what is the use of it and what can it cost?


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