Rees, Sara

DEMOCRACY at Art-Athina 2014

Sara was invited by ABC Gallery in Moscow to take her participatory artwork, DEMOCRACY to Art Athina, Greece in May 2014. Russian artists Maxim Iliukhin and Natalia Struchkova collaborated and performed in the work, as did Cardiff-based Lia Moutselou, who spoke with Greek people in her native tongue.

Sara told us more about her experience:

"The art fair was incredibly well attended for each of the 4 days of its duration, by both local and international visitors. People responded very positively to DEMOCRACY, and seemed to really connect with it, and appreciate it deeply as not only a site-specific work (in Athens, where democracy originated) but as an expression and exploration of what has become a burning issue for many people in Greece now, in light of the current crisis and the political consequences that have developed as a direct result. It was also only a couple of days before elections in Greece and the European Union, so the work was extremely pertinent.

While participating in the work, people from Athens and Greece talked about having lost faith in democracy, about corruption, austerity, debt, globalisation, Europe, the rise of right wing parties, revolution, and the possibility of re-establishing democracy – returning to its original and fundamental values and vision. Doing DEMOCRACY in this context and the conversations had as part of it has really deepened my understanding of the issues at stake.

As part of the work participants were invited to write their views on democracy. These comments will provide me with further material to place alongside the comments that were collected when I did the work in Cardiff in 2013. Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen from Cardiff Univeristy has asked to use the DEMOCRACY books to do a study on people’s views of democracy.

As well as providing my work with fantastic exposure – over 30,000 visitors to the fair – and raising the international profile of Welsh artists, attending Art-Athina gave me the opportunity to see a lot of contemporary art from Greece, and to understand the themes and concerns that Greek artists are exploring and responding to in their work. This was especially interesting in the large curated group exhibition "Statement Made" – a very powerful statement on Greece’s experience of the Global Financial Crisis, which resonated deeply with my own work.

I visited all the exhibitions in the international art fair, and attended the symposia programme – many of which were artists and artist collectives sharing their work and creative strategies, which I found fascinating. I worked with the other artists presenting with ABC Gallery Moscow, assisting them in putting up their exhibition and photographically documenting their performances, which were 4 times daily for 40 minutes, over 3 days.

After Art-Athina, I spent the remaining three days undertaking research toward the creation of new work, extending the exploration of the themes of democracy, crisis and ruins. This research comprised of visiting and documenting the sites of both ancient and modern ruins – the Agora, the Acropolis, the Pnyx, the Olympic Stadium, Exharhia, and the industrial port. This research and the thinking around it has already taken my practice into new areas, formally and aesthetically.

I also met with local artists, architects and academics who were actively involved in the protests, and spoke to them at length about their experiences and opinions. Amongst other gallery visits I attended an exhibition by Athens-based artist-architect Andreas Angelidakis, which explored the theme of ruins, ancient and modern – this was absolutely fascinating for me as it was an Athens-based artist working with similar themes but in a completely different way – using video and architectural models.

The most significant thing for me was taking my work in to such an incredibly meaningful and relevant context. As the birthplace of democracy, and a place where the current crisis of democracy is making itself painfully apparent, Athens was the perfect place to do it. I am also deeply appreciative of the time I had to do research – it was very enriching and inspiring".

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