Nicolas Vamvouklis (NV): Eleni, we first met a couple of summers ago at a beautiful olive grove in Lesvos. You participated in a program of Hermitage Sykaminea focusing on community-making. Do you have any good stories from your stay there?
Eleni Papazoglou (EP): Hermitage Sykaminea is a special place run by the most incredible human, Andreas Sell. It was amazing to meet so many practitioners and have time to talk, think, and share. We ran workshops and rituals ranging from felting, writing collectively, building stairs, and considering loss.
I think meeting Andreas was a revelation. He is so rigorous about playing; something I resonate with. I have a great appreciation for him and his practice. Six months after the residency, Andreas and I were in a bar, and I told him I was bored. He challenged me to do an exhibition right there and then. In about 24 hours, Andreas, Theodoros Tzannetakis, and I organised “I Love You Forever,” a show that took place under the highway bridge of Leoforos Athinon. It included artworks by Alex Zakkas, Panagiotis Tzannetakis, Konstantinos Giotis, Giorgos Athanasiou, Anna Rose Stefatou, Vincent Meyrignac, Irini Stamatiadi, Dimitris Theodoropoulos, Andreas Sell, Iria Vrettou, Chnoubis, Ariadne Strofylla, Alkis Hadjiandreou, Theodoros Tzannetakis and myself. People came through to see the show, and we had tangerines and beers. Iria did a reading. It is still one of my favourite projects.
NV: It’s fascinating how your research addresses collectivity and participation in diversified contexts, ranging from self-organized to institutional ones. Is there a common line that traverses the exploration of these themes?
EP: Working by, with, and for, or alongside others is always a powerful experience, no matter the context. It involves exchange, alignment, and friction. Negotiation, camaraderie, affect. I am interested in the systems we use to relate to one another, and they exist everywhere. Sometimes those are top-down or inscribed in policy; in other cases, they are practical, necessary, faceless, self-initiated, historical, or circumstantial. Looking at different contexts provides a wide range of lenses to study the same topic.
NV: You’re originally from Athens, and you’ve decided to stay in London after your studies there. Would you consider returning to Greece at some point?
EP: London has a dynamic and vast community I love being part of. I work with different collectives and groups, the most important for me being Crit Club, a closed group of artists that meets once a month to provide peer-to-peer feedback as well as technical support and mentorship. My studio is in a building of 500 artists — another generous support network. There is a lot of energy floating about, even if it’s a tough city to live in.
At the same time, I have been considering moving back to Greece… I am trying to have the best of both worlds and balance the back and forth. In London, I have found ways to support myself through my practice. I’d like to find ways to make this possible in Athens. If you have any thoughts on this, please share — I am curious to know how different practitioners make it work.
NV: You should ask this question to the network of the ARTWORKS Fellows; I’m confident this will set up an inspiring conversation. But let’s return to you. So, your background is in illustration and graphic design. In which ways does this knowledge intersect with your artistic practice?
EP: I think in everything! In my opinion, graphic design is integrated with notions of publics. It is everywhere, everyday, and for everyone. It feels closer to today’s world than art; in its application and methods of production. As my work often explores day-to-day systems we share — such as work, language, commerce, and spaces outside the gallery — graphic design is a tool relevant to such contexts.
Graphic design is embedded in storytelling, individual and collective identity, and guidance. It is the visual language of [information] exchange — a reactive process in itself — a call and response between context and visual, status quo and proposed alternatives. When approached critically, it is a system of negation.
NV: I enjoy how your projects often consist of playful experiments in the realms of sport, work, and transport. What is your idea of performativity?
EP: I use performativity to enact propositions. I was working with instruction-led choreography, re-enactment, clowning, and team-building exercises. I then started making sculptural ‘tools’ to perform with and producing subversive manuals.
Performance in the 1960s Western Europe and North America arrived to disturb notions of value by opposing the commercialisation of the art object. Today, we are all performing: labour, gender, class, knowledge, wokeness, and on social media. What was once a tool for resisting assigned value has become an integral part of it. The science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin said, “We live in capitalism and its power seems inescapable. But so did the divine right of kings.’’ What does resistance look like today? I think enactment (def. the process of putting an idea or suggestion into practice) might be a good start, and it might include performative elements.
NV: Besides being a visual artist and designer, you also work as a lecturer. What is your experience with education?
EP: Education can mean anything from learning, empowerment, self-organisation, university, having transformative experiences, academia, and certification. I have been teaching at university level for 5 years. Learning environments, like everything else, are not a level playing field; there is a lot of work to do to address inequalities.
I am interested in how we can share. Learning processes have taught me to acknowledge, to not know, to witness, and how much that can mean, to allow, and set boundaries. I am fascinated by how we can co-create environments of trust that allow taking risks.
NV: What are you currently working on? Is there any new project you could share with me?
EP: I just finished two projects: an exhibition in and about an ex-evangelical church and community centre with Grace Black, Maddie Banwell, and Daniel Gatenio. I also produced “Rear View,” an exhibition and series of events that took place in the artist reference library Biblioteka (South London). I showed some new assemblage works and invited trusting mechanics [aka Rhoda Boateng], George Lynch, Oisín Roberts, Camille Yvert, Conor Ackhurst, Romeo Roxman Gatt, Nina Porter, Leah Walker, and Georgia Stephenson to share readings and moving image works, responding to the work.
At the moment, I am working towards a body of work that might take the form of a book inspired by general store packaging. I would like to approach my favourite general store to host the presentation of works.
NV: I love this idea and I’m curious about what’s on your reading shelf. Any book recommendations for this summer?
EP: I am reading: Thing Theory (2001) by Bill Brown, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies (1925) by Marcel Mauss, and The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction (1986) by Ursula K. Le Guin. I am not sure these are exactly books for the beach. So here is one more: After the Sun (2018) by Jonas Eika. Enjoy enjoy. Thank you so much, Nicola!
Eleni Papazoglou is an artist, designer, and educator that lives between Athens and London. By using assemblage, writing, and performance, Eleni explores value, systems of exchange, and the structures around them. Recent exhibitions include: Rear View [solo], Biblioteka (London, 2023), How It Feels, SET (London, 2023), Prizing Eccentric Talents 2, P.E.T. Projects (Αthens, 2022), and Alternate Realities, Sheffield Documentary Festival, (2022). She was awarded the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Artist Fellowship by ARTWORKS (Athens, 2021–22) and the SET Studio Award (London, 2020–21). She was part of the group residency Peer Forum 2020 researching collective affection, hosted by Camden Arts Center (London, 2020–21) and acted as the educator-in-residence for Supersmashers, a weekly art session for looked-after children in Southwark hosted by the South London Gallery (London, 2020–2021).
Nicolas Vamvouklis is a curator and arts writer. He is the artistic director of K-Gold Temporary Gallery and has curated exhibitions at Mediterranea 19 Biennale, 7th Thessaloniki Biennale, and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Since 2016, he has served as senior curator at the Benetton cultural panorama. He has also collaborated with Béjart Ballet Lausanne, Marina Abramovic Institute, Prague Quadrennial, and Triennale Milano. Vamvouklis contributes to art magazines and publications, including The Art Newspaper and MIT Press. In 2021, he was awarded the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Artist Fellowship by ARTWORKS.