Shaping the Past as Our Own, with Help from Giorgos Palamaris

Interview by Alexander Strecker

Castling Homeside, Giorgos Palamaris, 2015

“This is why I feel so lucky to be an artist — to be able to look in a more open manner. I can take inspiration and poetic feeling from what I experience, and not feel the need to adhere to strict boundaries or scientific delineations.”

In his work as an artist, Giorgos wants to further blur these lines. While he strongly believes that we must be close to our past and live within it, he rejects a frozen glorification. Rather, through his work, he aims to create a dynamic relationship between past and present, to cultivate a thoughtful, ethical respect for history that also gives space to people living today. He summarizes, “We each have to learn how to make the past our own and find our own way to co-exist with it. Greece, with its rich heritage, has an opportunity to show the world how this can be done. Here, we have a flexibility and an openness to improvisation that many find maddening. But maybe these qualities can be used to help us reimagine old truths in new ways.”

Giorgos Palamaris, Visual Artist | SNF ARTWORKS Fellow 2018

Giorgos grew up in Pallini, a suburb of Athens. His father and grandfather had always worked with their hands, as builders, and thus Giorgos grew up as a child of construction, amidst the smell of churning cement and building materials.

Within this encouraging environment, Giorgos found himself at a crossroads. Growing up, he had never been interested in the way history was taught in schools. At the same time, he found himself continuously attracted to working with ruins and old objects. But the relationship between the two remained ambivalent. He recalls, with a smile, how he often used to think to himself when he was younger, “The center of Athens is so boring: why don’t they destroy the Acropolis and build something new there?”

“The essence of the problem is that of complete enclosure. Instead, we need to create a bond between ourselves and the past. By creating such airtight separations, this relationship never forms. In Greece, there are some ancient sites that are totally fenced-off from the public — but then are not well upkept. This is the worst. Because these sites are invisible to us, they are left to further ruin.”

What, I asked him, was an example of a more successful balance between preserving the past and meeting the needs of the present? When not staffed on archaeological projects, Palamaris also works periodically with a company that repairs and restores historic houses. The firm is committed to working on a slow, human scale. They avoid discarding material and do everything they can to find ways to give the existing structures new life. They aim to preserve the past not just for its own sake, but to provide a livable home for the current owners. A philosophy perfectly in line with how Giorgos wants to work with the past, in the present.

Mr. Ruin, Giorgos Palamaris, 2015

Essays, texts and interviews about contemporary Greek artists and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Artist Fellowship Program.

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