Karolina Aleiferopoulou Mackiewicz

My Now, Our Now, the New Now or thoughts that come in the shower when holding a shampoo bottle and pretending it’s an Oscar.

I found the New Now Autumn School of Curating open call on a Greek Facebook group for cultural workers that posts residencies, job openings and anything that might be of interest for art professionals. I immediately remembered my old desktop background picture that said WE WANT THE NEW, which I used as a personal motto for the first couple of years I worked as a gallery assistant, planning to curate my own exhibitions in the future. I think of the New as a noun, as a mysterious entity that informs my practice and decisions, even though I can’t quite pin it down to one specific thing or idea.
When I read the title of this year’s edition of the program, I almost misread it as an imperative, a call for action: New Now!, as if saying “enough with the old, now it’s time for the new”. Funny, but that’s how I heard it in my mind the first time. When assuming (correctly) that the critical noun here is the Now, I started thinking about past Nows as I remember them and how they differ from the present one, as well as where this now Now is leading us, how it is going to unfold and how that all translates to my field of professional interest, the ever elusive contemporaneity of art and the momentum in the art world. I have to admit, it was a trip on its own just to think about it.

I decided to make things simple. All I can do after all is share with you, from my home in Athens, my own Now, my own microcosmic bubble and hope it makes some sense and somewhat helps us find what we are looking for.

I did my art theory and art history bachelor, I worked with artists, some curators, I worked in a gallery, a festival, a museum and as a student I travelled to see some of the major European museums (I almost cried when I saw Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the sea of fog, I took multiple buses and walked for miles carrying a huge backpack from Gatwick Airport to Tate Modern, only to realise it was closed when I finally got there…). I read art theory and I spent most of my free evenings going to gallery openings. At some point, after having worked in exhibition production I realised I wanted some practical, behind the curtains knowledge so I did a master’s in cultural management.

It was the years pre and during Documenta 14 which had put Athens on the international art map. Remember the slogan ‘Athens is the new Berlin’? 2015-2017 was a crazy time for contemporary art in my home city. Everyone was busy doing what they normally did, but with even more determination, more enthusiasm, more hope in the midst of the precarity we were all experiencing. And that’s when I found my academic focus and my personal love. I wrote my dissertation on independent art spaces in Athens. I mapped the scene, I met and interviewed the art professionals involved and I tried to understand what they do, how they do it and why. How do they sustain a curatorial and artistic practice without a budget, with no subsidies, no funding, with the Ministry of Culture not even knowing they exist? What are their organisational and managerial methods, their modus operandi, their culture and their capacity for co-operative interaction and network building practices? And, more importantly at the end of the day, can I do it too?

You see, in Greece there is not much funding for contemporary art. We are the nation that gave the world democracy and philosophy and the Parthenon, we are descendants of the ancient Greeks and that is what our policy makers are mostly proud of. Remember Documenta 14? Well, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST) presented part of its quite substantial collection in the Fridericianum in Kassel in the form of an “exchange type exhibition” called Antidoron. Can you imagine that after twenty years of being virtually homeless, as it had no official building, EMST only opened in its new location for Documenta and then failed to work normally ever again because it had no director, no budget and no subsidies? Well, if that’s the case for a national museum, what chance does an artist-run space have?
I kept thinking about that, wondering if the endeavour of self-organization would ever be sustainable and I kept wanting to do it anyway. In the end of 2018 it became obvious it would happen. Obviously, I wasn’t alone, you can only do so much on your own. My good friends and I started creating Potential Project, an art space, a weird incubator of ideas and a meeting point for artists and thinkers to talk, share and create together, an idea originally coming from artist Dimitris Georgakopoulos (www.potentialproject.gr).

We invited over twenty participants for our inaugural round table discussions and we set a theme to keep things focused: it was the word Potential. Potential artworks, ideas that exist in one’s mind and haven’t yet existed outside of it, potential for change, potential as the moment before the decision about which way to go, which path to follow. Pivoting moments as we here would say. And it opened up worlds of possibilities, because it proved to be infinite. And then, thoughts of manifestos came up.

We had always wanted the new. We were tired of the way things work in the scene we were inhabiting: gallery openings as social events with art in the background, newsletters and exhibition texts full of pretentiousness, curatorial themes that resemble artwork mix ‘n’ match sessions, exhibitions relocating to social media for exposure, the ‘like and share’ culture, selfies with important people. No! Our manifesto was silent, private and never published, but in our minds we knew we were tired of this social dance. We were a group of people discussing our idiosyncratic ideas under the umbrella of potentiality, in no rush to produce an outcome, with an approach similar to the happy uselessness of the artist and with a thrill to explore and experience.

Our weekly meetings lasted 4 or 5 months. Plans for exhibitions or events came naturally, as a result of every participant’s personal research and obsessions. In 2020 we only produced three exhibitions, having our programming interrupted - as had everyone else - by the pandemic. But we did something new with it. The exhibitions were not open to the public in the traditional sense. We were inviting people for a rendez-vous, for a one on one private view. In order to see the show, one had to make an appointment and when they came the artists were there to talk to them, discuss what was on view, share ideas about the work and get feedback from one another. As difficult as it was logistically, this way proved to be the way we as Potential Project preferred to a full house gallery opening and then some visitors every now and then during the exhibition. It felt meaningful.

But now we wait. We are in lockdown and all our plans are cancelled, hopefully just postponed. And now we have time to think, to re-evaluate, potentially to write new manifestos, birth new ideas. It’s ok, we here, in this microcosmic bubble, are fine. I have so many unread books, unwatched films, unanswered emails and friends who wait for a phone call. But I can’t stop thinking that after all of that some things will have changed. I know for one that my ideas about my work have definitely changed. I usually think of myself as curator as artist as curator.

No need to dig into the history of curating or its definition, I just like it that way, you may like it another. I like to think curating is an act of creating a world, a storytelling role that connects dots, synthesises ideas, artworks. It might be a meta production if you think about it, but for my practice it’s essentially making things work together in a way that is authentic and means something. It is a language I can speak and a language I enjoy. But often I wonder who it is for, what good does it do to anybody and what does it change in the world? Does it make life better? Does it really create meaning and does it actually fight for the right cause? How can it be more connected to the Now?
My last draft for a curatorial theme for instance was actually anti-now in a way. It’s called If anything survives – Archaeologies, Utopias & The Void and it aspires to be a three part exhibition where the same artists explore the three different ideas, in three different venues but simultaneously and it all has to do with how somebody would interpret our world after its supposed demise. If anything survived, what would it be? Just to be clear, this was a pre-Covid idea and is not catastrophological but rather exploratory and a product of the Potential Project roundtable discussions actually.

But what do I do now? Well, I guess I continue doing what I always have but maybe with a more mindful attitude. Maybe I look around me more. I have always been very vocal about the problematic aspects of cultural policies, about the precarity in art professions and the inadequacies of governmental support for contemporary art production. I don’t particularly enjoy the fact that a global pandemic made the world realise the importance of art and culture, whereas before it what we do was considered decorative. I don’t enjoy the fact that most of my colleagues juggle between “bread jobs” and passion projects, barely making ends meet and risk burnout because of having to navigate the bill paying and the creative aspects of their work. And I cannot say that this is the worst problem to have in life, it is a bad one though, isn’t it? It makes me think about all those stereotypes of parents not wanting their children to go into liberal arts and insisting they become doctors and lawyers instead. Well some can be lawyers, some can make art, isn’t that an antidote to boredom?

As I kept thinking about what the New Now might be like, I realised it is not a matter of understanding it intellectually, theorizing about it and attempting to rationalise it. I would say, let's feel it. Let’s look around, touch around, smell and hear and taste and let all moods and thoughts and feelings do their thing, express our insides, connect with others through gentleness, through a will to understand each other, listen to each other’s languages, be it verbal or somatic, wonder what it’s like to be another, to have been born in a different body, even if it’s just a mind experiment. Let’s do that, it seems the world needs it the most. Let that be our goal, for each of us to play their part, in their capacity, from their place of standing in the world in a fearless, playful and mindful attempt to make our lives an example of how life should be lived.

Isn’t it also freaking refreshing that we are not all the same? How can this not be exciting?! How can it still be a problem? This year alone has been such a challenge for human rights, for equality and justice. Yes, I can speak in my capacity for the rights of art workers, but can I speak of others as well? If so, can I do it better? Because at the moment I find it unbearable to make art exhibitions without considering my surroundings and all the inexplicable, painful phenomena that should be a thing of the past but still haunt us. It is time to get rid of that shit and heal, each of us working with any medium we know and within any position we hold.

The New Now is weird. I think about past Nows and I recall they were more subtle, delicate in presence and abstract. This Now has character, it almost speaks its mind as if it thinks I understand the language. Sometimes I like to think I do and I stop and listen. I hear some whispers – my breath, the open window, the fly that comes in, the leaking sink, the neighbours waking up so much earlier than I do. Then I hear the loud voices as well – my breath, our breaths, the closed doors, my friends that are away, my father alone in isolation, the fear that tomorrow will come so much later than we thought it would. And I guess I am trying to observe it, to pay attention to the details, the small print and big headlines, my story and other stories and make sense of it somehow.

I find it hard to believe that curating can change the world. Just as I find it hard to believe that any one person can change the world alone, Einsteins and Messiahs aside. But I do believe in voicing the individual, I think my individual might mean something to your individual and vice versa. And I think that the deepest, truest, most authentic expressions of who we are, how we think, what we feel, what we enjoy and what we fear, connect us, expand our perception and ultimately matter the most.
It is our stories that inhabit existence and sometimes they overlap, they meet at some points, they make sense for many. Those true stories created mythologies and symbols after all. So in trying to understand the New Now, all I keep thinking is there are 7.8 billion Nows. And I bet they’re all interesting.

Artist-run, independent, non-profit Athens: an ever changing list of art spaces or where art  happens now