“At some point I became frustrated. I told myself, ‘If the Greeks do not want to help themselves, then there is nothing I can do,’” said Pauline Simons, an elegant, soft-spoken art lover, as she spoke to Kathimerini at a friend’s house on the Saronic island of Hydra.
A former journalist for France’s Le Figaro newspaper and a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Simons is the founder of Hydra for Artists of the Mediterranean, or HYam.
The owner of a summer home on the Saronic island who is married to Greek artist Yannis Kottis, Simons decided that despite being based in the French capital, she ought to try to assist young artists in Greece and elsewhere in southern Europe.
“I thought that compared to France’s young visual artists, who have a state-organized framework to help them show their work, artists in this crisis-hit country are really struggling to break through,” she said.
“So, I thought, ‘Why not organize a sort of platform, a non-profit organization that will allow them to show their works in France as well as on Hydra?’” she added.
HYam includes a prize awarded every two years by an international jury. Winners are given an opportunity to present their work both in Paris and on Hydra. On top of that, they receive a 10,000-euro cash prize.
It was a great idea, until Simons’s good intentions became entangled in Greece’s notorious red tape. Although she went to great lengths to come up with a jury committee, funding and galleries to showcase the works, the in-situ installation on Hydra by the first HYam winner, Maria Tsangari, was subjected to three separate evaluations by the Greek Ministry of Culture’s Central Archaeological Council (KAS). The in situ project got the green light at the very last minute, and only after the artist had agreed to make it a temporary installation and move it to a different location.
Luckily, Hydra’s municipal officials did everything they could to assist, and artist Alexis Veroukas, who has a house on the island too, also helped bring the project to fruition.
“That’s what kept me going,” Simons said.
The installation, which will be on display until September 30, is a cluster of dozens of blue plants among the rocks on the road to the village of Mandraki.
Tsangari’s installation was picked from a short list that also included works by Rania Bellou, Athanasios Zagorisios and Marianna Christofides. All four works were exhibited at the Artcurial Auction House in Paris, in collaboration with the Fondation Jean-Luc Lagardere.
Tsangari’s installation, which is part of The New Green project, is inspired by the symbolic and possible transformation of green spaces. Imagine a company, the artist says, that has found a way to edit the DNA of plants to make them give up their green color for blue. Her utopian garden-installations mark a shift in the way we see the world.
Meanwhile, back on Hydra, organizers had to put up a warning sign after visitors to the island were seen picking flowers that were part of the installation.