Epicurean school inspires art

It was in a garden that he owned somewhere between the Stoa and the Academy in the city of Athens that the Greek philosopher Epicurus founded «The Garden,» a school known in the Hellenistic period for its openness and for teaching a tranquil life away from pain and the fear of the gods. Indiscriminating to slaves and women, Epicurus encouraged his pupils to appreciate the simple pleasures of life, such as the company of friends or good food, and to defy wealth, power and glory. It is this idea of openness and solidarity in Epicurean philosophy that inspired art historian Helena Papadopoulou, curator and owner of the Berlin-based gallery Nice & Fit, to organize «The Garden,» an experimental, contemporary art project (the first in a series named Andros International) that recently took place on the island of Andros. Papadopoulou invited seven international artists – Nico Ihlein, Graham Anderson, David Kennedy Cutler, Dana Chang, Eleanna Horiti, Despina Papadopoulos and Maria Papadimitriou – to her family summer home on Andros and asked them to make in situ works inspired by their stay and their experience of living and working together in the same domicile. For over a week, Papadopoulou’s home, a traditional Cycladic house located in the non-touristy, mountainous village of Ano Pitrofos, was transformed into a workshop and an artists’ residency, a sort of artistic commune. By integrating life with art, the project intended to show that the making of art can be a lively, creative and meaningful process based on interaction and the exchange of ideas. That very process is as important as the work that results from it. «The experience of living and working with other artists turned out to be almost apocalyptic for most,» Papadopoulou said. «Plans were overturned, weather conditions – extreme wind – ‘sculpted’ out the course of artistic production.» Unrestricted by specific curatorial guidelines, the artists were free to test their ideas. Using her knowledge of new technologies, Despina Papadopoulos, who teaches interactive telecommunications at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, designed a futuristic Paco Rabane-style dress made by white circuit boards tied together with metal rings and linked to a central control unit at the back of the dress. Embedded solar cells on the tiles make the dress change colors in dimly lit surroundings. Maria Papadimitriou’s plans to construct a meditation room out of a tent were canceled because of weather conditions. The artist ended up filming the motion of the tent as it rippled due to the strong wind. Nico Ihlein produced a series of paintings as well as an observatory that was modeled after Cycladic architecture. In the discussion that followed after the project was concluded a few days ago, Nico Ihlein said that the First Andros International was a reassuring experience that calmed him. Maria Papadimitriou said that the residency had an almost therapeutic quality. Although «The Garden,» was an insider project, a workshop-exhibition shared by its participants alone, it also carries a broader symbolic value. It defends the making of art and imagination as a free, open process unfettered by the restrictions of the contemporary art world’s professionalization or its passing trends. (Papadopoulou has authored «Upside Down: An Essay on Taste and Contemporary Art,» which critically examines the making of trends in the art of the 1990s.) «The spirit of the Epicurean garden was among us,» Papadopoulou said. A rewarding experience for the artists, «The Garden» hopes to make art a more meaningful and natural aspect of our lives.