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Digital Art in Athens and beyond: a curator’s view

For Foteini Vergidou, 2020 was a milestone year for digital culture and contemporary art. Our new member is a curator, researcher, and project manager based in Athens. 

“2020 was a year of living online and I don’t know if there will be any difference between art and digital culture from now on.”

Her curatorial practice focuses on the impact of technological advancements on human relations, on human-machine relations, and between humans and their ecosystem. She explores issues related to cultural identity, climate change, surveillance, and big data.

We had a chance to speak with her about the current digital art scene of Athens and the value of digital media for contemporary artists. 

Foteini coworker member at Stone Soup

Exploring digital art: getting exposed to experiences abroad

Foteini represents a brain gain example. She obtained an MA in Interactive Media: Critical Theory and Practice from the Goldsmiths University of London. While studying she explored the contemporary art scene in London and indulged in her research interests before moving to Berlin to work in the iconic transmediale festival.  She stayed in Berlin for 3 years and worked as a gallery manager in DNA Berlin. Such an international and multicultural environment equipped her with an open mind towards work-related issues. As a result, living and working abroad made her realize that there is no center of experiences and no bipolar divisions between “us” and “them”.

She returned and settled in Athens in 2015. In that year,  Foteini worked as Coordinator and Project Manager for Kappatos Athens Art Residency Program. During this period, she collaborated with international artists such as Martin Creed, Roy Ascott, and Santiago Sierra. She also curated the Web Art exhibition category for the Athens Digital Arts Festival in Greece for the 11th and 12th editions. Most recently, she curated the Hysterophimia Pavilion, the Greek Pavilion for the 4th edition of The Wrong Digital Art Biennale (2019 – 2020) exploring the contemporary culture around Images, from selfies to big data. 

Since 2018, she has worked as Curatorial Advisor and Project Manager for the artist Kalliopi Lemos, developing research upon themes that center around migration, human rights, and gender injustice. At the same time, she worked on different projects in Athens and abroad promoting artists through digital media.

Online culture and physical community: two sides of a common goal

For Foteini, the experiences triggered and gained abroad can be developed in one’s own country. Physical and online interaction with audiences and other creative professionals, input and output of experiences, drive a successful exposure.

Thus, community and network building play an important part in her career. It is actually the first thing she advises every new artist to pursue through physical and digital media. On one hand, this is the reason she joined a coworking space. It offers a physical chance of socialization, necessary to bring together different perspectives and ideas among professionals. On the other hand, artists can achieve digital interconnectivity and exposure through investment in up-to-date online platforms and social media like Instagram. In the last few years, digital art and media became an upcoming field in Athens. The pandemic boosted this relatively new way of promotion and highlighted the importance of the transition to online representation.

Foteini coworker member at Stone Soup

Tips for new artists: digital platforms are the future

But how can an artist take advantage of the digital media available to promote their body of work? Foteini describes a few fruitful moves they can make: network building, social media, research in up-to-date websites, platforms, funding. An artist’s online presence should include a social media account, like Instagram, where they promote their artwork. Through this medium, their physical network can interact with them and give them feedback. 

Also, for Foteini the curative process is connected with a certain amount of research. Every exhibition is the result of a body of research that she deals with at a particular moment. Since 2017, she is an editor and writer at FerociousUrbanites.com, where she conducts research around issues that derive from our relation to technology. This is also an example of an up-to-date website with a strong focus on promoting Greek digital artists to an international audience. Browsing websites like this can offer artists and art lovers inspiration and information about online culture and digital art.

Since 2019, she is an active member of the TILT platform, bringing together creative people including artists, researchers, and theorists. She is always seeking collaboration with other professionals, coming often from diverse disciplines and practices, in order to develop synergies and joint projects. Her main goal is to conduct collective research, while forming an exhibition or a public intervention, in order to reveal different perspectives. The exhibition “Iasis” she curated for the TILT platform presented a body of work, artworks, educational seminars, and workshops, that investigated the political and social dimensions of global human activity. The TILT platform is an example of a network-building initiative for artists. Foteini compares it with a coworking space where members can interact and share their ideas and projects.

Foteini in an open coworking space

Picks ‘n tips for digital culture events & art-lovers

Foteini thinks that the contemporary Athenian cultural scene is experimental, as is the city itself. The pandemic has boosted the transition to online representation even though she agrees that there are limits. For example, both theatre and art exhibitions had to offer the audience an experience mediated by the Internet. Big and small institutions had to adapt to the new condition and the results are appealing to many. She points out that the initiatives to promote online culture from Onassis Foundation and the PCAI are worth “browsing”. Furthermore, digital media like Instagram are basic components of projects curated by 3137, an artist-run space in Athens. On the international side, she suggests visiting the  Top Museum (Tokyo Photographic Art) and the Overkill festival.

Foteini’s expertise as a curator is to manage all these tasks! And you are welcome to contact us and get in touch! She acts as a mediator between artistic expression and public perception. Nevertheless, she is a strong supporter of the “artist’s fee”, the payment that every creator must demand in exchange for the presentation of their work. She admits that the current focus on digital art, both in Athens and internationally, can pose new challenges for artists. Her advice to them is to always seek copyright and legal support before participating in online exhibitions.

Foteini in an open coworking space

“Always reinvent yourself and be adjustable”

This is what she learned and suggests to every art worker in the post-pandemic world. There is no need for a laptop if a creative professional pursues exposure and openness, values that she found in a coworking space. For her, coworking offers inspiration through interaction without the extra layer of workplace stress. And in these crazy times, a casual chat in a safe space can be more creative than ever!   

Coworking empowers a lifestyle of diversity

Diversity is the product of community and collaboration blended together with openness. This is, after all, one of the key reasons people want to be part of a coworking environment. This allows them to diversify their vision and experience by collaborating with people from different backgrounds, interests, experiences, and thinking. By creating a community of experiences we try to bring together various perspectives and opinions of people who share a feeling of mutualism. 

Jelia

Jelia has always been looking for diverse experiences and new links. She has chosen Athens to be her new home and she recently joined our coworking community. Since it is one of our core values, we discussed why she is constantly seeking diversity both in her work but also in her lifestyle.

“We carry so many places within us and it’s through these places that we see everything new.”

Safe Passage Reunification

This is what it feels for Jelia when she travels to a new community and gets to meet new people. Coming from a diverse background herself, Jelia is originally from Senegal but she was born and raised in London. She is a lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers working remotely from Greece and she specializes in refugee law, human rights, and international criminal law. Working on a diverse range of issues in these areas, she provides legal assistance to unaccompanied child refugees seeking family reunification in Europe, and to victims of mass crimes seeking to access justice. Jelia joined Stone Soup in October and we had the chance to speak with her about her coworking experience in the diversity of Athens and the importance of inclusion in a community.

Travelling for diversity: Jelia’s background

Jelia studied Law and Spanish language at the University of Sheffield in the UK. She also studied in Barcelona for a year before pursuing a Master’s degree at UCL. After finishing her studies she worked abroad in different parts of the world from Argentina and Colombia to Cambodia. As a result, these travels truly enriched her vision of a world where diversity plays a core part. She first came to Greece in 2016, to work as a volunteer in the camp on Samos island. In 2018, she was able to come back to Greece for another volunteering stint, this time with Safe Passage. And that’s where her story with Athens begins.

Jelia at Stone Soup

Living in Athens: diversity seems familiar

Jelia has been living in Athens for two and a half years since then. For her, Athens is spatially diverse and is “becoming” culturally complex too. So, she loves the ecosystem of the center of the city because it is imperfect and not homogenous. Moreover, she enjoys the diversity of the urban small streets, the micro-neighborhoods, and the variety of independent coffee shops and small businesses. She also likes to cycle and walk in the area of “petroukaki”, which is the name she gave to the Petralona and Koukaki areas! In general, she highlighted the feelings of familiarity this imperfect environment creates in her. It reminds her of all the different cities she has lived in, like Buenos Aires. Driving in Greece is terrible like in Senegal too, she adds! Jelia notes that living in Athens has deepened her work because she is more directly exposed to migration. As a result, she can better understand the needs of the community she is trying to help.

Coworking in Athens: diversity in the workspace community

Jelia at Stone Soup

The choice of coworking in the diversity of Athens has offered her more work-life balance than London, she admits. The city doesn’t stress her out and meets her needs while she is trying to integrate. She decided to join a coworking space because she felt isolated and stressed working from home during the lockdown. She picked Stone Soup because the privacy she can have makes her feel settled. Now she laughs when she gets home and only has to say “Hi, flat!”. As a self-employed professional she needs both privacy and proximity to an everyday community. Her work and traveling experience add to her words about the elements she looks for in a workplace: “People always bring diversity and complexity and that enriches a community”. So, for Jelia, the coworking community should be a respectful place where people can express themselves without fear in these crazy times. She also works as a human rights consultant for the United Nations and NGOs. Her part-time work for the NGO All Survivors Project, which focuses on male survivors of sexual violence in war zones (gay, trans, non-binary), highlights the need for a safe space for everyone who challenges the norms.

Coworking for diversity in Stone Soup

The Stone Soup philosophy and Jelia’s work experience are based on the pursuit for inclusion and the expression of diversity. Here, Jelia adds, you can choose your friends because there are no office politics among the coworkers. Here, she gets to learn about tech and algorithms from Paulin and meet people who can be friends and not colleagues. She misses many things from pre-pandemic Athens though. But there is one thing she can’t wait to have once again: live concerts and drinks on the roof!

Jelia wears a mask

Protective measures for a safe coworking space

Our coworking life and our safety at work were disrupted about a month ago. Since then we started working from home and avoiding social interactions to protect ourselves. Is it too soon to start thinking about the end of this social distancing experiment and imagine that our lives are going back to normal?

I guess one thing we all realised is that physical distancing really sucks! And that we take our social life for granted.

End of April we will start operating again and we want to make sure that our coworking space will be safe for all of you. We plan to be at the space 2-3 days a week for a few hours to manage member requests, play music and brew some coffee for you!

Coworking with safety at Stone Soup

We are in a fortunate situation compared to other busier coworking spaces and office environments. The number of people who use our space at any given time is usually quite low compared to the size of our workspace. That makes it possible to implement social distancing within our work environment.

However, for extra safety, we will not allow member drop-ins. We will also rearrange some of Stone Soup spaces to enable distancing ourselves (meeting rooms, kitchen)  and we have installed additional disinfectants for members to use. 

Some new rules will apply to make our workspace a safe environment to work at. Can we change alone or do we need the help of our members?

We are all in this together: let’s maintain the space clean

Coworking protective measures

Help us keep our community safe and protected by implementing physical distancing measures and enhanced hygiene practices! We would also like to draw your attention to areas of high traffic, where lots of people engage with the same items and surfaces. Let’s be aware and protect ourselves from those areas! 

  • Door handles: They are one of the most touched spots in the office. Use some tissue, your elbows or your hand within a sleeve to open the door. Before getting back to work, use anti-bacterial gel – especially if you’re about to eat.
  • Desks: Use one desk and don’t swipe seats in the coworking space. Please don’t share desk equipment and clean your phone, pens and your bag at least once per day.
  • Toilets: Always wash your hands after using the toilet and try not to touch the faucet or door handle on your way out.
  • Meeting rooms: We will reserve the meeting rooms for single-person use for virtual meetings, phone calls etc. We will charge no additional fees.


We will focus on providing a safe environment for our members and we hope that we will see you all coming back in the next weeks! If for some reason you think that continuing working from home suits you best don’t worry!  Our COVID-19 mission is alive:  to ensure that all our members can remain connected to their community, no matter the distance. We will continue the Virtual Coworking and you will still be able to interact with our members!

Safety rules for the protection of our coworking space


Here is a list summing up all our protective measures for how to maintain the coworking space safe and clean.

  1. Keeping enough space between you and other people

    If you can reach out and touch someone from your workstation, then your office isn’t set up for physical distancing.

  2. Spray and wipe down your workspace before and after you use it.

    Please use one desk and don’t swipe seats in the coworking space. Don’t share desk equipment and clean your phone, pens and your bag at least once per day.

  3. Promote fresh airflow throughout the office

    Open the windows and doors for at least 15mins, several times a day.

  4. Consider taking all meetings online.

    We will reserve the meeting rooms for single-person use for virtual meetings, phone calls etc. We will charge no additional fees.

  5. Rearrange your private office plan.

    Separate desks and give each member of your team their private space. 

  6. As you work, make sure you regularly wash your hands.

    Door handles are one of the most touched spots in the office. Use some tissue, your elbows or your hand within a sleeve to open the door. Before getting back to work, use anti-bacterial gel – especially if you’re about to eat.

  7. Limited use of the kitchen.

    Minimize the use of the fridge. Use disposable cutlery and keep your own office mug which you will clean at the end of the day. 

 

Learning opportunities between European Creative Hubs

 

Next week we will be flying to Spain to experience at first hand the coworking life in  Malaga and more specifically in the creative hub The Living Room (TLR).

Olga Paraskevopoulou (founder of Stone Soup) and George-Carey Simos (Digital Strategist, Stone Soup resident), will spend 5 days in the beautiful Andalusian city in order to learn and exchange best practices, engage in learning experiences and knowledge transfer as well as to co-create and present a joint event at the hosting hub.

Stone Soup was selected by the European Creative Hubs Network (ECHN) and the Goethe-Institut and was awarded the Peer 2 Peer mobility grant. During the exchange Stone Soup and The Living Room Coworking will share experiences on how to scale a hub from a small operation to a successful and profitable business with space management technology and automation as a key component. We will also look into the great synergies that can happen, if we operate an agency within our hub and work on impactful projects with our members.

The exchange programme is supported by the Creative FLIP project, which is co-funded by the European Commission. Creative FLIP supports healthy & sustainable ecosystems related to Finance, Learning, Innovation & Patenting for CCIs in Europe. The project is implemented by a consortium of six partners, spearheaded by Goethe Institut Brussel and the European Creative Hubs Network.