Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA)—Pireos Street (“Nikos Kessanlis” Exhibition Hall)

Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA), photo: Mathias Völzke

Above the entrance of the Athens School of Fine Arts on Pireos Street we find the popular Greek slogan Ένας στο Χώμα χιλιάδες στον Αγώνα (One in the soil, thousands on the battlefield), comically repurposed to read: Ένας στο MoMA χιλιάδες στον Αγώνα (One in the MoMA, thousands on the battlefield). It’s a sly nod to the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, leveling the horizon of artistic success. ASFA, which has its origins in the Royal School of Arts, established in 1836, moved its departments of Fine Arts, Art Theory, and the History of Art into the buildings of the former Greek mills of the Sikiarides family, a textile factory, in 1992. The early 1990s in Athens, as elsewhere, saw the repurposing of abandoned industrial spaces for artistic use—consider Tate Modern in London or Kunst-Werke in Berlin. But where else may artists set their sights?

Questions of creative formation and of educational experimentation permeate the documenta 14 exhibition inside the Nikos Kessanlis Exhibition Hall. The exhibition reaches beyond the Western metropolis with work ranging from places such as the collective Ciudad Abierta founded on the edge of Valparaiso in Chile, Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan school in the countryside of Bengal, and Matanzas, the “Athens of Cuba”—to name just three key schools and sites of learning among several that documenta 14 considers. But documenta 14 at ASFA encompasses more than this lofty exhibition gallery. We continue to attend to the soil (το xώμα) in a garden where plants such as roses, walnuts (including the “Otto Tree,” named after the King of Greece from Bavaria), pomegrantes, and figs provide pigments and shade as well as share space with student-made sculptures. A certain wilderness and wildness of knowledge production asserts itself in these spaces.

ASFA is the earliest partner of documenta 14 in the Greek capital, which takes “Learning from Athens” as its working title. Since the fall of 2016, Arnisa Zeqo of aneducation (the name given to the education program of documenta 14) has led the seminar Elective Affinities, which invites students from various departments to engage with documenta 14 artists. Now that the Faculty of Graduate Studies and the ASFA’s extensive collection of books and periodicals on art have moved into a new library building designed by architectural studio Atelier 66 (Dimitris and Suzana Antonakakis), the former library becomes a shared space where aneducation extends its activities. Within it another “library”—called Material Matters—gathers materials from the participating artists of documenta 14, organized by Elli Paxinou. Stories spin out of these tactile, usable things. In this and other ways, the spirit of textile production returns to Pireos 256, to determine how ideas and energies weave together to form yet unknown patterns.

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