AUGUSTA ATLA: «….. when women artists have freedom to play with their inheritance».
Interview by Athanasia Kontonikou for www.typologos.com
Augusta Atla, artist from Denmark who lives in Athens.
I met her some years ago when Augusta was presenting her visual performance work in Greece “Objects de Femmes”, a visual performance based on Greek traditional elements of a woman’s everyday life.
The connections were evidence between tradition and contemporary life, the past and the future, ” the know thyself “of a woman’s background. My background; I questioned myself as I was watching amazed by her incredible artistic consciousness.
Hello Augusta! It is been such a long time… I am so glad we have this interview with you.
My pleasure… it is so nice we talk after so long.
Well, from a different position now… Would you like to tell us a few thinks about you?
I am born in 1979, Copenhagen, Denmark and lives in Athens and Copenhagen. I founded a public space for contemporary and international art in Athens, MAISON MACA. Since 2003, due to granted travel awards and a strong need to travel, I have lived in London, NYC, Venice, Rome, Milan, Torino, Paris and Athens – traveling as a method of working artistically and a study of the history of visual cultural identity. I use travelling as a way to research on historical objects made by women, in order to include a visual history and theory of women objects and gestures into contemporary art.
Which is you relationship with Greece?
My relationship to Greece is to study on my own ancient Greek mythology, sculpture and theatre – themes about the origins of our European art history and culture.
How travelling fosters your experience?
The travel allows me to experience and further understand psychology through different cultural habits and values in Europe, and how nations are combinations of similar and different cultural origins. The travel thus allows a multi-perspective from many cultures in Europe unfolded and discuss into the artwork. Having visiting Greece since 2011 regularly and living currently in Athens the current political situation also merges into my work.
How did you take the decision to come in Greece?
I took the decision to rent an atelier in Athens, since I needed to experience Ancient Greek sites and the folk costumes of Greece, and so I decided to move there for 1-3 years. Now I have lived in Greece since October 2014. And I certainly benefit artistically from living in Greece. I am very grateful that it is possible for a period of time. I pay my rents and living from mainly travel funding and State or private grants from Denmark, I come from a working class family, meaning I have no help economically from my family.
Tradition is the habits of a time, nothing more. History is like mapping psychology, ethics, politics and mental intelligence.
Would you like to tell us about your work and interests?
Through my work I research on how women raise themselves through cultural objects, gestures, habits and imagery, meaning trying to unravel cultural and historical habits on gender. To wash clothes, lingerie, textiles, to dye, embroidery, food, color compositions in women objects, historical images of women, all elements I incorporate in my work in order to make new understanding/images of women’s identity construction, inner life, self reflection and self-creation. This research is also in the service of liberating both genders to particular patterns of behaviour and/or historical burdens.
When you say «raise through» what actually do you mean? Would you like to speak us more in detail about how you personally look on that?
In European societies up until industrialization women were not given places in power, political influences and broader cultural decision making and so women literally constructed images, costumes and traditions in order to find dignity and pride even so. Through these traditions women lessen the pain of patriarchy, but it also perhaps made them «sleep» into a role.
When you talk about «gestures» what do you mean? How are you looking at that? Would you like to give us some examples?
I look at the roles of passivity and caretaker of domestic space and the role of seduction. There are billions of examples, from embroidery techniques in Greece or Sophia Loren film diva in Italy or flower arrangement in Norway or textile dying in Denmark or wall decoration in Balkan or to Flamingo dancing in Spain… and so on.
Are you running a research or are you using other methods to approach your subject of work?
I do make research also, as mentioned above, for example visiting folk art and textile collections, and historical archives in many cities in Europe. I use the Nordic Library in Athens to read and find images on gender, Greek drama, mythology and so on. The artwork is intentionally made in order to revisit more freely and playful general aspects such as European identity, our drives arriving from natureforces, fertility, reproduction, emotions and sexuality.
Actually we met some years ago, when you were running a performance project «objects de femmes», a visual performance, related with the subject of tradition and contemporaneity. Do you want to go back and speak about this project?
This project, objects de femmes, is still ongoing research where, as I mentioned above, I examine the History of gestures and imagery of women. When we met I undertook a research at Dora Stratou collection to visit their folk costume collection and make a digital archive of the costumes patterns and colour compositions. I am still today using this digital archive of mine making collages, videowork and theatre pieces.
When saying «on going project» which are the evidences through the period of this time ?
My work has since 2010 consciously been about the «women gestures» research, and it still is apart of my work today, however now in a more free way artistically. I use today elements of embroidery in my motives of serigraphy printing, I dye my canvas myself, and I use elements like silk and cotton in my paintings. My performance and videowork is full of images and examples of historical footage of women.
Are you looking for particular answers or are you evaluating the findings?
No, of course not.
I was really amazed the way you had grasp the whole subject and I would like to ask you, how a Danish visual artist can understand so well the tradition of another culture. ?
Thank you for the compliment! I am pleased to know that I could grasp some of Hellas and its identities in my work. I think this is exactly the skill of the artist, Sympathia, meaning to emerge into another object/subject through all my heart and learn from what is outside me and my own culture inheritance, and then to re-portray thus for the public in order for them to be presented with their struggles, desires and identities’ constructions through art – however from a subtle different point of view, meaning I am a stranger and thus the element of dis-fitting will simultaneously be present.
Is tradition more related with the female figure or tradition denotes more «roles» for the female sex?
History is heavy on gender division, and hetero sexual division, since it was the easiest way to survive in the age of pre-industrialisation. Through industrialisation we have more options, and thus a more freer idea of gender. However, I have noticed that the further I go South from Scandinavia, the more I go back in time in terms of liberating the sexes.
…and how tradition can be bridged with contemporaneity? Why and which is the reason of this gestures to come into the contemporary society?
The reason why I use so much trouble trying to pin down gestures of women in history, is to exactly combine it and bring it into contemporary society, in order for women artists to have freedom to play with their inheritance – meaning, you can not play with identity if it is subconscious, so I try to bring the collective consciousness and history into the conscious through art.
How you want the women to be benefit by these gestures? How you wish the gestures to be read by the audience?
Freedom to play with their inheritance and to think twice when re-creating themselves patriarchy. And for both genders to be more flexible and open to what identity is.
Do you think that contemporaneity can be defined?
«The contemporary» is what we create in the present KNOWING we thus also create the future. The contemporary is the edge of the present becoming future.
How an artist can avoid «mimicry» and the work to be «real», «up to date» and «present» and have a reason for the audience;
The artist can avoid «mimic» through being sincerely wishing to learn and change oneself in the process of making art. The artwork can be up to date when the artist is not denying anything in its outside world. The artist is not a moralist, she is a bridge-maker between philosophy and perception of her time.
Sometimes when people were hearing about tradition, they think of something «old» and a restricted area of actions. What would you say about that?
Tradition is the habits of a time, nothing more. History is like mapping psychology, ethics, politics and mental intelligence.
….Yes but this cannot be the same by other cultures…. the way it is felt and then translate from generation to generation… do you feel this difference?
Sure, every culture feels very different to History and traditions, for example Italian culture is so rooted in traditions that it is difficult for them to become modern, on the other hand the Italians are so good at preserving and respecting history that Rome is maintained so beautiful and stunning as a city. For example the Danes have hardly a history of food, so they had the change to re-invent themselves since no traditions were burdening them, and the New Nordic Cuisine is thriving.
Have you felt restricted in the process towards the implementation of this particular performance work? Some difficulties perhaps that you had?
A lot of my work is exactly to allow what feels restricted in my time, so I have felt a lot of restrictions, every time I feel a restriction that slows my mental and emotional intelligence down, I fight it with art, and thus a new artistic oeuvre is born. My luck is that we are still so retarded and cruel on earth that there is a lot to say and do as an artist, I will never be unemployed artistically as long as I live on earth.
Do you believe as an artist that tradition and values can resist or manage to survive in front of the issue of globalization in the today world?
I believe that traditions and habits of a culture is always a mixture of so many places, meaning, when you start to examine a habit you will find that it has relations and origins to so many other cultures. I think we should give up trying to isolate traditions, and see them for what they really are: beautiful collages of cultures. And the more we know about the construction of traditions and simultaneously being open, the more we can thrive in inventing new traditions.
Do you believe that Art can resist globalization?
It can not, and it should not. We have to start to care for the whole world, and not solely for our own country of birth. Does not mean that we should not collect and archive and make museum out of previous traditions of a country, we certainly should.
As far as I know you are traveling a lot and I would like to ask you have you ever felt uncomfortable or even more «a stranger» visiting other countries?
I have felt uncomfortable a billion times abroad, but certainly also in Denmark – I can have sympathy and love to certain aspects of a foreign culture, but I never feel at home abroad like I do in Denmark. I feel like a small Viking ship, and I always know where my harbor is.
The issue of refugees is on the top of the list for many counties, so to Denmark as well, and people all over the world. How an artist thinks about and identifies this major issue?
This is a very complicated matter, but through history we see many example of immigration – Ancient Rome was built on immigration – I think it matters on how you integrate the people arriving. People are resources if you manage to use their skills for the benefit of all. The consciousness of a State accepting new people has to be positive, and the people arriving have to give to the State of the new country. Mutual respect is essential. Most importantly the religion and habits of the new country has to be learned and respected. Immigration requires that the newcomers want to learn a new culture and open his mind to a new set of living.
To come to an end … What your next plans, exhibitions, visit in Athens… Would you like to share it with us?
I will have an upcoming solo show at Kunsthal in Denmark, and I will host events at MAISON MACA in 2016 in Athens – and for a new video work I wish to film at Delos Island.
Augusta thank you so much and I am looking forward to seeing in Athens!
Thank you, too !
Athanasia Kontonikou, MA, Researcher / Choreographer.
She has study at the University of Leeds and holding an MA in Performance Choreography.Also, she is holding a DipHE in Dance and Professional Practice and a Diploma of Teachers of Dance from Higher Professional Dance School «Rallou Manou». She is working and living in Greece also publishing reserch in Phylosophy, Aesthetics and Education. Also takes interviews from artists on behalf of Typologos.com.