curated by Daniela Veneri
“I care about understanding the human condition better. Finding ways of application. Articulate better questions and throw new questions to the already existing cultural production to distill new readings.”
- Vivi Touloumidi
Vivi, you have a multi-disciplinary background. How did you start working as an artist and what pushed you in that direction?
It was a need driven by a mixture of experiences and feelings, mostly dissatisfaction and curiosity. My previous studies and occupation in banking and management provided me with a solid foundation, but gradually the learning curve within the business world became less rewarding and financial profit had no seducing power to keep me going. In my late 20s I decided to give a U-turn a chance and started anew. At a foreign country and towards new locations of knowledge ever since. At that time, I used to go quite often to the theater in Athens, which has a very vibrant scene. This was a trigger towards another possibility of existence, which empowers me and was convincing to me.
I had to catch up a lot, since back then at the beginning of 00s, Greece had few contemporary art institutions and art was not much discussed within my education. Thereafter, at the various counties I lived and educations I followed in contemporary craft, I embraced a long process of unlearning. Nevertheless, parts of my previous professional background continue to influence my current practice as an artist, craftswoman, researcher and educator today.
To conclude, since I was born and raised in Athens, the Greek society for a female used to be an authoritarian, patriarchal and conservative one. It still is for many women. In retrospect, I started walking towards this direction of art making much earlier, so it was an escape act as well.
How does your being an artist coexist with your other roles?
It all operates together simultaneously. The one role informs the other, sliding in and out through their gray zones. They preoccupy much of my daily life and under these conditions of working I can reflect on what is missing, how to improve things. I care about reformation within the scene I belong to, the contemporary art jewelry that is. And not everything should or can be put in action through my own art making. Being an educator, conducting artistic research and evolving my craft skills and writing, all these are activities that update my practice as an artist. They are challenges, which keep reminding me about how much I have no clue yet.
What are the projects you are working on that excite you most and why?
Though my education has started with an emphasis on aesthetic value and technical innovation, throughout the years my practice has developed towards concerns of content-and-context and especially towards making as an agent for social change.
Within the jewellery art field, there is still a lot of effort to be invested regarding its social relevance as also in critical reflection and writing. Therefore to connect to the previous question, contextual practice, either as an artist, researcher or educator excites me the most. This is a space not yet thoroughly explored for the medium and its social agency.
Currently, through my work and by conducting a PhD in the Arts at ARIA (Antwerp Research Institute for the Arts) in Belgium, that started in Sept 2018, I have been investigating adornment and body-related objects in times of social conflict. Aspects of suppression as well as resistance are diagnosed through the lenses of the wearable and their effect on social identity. My activities so far, had a focus on archival research. I have been looking at profound historical examples, where the main target of medium’s agency was dispute and marginalization. Mainly it interests me the materialization of social friction and violence on wearable mediums and their operation in the public realm. How bodies were systematized and categorized, under which criteria, how this materialization evolved and under which argumentation. And how this knowledge is relevant today. A new body of work is on its way under the German title: “vom Abzeichen zum Auszeichnen” that subverts these intentions.
What are your most important objectives as an artist?
The stored knowledge within the Greek language gives two translation alternatives to entertainment. The one that is closest to the english language is “διασκέδαση” (diaskédasi), which can also be understood as amusement. Nevetheless, etymologicaly it suggest notions of dispersion, like being fragmented into pieces, or of diversion, like an activity that distracts the mind. The second option is the word “ψυχαγωγία” (psychagogía), which etymology relates to the uplifting experience of the soul while involved with culture. I believe both of these objectives are meaningful, if in appropriate proportions. And that applies not only to the artwork as an outcome, but also as an attitude, while in the making process. I try to keep myself in check with these two ingredients. Then apart to my concerns mentioned already above, I aim at taking steps forward in relation to previous work and to think what is missing.
What drives you in your work?
This question relates much to what I have shared already. Moreover, I am influenced by my own experiences in everyday life and what is happening to people around me. Why do we react in this way? Why things run this way? Discomfort is a location that has been proven useful as it reviles norm-critical perspectives upon which I can build on the discourse further. Investigating the agency of adornment for statement making and positioning a public body are areas of interest to me at the moment.
Who are your most important partners or interlocutors in the unfolding of your own creative process?
I maintain a fruitful exchange with a circle of like-minded friends coming from diverse domains of expertise, within the art field and beyond. These long lasting relationships are support structures of trust, which have proven most important to my life. And of course, all people I collaborated within the frames of all my roles, had their impact on my practice. Having to articulate my work for different people in different contexts sharpens my criteria. And at last, books, music and especially cinema have the power to recharge me.
Which of the feedbacks you have received over the years have been the most meaningful for you and which surprised you most?
This can be a looong list, from my own mentors, the audience, the gallerists, the friends, my own students….I will share a blend of inspiring and controversy ones, all meaningful for different reasons.
“Learn to recover fast”. “It is all about cheating”.
“Do not make things too complicated”. “Thank you”.
What kind of contribution would you like your work to have?
I said much about this already. It is about contribution to the medium and the scene itself, as also to people who can find common grounds and meaning in the pieces for their lives.
What unites past, present and future in your artistic practice?
My love for knowledge and a natural urge for finding out truths in things and situations.
I care about understanding the human condition better. Finding ways of application. Articulate better questions and throw new questions to the already existing cultural production to distill new readings.
What kind of relationship do you feel should exist between aesthetics and ethics today?
Aesthetics are ethics. Ethics are aesthetics. It is the intention, the motive that forms them. And it is the implementation and the balance between them that can move us. The care that we invest to serve both. Working with materials as a craftswoman and achieving a good balance in this equation, especially in terms of ethics, is very tricky today. And I have failed more than once in this aspect. To me both are complementary components and one should consciously not be compromised for the other.
What do you feel should be the role of arts and culture in contemporary society?
I feel this overlaps much about my shared views to my own artistic practice in the previous answers. Apart from the effect of “ψυχαγωγία” mentioned above, I think culture needs to include the everyday, the daily life back again much more. I am against the discipline hierarchies between high and low art imposed by experts, like the division between the fine and the applied. This fragmentation is not useful. I think culture needs to become a way of living again. More of a process of recreation, togetherness rather than something that is consumed during leisure time. More education, more living within it.
Where do you see current shifts in the evolution of the arts and culture field, where do you see risks and challenges and where do you see opportunities?
I think the overall socio-political frustrations have been pending for too long and the recent decade has been turbulent enough to mobilize realizations for many cultural actors. Many institutions have started to rethink their roles and objectives. Especially, ethnographic and historical museums have started to rethink their social contribution and reformulate their narratives. When such institutions initiated exhibitions, where their collections blended with contemporary art production to create ongoing dialogues, a few interesting results emerged. It is a positive shift, even if in its first steps. Similar site-specific projects, situated knowledge production that seeks social relevance were refreshing shifts.
If you were able to change one or two things in the area of responsibility of institutions, cultural producers, art curators, artists, and in the way the arts system relates to the social field, what things do you feel would create the most value and benefit for all?
Taking decisions according to contribution. Avoiding too much of the spectacle.
And as within educational institutions, cultural agents need to practice what they claim to stand for within their own production structures and power dynamics.
More irritation, less adaption. More transparency.
Our planet has been facing a global pandemic due to Covid-19 for many months, with severe consequences on people's lives and on all fields of activity. We have seen educational programs, schools, cultural centers, museums, exhibitions, arts and cultural sites closing and being forced to change their plans. How has this crisis touched your projects and practice?
I am a maker-researcher type of an artist, so when I do not travel or teach, my daily life is in isolation in the studio. The pandemic found me luckily enough at a timing where most field trips had taken place and I was about to go to my cave and make again anyhow. So it was mostly fruitful for the upcoming work. Of course, some future plans are postponed or shows are completely canceled. I have the luxury be finding myself in a protected place financially due to my teaching and PhD, so I used this slowness for reflection to reboot my practice and what matters to me now.
What is your feeling about how this emergency will influence our approach to experiencing, producing and sharing the arts in the future?
I can only speculate that the ongoing abundance of the immaterial digital versions supplementing many art forms might bring physicality and materiality even more to the foreground. Then the imposed restrictions will trigger new creative paths, for example in directing theater or choreography. In architecture as well, how spaces will be occupied or constructed will have a major shift.
Is there anything that I did not ask you that is important for you to mention?
I think the art market has to become more transparent about its production processes, same as film and music industry has done already for decades.
Can you share three or five keywords that express your impressions about this conversation?
Vivi Touloumidi was born and studied in Athens before continuing her jewelry education in Germany and Canada. She holds an MFA from Konstfack University, in Stockholm. Since 2010, her work has been exhibited internationally in several curated gallery and museum shows. She is interested in exploring jewelry as a multifaceted cultural phenomenon and in its manifestations of the human condition, while taking into consideration today’s social challenges. Understanding the cosmos of jewelry is her way of negotiating and commenting on society and history. Touloumidi is currently a PhD fellow and lecturer at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp.