Interviews

Christina Nakou and Anna Pangalou: Transiens Nostrum

‘Transiens Nostrum’, is a unique visual and sound installation by awarded artists Christina Nakou and Anna Pangalou which is being presented from 16 to 26 November 2023 as part of the ‘Bodies of Water’ exhibition within the Greek pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. By invitation of the exhibition’s curators, Costis Paniyiris and Andreas Nikolovgenis, the two artists are gradually deconstructing the exhibit dedicated to dams and reservoirs. By the end of the Biennale, the two works will be fused together into a new work of art to highlight the transformative, unpredictable, and ever-changing relationship between human structures and nature. We interviewed the two artists to find out more!
by Lara Morrell
Lara Morrell
Christina Nakou and Anna Pangalou

How did you both come to collaborate and how do your practices complement each other, and mutate, as a performative duo?

We started collaborating only two years ago although we have known each other for many years. Just before the pandemic we realised that we were both observing the multiple nuances of ice so we started a dialogue on our works. ( Due to the pandemic these projects have not been presented publicly yet.) Last year the opportunity arose through the open call of the Greek Ministry of Culture, for artists that would join disciplines in order to create a work on the memory of the Minor Asia Catastrophe, 1922. We both decided to develop our work on the experience of personal grief, under the perspective of its universality. Loss is a major part of life. We created a visual and sound installation focusing on tenderness and on the subtle fragility of memory. In Presentia therefore functioned as the springboard of our collaboration and as the first stop of a circumnavigation that aims to suggest art as a space of connection and interrelation.

Under this perspective the visual and the sound parts of each installation are organically connected. It is through time that we can experience space while time unfolds within space. In every installation sound affects the visual experience and it underlines intensively or subtly the visitors.  Sound is fleeting, as it travels through the fluidity of air. And so is memory. The only thing left is the experience of their existence.

Working together is almost organic for us, our communication is profound and easy. We complement one another, developing our visual and auditory perceptions. We both are not afraid to experiment and be open to change. This is helping us evolve and enjoy the fusion of our practices to the point that we consider our project a common work.

Could you tell us about the concepts that underpin the Transiens Nostrum project and how will this iteration manifest and interact with the Bodies of Water exhibition and the audiovisual ambiance of the Greek Pavilion?

Transiens Nostrum Project observes the multiple nuances of Loss as an encounter with the sea. We are interested in researching the transformation of the ports of the Mediterranean and their peoples and to create poetic spaces where the visitors can relate to memory and process loss in their own personal rhythm. Moreover we want these exhibitions to function as spaces where people can come together, interrelate and collaborate. Meeting people and bringing them together is a main axis of the Transiens Nostrum project.

Costis Paniyiris and Andreas Nikolovgenis, curators of the Bodies of Water exhibition in the Greek Pavilion of the Biennale present dams and reservoirs that transform the country and view this substantial number of artificial lakes as an extensive reverse archipelago dispersed across the rugged terrain.
“They transform the land into χώρα, meaning country, understood both in the sense of territory, and with its etymological origin from the verb χωρώ, to contain, that is, a place that contains the lives, actions, memories, and expectations of its inhabitants.” as they say.

A while ago, Storm Daniel, an extreme phenomenon of flood transformed drastically the morphology of Thessaly, Greece, forcing people to lose their homes and causing a catastrophe in agriculture and economy. Libya and other countries around the Mediterranean suffered respectively.

This imposed transformation functioned as the springboard of our collaboration.

Costis and Andreas invited us to work on a performative installation that would function as the finishage event of the Greek Participation in the Biennale. We now work on the 3rd stop of the Transiens Nostrum project focusing on the concept of submersion- a critical issue for the city of Venice – while using the Bodies of Water exhibition’s material in a transformative way. Both exhibitions support the audio and visual interrelation, as we believe that sound expands in time forming the experience of the viewer. Through this collaboration we want to underline the dynamic relation that bonds human constructions to Nature and that actually everything is constantly in transformation.

This is Transiens Nostrum’s third stop, after the ports of Rhodes and Syros in Greece, in what contexts were these performed and how did they differ from one another?

We initiated this project in 2022, with the In Presentia Installation in the Bastion of St George in the medieval town of Rhodes, focusing on the experience of personal loss. The architectural space of the Bastion became a major factor of our installation, while visitors started sharing with us family stories related to the refugee crisis of 1922. It is through this interrelation with the visitors that we decided to unfold this project into a circumnavigation aiming to bring people together and offer a space of introspection.

We chose Syros to be the second port, observing the embankments which led to the construction of an important port in the commercial route of the Middle East to Europe and how that transformed the lives of the inhabitants of the island. In this installation for example we encapsulated traditional vessel signs, marked in situ by the owner of the last traditional shipyard of the island, a family tradition going back to six generations. Next to that we presented metallic scrap from the modern international shipyards.

In Venice, we observe the vertical axis of the movement of water and the interrelation that bonds the life in the canals with the dynamic move of the sea. In addition we investigate the use of golden tesserae in the byzantine mosaics of Venice and the unique tradition of glass making in the Murano island.

In every stop the architectural space plays a major role in the design of each installation together with the history of the port and the relations of its peoples. Working in the space of the Greek Pavilion in the Venice Architecture Biennale fascinates us, as the Pavilion is itself a space in constant transformation. Apart of the Bodies of Water exhibition and our collaboration with the Greek curators-architects, being in the Biennale gives us the unique opportunity to discuss further with architects and architecture appreciators from all around the world on the merging of art, space and sound.

Could you expand on the role that notions of loss and dissolution play in this artwork, and in turn their connection to water fluidity and transformation?

Venice is a port dramatically connected to submergence while flood is a sine qva non condition that determines the life of its inhabitants. While in previous installations the sea was captured through the emergence and withdrawal of the waves as they spread on the seashore, in Venice we observe the vertical axis of this flow – which is constantly in transformation.

Both us and the curators-architects would like to note that the interrelation among human constructions and nature is dynamic. Without trying to jump to conclusions or make declarations, we intend to show that the permanent condition of  loss and transformation is the main axis of life. We believe that the acceptance of this condition is a springboard for creation.

The Bodies of Water exhibition presents big glass surfaces where bathymetric maps of the dams are engraved

and paper models of the geomorphy of the mountains that contain these human constructions.

The Transiens Nostrum installation will use some of these glass surfaces and break them in a symbolic gesture to feature the possible breakage of dams in cases of extreme rain. Practically we are going to use these glass fragments to create a floor mosaic alluding to the Byzantine mosaics of Venice and the Murano glass making tradition. We are excited to encapsulate in the mosaic also fragments from Effetre Murano, in the characteristic deep green color of the sea of Venice.

The sound of the breakage of the glass surfaces together with the sound of the broken glass fragments, will be part of the sound performance that Anna will perform.

The original sound environment of the Bodies of Water exhibition, created by Dimitris Karageorgos was  partially captured alongside the Dams. Now, it will be reproduced through water in order to create a new sound environment for the Transiens Nostrum Installation.

Finally, The Wave, a large scale drawing made by silver paint on transparent surface will conclude the installation featuring the dramatic invasion of water in the exhibition space, as a reference to the dramatic condition of flood that can’t be stopped by human constructions. As a Venetian friend told us: “Flood in Venice can’t be stopped. It is a condition of life in the canals and we have to learn how to cope with it and move on.”

What has your experience of Venice been to date and what are your thoughts and reflections on the fragility of its future?

We have been in Venice to research for our project hosted at the Istituto Ellenico, a Byzantine legacy. We have been charmed by the history and beauty of the city and by the courage and generosity of its people. Marks of flood can be seen on the lower parts of the walls of the houses and the Palazzi while stairs which enter the sea in the canals indicate the flux of the tide. We got impressed by the Acqua Alta bookshop that places the books in a gondola and on top of water resistant objects so that they can get protected in case of flood. Piles of books that have been soaked through are placed in the yard next to a video projection showing the Acqua Alta of 2018. Next to the fragility of its future caused by the rise of the sea level, Venice is a present example of the beauty created by people and of their persistence to defend a rare heritage. Life in the canals seems to be following the move of the sea and to linger in the smoothness of the water flow. We believe that the constant movement of the water and its sounds keep one connected with Natural reality.

Where is Transiens Nostrum next port of call? Where and when will it culminate?

Transiens Nostrum has been supported by the Greek Ministry of Culture, Archaeological Ephorates and Municipalities and by private Institutions and sponsors. In the wider Mediterranean basin, we are interested to visit among others the archaeological site of Pafos in Cyprus, due to its special history, Naples and the archaeological site of Pompeii, where the instance of loss is documented in its ruins, Marseille, as a multi-cultural port, Gibraltar, as a border to the ocean, and Byblos of Lebanon, as one of the earliest Phoenician ports of the Mediterranean since antiquity. In Greece: Piraeus, as the ancient natural port of Athens, Chania and Thessaloniki, as cities-crossroads of civilisations.

Our next port is scheduled to be Alexandria, Egypt. We would like to investigate the Library of Alexandria and the Souez canal. We work on a couple of ports every year so that we have plenty of time to research and to create original works accordingly. Still we follow the spontaneous flow of this voyage and so we are open to new invitations that emerge through our collaborations.

The further this circumnavigation unfolds, it would be inspiring and fruitful to collaborate with local Institutions and Foundations around the Mediterranean so that we can interweave a life-affirming plexus of human interactions.

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