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GREECE: Interview with The Frown Team: Marianna Christofi, Maria Varela, Konstantinia Vafeiadou

Photo courtesy of Frown: Left to right: Marianna Christofi, Maria Varela, Konstantinia Vafeiadou

In the birthplace of Western civilization, women have been making impressive gains and significant strides towards equality. Grecian women comprise majority of the university graduates and girls outperform boys by 19 points in literacy, math and science according to OECD reports. Accordingly, women are well beyond and surpassing the stereotypes and myths that have historically defined them.

Though, there are still fewer women than men in leadership roles, things are taking a shift for women, especially as they find themselves carving their own paths and creating their own roles. Founders of a nonprofit called Frown which is comprised of an all women team, are paving a way for artists and creators in their country. These inspiriting innovators established Frown at the moment of a dreadful economic crisis in Greece. They serve as a model not just for Grecian women but for the world as they form a collective to produce stage and visual performances for the art and creative communities.

 (1) Can you tell briefly Women For Action about you and where you were born?

Marianna Christofi: I was born and raised in Athens, Greece. I have a love and hate relation with this city. Athens can be an exciting place, but also rather unbearable most of the time. However, this is where I decided to live. I studied Communications and Media and then Cultural Studies in London.  I am currently working as an editor and a production manager. As a researcher my interest lies in the exploration of processes of immaterial cultural production through online and offline networks.

Maria Varela: I was born in Athens, Greece. I left Athens to study Fine Arts and later I moved in London, UK to gain a MA in Interactive media. I decided to move back in Athens after 10 years of absence to work on Frown. My artistic practice  focuses on new technologies and multidisciplinary, seeking to develop strategies of collective narratives. I have exhibited my work in museums and festivals around Europe as Bozar in Brussels, Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, Transmediale festival in Berlin, Piksel festival in Bergen, Amber festival in Istanbul and more.

Konstantinia Vafeiadou: I was born and raised in Serres, a small city in Northern Greece, in the creative environment of my father’s art atelier. There I first came in touch with color, shapes and textures that determined my future career. After completing my studies in Fine Arts in Greece, I moved to London for further studies in Costume design. Moving back to Greece, Athens seemed to be the right place, offering fertile ground for artistic creation. I have worked as a freelance costume designer for theatre productions and produced a number of performances presented in festivals and theatres in Greece and abroad. I also run my own millinery brand. 

(2) What inspired you to go into the arts and media?

Marianna: I always found the media ecosystem challenging. No one can argue the power of this industry in terms of production and distribution of information, as well as of shaping the cultural landscape we inhabit. And for me this is the intersection between the media world and the arts, the latter as a medium of creating cultural content. I am interested in exploring how both the art and media industries construct solid cultural narratives, how these narratives are combined together, contradict each other or counteract. So for me, co-founding the collaborative creative umbrella of Frown, as we like to call it , was more of a need to stage my interest of research on this subject.

Maria Varela: As an artist I believe art has to reflect contemporary notions and comment on its problematics. The actual way to express these, is an accurate choice of the medium as well as the methodology to process. My personal interests lie on the exploration of a mass variety of technological advantages that contemporary world offers and the ways that  interfere to our everyday realm and shapes our understanding.  In my perception the challenge on forming a new cultural basis which corresponds to society’s needs, is to involve the user into the production process. This is the main methodology that Frown engages with.

Konstantinia Vafeiadou: I was always fascinated by the complexity of the relationship between human and the material things. Being able to investigate and interact with the raw material was a straightforward option for me, in order to, initially, understand the nature of the things and thereafter examine their relationship with humans as a defining factor of shaping history and culture.  Gaining knowledge and experience on materials and techniques is one way to reconsider and redefine your everyday life, through making clever decisions and this is part of what Frown espouses and promotes.

(3) What is your area of central focus at Frown?

Marianna: I am running the communication and press at Frown, but since Frown has a very strong DIY ethic and we are running on our own the project space, I am more or less involved with lots of tasks.

Maria Varela: I am working on the creative programme of Frown. I am planning workshops related to alternative uses of media, new technologies, physical computing and creative coding. My task is centered on a continuous research on media prototyping and the ways to make the outcome approachable through hands-on workshops.

Konstantinia: I am also working on the creative programme of Frown. I am running the Craft Workshops in collaboration with designers/design studios and artists. These creative “hands-on” workshops offer participants the chance to try a range of design techniques and to develop new skills while encourage them to start developing their own creative styles. 

(4) How did you come up with the name Frown or Frown Tails?

The initial name of the organization was Frown Tails, a name that emerged through a long-term brainstorming and an inside joke. It has no literal meaning though.  Frown Tails became Frown in the autumn of 2012, when the organization moved to its current address on Agias Eleousis Street, in the heart of the historic center of Athens, in an attempt to mark the beginning of a new period in the life of the organization.

(5) Can you explain to our audience about Frown in simple terms, the main focus of your company, its different divisions and mission?

Frown is an open space for collaborative work that deals with the production of a broad range of artistic events in the sectors of interactive media and performance art. Its objective lies in the introduction and integration of the audience, that is the audience in Athens, in the artistic practices, as well as in the familiarization of the audience with the methods and practices of new art forms.

Frown also works as a platform for culture collaborations through open calls. We encourage artists and interdisciplinary creators to showcase their work in our project space and work together on projects that emerge through our interaction.

The events that are incorporated in our program are divided into three categories: performances (installation performance, performance art, sound performances), workshops (technology, crafts, body) and finally artist presentations. All three categories are curated by Frown in collaboration with artists, groups of artists or independent curators in an attempt to participate in, moderate and to adapt the proposed projects in the particularities of the project space.

At this point we should add that we have a very strong DIY as well as a Do It With Others ethic. We rarely run on big budgets, so we have learned to work efficiently with what we have, without reducing the final artistic product.

(6) What has been Frown’s biggest achievements or accomplishments you’ve been most proud of?

So far we have managed to establish Frown and collaborate with institutions such as the National Museum of Contemporary Art of Athens. We have also managed to host and present internationally renowned artists such as Heath Bunting, Julian Oliver, Danja Vasiliev and many more and also launch our first publication, titled Heath Bunting: How to build a new legal identity, A close look at Heath Bunting’s work and the workshop in Athens. Moreover, we managed to create a community of artists, creators, makers, tinkers and thinkers which follow Frown closely  and  support  each other through collaborations.

(7) I noticed that the Founders of Frown are all women. How did that happen? Because your industry is majority comprised of men. Correct?

We are all women, that is true. I believe this is mostly due to the fact that women seem to be more at ease with embracing risks, such as starting and running a project space in the beginning of a grave financial crisis and throughout. We are not fond of generalizing, especially when it comes to gender roles. But taken the current socioeconomic situation into account, as  well as the fact that we see more women leading key projects, we would say that women prove to be less conformists and more agile. 

(8) Do you have a lot of women collaborating with your company?

We have lots of women running workshops and staging performances. Given the opportunity, I should mention a great collaboration we had with the project Gün: Women’s Networks,  run by artists  Arzu Ozkal, Claudia Costa Pederson. Arzu and Claudia started working on informal networks formed by women, such as “ Gün” which in Turkish means “home”. Then they started traveling and asking women from  different countries to take part in workshops to identify and discuss parallel offline networks.

Moreover, we collaborate closely with Afroditi Psrra, a multidisciplinary artist with focus on concepts such as the body as an interface, the identity crisis of the individual, folk tradition and the role of women in contemporary culture. Her artworks include a wide variety of media and techniques that extend from embroidery, soft circuits, DIY electronics, hacking and creative coding, to interactive installations and sound performances.

In addition, Caterina Antonopoulou is an awarded  computer engineer and an interactive media designer and developer. Her research interests, and professional practice include interactive installations, mainly using computer vision and physical interfaces, real-time audiovisual generation, algorithmic video, virtual reality, ubiquitous computing and personalized multimedia.

(9) What sort have difficulties have you faced, if any, as a woman throughout your career?

Marianna: I have found myself in the past working for people that, unfortunately, have a very distorted idea about the place of women in the professional world. It's has been very challenging at times but also very rewarding to establish your role in such environments.

Maria Varela: Working in a field of technological focus and collaborating closely with programmers, developers and engineers (positions that traditionally are men-held) I felt several times excluded of a project’s different production stages. On the other hand I have experienced in festivals and exhibitions extra attention because technological work was produced out of a woman.

Konstantinia: Actually, none.

(10) What sort of advice would you give a young girl who was interested in following your footsteps?

Always work so as to make your aspiration come true. You will find out in the process how many thing you can achieve if you persist and don't give up on the things that really matter to you. It can be trivial or cheesy, but it is true!

(11) Are you currently working on any new projects?

We are currently working on a community project about the city of Egaleo, which is quite a big suburb in the west end of Athens. It is basically a semi-industrial area formed by refugees back in 1920's. Our aim is to create  a series of playful workshops for children that will merge the area's history, tradition and fragmented memories of the past with the current situation of the city. We hope to inspire the children  so as to come up with a new narrative of their own.

(12) What would you like to say to the Women For Action audience?

I would like to say that most of the times when we want to achieve our goals, it is better to think collectively and not just as individuals. Working together with others, especially with women in that sense, can be rewarding and effective.

(13) In the U.S., we are highly focused on individualism. Do you think that this is an important attribute for individuals to adopt collectivity? 

For once, an individuals resources, either cognitive or creative, are limited. When joining forces with others you create a system when you can feed others with knowledge or skill that takes off the dynamics of the project in progress. And this is no one-way situation. When you start sharing with others you gain your partners expertise and insights, that can prove to be valuable. Our paradigm is one, given that we started Frown with no real budget, but working together and combining our know-how, along with people who wanted to work with us, we managed to create amazing projects. 

#OPEN from Frown

#Open from Frown on Vimeo.



(Interview by Julene Allen and Chiara Cola)

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Julene Allen