In Conversation: Enterprise Projects, Athens, Greece
Founded in 2015 by Danai Giannoglou and Vasilis Papageorgiou, Enterprise Projects is an experimental project space and publishing platform based in Athens, Greece. This summer, New Museum curator Margot Norton spoke with Giannoglou and Papageorgiou about Enterprise Projects and how it has evolved alongside the dynamic art scene in Athens, as well as their independent artistic and curatorial work. Both Giannoglou and Papageorgiou were involved with the group exhibition “The Same River Twice,” which was curated by Norton and Natalie Bell and co-organized by the New Museum and the Deste Foundation in collaboration with the Benaki Museum in Athens. “The Same River Twice” opened at the Benaki Museum Pireos in June 2019 and focused on the city of Athens and its constantly evolving artistic landscape. Papageorgiou participated as an artist in the exhibition, and Giannoglu wrote a text for the exhibition’s catalogue, charting the recent history of artist-run and alternative spaces in Athens.
Margot Norton: I remember when we first met in Athens at Art Athina, you had a tiny booth for Enterprise Projects where you were selling two things: ashtrays with the Enterprise Projects logo and binders with one of the essays you published by Kostas Stasinopoulos about the work of Paky [Vlassopolou]. We then met again a few months later over dinner with Natalie [Bell] when we came to Athens to research for the “The Same River Twice” exhibition. To begin, I want to know a little bit about the genesis of the idea to create Enterprise Projects — did it start out as a space or a publishing platform? How did it all come about?
Vasilis Papageorgiou: We were both quite young when the idea to create Enterprise Projects began. It was 2014, and I was 24, Danai was 23. We were just graduating from the fine arts school — Danai from the theoretical department and me from the fine arts department. And my family had this space —
Danai Giannoglou: Which is this former garage and car repair shop.
Vasilis: At the time, I was searching for a studio, and I asked around, and my parents suggested that I use this space, which was a mess, but with the idea that I could fix it and make it a bit better. And then I was looking at it with Danai, and we thought about how we could create a platform or a playground for us to experiment in space.
Danai: We both had this feeling after we graduated that we were supposed to be doing something professionally, but then we also didn’t feel that at the same time. It’s this very awkward period. Also, it was clear that unlike certain other countries where I suppose you get your degree and then after a while you start working somewhere, that wasn’t really the case here, as far as we could imagine it in Athens at that point at least.
Vasilis: It was also in the middle of the crisis.
Danai: And at the same time, it was getting more and more clear that we felt the need to make things, particularly for Vasilis as an artist, and to experiment with this format of the project space. We thought that if we didn’t do it, then it wouldn’t happen. It was basically this sensation that you have to make it so that it exists.
Margot: And what was the landscape like for art spaces in Athens at that time? Since I’ve been going to Athens over the past three or four years, there’s been a ton of artist-run spaces popping up and things happening all over the place, but was that culture as prevalent at that time?
Vasilis: We had our first show in September 2015. It was also the moment that Documenta 14 announced that they were coming to Athens, and it was a moment when a lot of project spaces, small institutions, artist-run spaces started opening up. About six months after we opened there were many more of these spaces than before.
Danai: They started to appear slowly. At the time when we opened the space, I think the only space I could identify to somehow was 3137, which is run by artists Paky Vlassopoulou, Chrysanthi Koumianaki, and Kosmas Nikolaou. Honestly, the project space or artist-run space wasn’t a format I was very familiar with. I didn’t know where to look for these spaces.
Vasilis: We didn’t really know what we were about to do. We started by planning one show, and then when we felt ready, we organized another one.
Danai: We started working on this first show almost as an exercise. We started with the name: Enterprise Projects, because we liked it, and then we decided to make a website, and then a logo, and slowly things started taking a shape and became something bigger than one exhibition in an artist studio. We said, let’s do the first show and see how it goes, and then we never looked back. After the first show, the idea for the second one came along and then we continued.
Vasilis: Our graphic designers, Bend, were also involved from the very beginning, and we are still working together closely. I would say that maybe 70, 80% percent of what we’re doing, they are part of it. I think they were the first ones who visited the space a year or so before the opening, and we are still having this close collaboration.
Margot: I want to hear about that first show. What was it, what was it about and how did it come about? Who was in it?
Danai: One of the things that made us start this project was the space itself. We were fascinated by the space. It’s half white, half pink, it’s a garage, it has a backyard. Everything is strange about it, and it’s a very difficult space. The marks of its former use are visible everywhere, from equipment that was left there to car paint on the floor. After lots of discussions, we decided that we didn’t want to erase these marks, but left them be part of the identity of the space. The first show was called “Car Service,” and it was about the space itself.
Vasilis: We were mainly looking at the architectural aspects of the space, the materiality of the garage, and the idea of the space as car service, rather than thinking about the car itself as an object.
Danai: Three years later we decided to revisit the idea and did another exhibition called “Car Service 2,” which was more about the car as a social object.
Vasilis: Those are also the only two exhibitions in the space that I have been a part of as an artist. The artists in the first show alongside me were Petros Moris, Lito Kattou, and Rallou Panagiotou. We worked very much together with artists for producing the show. It was kind of a collective experience.
Margot: That first show seems to have manifested organically, and I can certainly see the connection between the theme and your practice and interests too, Vasilis. Hearing about that first show and how the space came about reminds me of how much I learned from my experience working in Athens. New York can be so hyper-professionalized, and it’s rare to see what I consider a kind of collaborative magic like that happening, such as a group of artists and creatives finding a space, making what they want with it, and without needing to confirm distinct roles: artist, curator, designer, etc. I love how the design Bend created for your identity was such an integral part to Enterprise Projects from the beginning. Even the name and the design of the logo seems like an art project in a way — playing with that corporate language and design for the identity of an art space.
Danai: I think that exactly what you say is running throughout all of our projects. We have the need for our projects to reflect our mental and psychic states at the particular moment when we’re making them. We are often asked about our agenda with Enterprise Projects or if there is a curatorial line behind it, but to be honest, it’s just been a reflection of how we feel and what we experience. For example, the second exhibition we had was called “The Day After the First Day,” and it was on the 2nd of January. It came after a long discussion about how depressing Christmas can be and how the day after a huge party, you feel so alone.
Vasilis: Also, perhaps because we were not receiving any funding, we were also not obliged to plan ahead. This gave us freedom to be responsive and to play, to create a game, to morph disciplines.
Margot: Tell me about the name Enterprise Projects. I was thinking about your story of how you started the space, and how the title adds an ironic twist when considering that at the moment when you started it, you had just graduated and there’s an economic crisis going on, and what the hell are you going to do? The language of calling your project space ‘Enterprise Projects’ makes it sound like some kind of corporate institution.
Vasilis: It was kind of a joke to create such a corporate identity for a place that probably will never earn any money. At the same time that we came up with the title of the space, we worked on them graphically and created a series of logos. Enterprise Projects has something like ten or twelve logos that we continually rotate. It was our aim to experiment because we don’t really need the logo, we don’t really need to be identified.
Danai: An identity with no identity. If every season you change your logo, there is no brand. So, we tried to experiment with that, but the name was definitely a joke. It came from friends telling us when we were opening this space that we were not cut out for art or business. At the first Art Athina we participated in 2017, we had a wall with the logo on it. People thought that we were selling art insurance, or that we were a shipping company. We really liked that.
Margot: The logo also reminds me of all of the buildings that you see throughout Athens left over from the crisis, that have flashy logos like that, with once lofty ambitions, but their storefronts are shut, and they are now closed. I wanted to ask about the publishing projects that you do. What was the first essay that you published and why did you decide that you wanted to publish arts writing?
Danai: We published the first issue in 2018. It was an idea that started about a year prior. We felt that when we started the space, there was this need for exhibition space for our peers and our community, people whose works we felt should be shown, but weren’t at the stage of being exhibited at a museum or a big art center. There was a need for a platform to show their work that didn’t exist here. Then during the Documenta period, the landscape started to become completely different. New spaces were popping up, artists were opening their studios and there started to be more smaller institutions. We definitely do not feel that Greece has enough spaces right now, or that the ecology is healthy and the environment is as it should be, but there are definitely more spaces and experimental platforms out there. For us, we felt this need to shift from the physical space to the space of the page. In Greece, we weren’t able to read about art or theory in our own language. There were very few arts-related magazines, and we felt like we had to look abroad to find things to read. We were seeing that our friends, curators, theoreticians, and writers had to write in English in order to get published, and we felt that we were lacking writing space.
Vasilis: It wasn’t as if we could create a proper platform to fill this gap, but we felt the need to try to amplify the voices of those in our community.
Danai: There was a basic need for that. We were certain from the beginning that we wanted it to be free, so that’s why it exists online. We then sell the binder with the texts in print as a funding project for the publication. We invite people to write for the journal but we do not interfere with what the writer decides to write. Usually, when a writer gets a commission, it comes with certain restrictions, or it’s a commission about a very specific subject. We wanted to create a space for people to be able to express thoughts that they have in their drawer or things that have been crossing their minds, but never found the platform to be exposed. Our first writer was Kostas Stasinopoulos who is a great curator living in London. He’s Assistant Live Programmes Curator at the Serpentine, and he wrote an essay that was taking Paky Vlassopoulou’s work as a starting point to talk about gender issues.
Vasilis: The issue of language and translation was also important for us with the Journal. We wanted to focus on creating a bilingual publication, which will give the Greek writer the opportunity to write in Greek, while at the same time giving the Greek reader the opportunity to read something related to the arts in their mother tongue.
Danai: And to the non-Greek reader, the opportunity to read a great Greek writer or curator. Something that was quite shocking, that we didn’t expect, was that because of this need to write in English in order to get published, everybody we have invited to write for the Journal so far prefers to write in English. So we have translated their texts to Greek rather than the other way around, which is interesting for different reasons, and definitely shows a part of the problem.
Margot: And this is probably particularly true for writers of your generation.
Vasilis: Also, our graphic designers, Bend, who also work on the journal, work very closely with the writers to create a custom design that responds to the texts.
Margot: So, the design changes for every text.
Danai: Yes. In the beginning we thought that we could publish an issue every two months, but we soon realized that this was impossible. So now we are doing two issues per year, more or less.
Margot: What is the reason that you decided to publish the texts in both in English and Greek? Is it because there are few publications in Greece that are translated into English? Or is it that these writers have more opportunities to communicate to an audience that understands English?
Danai: As a curator and a reader, I have to say that I miss reading in Greek. And since we are the ones creating this platform, we said, okay, why not publish the texts in Greek as well as English?
Vasilis: There is a huge lack of vocabulary and terminology in Greek that is often applied to arts writing. So, there is a challenge for us in the translation from English to Greek to create, or invent this language. We work closely with Stella Pekiaridi and Theophilos Tramboulis for this.
Danai: Not just to invent vocabulary, but even to exercise vocabulary, because I think we both feel that without the vocabulary, the meaning itself can disappear. I think that it can become a very dangerous situation to not be able to write in your own language or explain what you have been thinking or reading in your own language. I think that this is a problem for theory in Greek in particular, because in terms of literature, Greece has beautiful publishing houses and amazing writers and lots of books being published, but there is a severe lack of writing about theory here. There is also a severe lack of arts criticism because there are very few art magazines. Having these texts in Greek was very important in order to create bibliography, to create vocabulary, and also to engage in this exercise together with the writers when working on the translation. It’s interesting because while these writers write in English, they perfectly understand Greek, so we work on the translation together, which is valuable for both ourselves and the writers. Maybe this is a part that’s not visible to the reader, but I find it extremely valuable. We work with professional translators and copy editors, but the final edit is very much a collaboration between ourselves and the writers.
Vasilis: Also until now we haven’t received any funding. So the whole project is completely self-funded.
Danai: This is a huge shoutout to the people that agreed to work with us without being well-paid or in some cases without being paid at all, which is something we are trying to figure out. It’s certainly part of the DIY culture and it shapes the character of projects for sure, but as we’ve been running for five years now, it’s time to take another step.
Margot: Danai, you wrote this wonderful piece for our catalogue for The Same River Twice exhibition that charted the recent history of project spaces and alternative art spaces in Athens. Since so much has happened between the time that you started Enterprise Projects in 2015 to now, I wanted to ask about how the arts scene has changed and how you see yourselves now? You mentioned earlier that there are many more alternative spaces now than previously, but by no means are there enough. Could you elaborate on that? And what does this mean for Enterprise Projects in terms of taking the next steps? And what’s important in order for the art scene in Athens to grow in meaningful ways?
Danai: For us, we are thinking about how to take next steps while resisting institutionalization. I think that after a certain point, it’s hard to remain a project space, and with time comes responsibility, comes fatigue, which makes us look at things differently. Sometimes it feels as if the DIY artist-run project space becomes not a destination, but a stepping stone for a place to grow and become something else with a heavier name, which is great in some cases. However, for Enterprise Projects, it is important for us that we consciously try to resist that. This doesn’t mean that we’re not seeking funding now, which wasn’t something that we were doing the first years. During those first years we believed in 100% independence and self-funding. Now we are building relationships that are more geared toward an institutionalized structure rather than a DIY structure, but at the core of the project, we consciously try to remain a project space.
Vasilis: There is also a big gap in the contemporary arts institution’s pyramid, the lack of the contemporary art center format which is not a museum, but it’s not an artist-run space either. I don’t think that we are the ones who can fill this gap, but we can contribute in our own way.
Danai: This creates a monopoly where there are three to five main actors in the scene that everybody one way or the other depends on. When I say resistance to institutionalization, I mean that we still find a purpose in having independent project spaces. They serve an important purpose, even if they’re more now than there used to be. We still feel a need to fulfill this purpose, at least at this point in our careers. We’re also both doing other things at the same time — we have independent practices, which is also important, and in some cases affiliated with other institutions, which we are happy about. Yet with Enterprise Projects, it is an everyday experiment as to how we can protect our original intentions and continue to make it meaningful somehow.
Margot: Even though what you are speaking about is specific to Athens, it certainly resonates with what so many institutions struggle with, especially those that are growing but try to remain responsive and nimble, which becomes more challenging once you reach a certain scale. The more bureaucracy and the more players that become involved, the more watered down this responsiveness becomes and it’s difficult to remain as fluid perhaps, and there’s economic reasons for this as well.
Vasilis, I wanted to ask you about your practice as an artist. It’s crazy that it’s been a year that we worked together last summer on The Same River Twice show. I wanted to ask you about what it’s been like for you in the studio over the last year since we worked together. I’m sure there’s been many challenges this past year, but I also know that you have received many exciting opportunities as well.
Vasilis: When The Same River Twice exhibition was on I received an invitation by Monica Szewczyk from De Appel in Amsterdam to apply for a grant from the Amsterdam Fonds voor de Kunst, which is called 3Package Deal. I had this great opportunity to relocate to Amsterdam, and the grant covered all my production costs, living costs, studio, house, everything. So it was a kind of a new era starting from September 2019. In Amsterdam I had to reconsider my practice in terms of how I create when I’m not in my studio in Athens where I know how everything can be produced and I can just make whatever I want, which was quite tricky. I loved Amsterdam, but it’s not the same playground as Athens production-wise, so I tried to focus on different ways of producing and explored video and sound. I’m also going to show a video piece in Amsterdam on September 4th, which will be the final exhibition of the grant. I’m working closely with a Greek composer named George Axiotis on the sound for the video. And at the same time, subject-wise I’m not far from what I have been interested in over the last two years.
It’s also funny because when we met, you came to my solo exhibition at Hot Wheels Projects in Athens and I had made those sculptures of solo barstools, which were kind of prophetic when considering what would happen with COVID, and the isolation we would all be facing. During the quarantine I was also working on a proposal for an exhibition and thinking how I was considering distancing as an opportunity in that project, and how you can claim to be alone in a society or a social space (bar, stadium, public square, etc.), and then it actually happened. Before the pandemic hit, I was actually working on a proposal of creating a series of benches for a public square where everybody would sit alone, distanced from other people, and then it became a reality, and in those terms was not as fun as I was imagining.
It has also been a very useful period for me to rethink my practice practically since it has always been very much about production, material, and creating objects. I had to also rethink the ways I produce and also the reasons why I’m working with this subject of being alone in social space during these times and how you define yourself when being within a group of people. While most of the projects that I had were cancelled, I am still working a lot, and in a great rhythm.
Margot: That’s great. I think for many people it has been a difficult time for focus, so it’s great to hear that it’s been generative for you. And Danai, you’re currently at the curatorial program at De Appel too. Did that happen independently from this opportunity that Vasilis had?
Danai: I had already been accepted at De Appel when Vasilis received his invitation. It was as if the stars aligned for us.
Margot: And how has the experience in the curatorial program at De Appel been for you? What was it like for you to come from an almost DIY background in exhibition making with Enterprise Projects and then go into this program? And what have you learned in the process?
Danai: De Appel has been an amazing experience for me. The program was supposed to end in June, but because of the whole situation with COVID, our final exhibition had to be rethought and reshaped. Now it is taking the form of a publication that will be launched in Amsterdam in the fall. What I kept from the DIY method of working at Enterprise Projects was the joy and the patience of collaboration. The De Appel curatorial program invites six curators from all over the world that do not know each other to collaborate, live together, and travel together. It’s almost like a social experiment, and we then create something together as a final project. This hardcore collaboration is what I really cherish from my previous background, and level of commitment and collaboration that Enterprise Projects has taught me over the years. It’s been an amazing year at De Appel and a beautiful opportunity.
Margot: Do you have any plans to go back to Amsterdam?
Danai: In Greek, we say that when somebody makes plans, God laughs. I’d like to go back and spend some more time in Amsterdam, I’ve met really very inspiring people there. I would like to be traveling between the two cities somehow, but I know that I’m definitely not able to leave Athens behind, but I would also like to spend a bit more time in Amsterdam. The program at De Appel really pushed us to ground ourselves in this new reality that Amsterdam was for everybody, and I don’t want it to end. It’s also integrated in the work and research I’ve been doing throughout the past year.
Margot: Do you have any future plans with Enterprise Projects?
Vasilis: We were supposed to have an exhibition in May by a young Greek artist named Michaelangelos Vlassis Ziakas, who is creating an ongoing documentary and video installation about people who are hijacking their national electricity network. It was about to be installed in the space, but we had to postpone it because of COVID. We are trying to reschedule the exhibition for autumn, but in the meantime we have published an excerpt of the documentary online as a prelude to the physical project.
Danai: We have also just released the fourth issue of the journal. We are also hoping that we’re going to receive state funding for another project that will most probably happen in December, which further explores the ideas of language and self-publication. It will be both an exhibition and a symposium.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.