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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 11 June 2016
18 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 11 JUNE 2016 In photo exhibition, images of Athens surviving the crisis A new art gallery in North Melbourne features the work of Athens-based photographer Vagelis Poulis DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM NIKOS FOTAKIS hen photographer Vagelis Poulis met his friends Panagiota Kagkali and Roger Karge at their Gazi residence in 2012, little did he suspect that his photos would become the basis of a photographic exhibition in an art gallery in Melbourne. In part, because this gallery had not even opened yet. And more importantly, because he didn't realise that his photos were a chronicle of life in Athens during the times of crisis. Enter Roger. "I'm an industrial chemist, which means I can see elements that other people don't; that's a skill I possess," he says. In this case, what he saw looking at the photos was a story. The story of a city struggling to cope with hardship and the stories of its inhabitants, keeping on, despite the financial collapse and depression. "Vagelis is a brilliant photographer; there W are some images of loneliness in his work that remind me of Edward Hopper. Some of the photographs made me cry, others were more uplifting, but I immediately saw a story there. So I picked the photos that told that story, that I wanted to share with the people of Melbourne," he says. This story is narrated, in photographic form, in the exhibition ‘Living & Loving in Athens’. The photos are paired with seminal works of Greek poetry and placed in an order that allows the visitor to experience what it’s like to walk around the debt-stricken city today. "We start with some images that could be part of a travel portfolio, the classic images of Athens, such as the Acropolis. Then, there are the photos that show the effect of the crisis on people, the depression, the struggle to survive. But we didn't want to end on a negative note, we wanted to show that people in Athens cope with the crisis and try to go on with their lives; they go to church, they go to the beach, they go out, they smoke, they drink, they have fun - they do the Greek thing," says Roger. For all this to happen, Roger and Panagiota had to create the space that would host this exhibition. Thus Lulu was born, an elegant, spacious yet cozy, modern cafe and art space in North Melbourne, which offers fine food, great coffee, live music and regular art shows. In fact, they've already planned their exhibitions until the end of the year. But for the time being, this is all about ‘Living & Loving in Athens’, which they are keen on turning into a series of exhibitions of life in Athens, even featuring other photographers, and creating what Roger describes as "the book of Athens". "Like a family photo album of the city," he says of the project. "Imagine if something like that happened for Aleppo, which was a flourishing city before it got destroyed," he says. "Imagine a book depicting Aleppo, before the Syrian civil war and during the raids and after." This is what he wants to do with Athens. Tell the story of a city before, during and after the economic collapse that tore down its social fabric. "I know there are a lot of people like me in Melbourne, who love Greece and are very interested in what is happening there," says Roger, who is a true Philhellene. "I will never forget the first time I went there, in 1984," he says. "There is something about the light, the weather, how people live that makes Greece unique. It is not surprising that western civilisation and western culture began there - it did not start in Sweden, or America." He describes Greece as "the second best country in the world" after Australia, explaining how the two countries are connected, sharing a similarly "rough landscape". As for himself, he thinks that "both countries are hopeless". Bursting with laughter, he describes how he cannot stay more than three months in either place, before something driving him mad. "We actually tried to start a cafe in [the Athenian suburb] Holargos," he says. "But we gave up; it is too expensive, too complicated, nobody knows what to do in order to set up a business properly." Here, on the other hand, it all went swiftly. "Here, everything is working. You go to the bank, you're done in two minutes. In Athens, you spend two hours and don't know what happens. Greece is the land of the living, but you can't live there. It is a country full of talented, educated people, who are depressed and cannot reach their potential, due to the crisis. Australians, on the other hand, are happy, because in Australia you can do whatever you set your mind on doing. The only boundaries are the ones that you set yourself. But Australians lack this 'joie de vivre' that Europeans have. After 9 o'clock, they're all tired, they're off to bed. This drives me nuts." * ‘Living & Loving in Athens’, a photographic exhibition of work by Vagelis Poulis, opens on Thursday 16 June at Lulu Cafe & Gallery (506 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne, VIC).
4 June 2016
18 June 2016