Getting to know Dimitrios Antonitsis, founder and curator of the Hydra School Projects, an international platform in Greece for artists.
The young poet Evmenis
complained one day to Theocritos:
“I have been writing for two years now
and I have composed just one idyll.
It’s my only completed work.
I see, sadly, that the ladder of Poetry
is tall, extremely tall;
and from this first step I now stand on
I will never climb any higher.”
Theocritos replied: “Words like that
are improper, blasphemous.
Just to be on the first step
should make you happy and proud.
To have come this far is no small achievement:
what you have done is a glorious thing.
Even this first step
is a long way above the ordinary world.
To stand on this step
you must be in your own right
a member of the city of ideas.
And it is a hard, unusual thing
to be enrolled as a citizen of that city.
Its councils are full of Legislators
no charlatan can fool.
To have come this far is no small achievement:
what you have done already is a glorious thing.
The First Step by Constantine P. Cavafy
DIMITRIOS ANTONITSIS: MAGIC MAN
During my time on Hydra, one of the most propitious moments was meeting my host, Dimitrios Antonitsis, who is not only the founder and curator of the Hydra School Projects, an internationally known platform for artists, he is also a renowned sculpture and photographer. At the first moment of our first encounter, a song came to mind that has stayed with me ever since.
Cold, late night so long ago
When I was not so strong you know
A pretty man came to me
I never seen eyes so blue
You know, I could not run away it seemed
We’d seen each other in a dream
Seemed like he knew me, he looked right through me, yeah
“Come on home, girl” he said with a smile.
“You don’t have to love me yet, let’s get high awhile.
But try to understand, try to understand,
Try, try, try to understand, I’m a magic man.
I was 12 years old when I first heard that song, so did not quite get the lyrics. Yet today I understand exactly what Nancy and Ann Wilson, aka music group Heart, meant in their song Magic Man. T
here are different types of connections however, and it is was with the innocence of my once twelve year old heart that it came to me at that present time and did so because Dimitrios Antonitsis is a Magic Man in and of himself.
There are three reasons I believe so. The first is because, as I soon learned, he is a truly wonderful person in life, a man of sound principles and strong morals.
Secondly, his extraordinary kindness and endless generosity make him a wonderful friend. Thirdly, his boundless support of new artists, as well as those long forgotten. An extra: his talent as an artist in his own right.
And last but far from least, his sheer charisma, which shines like a blinding light at the end of a long, dark tunnel one had thought never to escape. All in all, Antonitsis is a man to be reckoned with.
Interestingly enough, it is those very personal qualities and inestimable qualities as an individual that also make his work extraordinary. It is that same ceaseless curiosity about life, immense open-heartedness towards others and never-ending quest to explore new forms of creative expressions which has enabled him, in an ever-competitive field, to carve out his own niche. In other words, Antonitsis is a visionary.
Indeed, I would go so far as to say a sage in the artistic world for his uncanny ability to discover the fresh and new. Furthermore, his somewhat spectacular and singular ability to seamlessly blend the old with the new, history with modernity must be noted.
Like his vision, his work encompasses the wide spectrum that lies between both, dancing effortlessly over the fiery stones of mishaps that have led so many others in his place to fail.
One could almost call him poetic in a sense, both in the beauty he sees in the most common of objects to his profound appreciation for nature, respect for harmony and appreciation of the complex facets of that which so many of us unknowingly and erroneously deem to be simplicity.
Nontheless, Antonitsis did not start off as an artist. Indeed, his first career was as a mechanical engineer, which he began after completing his studies at the ETH in Zurich, Switzerland and a Master of Science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.
He then turned his interest to Microscopic Photography and filmmaking and won an award for ‘Past Glories, Present Despondencies’, a film he made in collaboration with the Robert De Niro film studio.
Antonitsis also acts as a mentor to young, budding artists as well as a curator for their work. In fact, at the moment of our meeting, he was in the midst of organising an exhibition entitled ‘Texting Spirits’ by Lola Montes Schnabel, taking place from the 29th October 2016 to the 28th January 2017.
It is for this reason that I joined Dimitrios and Lola on my fourth day on the island to talk about art, the Hydra School Project, life on Hydra as an artist, their friendship and their upcoming artistic collaboration. And, I have to say that what followed was a most enlightening and highly stimulating conversation.
“The island is based on beauty. It stays the same with the same architecture as it was in the early 18th century. There are very few new constructions and again any new buildings must replicate the existing visual architecture. So, the whole island is under archeological protection and has this very specific look.
And if you want to teach a child about perspective, for example, you just have to take them to a higher point and look at how the town is built and then they understand about perspective. Also, the houses are exactly the way children draw houses: a very elementary block of construction.
I grew up in Athens, but on Hydra it’s like living in a time warp. Therefore, I believe that there is a more humane pace of everyday life here and that not everybody is made for the rhythm of the big city, although I lived in New York and grew up in Athens and went to school in Zurich. I know that in our DNA, we need a rhythm and a space that is genetically coherent to whom we are.
The main thing about Hydra is that there is a harmony in the surroundings, which is so simple and yet so substantial that it links you to the metaphysical. So you end up having a different experience here. It’s a destination where you can have a metaphysical experience.
It’s the water. It’s the light. It’s the nature. It’s the architecture. I wouldn’t necessarily put the contemporary art scene on it, because the contemporary art scene is something very much in the ‘now’. But there are elements of this island that are perennial and the energy of the island is such that it is very constant.”
ON THE ARTIST VILLAS
“The house a certain type of energy and makes somewhere you can write, draw, and meditate. It’s a relaxing place, also because of the fantastic views.
For example, when we were digging the foundation of my house we found that it was built on an enormous crystal. So the large blocks of crystals that I have in the house are what lie right under it.
You discover little things there, little pockets of special things on the island. I’ve had the house for twenty years now. To me, it is a place I love to share with friends and people who are special to me and who I am very lucky to have in my life.
I didn’t decorate it. It is all my friends who have given me their work and I just curate it. So, it’s not a typical island house because of all the contemporary artwork. It’s fun.
A lot of artists stay there and they give me a print or a sculpture or a photo, it has a story. In the past twenty years in fact it has become full of stories, like a little novel, going through the items.”
ON THE HYDRA SCHOOL PROJECTS
“In Hydra, I run my artistic platform The Hydra School Project that I founded 18 years ago and I do a lot of research and reading and drawings. But the foundry is in Athens and I work also a lot in New York.
The Hydra School Project started in 1999 as an idea of bringing my favorite artworks and my favorite artists together in a space on Hydra and to spend as much time as possible on the island.
We plan a year ahead, so we already have a line-up of artists for next year that have been contacted. Some of them have already visited the space, a mansion from 1750 donated to the municipality of Hydra and at one time its first high school. So this very special building right now houses my art platform and I am doing my exhibitions there.
Some artists, as I said, have already visited, as it is important to have a visual of how the surroundings and everything works here on the island.
It’s very unique in a way because everything has to be carried by donkeys, as there are no modern vehicles. So, when we are talking about moving big sculptures, we have to be very careful with the logistics of it.”
ON LOLA MONTES SCHNABEL
“I am curating a show for Lola this fall and exhibited her work at ‘Bibelot’, the 17th edition of the Hydra School Project this summer. We are also going to have a solo show in Athens with her paintings and some films.
We’re close personally and professionally because she has something old school about her, old school in the sense that she has something classic about her and her approach is a very primordial one to the earth, maternity, the physical and also the spiritual.
All of these are very interlinked and what I like about her is this slight paganism about her, although ‘pagan’ is often misinterpreted as a word. Her work has a wonderful pagan quality.
Personally, she is a very generous person, which is what I appreciate the most. She is an artist who gives in the same way as I. She is also a very sensitive person.
Conceptually, we have a lot in common as artists but she has this amazing ability to work with colors that I don’t. And she has an amazing ability to paint, which I don’t. She is very gifted and I’m not.
Well, at least not as a painter. I’ve only done two that were acceptable in my thirty-year career, I’d say. I am a much better sculptor. We are equally as diversified, however. And conceptually, as I said, we have a lot of common ground.
Dimitrios Antonitsis is represented by Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center, Athens. He was born in Athens, Greece in 1966 and received his Master of Science from ETH Zurich and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, with a specialty in high-speed microscopic photography.
He has been awarded for his short film, “Past Glories, Present Despondencies”, in collaboration with the Robert De Niro film studio. His artworks were widely exhibited in 15 solo and 35 group shows both in Greece and abroad.
In addition, his work has been published in a monography, “Showhungry” (Koan Publications), and in a camp photo-novella, “Agathon or Panic in Weimar” (futura).
Antonitsis’s artwork has furthermore been included in various collections such as National Museum for Contemporary Art, Athens – Macedonian Museum for Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki – DESTE Foundation, Athens – Fondazione per la Fotografia, Turin – Benedikt Taschen Collection – Cologne.
His artistic endeavours are well-known for their provocative undertone and its critically glamorous quality. He criticizes social conventions of decorum and political hypocrisy, while focusing on the aesthetical statement of the work itself.
Antonitsis is as well the founder and curator of HSP ‘Hydra School Projects’, a non-profit international program held annually since 2000. Hydra School Projects, named for its location at the old Hydra High School, exhibits the work of up-and-coming, young Greek as well as international artists alongside those already well established.
Bibelot, the 2016 project, featured work by international artists such as Mattia Bonetti, Alexander Eagleton, Steve Gianakos, Damien Hirst, Martin Kippenberger, Goshka Macuga, Irini Miga, Lola Montes, Meret Oppenheim, Daniel Subkoff and Chloe Wise.
GESTALT: the 18th edition of Hydra School Projects will take take place at the historical Sachtoureion Mansion, the first high school of Hydra, which runs from June 23 till the end of September. This year the focus is on manipulating form and shape and a catalog will be printed in the form of a Greek composition book. For more information, contact : +30 6938 024 554
CONTACT: HYDRA SCHOOL PROJECTS
· Email: email@example.com
· Telephone: +30 6938024554
· Location: The Old High School Art Centre, Hydra
CONTACT: THE ARTIST’S VILLA
· Website: Hipaway Villas
· Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Nate Lowman
· Brice Marden
· Tony Oursler
· Jessica Craig-Martin
· Hanna Liden
· Marilyn Minter
· Tilo Schulz
· Robert Wilson
· Johan Grimonprez
· Scott Campbell
· Goshka Macuga
· Meret Oppenheim
· Damian Hirst
· Robert Gober
· Ugo Rondinone
· Theo Rosenblum
· Lola Schnabel
· Leonid Sokov
· Torben Giehler
· Daniel Subkoff
· Giomisti Kefali Gallery
· Larm Galleri
· CAMP ContemporaryArt Meeting Point
· NERIMA MUSEUM TOKYO
· Nerima Museum Tokyo
· Hydra School Projects
· Deste Foundation, Athens
· Benaki Museum, Athens
· National Museum for Contemporary Art, Athens
· Nerima Museum Tokyo
· Palazzo Strozzi, Florence
· Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn
· Chelsea Art Museum, New York
· Museum of Contemporary Art, Cluj-Napoca