On identity and the common roots of languages: An interview with Alexandros Maganiotis
By CREAM ATHENS | JULY 9, 2020 9:00 BST
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? How did you become an artist?
I grew up in Athens in a family very friendly to the arts. I was trained as an architect and during my studies I was more and more interested in art. I started reading and experimenting with different techniques and also did some stage design. But during my masters degree in Architectural Design in UCL I was introduced to the importance of the concept and the “scenario” beyond the architectural programme. Art was always my main interest and since 2004 I started exhibiting, after 2010 I dedicated myself to my art practise.
Tell us about your work? What do you hope the viewer takes away?
In my work, I investigate issues that deal with my own identity, my background, roles I have to play in my everyday life and inside my own family. Based on the eastern Mediterranean and Greece, a region that has always been in some short of geopolitical tension, receiving the anxiety of immigration and consequences of globalization but also a vacation destination with raw natural beauty. A place that has been fusing together a diversity of historical influences that construct its identity today beyond the stereotypes. I often integrate texts and letters in different languages in my work, even languages I don’t speak, like Arabic. My drawing technique has evolved naturally through the years; originating from the drawing methods I was taught in Architecture, specifically the dotted line and the layering of tracing paper used in the design process.
What is your daily routine when working?
During my morning coffee I usually write down my dreams, sometimes they are very strong visually and I may use them in my artworks. Then I work on the computer to create a draft of my composition. I may take a break to find some extra clues on the theme I am working on, read a book or research or even watch a film. When I feel I have reached a satisfying point I start to work on the actual piece by hand, usually with roller-ball acrylic markers I gradually paint with dots or dotted lines the image. All the final decisions are made then, the colours and all the elements. I work my drawings on a desk but at some point I hang them on the wall to see how they are going as they reach the final stage. At night I try to see a documentary for an artist or a movie that may trigger some ideas, like Hitchcock’s 'Spellbound' that features the incredible dream sequence with the scenography of Salvador Dali.
What are you most proud of at this point in your life? This doesn’t have to be art-related, but it could be.
In July 2019, I was selected as one of 97 candidates from the total of 5,500 who applied for the International Competition to design a scarf, Le Grand Prix du Carré Hermès. In their letter they wrote: “In addition, the jury wishes to share their views on your portfolio. We really liked the whole of your artistic universe.” This was a big boost for me to know that my work stood out.
Which are the artists that inspired you during your career and why?
As a student I read the book of Pierre Cabanne 'Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp' and was intrigued with the way he talked about creating art. I had strong visual influences from the Collages and posters of the Russian Avant garde artists like Lissitzky and finally my favorite pop-artist is Roy Lichtenstein, his technique, his compositions and the loans he took from advertising and comics.
Has the lockdown impacted your artistic practice? If yes, in what way?
At first the feeling was strange, there was this state of emergency. I remember writing the exact date on every work as if not sure about tomorrow, I kept on working and my readings involved utopian proposals from the 60s like the New Babylon. Maybe it was a form of escapism but I was also trying to imagine how different the world would emerge after the corona crisis.
What is utopia for you?
Utopia is a place of harmony, justice and where nature and man coexist in respect and eternal growth. A city or a landscape of tranquility, free flow of movement and energy.
What have you been working on at the moment? What’s next?
My next series is an Alphabet, 26 drawings, one for every letter of the English alphabet. I started it last summer and finished it during the lockdown. A visual dictionary since each word is indicated in the drawing but all the words of greek origin, they are mostly non-illustrative words so this creates an extra twist. So the idea behind the series is to promote communication, the similarities and the common roots of languages.
Name your 3 favourite books and songs at the moment.
I really think the book 'are we human?' dy Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley was an eye opener in terms of how we perceive the world today. 'Room to dream' is like a biography of David Lynch the film director and artist. But with an interesting twist, every chapter has two versions: what his close people say about every period of his life and then his own version. The third one is 'Duty Free Art' by Hito Steyerl, art in the age of planetary civil war, seems appropriate with the pandemic we are facing… A song I enjoy lately is “No Roots” by Alice Merton, an all time favorite is “Everyday is Like Sunday” by Morrisey and any song from “The Cure” let's hope we find the cure soon!
Could you recommend any reading materials or past /present exhibitions that you think would be great for the readers to view, and if so why?
I was very pleased to go back to the catalogue of 'Future City' from the Barbican Art Gallery. An exhibition with a focus on experimentation and utopia in architecture from 1956 to 2006, from the continuous monument of Superstudio to Rem Koolhaas and OMA’s CCTV tower in China. Another exhibition that was an amazing experience was 'On Air' carte blanche to Tomas Saraceno a whole universe was created inside the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. And the most recent was 'In Real Life' by Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern, especially the corridor full of fog was an extreme experience of dislocation.
Any exhibitions at the moment?
Things are opening up in Athens at the moment. A work of mine will be included in an exhibition called “SALO VIII” that will open mid-June in Paris and has a focus, a section on the Greek art scene.