Leandro Muniz – Could you talk about your education and other experiences that are important for your practice?
Eleni Bagaki – I studied Art & Design at Central Saint Martins in London, where I lived from 1998 to 2010. My idea about what art is or what art can be is rooted in my UK education. But I started to become the artist I wanted to be later, when I moved in Athens. Since last November, I decided to leave my base in Athens and live in a state of continuous transition. The places I go to, the people I encounter, the stories I hear, became the material I use to examine the idea of “leaving”. Leaving as a result of economic precarity and leaving as a state of transformation and a device for change.
First I spent a month in Hucisko, a remote village in Poland, as part of the Kantor Foundation’s art residency program. During my stay, I wrote and published a short story called Look for love and find a log instead. A female artist invited to spend some time in wilderness tries to make art in isolation while she only keeps contact with the male curator of the program. Borrowing elements from female Western films, she wants to own a gun. At the same time, inspired by nature, she falls in love with a log. I continued my traveling by spending a winter in Berlin, where I wrote The importance of reading, writing, and exfoliating. This is a story about an artist who moves to Berlin hoping to find a job and possibly love. During her stay, she develops a long-distance relationship with the guy who she sublets the flat from. Spending most of her time indoors, she gets to know him better by observing his objects and reflecting on why she wants him. Now, I am here in São Paulo working in an art residency at Pivô.
LM – Could you talk about the Project you are developing at Pivô Research?
EB – Currently, I am collecting material such as photos and text for a piece I want to develop while I am here. I am not sure yet what the final format will be but I want to have a more open and poetic approach in relation to my last work that was very much text based. The story is a about a woman who travels to Brazil looking for nothing – apart from finding herself – when she comes across a cat. Soon she realizes that the cat she meets is one of Haruki Murakami’s cats and that she is lost. Goma, Otsuka, Kawamura and Mimi are a few of the cats that have been lost previously in Murakami’s book and she wonders what the name of this cat may be and how she got here. The cat I am referring to as “Haruki Murakami’s cat” in real life is a “famous” cat that lives in Copan’s building I see her often wandering around.
Leandro Muniz – You work in different mediums, such as video, installations, sound pieces and others. However, I feel the focus on relationships is a common ground in all of your projects. Why are you interested in intimacy in your practice?
EB – I do believe “The personal is political.”
The other day when we talked about my practice and I said: “I am obsessed with love” I didn’t mean that I am obsessed with the act of falling in love. What interests me is how contemporary relationships are structured, and how you can live and love outside of the normative constraints.
The main characters in my stories are women who refuse to follow a life that is being predecided for them and they always are on search of something. They may not know exactly what they are looking for but they know what they don’t want, and sometimes I think this is enough.
LM – Another aspect that calls my attention is the prevailing use of text, or, better, narratives in your work. For example, the solo show A book, a film and a soundtrack presented a video, a sound piece and a book that narrated the broken relation between an artist and a filmmaker. Why are exhibitions still important for your practice?
EB – There are many artists I admire like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer who have been using text as their main medium for decades now. I am interested in writing, but I am also interested in expanding text into other forms such as video, sound or sculptures. Exhibitions are very important because they create the space and content for different forms to coexist and also allow the audience to have a complete experience of the work.
LM – I would also like to know about the appearance of plants in your work – they make the space feel cozier and more domestic. How did plants started appearing in your work and what do you think about them?
EB- Few years ago, when I moved in Athens I used to share a studio with my cat. I started buying plants because I wanted to create a nice environment for my cat to live in. But soon, plants became part of the work too. Yes, they make the space feel cozier but for me what is interesting about indoor plants is this idea of the controlled wilderness. A plant in a pot is a plant in a pot, you can move it around, you can trim it, water it or you can just let it die. But you grow it outside in nature and you have no idea what is going to happen, it may become this huge tree. They also create a sort of balance in the space.
LM – Did you get the chance to be in contact with the art scene in Brazil? Can you tell me which aspects of Brazilian contemporary art could be of interest for your work, considering your time during the residency?
EB – I have only been here for 45 days and therefore I can only speak of what my impression of the local art scene is without being an expert. There are a lot of artists who are based in São Paulo, many galleries and enough collectors to create a self-sustained art scene. The Brazilian artists I have met told me that they like living and working here, but maybe I have only met the happy ones, have I? It seems that there is a complete lack of public funding and that makes me skeptical.
I am mainly interested in literature and film and although there are many Brazilian authors, poets and filmmakers I would have liked to get to know their work more, the fact that I don’t speak Portuguese creates limitations. I wish I spoke the language so I had better access to the resources and to what the city has to offer in general.
The art scene in Athens is small but the past few years it seems to grow fast. There are more self initiated, non-profit, and independent spaces now than few years ago but the lack of art funding remains a significant problem. Most of my friends including myself pursue opportunities and a career abroad in order to survive.