Sparked by Greece’s political uncertainty, Klaus Jürgen Schmidt invited creatives including Andre Walker and Martine Rose to interpret Athena
Who was Athena, the war goddess of wisdom, strength, and arts who shares her name with the city of Athens? And after years of political and economic turmoil, where is she now? After relocating from London to the Greek capital, Klaus Jürgen Schmidt found himself asking this very question. The epiphany sparked IN ATHENA – Goddess Renewal, a collection of works by fellow creatives inspired by the contradictory symbolism of the icon. From mediations on HIV+ sex workers to photographs of drag queens pissing on the road on their way to sign up for the military, the works present a both a poignant and humorous interpretation on the mythological figure. Previewed here before its debut to the world on the 5th of May (where the images will be projected with narration to over 1000 people in the city) we chat with Schmidt about his initiative, ditching everything to go to Greece and the symbolism of the goddess.
What is IN ATHENA? How did it start?
Klaus Jürgen Schmidt: IN ATHENA started with a tough day last year at the emotional closing night of the Kunsthalle Foundation in Athens weeks before the referendum, timed with the death of someone very central to my Greek friends and a giant full moon rising against Acropolis. It was an odd and gloomy moment when I suddenly became hyper-aware of the Athenian moment and its turmoil, and the non-presence of its namesake Goddess. I remember whispering to a friend, 'Where the fuck is she, this all fair Athena’ and then the question grew, and with it responses from the variety of wonderful communicators called to question her.
What attracted you to leave London and move to Greece?
Klaus Jürgen Schmidt: It was a whim decision. I had met a Greek guy off Grindr one morning in Dalston who asked me to return with him after DJing in London one weekend last May. I threw all caution and went and by day five I was signing off on a 160sm neoclassical apartment half the price of my tiny rented bedroom in London. I thought of it as a sabbatical – but I am feeling more and more at home. The city is a sea of crumbling beige filled with so much desire and frustration and creativity. Athens is pumping with energy and is ready for many things, and I believe in Her.
What kind of artists did you work with? How were they chosen?
Klaus Jürgen Schmidt: The point of choice was very straightforward. I needed the contributors to be very pro-women, very open to sharing something personal. These are all people I have either worked with or know on some level personally. They’re people that I respect for their voices, their vision, their work or opinion. These are artists like Adriano Costa who I once met at the George and Dragon, or Laura Windvogel / LADYSKOLLIE who I know well from Cape Town – my birthplace. Andre Walker or Max Allen or Martine Rose who are these wonderful bastions from fashion. There is an astrologist, a comedian...the consolidation of these strong communicators creates this group of images that makes it hard to separate art from fashion to theory from fact or otherwise – which I think in this moment, in Athens, right now, is pretty necessary.
What does the goddess Athena represent to you and to the artists?
Klaus Jürgen Schmidt: Athena to me…Well. She is a man in bad drag. Her symbolism makes no sense, it contradicts. She was born from a migraine headache. She was a maniac who loved to fight, to curse those who threatened. She is more Donald Trump to me than the picture of femininity. Athena carried the weighty reputation of a man and the weightier armour of a man at war – on the body of a beautiful voluptuous woman. It’s almost a joke. Speaking of men in drag, the artist Andreas Angelidakis contributed an early digital photograph of himself in great drag, pissing beside the road on his way to involuntarily sign up for the military. Needless to say, he didn’t stay. His talent is matched by his sense of humour. Ibrahim Nehme who created The Outpost magazine out of Beirut, contributed two images I find shocking. His Goddess is “To Be A Sea”, images of a basic Mediterranean shoreline with an unknown floating object edging further away, immediately creates this association with the migrant crisis. To be a sea…To be the giver or taker of life, in 2016. But Kate Berlant’s “Sephardic Goddess / Wench” lets us laugh at the idea. IN ATHENA is many things at once.
Any favourite depictions?
Klaus Jürgen Schmidt: Zoe Mavroudi – who directed Ruins – comes to mind on a personal level. She created this incredible documentary, outlining the move to forcibly test female sex workers in Athens for HIV. Those found positive were arrested and imprisoned. Their identities, pictures and subsequently their families were shamed in mainstream media in Greece – which is radical and disturbing anywhere, but considering the Greek culture of discretion and public image, was a complete fucking nightmare that these women will not recover from. This happened in 2012 around the same time I became infected with HIV, so it strikes a really personal chord with me. It’s very recent and in Europe, very scary. Zoe composed the documentary and its depictions of the victims very factually but also beautifully and when I saw it late last year I had to make contact with her. We met up and she thankfully agreed to participate. Her piece in IN ATHENA carries the voices of these women in subtitle, whilst the frames remove their image and instead focus on various civic sculptures of women in and around Athens, in different states of cleanliness and vandalisation or public reach. She raises questions within these specific scenes about cleanliness, about care, about patriarchal government and about forms of imprisonment.
IN ATHENA is sponsored by the Onassis Cultural Centre, and will be available to stream online from the 12th of May.