Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The vase

The story of an unlucky vase. Or maybe the story of a family as seen by a vase.

Francesca Mancuso - The vase

Please wash your hands. This wannabe-friendly reminder stuck to the door is what I stare at most of the time in this miserable toilet cubicle under the staircase, in a shared house in South London. Since I have been moved to this claustrophobic space, I have been witnessing the most private moments of all the tenants, their friends and occasionally even Landlady.

You wouldn't believe it while looking at me now, with this cracked edge and all covered with splashes of acrylic paint, but before I was demoted to toilet brush container, I used to be placed in the middle of the main table, in the finest and most spacious dining room of this house, and I would hold scented, fresh flowers. All the guests would congratulate on my exquisite features and my owners would be so proud to own me.

It was Landlord who bought me during one of his trips abroad. He went to China on business for a week but he extended his trip to one month to travel around the country. He came back with an additional suitcase filled with presents for Landlady and the children. Of all gifts, I was the most admired, almost worshipped. The kids weren't even allowed to touch me! And look at me know, with the scar of a war I am not responsible for, and the messy colour stains the youngsters found appropriate to cover me with until they got fed up with me. Now I am neither regarded by the other pieces of pottery - not even the Tesco Value bowl used to feed the kitten! - nor befriended by these working class tools I have to share the new room with. The toilet brush thinks I am too snobby... Do they know what respect means! I don't belong in here!

Oh how I miss my life as a well esteemed ornament, surrounded by a court of precious silver cutlery and shiny crystal and gold cups! Those were the days when Landlord was still living with Landlady and the children would play the piano with him on Sunday afternoons. Landlady was relaxed and happy and this made her smile so beautiful... Everything was perfect back then. What's wrong with humans? What are they looking for when they already have it all?

It was a warm Saturday afternoon when the war broke out. The children were playing with the neighbours in their back garden. Landlady was supposed to be volunteering at the local parish, but she wasn't well. She asked Landlord to go to their monthly meeting on her behalf, and he reluctantly accepted. While he was away, the telephone rang. A high-pitched female voice hesitatingly asked for Landlord. Landlady was visibly upset. She started pacing back and forth on the precious carpet. I don't know what the telephone conversation was about, but it seemed very short to me. How Landlady figured it all out from just a simple question asked by a perfect stranger on the telephone, is beyond my understanding. Even Landlord, when he got back from the meeting, was so surprised that he wasn't able to deny the truth about the woman who called. I sensed that things were devolving in a way I had never seen before. Landlady wasn't herself anymore. She was screaming, crying and swearing! Landlord wasn't able to utter a sensible sentence, which irritated her even more.

It was only a matter of time before objects started flying around the house. I began getting very anxious, even though I didn't imagine that I would join the party. I think Landlady could have killed Landlord if she had aimed properly. I was already a witness, and now I was a weapon! Maybe a Police archive would have been a more decent place than a toilet, but I have principles and I am convinced that everything is better than being involved in a crime! So, I am glad Landlady was too bewildered to concentrate on murdering her husband.

Anyway, I missed Landlord's head, but not the edge of the door frame. I am not sure how I managed to survive. Surely I have to be grateful to the comfortable antique sofa I landed on. After then, Landlord had to move out and I was forgotten for a while. I thought that was a miserable way to end my life. Now I wish that had been the end of my life. Instead, the children discovered me, and decided to use me as a showcase for their lousy creativity. Landlady didn't protect me anymore from them. She hated the sight of me!

You probably figured out what happened next. The house is big, and Landlord's income is now going somewhere else. Landlady started renting out two rooms on the ground floor and at some point one arty tenant saw me and decided that I would make the loo so much more interesting. Even then Landlady didn't defend me. But I still remember her loving eyes when she first saw me, and this memory now is excruciating.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Santorini Biennale 2012 Blunder

The story I am going to tell you today is my dreadful experience with the First Santorini Biennale of Arts, which took place ins Summer 2012. The only result I hope to achieve with this is to warn as many artists as possible not to take part either in other events organised by the same people who organised the First Santorini Biennale of Arts, or in next editions of the Santorini Biennale of Arts, if organised by the same people.

On April 2012 while I was attending a comic artists meetup, a successful manga artist and illustrator I know announced that he was going to be the curator for the Comics Section at the first Santorini Biennale, which would take place in the following months. I was very excited for many reasons:
First, I love Santorini.
Secondly, I had never taken part in a Biennale, and there was a Comics section!
Last but not least, the theme suggested ("The past") was perfect for a 1-page comic I had done previously and particularly love: "The Shell".

The Shell - Black and white version

I was even more excited when I showed my work to the Comics Section curator, and he liked it! So, it was accepted. The original work was in black and white but following the curator's suggestion I made also a colour version - I could send up to 5 works.

The Shell - Colour version

So, I paid €50 (sigh) to register.

Shortly after that (May 14th 2012) the Comics Section curator wrote me and the other comic artists: The Biennale organisers had gone silent on the Curating team for nearly the last two weeks, and defaulted on their first payment. He suggested that the future of the Biennale was in doubt, at least in any form recognisable to that which was promised and he strongly advised not to do anything more towards it unless differently told by him.

On May 31st 2012 the Comics Section curator informed us that he was leaving! He hadn't been paid for months of work and hadn't been able to communicate with the organisers in any way. In the meantime in the official website the Biennale seemed to be continuing, incorporating many changes (downsizing of venues/categories, change of entry and exhibition dates) that effectively turned the Biennale into something quite different from that which was initially proposed – and from what the curator proposed to us at the beginning.

I promptly contacted the organisers: Kikos Papadopulos, Founding Director of Santorini Biennale, and Dimitra Trogaidou, Head Coordinator & Secretariat. I asked for my €50 back, since the Comics section was to disappear. They said: "No, we can't give you the money back, because the Comics section is not going to disappear!". I kept all those emails!!!

Then, since my €50 were already gone and my works had been accepted, I decided to send my work anyway. Not the best decision I've made in my life.
In the following months, I tried to contact these people many times for different reasons, to check if they received my work, to know where they put it and so on. The replied on average only once every 5 emails and usually without answering my questions.

I went on holiday in July and when I came back, I found out in the website that the Comics section didn't exist any more and my work was listed in the Drawing section! I was so annoyed! Actually I was really angry!!! What a bunch of liars! This was so unfair! I wouldn't have sent that work to the Drawing section!

I wrote these two people many more times, and never got a reply. What could I do? Nothing. They had my works now.

Then it was the turn of having my name listed properly with the location where my work was displayed, in the official website. I kept checking the website on a daily basis and sending emails, of course. My name and the location was added only towards the end of the Biennale!

Also, I constantly asked for a photo of my work displayed in its venue, the Atlantis Bookshop. Only towards the end of September 2012, way after the end of the Biennale, I received a photo of one of my drawings in the bookstore, and only thanks to Paola Gentili, a curator of another section I contacted out of desperation. This is only the photo I received and only proof of my work being somewhere. I am not sure about the black and white version my work.

Photo: The Atlantis Bookstore in Santorini

Santorini Biennale 2012 - Atlantis Bookstore

Photo: One of my works displayed in the Atlantis Bookstore in Santorini

Santorini Biennale 2012 - my work displayed in Atlantis Bookstore

Annoyingly, in the official website only a very few artists' works and names were featured. Why some artists were preferred to others? We'll never know the answer. Photos of my works never appeared on that website.

You think this is all?
After the end of the Biennale, on September 24th 2012, we artists were informed of the following:
1. The organisers decided to give only 3 prizes instead of 3 for each category as promised initially
2. Our names and artists' statements were not even displayed near our works! THIS IS INSANE! The only thing we artists could hope for in all this horrible experience was to have some publicity!

After that I started contacting other co-exhibitors thanks to the help of the only two remaining curators, Paola Gentili and Tomas Poblete, who worked so hard and without being paid for a year or so and who have been the artists' only support in this story.
Currently I am still trying to contact more artists. Hundreds of artists were deceived and insulted, but at the moment I am in contact with maybe a dozen only.

There's more! Some people had their works ruined by mould, some still don't know what happened to their work. My personal nightmare ended towards the end of November 2012, when the phenomenon working for EMS left the envelope containing my works on the doormat. It was covered with footprints, but at least my works were fairly safe, and not damaged by mould. Phew. I must also say that I worked hard to have my works back, writing to organisers, artists who were in Santorini to pick up their own works personally, curators, even the Atlantis Bookstore assistants, almost on a daily basis. At last my works were sent back to me. I was so stressed that I couldn't believe it, when my work was finally in my hands again.
[EDITED:] I am no longer sure whom I have to thank for this, but together with Tomas, I think Dimitra has been helpful in this particular occasion.

Photo: Organisers' Office in Pyrgos, Santorini. Boxes and packaging in which the artworks were sent and in which the artworks were supposed to be sent back.

Santorini Biennale 2012 - Packaging

At the end of November 2012 Tomas created a pubblic appeal to Kikos Papadopulos on Facebook.
In fact Kikos Papadopulos barred all incoming calls to his mobile phone.
[EDITED:] Sorry, I had to remove the link since the Facebook event disappeared.
There is a big list of artists that participated on the first Santorini Biennale of Arts that are awaiting a reply from Mr. Papadopulos regarding the whereabouts of their work.

I am trying to get as much attention as possible, and possibly with the help of the press. Please help me by sharing this post, especially if you are an artist or know artists.