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.


Anonymous said...

i just looked at their website, and guess what. Mr Kiko is planning a 2014 edition......

Francesca Mancuso said...

You know what, I am not surprised.
I don't think there is only one person responsible for what happened.
Most of the people who supported me in the background, got scared and left me alone when the whole story was mentioned on a certain online newspaper.
I have no idea what these people are planning to do, but it's no longer my business. Most likely, they won't do anything, so maybe their experience with the Biennale wasn't that bad after all. Good for them. To be honest, I am just glad I got my work back.

Anonymous said...

My husband is one of many uk artists with work still not returned. stop.2014 and get 2012 work back to artists!!!

Francesca Mancuso said...

Dear Anonymous
I had my work eventually returned and I was trying to help other artists to do the same. Unfortunately, both some artists and the curators after I published this post got afraid of being involved and left me alone. As far as I know, they continued some sort of secret protest deliberately excluding me. I am no longer interested in this story and in further editions of the Biennale.