*Featured photo: MÉTA. Photography Manos Chatzikonstantis
“Kanella is a conceptual artist with a celebrated background in graphic design. Art and design harmoniously coexist at her studio-meets-gallery in downtown Athens.
The driving force behind Kanella’s installations and experimental art projects is to view things from an unconventional perspective and place them out of their ordinary context. Kanella’s artful mindset, her travels and her love for life, joint with a decade of teaching at the Technological Educational Institute of Athens, are at the base of her inspiration.”
It seems that your projects equally take from the art and design contexts. How do you merge these two aspects in your work?
My education is in design. I have B.A. in graphic design and an M.A. in Communication design from Central Saint Martins in London. So, I work as a professional graphic designer, I do corporate identities and packaging.
Alongside my design studio, I used to teach graphic design at the Greek University. After 10 years as a professor, I wanted to find my own pathway and express my creativity. That’s how I started to work as an artist. This process is now evolving organically; I don’t need to have a plan. In the beginning, I just wanted to decorate my walls, and suddenly this activity occupied a big part of my working life, which I really enjoyed.
How do you approach creation? Are you both the creator and maker of your ideas?
I usually craft my works alone. I do have a team that helps me with wood or metallic structures. I embroider everything myself; I like to engage first hand with the work because it evolves along the way. It’s a pretty spontaneous process.
Embroidery, especially cross-stitching, is often used in your projects. Why do you choose this textile technique?
Cross Stitching was the first kind of embroidery I learned when I was little. I also like it because it reminds me of pixels, and as a designer, I feel more comfortable with pixels.
All the women in my family used to do embroidery and knitting.
My grandmother was knitting, my mother made embroidery, my aunt used to do embroidered clothes for singers and actors in the old Athens. I have a lot of images in my memory related to these feminine crafts, but my dad was also very creative; his profession was to make leather bags. That’s my background, the things I grew up with, so it was natural to create something with my hands. Even if my family didn’t deal with painting or sculpture, we were creative with crafts.
How much of the Greek culture surfaces in your works?
I’m inspired by Greek culture, as you can see in my first exhibition: Ta Proikiá: dowry, noun /ˈdaʊri/.
“The dowry is a marriage institution that traditionally defined women’s lives. A life’s work, a family’s investment, a wedding’s price tag and proof of merit. The traditional dowry is reinvented: cross-stitching patterns that miss a stitch or two, tangling the threads and diving into the holes made by my grandmother’s needles. The old ways are getting a trim, memories are revisited, and the family’s handiwork unravels.”
I remember my grandmother knitting huge tablecloths to be the dowry for my wedding. So, I started thinking about the women of those times; they had nothing else to do apart from creating the dowry for themselves or their daughters. This thought is really depressing for me. It’s like if you give yourself a price tag, basically. The better the embroidery, the more valuable marriage material you are.
The exhibition revolves around these concepts, unravelling over three rooms:
I asked myself: “What is a Dowry?”
Inheritance is the starting point. In the exhibition’s first room, diverse materials and techniques put a twist on the traditional dowry.
THE SECOND ROOM was the depression room, as I used to call it. It was meant to represent the psychological effect of the dowry on women.
Here the visitors have to stand still. They are invited to observe and empathize with the women of the past and the constraint brought upon them.
THE THIRD ROOM
This was my resolution.
What did I learn from that period? How lucky I am to have all those liberties that women of that era didn’t have? When the viewers finally arrive in the third room, catharsis awaits. Here, a more personal resolution is shared, and a modern era’s dowry is being created. A dowry rooted in tradition yet influenced by new ideas, the freedom of choice and expression, love, companionship, knowledge, music, creativity.
We have a long way, but we have gained some of our power as women.
This work from 2014 was my first step into exhibiting my work outside my comfort zone and being in a gallery. I was pretty naive because I didn’t know much about the modern art scene and rules, and I really enjoyed it because I was free to create what I wanted. I was the curator, the creator; I did everything.
Can you tell us more about the MÉTA project?
My latest exhibition, MÉTA, at the Depo Darm Contemporary Art Space in Athens, is a series of photographic works around transition, the nature of time and personal memory.
This project was more organized than the previous ones. I realized I didn’t want to do everything alone, and collaborating with art professionals helped me evolve.
It started two years ago at the beginning of the pandemic when we all were terrified. There was the lockdown, it was spring, and I couldn’t go out. I suddenly found myself with a lot of time. I had this plant in my house; I observed it every day; It was dying, the leaves drying and falling; I didn’t know what to do with it. I decided to decorate the leaves to give them a new life.
I started taking pictures of my embroidered leaves and posted them on Instagram.
A Greek photographer based in London, Manos Chatzikonstantis, was back in Athens, at that time, due to the pandemic. He came across my pictures online and saw something in them. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we started a collaboration from remote. I was embroidering the leaves at my dining table, and he was taking pictures of the leaves with natural light at his dining table. When the lockdown finished, he came with a pack of pictures; when we put them together, we thought:” Wow, we have something!”.
This was an excellent collaboration started by chance. He never told me what to do; I never told him how to shoot the leaves. So MÉTA is genuine 50 per cent Kanella and 50 per cent Manos. This exchange, the dialogue between us that resulted in our collective works, manifested a meta-collaboration of sorts, an amalgam of techniques.
This project was, for me, a boost to create more. And I’m sure Manos has precisely the same feeling that this project pushed us to different areas, to experiment with more stuff.
In many of your artworks – ΜΠΟΥΜ, Kama Frouta, LOOK AT ME! – needlepoint takes on a contemporary look in the construction of images that reference comic strips design. Why do you choose to bring together this specific craft technique and pop culture?
The work ΜΠΟΥΜ /bu:m/, for example, was created during the Greek economic crisis. That was a very dark time, our money was frozen in the banks, and we couldn’t withdraw cash. I felt like my head was exploding because it was something new: a small war without guns and physical violence, but there was psychological violence.
ΜΠΟΥΜ is a modern take on the embroidered tapestry. It engages its audience by weaving pop culture references into a contemporary representation of embroidery. A popular comic strip design jumps out of the comic book pages and lands on its new home, a needlepoint canvas. Comic lettering, a unique form of typography, engages our senses and echoes our thoughts. I translated English to my native language, using the Greek alphabet, and started embroidering.
Lettering, the written word, is present in many of your pieces. Is this a way to communicate with your audience? Can you tell us more about the role of threads’ made texts in your art practice?
I started to use texts as a joke in England. I used to glue post-its on mugs and other objects of my everyday surroundings. It was as if the cup was talking: “wash me” and stuff like that. So all the projects where I use lettering are a bit funny, with a touch of naughtiness.
Can you tell me more about your “studio-meets-gallery in downtown Athens”?
I have a big space which is both my studio and my gallery. I wanted walls to exhibit my work, and now you can see my artworks on display everywhere around me. Sometimes, the clients come here. When I collaborate with other artists, I try to be out of my place; I want to have a different experience and perspective.
What can we expect of Kanella in the future?
With Manos, we are thinking about developing the MÉTA project. We would like to take it on tour to different countries.
I’m currently building an online shop for my art. It’s taking some time, though; I want to sell limited edition pieces and originals. I aim to have a wide range of art pieces for different needs. It’s a lot of work and organization, and I hope it will soon be ready.
Waiting for the new online shop to be up and running, you can follow Kanella on her website: https://kanella.com/
And social Media, IG: @kanella