Using Group Shows to Spread Out Conversations, Space52, and Getting Lost in Greece

Curator Ariana Kalliga
Curator Ariana Kalliga

My father is an astrophysicist and growing up I was always learning about science and philosophy. Later on when I discovered art, I found it deeply connected to these formative subjects. At the age of 16, I visited Venice for the first time, and was completely taken by the Punta della Dogana museum, which was showing the group show “Prima Materia”. I vividly remember walking through the rooms of this palazzo, remodeled by Tadao Ando, and encountering Wade Guyton’s newspaper cut outs and archival ephemera, David Hammons’s plastic bags, and Lee Ufan’s knot-assemblage blending into the surrounding brick. After this visit, I focused my energy on my two favorite subjects at school, visual art and philosophy, before deciding to pursue art history at university, which I felt combined these two interests.

space52. I initially met the founder of space52, artist Dionisis Christofilogiannis, eight years ago at Hydra School Projects, an annual exhibition on Hydra island. Dionisis was one of the participating artists and I was working in the gallery. Dionisis’s energy and advice, and the conversations we had with other artists like Heimir Björgúlfsson and Saint Clair Cemin, really inspired me to focus on the work of artists and become a curator. Since then, we followed each other paths and kept in touch while I was living and working abroad. When the pandemic hit, we began collaborating again on a publication. The energy and momentum that developed from there, led us to shaping the long term projects and programs of space52. Dionisis first opened the space at his studio on Kastorias 52 street, around the same time as Documenta 14, in 2017. Space52 has grown from a series of collaborative group exhibitions into an annual program of exhibitions, a residency program, and an online journal. Becoming a nonprofit in 2020, signaled our desire to institutionalize it as a site for research, production, and learning, with an international and at the same time, firmly local focus.

Long lasting relationships. Working solo is important for one’s personal research and development but I find that forming strong collaborations that lead to long lasting relationships is one of the most rewarding parts of being a curator. This has a lot to do with thoughtfully choosing the right people to collaborate with at the right time. I recently invited two of my old colleagues at MoMA, Cypriot filmmaker and writer Argyro Nicolaou and Mexico City/NY-based independent curator Samantha Ozer, to curate two parallel film screenings at space52. The conversations, ideas and dialogues built upon our past knowledge of each other’s work naturally developed into a dynamic program.

Trusting Interactions During Covid-19. At the same time, I feel that much can also be learned from building entirely new collaborations in the Covid-19 era. I curated a show together with independent French-Togolese curator Kisito Assangni and we’ve only ever met online. This requires a different set of skills, combatting zoom fatigue, making sure you check in every so often through calls and emails, and letting each other know where you’re at. I think nurturing that sense of openness and trust through digital interactions will be key in most international collaborations moving forward.

Curator Ariana Kalliga
Curator Ariana Kalliga (center) with the exhibiting artists Mary Zygouri and George Drivas, Dionisis Christofilogiannis founder of Space52, curator Polina Kosmadaki, and filmmaker Menelaos Karamaghiolis, at the opening of “Never Cross the Same River Twice”, June 12, 2021, space52.

On the spectrum between spontaneity and premeditation I am equally divided. Sometimes I inhabit spontaneity completely, and other times I replay every detail or communication in my head!

Collaborating inspires me and continuously reinforces my passion for curating. I am fascinated by the exchanges that take place when artists, curators, writers, dancers, conservationists, archivists, designers, and educators from different backgrounds come together to produce collective work. As a result of my research interests in architecture and urbanism, I am also driven by the potential of curatorial work to shed light on overlooked histories connected to built environments, by using a wide range of community-driven methodologies mediated over time. I believe this dispersal has the potential to capture larger networks of influence, it engages a multitude of authorships and voices, and reveals the processes of translation and interpretation behind storytelling.

Caught up in between. Growing up bilingual between Greece and the UK, I have always experienced a sense of not completely belonging in one place and being caught in between. After making the conscious choice to return to Greece from New York/Madrid this year amid the ongoing pandemic, I began to feel much more firmly grounded in one place for the first time. I am re-discovering neighborhoods and streets. Having developed certain ways of moving around a metropolis like New York, it influences the way I navigate and explore Athens. I love being back, but I still have important relationships tying me to New York and really hope we can travel again soon from Europe.

We all exist somewhere. I always come back to the idea that each of us inhabits certain spatialized conditions, as brilliantly summarized by American philosopher Edward Casey, “to be at all, to exist in any way, is to be somewhere” For example, in “Never Cross the Same River Twice”, the exhibition I co-curated with Togolese-French independent curator Kisito Assangni at space52, space is approached as the language of movement upon water. The exhibited films touch upon the geographic translocation of identities and ancestries. Throughout the curatorial research process, space has been a helpful tool to think about how notions of local and foreign coexist, e.g. through ‘third spaces’, a term coined by Carribean literature to describe the mixture of languages and heritage that produce a blurred and fluid space in which identities overlap.

Curator Ariana Kalliga
“Eye Contact” screening program, May 23, 2017, space52.

I enjoy being close to the sea, drinking coffee with a magazine in the morning, discovering new restaurants, and getting lost in the city. I find that I can somewhat rely on my sense of direction, so I love to completely lose myself and walk for hours. I would love to have more time to read in the mornings. I used to start my day in New York’s East Village reading a book in Tompkins Square Park, and I loved the balance it brought to my morning routine. I am still searching for that sweet spot in Athens! For fun, I also watch the world’s worst telenovelas.

Music, is also important to me. I never stop listening to music, whether I am cooking, sleeping, walking, running, resting, or working. My taste in music is wide ranging, I enjoy creating shared playlists with friends and discovering their finds. I have an Italian playlist of classics—Rino Gaetano, Gianna Nannini, Ligabue, Gino Paoli—which is the soundtrack of my summer.

I feel at home when…l am in good company. The feeling of home is quite elusive and is tied to feeling a sense of community. I didn’t expect to but I felt at home immediately in New York and then in Madrid.

Group or solo shows? I love the way group exhibitions can dynamically unfold into larger networks and public forums. In “Tidalectics: Imagining an Oceanic Worldview through Art & Science”, an exhibition I had the pleasure of working on alongside curator Jelena Tamindzija and the Museum of Modern Art Dubrovnik in 2018, the exhibition unfolded in multiple locations across the city of Dubrovnik and its surrounding islands, through discursive events that brought together artists and various specialists in biology, oceanographic studies, technology, and science. I drew inspiration for this model in a program I organized with artist Anietie Ekanem, where rather than develping a solo show, the event consisted of a collective reading of the artist’s practice. There was a two-day practical workshop and reading group that was exploring the artist’s use of photography and his family’s archive, and was collectively thinking through questions of identity, decolonization, and diaspora.

Curator Ariana Kalliga
Curator Ariana Kalliga

Cantuccioti’s secret recipe. It’s a secret recipe that was handed down by a brilliant Italian woman from Calabria. Cantuccioti is a play on the word cantucci, as these are larger versions of the classic Tuscan biscuit. 
You will need: 
1 kg of flour 
300gr. of sugar
200gr. of almonds
1-2 lemons (for the zest)
200gr. of vegetable oil 
Half a cup of Vermouth or Vin Santo
– Leave the mix in the oven at 180°C. After half an hour, take the paste out, cut it in small cookie-shaped pieces, and put them back in for 20 minutes.

The book that still haunts me is Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”… Memories of university examinations and endless monotonous pages still haunt me. 

I imagine my 10 years older self is visiting me from the future today and they tell me… It’s funny, a few years ago I was sitting alone in a restaurant in Rome, my flight had been canceled, and I remember asking myself this question. I didn’t get to the bottom of it at the time… Thinking about it now, perhaps my future self will tell me to relax more, not to be afraid if something I’m trying doesn’t work out, embrace what life brings, and savor these moments of being back in Greece. 

If I wasn’t curating I would be an artist or a chef. I continue to draw, and dream of creating art in my spare time, and I enjoy cooking Greek and Italian recipes for dear friends. I think I would also enjoy being an interior design consultant, I love to imagine future homes, and often take notes when I’m visiting a restaurant, passing by a shop, or someone’s house, thinking I would love to incorporate this or that detail in a future space.

Ariana Kalliga

Independent curator

Athens, Greece


Ariana Kalliga (GR/UK) is a curator and researcher living in Athens. Influenced by her cultural upbringing in Greece, Wales, and the US, her curatorial approach seeks to engage and strengthen transnational connections between Greek & international art practice. She has previously worked at MoMA’s Architecture and Design Department, behind the exhibitions: Neri Oxman: Material Ecologies (MoMA, 2020), The Value of Good Design (2019), and Modern Architecture in South Asia: The Project of Decolonization (Forthcoming), as well as the Norman Foster Foundation (Madrid) as an Archives Fellow. Her research is underpinned by a focus on the present-day legacies of postwar Mediterranean cities through community archives, exhibition histories and film. She is currently curating the exhibition, ‘Never Cross the Same River Twice’, alongside French-Togolese independent curator Kisito Assangni with the support of the NEON Organization. She has worked for various international art centers and biennials, including ‘Tidalectics’ (Museum of Modern Art Dubrovnik & TBA21), Manifesta 11 Biennial (Zurich), Hydra School Projects (Greece), Modern Art Oxford (UK). She is an alumnus of the University of Oxford History of Art department and an advocate for the architectural preservation of the East Village at the EVCC (NY). In Athens, she curates the nonprofit space52 and is interested in testing the borders of experimentation and knowledge that spring from artist-run spaces.

Art critic and writer.

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