By Maria Triantopoulou
A large crowd gathered today outside the entrance to that historic edifice the Capodistrian Orphanage, or the Aegina Prison as this neglected monument is more generally known, to take part in the inauguration of the visual exhibit that was mounted under the aegis of the 7th “Fistiki Fest” Pistachio Festival to mark the 30th anniversary of the closing of the prison.
Based on an idea of the historian George Kalofonos, this year’s president of the “Fistiki Fest”, the visual exhibit bears the signature of three important artistic personalities who live and work for extended periods in Aegina: Costas Varotsos, Venia Dimitrakopoulou and Danae Stratou.
The function was introduced by George Kalofonos, who in his address emphasized the symbolic value of the visual exhibit, whose aim is to present a reminder of the fact that this historic building, which from a place of learning and culture as an orphanage was transformed into a site of imprisonment and confinement for both common criminals and political prisoners. For the last thirty years it has remained closed, caught in an interminable bureaucratic deadlock and petty political wrangling between the Antiquities Inspectorate and the local community, whose standing requirement is that the building function as a cultural centre. “Perhaps now the time has come for it to open up to the creative forces in our society and operate as a place of culture,” Mr. Kalofonos said in conclusion.
Mrs. Venia Dimitrakopoulou spoke on behalf of the artistic contributors, analyzing the visual exhibit – a huge canvas had been erected directly opposite the prison building, like a mirror which, however illustrated the future picture of the restored Capodistrian historical monument as a multi-functional cultural centre. The exhibit, with its contrast between the building as it is today and the building as it could feasibly become in the near future – also drew attention to the need for completion of the work so that it can be handed over to the local community as both a place of remembrance and a cultural monument of atonement. Mrs. Dimitrakopoulou thanked those who helped to construct the exhibit, which despite its very large size was not expensive and was funded entirely by private donors.
The final speaker was the mayor Mr. Mourtzis, who praised the exhibit and congratulated Mr. Kalofonos and the distinguished artists. He too expressed the hope for speedy completion of the restoration but also of the arrangements that would make it possible for the monument to become a site of culture for the benefit of the island, its residents and its visitors.
Aegina Light spoke with Mrs. Dimitrakopoulou and Mr. Kalofonos:
A.L.: Are you satisfied with the result of your visual exhibit?
V. Dimitrakopoulou: I am very pleased and moved that through installation of the exhibit opposite the prison premises, a rather desolate dark street, which we frequent every day to park or throw rubbish in the bins, tonight was brightly lit and filled with people and with life.
A.L.: Is this more or less how you envisage that the street will be in the future? .
V. Dimitrakopoulou: Exactly. On one side of the street we have the empty building, closed and dark, as it has been for the last thirty years, and on the other the building as we want to see it. Open, filled with people, a genuine place of culture and creativity.
A.L.: How would you characterize your collaboration with the two other artistic personalities who contributed to the exhibit.
V. Dimitrakopoulou: For me this is one of the most significant points about the happening and I would like to place particular emphasis on it. Personally I considered it a great honour and it gave me great pleasure for us to be together simply as three artists, without any “what” or “where” and to work together on an equal footing and design a visual happening. It is in any case, I think, a sign of the times, when there is an urgent need for collaboration and joint initiatives. We are at the point where we are all in the same boat and try to do something all together.
A.L.: If you had succeeded in gaining access to the building for today’s symbolic commemorative visual exhibit did you intend to exhibit some works?
V. Dimitrakopoulou: Yes, of course we had planned what we were going to do if they had given us the building. We had something ready, and the minute we are given the opportunity to open the Capodistrian Orphanage, not only for ourselves, of course, but also for others, we will present it.
A.L.: We wish you every success and here’s hoping that today’s visual exhibit will bring us a step closer to what we all want: to see this historical monument transformed into a contemporary site of remembrance and of culture.
A.L.: Mr. Kalofonos, would you agree with me if I said that today’s visual exhibit also has the character of a symbolic demand? Is it first and foremost a statement?
G. Kalofonos: It could be said that art is an important lever for setting in motion certain processes. By making relevant to today the spectrum of themes that are touched on by the history of the building we are at the same time projecting the abundant potential that it offers for the future.
A.L.: In a few brief words, how would you characterize this site-specific visual exhibit?
G. Kalofonos: : There are two poles to it…. It symbolizes the past and the future, reality and desire, the existent and the imaginary and many other dichotomies of that kind…
A.L.: Is there anything else you would like to add?
G. Kalofonos:ς: I would like first of all to thank Costas Varotsos, Venia Dimitrakopoulou and Danae Stratou for responding so willingly to the planning and joint creation of the “Epifylaki” visual exhibit. I would also like to thank the Municipality of Aegina, the Municipal Public Benefit Corporation (KEDA) and all the sponsors of the exhibit, and specifically “Philippos Hellenic Goods” and “Nektarios and Stylianos Pallis, Construction Works”. Thanks also to Mrs. Panagiota Gennitsari for her help in the planning of the project.