Phenomenon: Anafi’s Contemporary Art Project makes its Biennial Return

Phenomenon: Anafi’s Contemporary Art Project makes its Biennial Return

Alexandra Masmanidi - Phenomenon

Phenomenon, the biennial project for contemporary art housed on the Aegean island of Anafi, is on now and will run to 7th July. If you are within a ferry, speed boat, helicopter or brisk swim’s distance of the island you should head there immediately to experience one of Europe’s most interesting and arresting art happenings.

Housed on an island that has so far resisted the modernising forces of its more famous neighbours, the name Anafi derives from ancient Greek words meaning to “reveal” and “shine a light”. It originates from the story of Apollo revealing, or perhaps creating, the island as a safe harbour for the storm-struck Argonauts—so good pedigree in mythological terms. The island has been a sanctuary and playground for waves of marginalised groups ever since, from people fleeing war, to political dissidents and then later the artistic and LGQBT+ communities seeking safe places to gather, relax, and create.

It is no accident that “phenomenon” has a related etymology in “to bring to light”. The serious playfulness of this name game is carried through into the project itself which was established by partners—in art collecting and in life—Iordanis Kerenidis and Piergiorgio Pepe in 2014, making this year’s event a form of decennial. As Pepe says, they established Phenomenon “as a challenge to the normative role of collecting as purchasing and accumulating”. They wanted to enable the creative process more closely and provide space, both figuratively and literally, for artists to explore themes and topics that they jointly found rewarding and urgent.

Poetry reading of CAConrad at Roukounas. Photo by Alexandra Masmanidi ©Phenomenon

This year’s theme is returning—or to use the Phenomenon formulation, “re-turning”—which touches on the millennia of exodus, occupation, and reclamation that both the island and Greece as a whole has experienced. Having stood at the ferry port at 5am, it made me think of the impact of tourists that wildly changed the makeup of the island over the years years. The creative duo behind Phenomenon see re-turning “not as in going back to a specific past, but as a performative practice that (re)configures reality.”

A fascinating and varied selection of world-renowned artists, performers, poets, academics, researchers and the even less categorizable, has explored this theme from a range of enlightening angles. From the literal light and angles of Zoe Leonard’s room sized camera obscura, to a distinctive new shape of bread, complete with bespoke tin, by Pierre Leguillon that is inspired by the architectural features of the Tholos and which is going to make for some interesting sandwiches, “re-turning” has already proved a fertile area of exploration. Athens based artist, Iris Touliatou, has embarked on a research and interview project exploring services and service provision on the island. The outcome hadn’t been revealed by the time I left but given we live in a paradoxical age of increasing resource scarcity and yet a time when a lot of people feel they have the right to demand anything they want, immediately, I’ll be very interested to hear Iris’s take on it which is bound to be thought-provoking. As you can see from the brief description of just three of the people involved, the sheer range and quality of the projects that will be revealed over the week make this a must stop on the new Grand Tour of contemporary art events.

Phenomenon’s collection of performances, lectures, film screenings, exhibitions, and other events will run free and open to the public until 7th July. Participants: Majd Abdel Hamid, Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, CAConrad, Pierre Leguillon, Zoe Leonard, Valentina Magaletti, Iris Touliatou, Maria Toumazou, Trevor Yeung. More information on the programme will be announced closer to the dates. For inquiries, please contact:


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