Guest Article on “WE ARE HERE TO SERVE YOU”

Nicole Economides and Natalia Almonte are New York-based artists and co-curators of the exhibition WE ARE HERE TO SERVE YOU currently on view at the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries of Parsons School of Design, New York. While plans for the exhibition to travel are being made, I share below Economides’ essay written for peri-Tēchnes as well as information about the curators and artists involved in this project.

Installation view of the exhibition at Sheila Aronson Galleries, Parsons School of Design, NYC. Image courtesy of the curators.

WE ARE HERE TO SERVE YOU, a traveling exhibition which began as a collaboration between Puerto Rican artist Natalia Almonte and Greek artist Nicole Economides, focuses on connecting artistic practices from both places that are confronting similar intangible realities. The artworks on view — ranging from multimedia video installations and photography to performance and painting — critically engage with reductive perceptions of Greece and Puerto Rico and infuse ideas of cyclical futility and ephemerality with humor and double meaning, bringing cultural symbols and specificity to activism. They explore the repercussions of being in financial debt to political entities that already control their economies through colonial puppeteering. In debt, but not indebted to, conceptually permeates WE ARE HERE TO SERVE YOU, an intentionally sarcastic title suggesting assumed foolishness that in actuality reveals our hyper-consciousness.

Installation view of the exhibition at Sheila Aronson Galleries, Parsons School of Design, NYC. Image courtesy of the curators.

Like overseas siblings, Greece and Puerto Rico are often compared quantitatively, reduced to statistics that include: pensions, GDP, wages, poverty line, and debt. Of course, the main difference between these two countries is that Greece has sovereignty and Puerto Rico has not. Yet the exotic beaches and strategic geography of both create utopias for the “work hard / play hard” war cry of the 1% whose political savior complex lies comfortably under blankets of false advertisement. The truth is that — in the globalized eyes of the EU and the US — Greece and Puerto Rico, respectively, are loophole wonderlands. What is seductive about both locations is common knowledge, but what is not prioritized is how to manage that seduction so that locals are not left licking meatless bones. Today there is a yearning for a perspectival shift that could liberate gaslit co-dependency and envision an infrastructure for self-sustaining economies. That ideal becomes more and more impossible to realize as a steady “brain drain” through migration has turned into a crisis, proving that what investors want is the land void of its people.

Although the economy is the root of the problem in both cases, the sociopolitical repercussions are often less analyzed. However, the tension between feelings of anger, anxiety, freedom, and abandonment can create conditions for aesthetic innovation and hybridity, with artists playing a unique role in revealing invisible psychic conditions that are often ignored. Artists in both regions, and as part of the diaspora, reflect on the times while referencing history and find language for the lived experience. This exhibition is motivated by the humanization of solutions. It is focused on unraveling the colonial knots through corporeal responses and respecting the power of the physical land itself.

Artists featured in this exhibition were the following:
Miguel Luciano
Adonis Volanakis
Stefanos Tsivopoulos
Eleana Antonaki Yiyo Tirado
María del Mar Hernández
Gil de Lamadrid
Elsa Maria Melendez
Nicole Economides & Natalia Almonte

Special note about the logo and main photo of this digital article:
“The iconic NYC “Anthora” cup, a misnomer for ancient Greek amphora vases, was created in the 1960s when Greek revival was popular in homes and design. Coffee was mostly sold by Greek vendors back then and the cup’s cutesy catchy typeface and pattern stuck in American minds as Greek aesthetics. Sometimes migration can result in a cultural time warp. Immigrants can sometimes pass on perceptions that have evolved or become obsolete in their homelands, keeping traditions alive while those remaining in the home country deal with economic pressures that attempt to obliterate the romance of the past with an overwhelming reality check. Other times, migration can water down tradition, assimilating out of fear or succumbing to the image that is easier to digest. Practicing tradition can act as a method of protest against what can be deemed dehumanizing about globalization. But tradition cannot be practiced in a void, void of contemporary politics threatening the essence of a nation. Check out MoMA’s design store $15 ceramic version of the “Anthora” and don’t buy it.”

The exhibition on Instagram: @paradox_luxe
First branch is on view: February 20 – March 20, 2020

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