Do you see that little door and that small house over there?
– Strepsiades in Aristophanes’ Clouds
Three Athenians (let us call them Bia, Alexis and Nina) live together in a tiny house on the outskirts of Kassel. They are here to work at Documenta, the exhibition that this small German city hosts every five years. This year the curators have divided the exhibition between Athens and Kassel and even though the Athens half is now closed, the three Athenians have been brought to Kassel to continue a performance that they started in Athens in April. Back then, they were all in Athens (with a fourth Athenian, Eirene, who is no longer part of the group) and when the Kassel half opened, two of them, Alexis and Nina, moved there. When Athens closed, all three of them left Athens, not to return until mid-September. They work six days a week, performing for the many cultured visitors who come to Kassel to see the latest trends in contemporary art. The three Athenians are part of the latest trends in contemporary art. Even so, life is very hard for them in Kassel. They spend all of their time preparing for their one-hour performance – which requires hours and hours of careful thought and intricate planning – and they miss Athens, where they have comfortable lives, family and friends and well-paid jobs. Right now, they especially miss the freedom of being able to leave Athens to go to a Greek island with all their wealthy friends – it is the summer after all. But perhaps worse of all is their living arrangements here in Kassel. Due to the small budget, Documenta could only offer them the smallest house you have ever seen. It is more of a cabin or some kind of stone tent in the middle of a field. It is really hard to appreciate just how small their house is, but let me try to give you some idea. Look at this photograph of their kitchen, where Alexis is preparing his girlfriend, who is visiting from Athens, a light lunch.
From this photograph, the kitchen looks spacious enough but what you cannot see is that this is also the living room and Alexis’ bedroom. (This photo was taken standing on his single bed, which doubles as a couch). They can just about endure this cramped life when its the three of them, but when they have guests, they are better off leaving the apartment and working in a nearby cafe.
Here they look happier, don’t they? But if you look carefully at Bia – on the right – you can see that she injured her arm. Do you know how she did it? It was the tiny house’s fault. Alexis opened the door of this room/kitchen/living room too quickly and hit Bia as she was getting out of the shower, since her bedroom doubles as her bathroom.
When asked to draw a floor-plan of their house, the pained expression on Nina’s face says it all. She doesn’t even have a room, she has to sleep in the corridor between the front door and the bathroom/Bia’s bedroom. After this photo was taken she ripped it up in despair.
When I visited them in Kassel I told them that their apartment reminded me of one of Apostolos Georgiou’s paintings, which were on display at the Leder Meid Apartment as part of documenta 14. For example, I thought that Bia’s bedroom/bathroom looked like this painting.
And their kitchen/living room/Alexis’ bedroom made me think of this chaotic and cramped scene.
The only window in the house, in Nina’s bedrrom/corridor, reminded me of this work, in which someone seems to be falling out of it, so squeezed he is for space.
When I shared my idea about their house and Georgiou’s paintings, Bia scowled at me angrily and said, “But this is our life, not some pretentious art work. We miss our big Athenian houses. We can’t live like this!”, almost bursting into tears, while nursing her sore arm. She was right of course, but I must admit that I found something quaintly creative about the way the three Athens lived in their tiny house on the outskirts of Kassel. That is why I decided to follow their everyday lives in this photo-documentary/soap opera Three Athenians in Kassel. Tune in tomorrow for the second episode.