Glass Water / Szklana Woda was a series of actions designed to highlight the intangible aspects of the former Lenin/Imperial Shipyard, inspired by former workers, particularly women pipe insulators. I collaborated with local people and organisations over the week (13-19 October) to enact or activate different aspects of the shipyard’s histories. Glass Water had three distinct strands, comprised of different actions and events: Greening the Shipyard, Embroidering the Shipyard, and Mourning the Shipyard (Zazielenianie Stoczni, Wyszywanie Stoczni, Opłakiwanie Stoczni).
This past June and again in September when visiting Gdańsk, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Mrs. Urszula Ściubeł (or Mrs. Ula). She worked as a pipe insulator for many years in the former Lenin/Imperial Shipyard. She also worked as a light crane operator.
Να το πάρει το ποτάμι / Let the River Take It was designed as a collective catharsis, an invitation both to remember and to release memories into the River Erkyna. It aimed to weave together references from Levadia's past and present, including the tradition of washing clothes and rugs in the river, the historical industry of textile mills and the many women who worked in them, and the ancient myth of the Oracle of Trophonius – where the dual springs of remembrance and forgetting combined to form the river itself. The event was also a purposeful re-staging of domestic activity in the public realm, making visible 'women's work' which is often either hidden or ignored.
The Memory of Water Residency Programme consists of two international visits in three cities: Levadia, Gdansk and Govan. The first visit is focussed on understanding the local context by meeting and learning from communities, field experts and stakeholders. The second visit is focussed on artistic production when the artists will deliver planned actions and interventions in partnership with their hosts. Our first research residency took place in January with the Municipality of Levadia and our base camp was the former public laundry on the banks of the River Erkyna in what was once the industrial zone of the city.
In developing the programme for the first research residency, we took into consideration a number of important factors. Of course, we began with our core research question: What’s next for post-industrial waterfront heritage zones in European cities? Then, we discussed our three residency themes: (1) memory and heritage; (2) access and inclusivity; and (3) environmental responsibilities and impacts. This was followed by specific requests from the artists. We have invited the artists to share with us here their reflections on each visit so that we may trace the similarities and differences between each of the partner cities.
It was our pleasure to go on nine blind dates during our first day in Levadia! This was a fun way, proposed by artist and curator Rafika Chawishe, for the artists and local community groups to break the ice. Not only did we meet citizens from all walks of life through this process but we learned that some of the groups had taken the theme Memory of Water and applied it to their own activities before our arrival. This was a special surprise for the artists who heard from clients of EPAPSY and EKEPSYE (two organisations providing mental health supports) about the healing power of the river and what emotions the river conjured for them.
Later that evening we had another blind date – this time in three languages! – when we were invited to a tea party by newcomer citizens. KEDHL is a municipal organisation which provides an organic integration programme for refugees and asylum seekers. Newcomer citizens are welcomed by the Mayor on arrival, told they are safe and welcome, and hosted in apartments in the city. These families generously opened their homes to us and gave us advice on what to see and do in Levadia.
– Mary Conlon (Ireland)
During his presentation on The Industrial Zone of Erkyna, local historian Vassias Tsokopoulos proposed the biggest threat to cultural heritage in Levadia is the bulldozer. Many former factories have been demolished or are falling into dereliction while some buildings have been preserved for cultural purposes. He also discussed intangible heritage giving the example of our base camp for the residency which was a former cotton ginning factory, a flour mill, and the public laundry, all powered by the energy of the river. Only some of these industrial functions are visible today, as the basement space has been converted into the Historical Ethnological Museum and the ground floor will soon host a permanent exhibition dedicated to local painter Theodoros Lazaris (1882-1978).
Vassias raised many interesting questions about the complex nature of memory. What should be kept and what should be demolished? As the city develops regeneration plans, does the conversion of the industrial zone into a touristic product constitute memory loss? Would the mere preservation of such buildings also cause a kind of memory loss? In the end, what will we know and remember about the names, faces, and indeed lives of the people who worked in these factories?
– Mary Conlon (Ireland)
The River Erkyna runs continuously through the city of Levadia. So many impressions, warm welcomes, and pictures … The camera fills with faces, meetings and conversations. Only now with a little distance and on a closer look at the pictures and clips, I realise the heavy stream of influence the river has here in Levadia. This stimulates our creative challenge and we are in the middle of the flow! The ideas begin to take shape, collaborations wake up, exchanges with the locals are investigated and begin to take form. There is so much to do – while the Erkyna continues to flow.
We also met a living legend, the sculptor, poet, actor, and philosopher Spyros Gourgiotis who recounted the myth of the river. Spyros made the statue of Erkyna looking up over the surface in the middle of the river. The model was his own daughter and he showed us a drawing in his studio where a school class had drawn pictures of the sculpture and wrote under that: “The Myth of Erkyna is Spyros’ daughter…” That’s the way to relate and mix all of our impressions of myths and reality, cultural heritage and local groups, in the spring flood.
– Jonas Myrstrand (Sweden)
After lunch break, we hooked up with the local graffiti crew at Levadia. Always exciting meeting artists with the same passion, spray paint that is. And amazing how we connected straight away; I guess that when graffiti runs through your veins, it’s like a universal language when you meet other “writers” (graffiti artists). With the sun at its highest point we left for our city stroll. For me especially, the hunt for a canvas/wall was on. And there are plenty of great walls in Levadia! The potential for Street Art productions in this compact city is incredible. Lots of huge “blind” walls and all in perfect smooth concrete… “WALLhalla”!
Unfortunately tagging seems popular among Levadian kids. It’s almost everywhere. Sure I’ve got nothing against a well designed, aesthetic tag but mostly this wasn’t the case. Our group discussed this issue while we continued our exploration. “One way to counter illegal tagging is to provide a legal graffiti wall or space,” I suggested. A place where graffiti painters can practise their skills without the fear of being caught, this can result in higher level of artistry and mostly results in outgrowing the phase of simple tagging. It’s a “fight-fire-with-fire” concept, so to speak. Of course the locals were all in favour. Legal graffiti walls are mostly combined or near a local skatepark. Since the two sub-cultures are intertwined. We crossed the street… and there it was… a huge wall, in plain sight, near the riverbank, just outside the old city centre. This concrete surface was just screaming to be painted… I knew I had found… the perfect wall!
– Siegfried Vynck (Belgium)
It was a whirlwind introduction to Levadia and some of its citizens. A generous welcome awaited us led by the mayor showing us the tradition of Xenia – Greek hospitality at its finest! The week was spent meeting people, all of whom have had an impact on, or been impacted by the landscape, culture, history and traditions of Levadia and the Erkyna River in particular.
The river flows from high in the mountains, fed by multiple springs as it reaches the town. It then passes through old mills, man-made falls, locks, and under bridges until it relaxes into its natural pathway at the other side of town, gently flowing through an unfinished and unnamed public park. This unnamed park, sitting beside a giant unfinished government building and shows a town at a standstill. But the river is in constant flow, always squeezing through the barriers put in place by industrious humans over the centuries. Erkyna was there before the people of Levadia. It inspired myths and legends. How can we bring this powerful history back to life? How do we infuse the citizens of Levadia, through contemporary art, with the energy and power of the beautiful yet unstoppable Erkyna?
– Mary Conroy (Ireland)
Céad mile fáilte romhaibh (pronounced: kay-ahd mee-leh foil-chyeh row-iv) is an old Irish saying meaning one hundred thousand welcomes before you. This is the kind of warm reception we experienced during our first international meeting in November 2018 hosted by our partners at the Culture Department of the Municipality of Oostende in Belgium. Officially kicking off our Memory of Water project, artists and partners met for three days to discuss the development of activities over the next two years. For the artists, it was also the first opportunity to meet each other in person and to get to know each other’s practice.
From the first day, there was lively discussion and sharing of ideas, with all participants contributing their motivations and perspectives. We discussed the responsibilities and expectations for the project as well as planned results and evaluation methods. The meeting included site visits to cultural events and places where we encountered different examples of best practice in community engagement. Through this blog, we look forward to sharing with you our experiences and learning – but first, thank you for taking this journey with us and céad mile fáilte romhaibh!
– Mary Conlon (Ireland)