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Dimitris Foutris: “Development that protects the environment is the only way for the Cyclades”

Just after the completion of the first phase of the Ios Art Residency, the artist and curator of the program talks about this new and interesting initiative.

Held for the first time this year by the Save Ios Association, the event aspires to include the island of Ios in the Greek art map, bringing in the foreground issues such as the environmental and cultural effects of the development of the islands.

What is Save Ios and what is its purpose? Why was Ios Art Residency created?

The main purpose of the Save Ios Association is the protection of the natural and man-made environment of Ios. Much of the island has been bought by companies with their own business interests. These companies promote a development that is completely incompatible with the Aegean physiognomy of the island – both in the form of the projects being built and the extensive environmental damage caused, the latter recently punished in court. The respective governments have supported this situation, by – even – including the investment plans of the companies in the category of “strategic investments”. They justify those decisions in the name of “development”· although it is accompanied by the destruction of unique landscapes and cultural features and despite the fact that the benefits to the national economy in terms of creating quality jobs are minimal.

Our union fights against this absurdity, with actions it takes at the legal level, the communication level, and others. One of the communication activities is the Ios Art Residency, through which we seek to raise public awareness, both for the inhabitants of Ios and the Ios visitors, about the fragility of the Cycladic landscape and the effects of human intervention in it.

What do you think is, or should be, the role of art initiatives in the Greek region?

Such actions in the field of visual arts activate a condition of extroversion and connection of the center with the region. An important factor in this is the dialogue and exchange of views with the artists, the residents, and the visitors, creating stimuli about the necessity and the ways of ensuring the cultural viability of a place. The visual arts landscape of the country is expanded in this way through a system of expressive content that enhances its capacity and evolves its aesthetic values. The hospitality (residency) programs invite artists from abroad, attracting interest in Greece and strengthening its presence in international cultural events.

What is the theme of Ios Art Residency?

The residency program in April, as well as the exhibition that will take place in August, is entitled “Micro-stories of a changeable landscape”. It is held with the support of the Municipality of Ios and under the auspices and the support of the Ministry of Culture and Sports. Its main goal is the creation of a unique and modern narrative, the promotion of the sustainable development of the island, and the cultivation of the environmental and social sensitivity of its inhabitants and visitors. In particular, Ios Art Residency #1 aims to create a strong cultural meaning in relation to the interaction of human activity and the natural environment, the geopolitical concepts behind the land-sea dialectic, and the relationship of proximity to nature.

Why did you choose the environment and sustainable development as one of the main axes of the program?

The Cyclades islands (as well as many other Greek islands) are under enormous housing pressure as prices for luxury homes have skyrocketed. Without the required attention and protection, the islands will lose their unique beauty and physiognomy, without ensuring the economic viability of local communities. Environmentally friendly development is the only way out for these sensitive tourist areas. It is also possible, as, for example, countries like France and Italy have managed to protect beautiful landscapes and traditional settlements in areas with high tourist demand. This is what we should pursue in Greece as well, despite the strong pressures that can be exerted by private financial interests. With Ios Art Residency we want to emphasize the above topics.

Which artists are participating in this year’s event?

We have invited for two weeks in April 2022, three visual artists, Dimitra Kondylatou, Orestis Mavroudis, and Fotini Palpana, to get to know Ios up close, to exchange views with its inhabitants, and, through field research, to produce new works with media of their choice. The works will be hosted in the context of a month-long Contemporary Art Exhibition in August 2022, it being the cause for a public debate on the necessity to ensure the environmental and cultural sustainability of the island and the possible ways to do so.

How is Ios Art Residency differentiated from other residency programs running in Greece?

The distinct landscape and the history of the island are very important elements that artists are invited to explore during their residency. Also, the initially pointed-out approach to the particular problem of “development” of Ios and the dangers that lurk differentiate the reason this residency was created, in relation to other hospitality programs.

What is the interaction of the program with the local community?

For Ios Art Residency, the daily practice of art comes to function as an open dialogue with society, to ask questions about the sustainable development of the island and explore the possibilities of environmental regeneration in interdependence with socio-ecological values. Always taking into account the local, social and historical context of the region, Ios Art Residency aspires to function as a field of systematic research and dialogue about Ios and the wider Cyclades region.

How do you count cooperation with other initiatives outside Ios?

From the beginning, our goal is to collaborate at some point in the future with other similar distinct efforts taking place in the Cyclades. Mainly in order to build a network and a bridge that aims to raise awareness of the islands’ environment which is currently more endangered than ever.

What would you like the future of Ios Art Residency to be?

Ios Art Residency aspires to expand its scope to other art forms such as dance, music, performance, and literature. We also want it to grow in terms of the number of participants, as well as with the participation of foreign artists, in order to raise its voice so as to promote and protect the natural beauty of Ios.

Yannis Vovos, Member of OEMY MeRA25